Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jefferson fellowship: Bangalore a janus-faced city?

What comes into your mind when you hear the word “Bangalore”? Probably the following: India’s IT hub, an innovative city, sophisticated city, beautiful high-rise buildings, efficient airports, and every thing else that tells you it’s the best thing that could ever happen to humanity.

Let me tell you the truth: only the first two descriptors are correct! For Bangalore is very much like any other very ordinary city in Asia.

When we landed in Bangalore, we were expecting somewhat like those we have seen either in Beijing or Shanghai, but we were disappointed to see a crowded, dirty, and dilapidated airport. Alfred (from the squeaky clean Singapore) complained about being swarmed with mosquitos. Jay from Korea wondered if we instead landed in Peshawar (with my apologies to the people there). The roads were crowded, with motorcycles darting in and out like daredevils. Traffic congestion is a serious problem. Everywhere every one could see that public services are not catching up with the city’s rapid growth. And its retail sector is certainly sub-par. From a purely physical planning perspective, Bangalore has a long way to go. I mean, its a mess!

But yes, Bangalore is growing fast because of its very dynamic IT sector. Most of the innovations we see in IT these days come from there. Big multinationals like Cisco, Microsoft, Dell, Motorola, Texas Instruments, etc have set R&D laboratories there. There simply are too many engineers and science guys that they could tap for research and innovation. For that, I admire the city.

But are the benefits of growth trickling to the ordinary people? Most of the Indians we met there argue that the growth of IT is the best thing that ever happened to India. And I agree. But they also said it’s not really reaching up to the lower classes of society. Signs of poverty and inequality are everywhere—just like the Philippines. The city’s extensive use of walls and barriers seems to punctuate that society has to exclude some groups of people from certain land uses. Each month, there are four million subscriptions to mobile phones, probably an indication of a growing middle class, just like the Philippines. But they say it’s not enough to soak up “mass deprivation” (that’s their term, not mine). The Indians may have to leverage its strenght in IT and the sciences to develop its manufacturing and farm sectors before they could address the growing social divide. Well, that's what they told me and I believe them.

Sounds familiar?

But hey, the Bangalore example tends to tell us that innovation and growth could be achieve despite all the physical and governance constraints, that transformation is really all about people. If people, cities, places, and countries are investing in human resources, they could find their places under the sun. And that makes Bangalore a very interesting city!

Monday, May 28, 2007

My bourgeois decadent night in Shanghai

“Do you know how to dance?,” said Cristina Chen, journalist friend from Taiwan.

We had a long boring session early in the day (chip design and innovation, whatever that means) and I felt it we all needed some kind of catharsis. “I don’t know but let’s see,” I answered as I took her to the narrow passage that passes for a dance floor.

It was just nine pm, but Luna, a bar in the middle of Xintiandi, a haven for lost souls in search of distraction, was teeming with humanity. It seemed the whole world was there: Asians, Americans, Europeans of all colors, genders, and sizes, drinking, talking, laughing, flirting, and some passionately caressing each other. It was a perfect picture for debauchery giving me a sense of irony. In Mao’s China, these activities were labeled “bourgeois decadent lifestyle” deserving years of hard labor in the countryside among the scrawny peasants. We were in Deng Xiaoping’s China (“to get rich is glorious!”) and we—Cristina, Sidharta (economics editor of The Times of India), and me—were curious to find how rapid economic growth is transforming the soul of China.

Luna featured a Pinoy rock band called Friction and—surprise! surprise!—they played “Anak” for starters and the crowd responded with great enthusiasm. As the band shifted to faster beats, people (mostly Caucasian guys with Chinese girls) rose to their feet to dance—or I thought I saw them dancing.

Cristina is a serious lady—PhD in economics and journalism from Columbia University who ate regional financial markets for breakfast—but her face lit up like a Roman candle as we tread our way to the dance floor. As she sprung into action, I felt the music through my senses and to my horror hit a plate of peanuts and glasses of drinks, sending broken shards of glass all over the floor. I turned my back and saw a surprised Chinese guy with a petite European girl with high boots and skimpy black skirts. I clasp my hand like a Thai monk and bowed in heartfelt apology while the bar staff rushed to clean up the mess. The coupled smiled back and raised double thumbs as if to tell me “no problem.” I turned to Cristina and got back to into action as Friction started playing Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Possessed by the rhythm, we danced, we stomped our feet, we wriggled—shamelessly—until two in the morning. Sidharta occasionally joined us but most of the time, he preferred an intimate fellowship with loads of Tsingtao beer while watching the inebriated multitude writhed like damned souls in hell.

Long live Deng’s China!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Beijing: city of cranes

It's my fourth day here in Beijing and all I can see is a city trying to transforming itself. And fast. Its because of the Summer Olympics in August 2008. The streets are clean and the government is planting trees, flowers and all sorts of greens around the city. The stadiums, by the looks of it, are almost done. Yeah, the Olympics are transforming the city, physically. I'm certain, the coming of thousands of people from all over the world because of the Olympics are going to transform China's soul as well--how it sees itself, how it sees the world, and how it will perform its role in the international scene.

The cranes, the construction cranes, are all around the city! The city's skies are full of it, reminding each visitor that this is a city in a hurry. In a hurry to grow, to join the rest of the "developed world," to arrive at the world stage. And it seems to be succeeding. I don't see slums. It seems that the State has succeeded in providing shelters to its people. Its certainly an authoritarian state but its delivering the goods: progress, meaning high economic growth, higher standards of leaving, jobs. It works because deep in the Chinese soul is a yearning for stability. And stability they got.

We already met some interesting people here: business consultants, innovators, engineers, and they all share the optimism for China's future. Interesting place this is.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Jefferson fellowship: next stop, Beijing!

Well, what can i say? Our business here in the Silicon Valley is over. It's almost like a flash. I have learned a lot, have met interesting people, made many friends, and suffered information overload. It would take a few more weeks before I could digest all of them. There would be more work ahead as I need to do more follow ups. Ah, so many things to do, so little time.

Overall, the San Jose phase of the Fellowship is just as good as Honolulu, learning-wise. But now, I have learned more about the secrets of Silicon Valley's success. The network that that the talents in this part of the world is what is driving innovation, not only here in The Valley, but also in places in Taiwan, Israel, China, and India. Despite all the competitive spirit among the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, they do have time to network and learn from each other. They even formed non-profit organizations to mentor each other in management, finance, and marketing. It's a kind of "ecosystem" that nurtures each stakeholder.

I also found out Pinoys do partake of the Silicon Valley experience. They are coming here in droves as accountants and finance experts. I havent met an engineer though. There might be a few. Too bad I really didnt have time to explore this matter. But i'll find that out in other ways.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Jefferson fellowship: surviving those dinners galore!

Wow, a day more and our business here in Silicon Valley is over. We have met lots of people (venture capitalists, innovators, chip designers, economists, media persons, etc) and I have learned a lot of things that i could use to analyze issues on innovation and offshoring in the Philippines. And most of all, I sampled lots of food: mexican, vietnamese, continental, whatever. Oh my! i was hoping I could lose some pounds while travelling. It seems like its not going to happen. All the Fellows, twelve of us plus Ann Hartman and Dr Dieter Ernst from the East-West Center, became friends and we just keep on having dinner together in different places all the time. That means eating lots of food. Of course, people would always treat us to lunch or dinner and the food were always good.

Next stop will be Beijing and Shanghai. It seems there would be lots of receptions and dinners. Liu Kunzhe, that beautiful lady journalist from Beijing already set us up for a grand hot pot dinner! Ewws! Who could refuse all those tasty Chinese cuisine?! Then it will be Bangalore and Chennai. Sidharta, business editor from Delhi, has also planned a great Indian dinner for all of us in Bangalore. I really hope I'll survive all these binges.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Why is Silicon Valley so dynamic?

Why is Silicon Valley so dynamic and creative? So many reasons but it could be explained this way: It's a "habitat", an ecosystem where entrepreneurial culture and risk taking, top-notch educational and research institutions (example: Stanford University), and venture capital thrive. Any person person with a good idea could easily kick off "the next big thing" by attracting venture capital. Venture capitalists are those who are willing to gamble on any start-up company for as long the proponents could offer a novel and innovative business model. Google, Yahoo, Sun Microsystems, YouTube are the most successful models of these Silicon Valley spirit.

The Valley of course has a nice weather (not too hot on summer and not too cold on winter) that ensures quality of life for the creative class that came to the valley from all over the world, particularly India, China, Russia and other countries. The urban design of the cities is European style-- walkable and with lots of greens. Yeah, its a nice place to be.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Jefferson Fellowship: an honesty trip through Silicon Valley

We landed San Jose ten pm last night. I was surprised to find out the weather is sooo cold, probably about 16 degrees C. It was good that I had a sweater with me. Most of the Fellows were freezing.

Saturday is free time so I boarded the Caltrain so San Francisco this morning together with a Japanese journalist friend Nobu Saito. We needed to go because we heard San Francisco is a beautiful city and a SanFo resident agreed to tour us around. The trip took about an hour and a half. We toured the Marina, the Japan town, and its financial district. Indeed, San Francisco is a beautiful city! Not just because of its fine weather, but because of the city's architecture. By 7:30 pm, we were back in San Jose.

I mentioned it was an "honesty" trip because after we bought our round trip ticket (US15 round trip from San Jose to San Francisco), no one really bothered about checking if indeed we had our tickets with us. It was as if they assumed the travellers were honest enough to buy the tickets. A dishonest guy could have actually walked into the train and disembark without paying. Honesty and a lot of entrepreneurial zeal are the things that are making this place the most technologically dynamic place in the world!

As the train runs from San Jose through the Silicon Valley (especially Stanford U, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and San Mateo) all the way to San Francisco, a stranger could only see Suburdia. But behind these suburban landscape dominated by bungalows, low density dwellings and offices, pines, maples, and palms, are an economic dynamism that is unequalled and unrivaled in the world. What explains this thing? That we will soon find out. Oh, I'm so excited! We are going to visit Stanford University and several tech companies. I'll keep you posted.

Got to go! More updates about the Fellowship soon.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Messy path to innovation offshoring

Is innovation outsourcing, the spread of hi-tech R&D in the Asia-Pacific Region, a win-win situation for both America and her trade partners in the region? That’s the focus of the Fellowship I’m attending right now. In truth, however, most countries are experiencing a lot of discomfort over this issue of outsourcing, not just of innovation but the entire outsourcing per se. America for one is agonizing over the loss of jobs and as well as the possibility that its going to lose grounds in hi-tech to China. Australia has the same predicament. Remember that most of these high technologies have dual use (both civilian and military).

South Korea is suffering the pain of its intellectual property being stolen by the Chinese. Japan, due to language barriers, has resisted offshoring but its managers are wondering how far companies could maintain such an approach without losing competitiveness. Singapore has lost of most of its electronics industries (particularly hard disk manufacturing) to China and it’s trying to go into digital media but lacks the manpower and innovativeness to do so. India, one of the most successful ones in the business of offhoring but is saddled by a serious manpower shortage. The Philippines is enthusiastic about the whole business but is also running the risk of suffering from a talent crunch.

Our session here at the East-West Center is over. We will soon move to the Silicon Valley, after which we will fly to China and India. I'll keep you posted.