Final Reflections on China

It’s been over a week since we arrived in the U.S., exhausted and rumpled from a 15-hour flight from Hong Kong. Anyone else craving dumplings yet?

The trip was well worth the jet lag. Here are some of the highlights now that we’ve all had time to reflect:

1)      The company visits: Our organizers really went above and beyond here. Not only did we get a glimpse of what it’s like to work in what b-school students consider some of the most coveted jobs in the world, we heard the perspective of local developers, too. I actually found our visits with Swire, Hongkong Land and SOHO China the most interesting. It helped that we met with some pretty high level people there.

2)      The food! Just when I thought I had my fill, there was something even more delicious to consume.  Ok, maybe we weren’t all fans of the stinky tofu (it really does stink) or the scorpions on a stick that you could buy in a street market. But I don’t mind the idea of eating dumplings for breakfast.

3)      The sights!! Bonus points to our organizers here. We hit all the major ones on my list, plus stuff that was off my radar. The Great Wall was pretty incredible—and thankfully, we did not visit at the same time as Michelle Obama, which would have surely added to the traffic on the way there. And I for one was impressed with that Giant Buddha, even though it was erected all the way back in 1993.

Finally 4) The group. It was a pleasure getting know everyone’s backgrounds and their future plans. I was impressed by the questions that were asked during our company meetings. The students on this trip truly eat, sleep and breathe real estate.   Image

Overall, I feel lucky to have been a part of this while at Columbia. Big shout out to Karl, Maria, Scott and Bria for making it happen!

-Anjali Athavaley ‘14


Built-Up Beijing

It may be just a few hours away by plane, but Beijing feels vastly different from Hong Kong. I can’t read the street signs and just ate pigeon off a stick in a market. Now THIS is China!

Anyone hungry for starfish?
Anyone hungry for starfish?

We’ve been incredibly lucky to enjoy some sunny, clear days here. The unexpected weather has made our site visits even better.

On Thursday, the folks at Swire Properties gave us a tour of their outdoor mall Taikoo Li, located in the Chaoyang district of Beijing. The complex consists of more than a million square feet of retail. The South side has stores that drive foot traffic, like Uniqlo, while the North side is all high-end retailers—think Miu Miu and Emporio Armani.

On the North side, it seemed like retailers had taken huge amounts of space for the amount of foot traffic they were getting. That afternoon, there were few shoppers in sight. Swire said that while shoppers might not be visible on the streets, celebrities who discreetly took elevators stopped by on occasion. In our meeting, Swire added that retailers mainly wanted a presence in Beijing and may start to think more about productivity per square foot in the future.

Our meeting with Soho China was equally fascinating. The developer says its niche is in prime office properties in Beijing and Shanghai. The company’s trendy offices—complete with open spaces and ping pong tables–seemed typical of a startup in Soho, New York.

The design and construction of the office complex we saw, however, was quite different from buildings in the U.S. Check out photos of the Galaxy below.

The building, designed by Zaha Haidid Architects
The building, designed by Zaha Haidid Architects
A close-up shot of the construction at Galaxy.
A close-up shot of the construction at Galaxy.

The trip to the Galaxy was our final company visit. That meant it was time for an acrobat show, the Great Wall and more dumplings.

The Great Wall!!
The Great Wall!!

This will be my final post before heading back to the U.S. I’m so thrilled I was able to experience this country through the lens of real estate. Seems like there is no better time to do it – I’ve lost count of the number of cranes and construction sites I’ve seen here.

See you all back in Uris and have a safe flight, everyone!

Anjali Athavaley ‘14

Get Ready for Dim Sum and Developers

Spring break is finally here. For those of us on the Chazen Real Estate Study Tour, that means leaving our bathing suits behind for business attire and heading to Hong Kong and Beijing.

The reason? Because we’re about to have one of the most fun and fascinating experiences of our CBS careers, obviously!

Our organizers have put together an extensive itinerary that includes meetings with companies ranging from Blackstone, the world’s largest private equity firm, to local players like Swire Properties, one of the largest commercial landlords based in Hong Kong.

Company visits are just part of the agenda. In our spare time, we’ll see the Symphony of Lights, a famous light and laser show in Hong Kong. In Beijing, we’ll tour the Great Wall, Forbidden City and Tian’anmen Square. Of course, no CBS outing is complete without a night of karaoke. And those of us who are adventurous eaters will surely encounter some interesting food options. (As our agenda packet suggests, don’t be afraid to try the sticky bean curd and sample some shredded jellyfish.)

I can’t think of a more exciting time to experience the real estate boom in China firsthand. Population shifts from rural to urban areas are fueling demand for housing. But as we’ve all seen in the news, property prices have been rising so fast that many industry-watchers point to a bubble.

Moreover, we should examine issues of affordability with a curious and critical eye. One of our organizers, Karl Chan, gave us a teaser of what’s to come in his presentation on social problems under the real estate boom. I was surprised to see the size of cubicle apartments in Hong Kong, which I learned has the highest ratio of median housing prices to median income in the world.

Just a quick introduction on your blogger: I am a Knight-Bagehot fellow studying at CBS this year. I used to cover New York commercial real estate for the Wall Street Journal. I look forward to expanding my knowledge of real estate beyond the local level—and also, eating dim sum and singing karaoke with the group.

More to come soon. Safe travels, everyone.

-Anjali Athaveley ’14