Sunday & other days in Shanghai & Guangzhou
- Part 3 -

By R.E.Gonmei *

My agent friend calls up 'The Garden Hotel'...... no rooms available. 'Holiday Inn' has a room .... but is priced at a whopping US $ 425/- .......... way beyond my budget. It's normal practice to hike room tariffs by 200% - 300% during the fair. 'Ramada' has a deluxe suite ........ but I don't need (& cannot afford) a suite ..... 'White Swan' is fully booked ........

About two hours later, I check into this very quiet & beautiful hotel service apartment, called the Star River Hotel Service Apartments, located within walking distance from the Pearl River, on the outskirts of Guangzhou city. Away from the hustle-n-bustle of the city, it's an altogether different world here..... beautifully designed lush green landscape ..... pebbled, little streams, fish pools, waterfalls & rockeries, well-manicured flower beds, shrubs, visually soothing green grass lawns, different varieties of trees, ....... all very soothing to the senses. If u don't mind the 40 minute (one way) drive to the city, it's a near perfect place to unwind.

The Chinese do not drink 'English' tea like we Indians do. They prefer 'Clear Mind Tea', 'Cleansing Tea', 'Good Skin Tea', 'Good Balance Tea', 'Oolong Tea', 'Pu Er Tea', 'Kung-Fu Tea', 'Ginseng Tea' & other such teas. They also do not, normally, deliver newspaper to your room (u have to ask for it .... not once but atleast 2 to 3 times). Only if u're lucky, will u get one.

I decide not to go thru that exercise today. I switch on the TV. All Chinese language channels .... except 'CCTV International' (the only English language Chinese channel). China is celebrating the successful launch of the country's first lunar orbiter, called Chang'e 1, named after a mythical Chinese fairy who is said to have flown to the moon .. .. ............. ... ... ........... .. ................ ....... ... .. .. .. . . . .

China Export Commodities Fair (CECF), more popularly known as 'Canton Fair', is held twice a year one in Spring & the other in Autumn. The mind-boggling scale at which the fair is organized must be seen to be believed. The 102nd Canton Fair (Autumn 2007) is being held in two locations the Pazhou Complex & the Liuhua Complex, covering a total exhibition floor area of around four million square feet. Manufacturers & exporters of thousands of Chinese product types are here to exhibit their products to the rest of the world. Thousands of visitors / buyers from all corners of the globe flock to Guangzhou during this time of the year. The spirit is festive ...... I spend the second half of my first day here.

This is where it begins ........ the journey for most Chinese products to the rest of the world starts here. From candles to tea cups, spoons, furniture, stone, tiles, glassware, metalware, building materials ............ u name it ........ & it's there. There are, of course, other fairs, besides the Canton Fair, in different cities at different times for different product ranges. For instance, China Medical Equipment Fair is also being held simultaneously in Chengdu city in south-central China.

As I mingle with the crowd & explore the exhibition, I feel like I'm in wonderland ............ soaking in the images & sounds around me ............. the number of products & the variety of designs is overwhelming. In fact, visiting China is a mind-opener. I now know many people who used to be staunch China skeptics but have become staunch China fans post their China visits ...... telling others that everyone must see China.

The general opinion that China is a closed society is not wholly true. They have probably seen & absorbed the outside world more than we & most other countries have. It is we who need to step out & look at ourselves from the outside. Then u begin to think what have we been doing for the last 60 independent years, whereas, in probably less than a decade, these guys have taken the world by storm. During those years, who ever knew what these Chinese were up to behind that Wall of theirs ?

Today, we're living in a world made in China. Take a closer look at everything that's around us ...... computers, furniture, lights, torchlights, lamp shades. crockery, cell phones, air-conditioners, pens, footwear, clothes, accessories, toys, jewelleries, cameras, ipods, greeting cards, books, etc., etc., ....... U'll find 'Made in China' labels on all of them. I guess, like the Stone Age, Bronze Age, the Ice Age, etc., it'll take the world quite a while to pass this age ... the China Age.

But coming to think of it, why wud we ever want this China Age to end at all ? If the world were one big city, wherein China is the industrial/manufacturing zone while other sectors of this global city focus on other functions, it would free the rest of the world's human resources to pursue other more exciting & intellectually satisfying endeavours. As long as products manufactured in China conform to uniform international quality standards, and are procurable at controlled/competitive prices, this shudn't be an issue.

In China, there are different cities for different product types ........ for instance, Shunde is for all kinds of furniture......... besides the monumental showroom complexes, u'll see miles & miles of furniture showrooms lining both sides of the roads from & to Lecong town (Shunde Dist). If u're looking for luminaires, you go to Zhongshan city. There you'll see nothing else but lights all over the city.

An American colleague of mine, who travelled with me during my previous China visit, said, "I can't even begin to comprehend the scale ........ the breadth ... of the Chinese vision ...... & their way of doing things .... It's simply too large to take in......" I agree with her one hundred percent. Look at the Great Wall ....... more than 6000 running kilometres of solid stone wall .... across barren deserts & wild mountainous terrains ...... the blood, sweat & probably tears of thousands of men & women gone into building it ........ & over many generations ....... sheer madness. There is definitely a peculiar streak of madness in the Chinese method. The well-known terra-cotta soldiers for instance............. It's something in the blood ... in the genes .....

A couple of months back, I had read about a small village in central China where the hillside forming the backdrop for this picturesque li'l village had been shorn of all vegetation by unscrupulous contractors who had quarried into the hillside for construction stone.

The hill behind the village looked like there was a giant patch of raw wound on its side. The local authorities decide to do something about it. ..... they paint this gigantic patch of 'raw wound' (a li'l less than a quarter kilometre in length & about 1/8th of a kilometre high) on the hillside with forest green paint ! That's Chinese ....... I do because I can........ or something like that.

Back in the hotel, the next morning, I take an early morning stroll in the hotel gardens. I come across a beautiful blue water swimming pool in the midst of this lush green garden. As I approach the pool, I notice the water is dead still & crystal clear. No one's around. No poolside chairs either. Then I notice a small signboard nearby ....... It read,`Please do not swim between October to May. Sorry for the inconvenience'.

This leaves only June, July, August & September ....... most of the rains fall during this period ..... & it's the off-season for visitors / tourists. I take a closer look as I walk around the pool ........ no overflow channel ....... no drain outlets on the pool floor ..... in short, no re-circulation & water filteration system ..... Hope they incorporate one in the near future ....... & reverse the notice on the signboard ........

At the breakfast table, seeing that I was alone, a smart, young waitress walks up to my table & just starts chatting..."Hullo, my name is Sunny. I like to smile. U like the breakfast ?", she smiles brightly.
I say, "Very much".
"Where u come from?", she asks.
"India", I reply.
"Oh !? How can it be ?! U look Chinese ! Your ancestors Chinese ? Or half-Chinese !?".
"No, ..... I don't think so. Don't know .... Maybe. Where did u learn to speak English ?", I ask her.

"Oh, I'm still a student in university. I learn English there. I'm working here as trainee in this restaurant till the Canton Fair is over. Then I go back to university. I will finish my course in international trade next year". Then she continues, "I like to talk to people & make friends with new people all the time.

I think there are many things I can learn from others, especially how to speak English. Whenever I hear English-speaking guests, I try to listen to them speak & I try to talk to them. I want to see other cities in other countries. I want to learn about other cultures".

Very quickly realizing that I was not the talking type, she continues the mostly one-way conversation, almost in the manner of delivering a well-rehearsed speech in front of an audience, trying to fill in the silent gaps between our questions & answers ..... telling me almost everything about herself, her family (father & mother) back in her little mountain village, her aspirations ........... I listen ..... sipping on the fresh, hot green tea. I'm surprised by the intellectual maturity of such a young girl.

"Tell me sunny, what is it u desire the most now ?", I ask her.

"I dream of stepping inside the Canton Fair exhibition one day. But first I have to finish my university course. Right now, I'm not allowed to enter the fair. Also, the entry fee is RMB 300. But one day I want to start my own business".

"Sunny, what's your Chinese name ?", I ask.
She says something in Chinese. I tell her to write it down on the paper napkin. She writes,
"Zhang _ Yuanxing".
"What does it mean ?", I ask her
"Zhang is my family name. Yuanxing means 'distant star'.
As I get up to leave, I tell her that she's gonna be a 'star' some day ..............

To be continued ....

Read Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |

* R.E.Gonmei contributes for the first time to The writer can be contacted at r_emei(at)yahoo(dot)com . This article was webcasted on April 12th 2008.

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