Sunday & other days in Shanghai & Guangzhou
- Part 4 -

By R.E.Gonmei *

For the next four days of my stay in the hotel, Sunny would walk up to my breakfast table & chat me up. During this time, her other colleagues also starts talking with me. One of them is Shelly (or Sherry ..... I'm not sure). When I ask her her name, she said, "My name is Shelly", & then she wrote 'S-h-e-r-r-y' on a fresh page in her little pocket note book.

"Oh Sherry !", I say
"Ya ... ya ..... Shelly !", she nods her head !
I let it rest there ......

Then she too goes on to tell me about herself, her dreams, and so on. She & Sunny are classmates in the same university. She too will return to class after the Canton Fair. At one point when Sunny was attending to other guests in the restaurant, Shelly tells me, "I never knew that my friend's name is Sunny !"....... This reminds me of another girl we met in Beijing during my visit to that city about a year ago .................

In China, for some reason, women are at the forefront of everything ....... especially, in the spheres of marketing, hospitality & public relations. But even in the factories & warehouses, u see women doing 'manly' tasks ..... heavy physical work ..... hauling tiles, stones ......... operating fork-lifts ...... its normal stuff for them. When it comes to work, there is no gender differentiation. Most highway toll booths are manned by smartly-dressed, uniformed girls ........ even in the middle of the night.

It is in China that for the first time I saw professional women door-keepers in hotels ..... city bus drivers ..... cab drivers. U see women going to work early in the morning & also routinely working late into the night. The men seem to be only hovering in the background. The women are also more vocal than their male counterparts. Personal safety does not seem to be a concern at all. Unlike in most other countries, u do not hear of women being mistreated / molested or raped. There seems to be a high degree of equality between men & women.

The girl we met in Beijing last year said her name was Wendy...... the company gave her this name. "But if I change my job and join another company, I will change my name. Maybe 'Linda' ...... or 'Linny' ..... or maybe 'Lily' .... I don't know".

I try to imagine what it would be like to change one's identity with one's job.............

Beijing Lu is to Guangzhou what Nanjing Lu is to Shanghai. It's a lively pedestrian shopping street plaza ....... a shoppers' paradise ..... toys, clothes, electronic gadgets, household items, etc. Somewhere near one end of the plaza, there's this glass-covered rectangular 'pit' in the floor of the plaza. U look down into the 'pit' through the thick, transparent glass cover ..... about three & a half feet below u see a section of the exposed layers of the original brick & cobble roads dating back to the Ming & Song Dynasties.

A little boy breaks free of his mother's arms, climbs onto the glass cover & starts running up & down its length, giggling, laughing & shrieking.....thrilled by the transparency of the floor he is stepping on ...... while his mother calls out to him & tries to reach him ....... ..... ..... Someone points a camera at the boy ....... shoots with a flash........ the boy runs back to the safety of his mother's arms .......... looking back, wide eyed, to see what was that flash about ...........

Towards the other end of the plaza, there's a make-shift 'photo studio' under a white fabric canopy. There are tables, chairs & sofas ...... all upholstered in plain & embroidered white fabric. There are framed photos of couples in wedding dresses on the tables. A young couple, both in white wedding dresses, is being photographed. The western dress (white wedding gown & white suit) is only for the photo shoot ...... the actual wedding ceremony is normally conducted in traditional Chinese wedding attire.

Before leaving, I walk into a music store & pick up a couple of folk & classical Chinese music CDs & DVDs. Besides the visual images captured in my mind, I wanted to take back with me a little bit of the sounds of China .................

If you're in Guangzhou, u can't afford to miss the evening boat cruise down the Pearl River which flows through the middle of the city. It was mid December last year ...... there were about eight to ten of us in the group. U could choose to sit in the enclosed lower deck of the boat ..... & listen to the recorded narration of the history of the city & the buildings along the river while u nurse your drink & take in the view ............. or the upper deck where u get an open all-round view of the city. We decide to enjoy the icy cold winter wind on the open upper deck.

Modern skyscrapers stand side by side with those majestic French, Portuguese & British edifices along both banks of the river, all decked up for the visual pleasure of tourists & other visitors like us. As in Shanghai here, too, all the buildings are lit up in various colors & patterns of light. But its even more dazzling here................. the building facades are alive with high technology gigantic electronic visuals. U can see dozens of laser beams sweeping the night sky from atop the spires of the taller buildings. Here, along the Pearl River, every evening is an evening to celebrate .................. & to remember .........

It's 9 pm ........ long past Chinese dinner time ....... by 6pm, most Chinese are thru with dinner. Most of the team members decide to have an Indian dinner in an Indian food restaurant (there are quite a few of them in Guangzhou). This is one thing I've observed over & over again with many of my Indian co-travellers. They just can't do without Indian food ....... & most aren't interested in experiencing other food types of other countries & cultures ..... even during the few days outside the country.

Fortunately, there are many good authentic Indian restaurants in most cities. In India, I do not know of any authentic Chinese restaurant ...... serving all kinds of creatures ..... serious-looking gigantic crabs & lobsters; long, thick eels; different varieties of juicy-looking, fat worms; those long, green snakes; octopus; snails ....... Since the Chinese eat everything under the sun & moon, the list is long. Somehow, chicken & beef are not very popular with the Chinese. But they really love pork meat.

If u happen to be in China, u must'nt miss going to one of those 'BBQ' (barbeque) restaurants .... It's an experience. At the center of every table, there's a round hole (about a foot & a half in diameter) with a burner. The waiter will help u boil water in an open pan-type pot. Then u choose whatever u wanna eat from the raw items displayed on the buffet-style counter in the middle of the restaurant. U then boil the selected items in the pot on your table. As u eat, u put more of whatever u wanna eat into the boiling pot .... as much as u can or wanna eat. U drink the boiling soup as well. It's an experience worth experiencing ......

Anyways, a couple of us decide to drive down to Foshan (about a hundred kilometers ....... an hour's drive away) for dinner. In Foshan we go to one of the many open air food plazas serving mostly local Chinese food. Most joints have, besides all kinds of water creatures, green snakes in wire cages as part of the menu. We choose a joint without snakes. We look around ..... not too many people at this hour.

For non-vegetarians, it's manageable. But the lack of veg choice in the menu is torture for pure vegetarians. All of us in the group are, fortunately, all non-vegetarians. By the time we're finished with dinner, it's nearly 12 midnight. All of a sudden, the plaza comes alive with hundreds of diners.......... They're all out there for the last supper of the day !

The Chinese (especially in southern China) normally have four meals a day ....... one early in the morning, the second at around 12 noon, the third at 6pm & finally the fourth & the last meal is taken at 12 midnight. U see them eating, drinking, joking & laughing boisterously till two ..... & even three in the morning. But by 7 or 8 the next morning, they're all back to work.

The Chinese are a very hard working people. But if u think about it, most of them really have not much else to look forward to.... except for their National Day celebrations (about one week long) & the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), there are no other holidays. No labour unions ...... no strikes ....... no bandhs. No religion so to say ...... no religious festivals ...... no communal friction ....... No caste system ...... no discrimination ...... all are equal. Since there are no political elections like we have here in India, no one really talks about politics. Anyway, there appears little need to discuss such matters when the government is already doing a fairly good job of governance.

Although there's a miniscule population of Chinese who believe in the concept of God, almost all Chinese do not really believe in the heaven & hell concept after life on earth. Were he to be living in China, John Lennon would have been a very happy man indeed. Of the 1.3 billion Chinese today, only about150 million are Buddhists. That's less than 12% of the total population.

The estimated figure for Christians in China vary widely from 35 million to 80 million. I was surprised to learn that the largest number of Bibles printed in the world are printed by a single publisher in China. More than 3.5 million copies are printed annually (mostly for local consumption). Muslims number around 11 million. And there are about 5.5 million followers of Daoism. So, on the whole, just about 15% of Chinese practice some form of religion.

In China, morality does not stem from religion. It stems from an innate sense of responsibility towards oneself & others around us. It is this sense of responsibility, coupled with the fear of the law, which has ensured a very low crime rate. Any action that hurts others or has detrimental effects on society at large is considered criminal ..... hence immoral.

And that is pretty much what all religions of the world teach. Deviant conduct is dealt with according to the laws of the land. So it is the fear of the law of the land rather than the fear of a god which guides the moral conduct of the Chinese. Judgement is delivered, reward is bestowed ..... & punishment is meted out right here on this earth ... in this life. They do not wait for heaven or hell. While most religions of the world seek to control the spiritual & worldly lives of their followers by means of fear ......... fear of the unknown, the Chinese adopt a very practical, down-to-earth approach to life & living ...... do no harm .... create, nurture & enjoy beauty ...... in man and nature ....

The country's one-child policy is strictly enforced with an iron hand. This means a typical Chinese couple will have one child & two sets of parents (husband's parents & wife's parents). If due to any reason, the wife is not working ...... & the parents are retired, the husband has to support 7 people himself, his wife, their child, his parents & her parents .... till the child is old enough to start earning. But again, that child also will eventually end up supporting 7 people. It's a tough life. And one can only imagine the loneliness of the child .... no brother .... no sister ..... only him or herself & the other adults. Any couple having more than one child is promptly penalized, I'm told ......... a fine of Yuan 100,000/- & loss of job. But I have come across quite a few Chinese who have more than one sibling.

I know of a Chinese couple friend who has a daughter. Sometime back the wife became pregnant with their second child. She wrote me a mail ..... " I was careless. I should've been more careful. I do not know what to do. If we have the child, I'll lose my job. And we have no money to pay the fine....". I didn't know what & how to reply. Her next mail read, "We decided not to have the second child. I had an abortion last week. Now I'm fine. I try to not think about it. But sometimes I feel bad & guilty............................ ".

I wonder what kind of effect such harsh state policies will have on the emotional & social health of its people in the long run. Could such severe regulations adversely affect the country's economic health as well in the years to come ? Or will it lead to a happier society ? I guess we'll all have to wait & see ........... ..................


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 22nd 2008.

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