China visit : First impressions!

Let me  be  a bit honest and  also rather blunt. I am simply overwhelmed by what I saw in China now.

The massive-scale developments, giant international airports, very modern elevated roads within the cities and outside, the vast skyscrappers, one the third highest tower in the world, the vast  malls and  the very high standards of living, the general health and happiness of the average Chinese people over-awed me. Roads are so clean, no dust and no litters anywhere and also people very polite and very considerate for visitors. There is a sense of fulfillment and a material culture that gives much hope and optimism about the future of  the world. There is a moral core I could detect in the lives of the people and their country. In me arose a sense of dismay and disappointment  about India, our leadership which doesn’t tell our people how China is doing, how China is compared with India and what we should be doing. Here, almost no top leaders are even talking about things. Silent men and women, feeling helpless in the face of challenges to governance and also no determination and decisive leadership to explain and expound principles and not even fixing targets, let alone achieving them.

What a democratic deficit? Compared with China’s governing  style dividend!

Not the least I must admit the Chinese leaders too seemed very restrained and  benign and a certain sense of an  open society I could guess at happening.

Of course, I saw India a different country, a great democracy. But then why Indian leaders, let alone intellectuals and other civil society activists don’t talk about why we are lagging behind China which is roughly  15 years ahead of India. In everything they have done. High speed Maglev train and the other speedy train services are underway. I can’t but admire and acknowledge with a sense of Asian solidarity!

The Air China flight direct from Bangalore to Shanghai takes 8 hours, first stop at Chengdu at a desolate countryside(now a booming city, we were told) after 5.30 hours of flying and then changing crew the same aircraft flies into Shanghai after another 2.30 hours. Once in Shanghai, you realise that here is a city about which not many Indians  likely to know, at any rate not us. The visitors would be greatly impressed by the booming city of commerce and much history.
The slow flowing river, called Huangpu River, almost divides the city into two parts.

The Bund is the Wall Street of China and here you can see and stroll leisurely, as we did almost all the days where stand the famed hotels and offices of big old trading companies dating back to the British, French and other foreign trade companies.

All the famous star hotels dating back to the British and French colonial times, stand here side by side. The famous Peace hotel established by the famous Sassoon, the Peninsula, the Hong Kong based hotel are the two we visited on some errands!

The world’s third top highest tower is here with 100 and odd floors, so too other jaw breaking heights of towers, all concrete and glass make you wonder when will Indian catch up this feverish building activity we saw in Shanghai.

We after a few days ,learnt to wander through the back streets and small alleys as we went about searching for our destinations.
May be that was the most wonderful experience that might live through our memories all the years.

There are skyscrapers everywhere, in the new and the old towns, the old town is a real replica of an imported colonial culture and architecture, all lined up along the famed Bund, a river bed that dams and directs the smooth and slow flowing famed river,
After spending one week at Shanghai  I came back to India and found that India  is left behind China in its economic development by at least a decade, if not more. Everything in China, airports, both Chengdu at the central location in South China and  Shanghai, a bustling city on the eastern coast, very much a commercial capital of some a century and half of history, it was a shocking revelation. Chengdu airport is almost  very huge, even surpassing the London Heathrew by many times. The aerobridges alone I could count to some one hundred and more. It is built in such a way that made me realise that the Chinese have planned the airport for a next one century or more! Such is the mind-boggling size and  scope. Almost every two minutes I could see a jumbo jet lining up the runways to take off. Such the scale of activity in the airport. So too the Shanghai airport where we landed to see, again a huge and vast complex, almost the counters for passengers checkup is again very lengthy and very well-planned for the next many years of any passenger capacity.

In each of these airports we saw almost all the Asian countries sending their national air carriers, from Singapore Airlines to Vietnam and ,name other countries, we saw their national carriers proudly carrying their national flags high. Alas! It became a sad though to realise that of all the Asian nations only India, supposedly the biggest neighbour, doesn’t have its national carrier, Air India, not in sight! So, it looked that only we in India seems to be blissfully unaware of the outside world as far as South East Asia is concerned. Neither we saw any Indian faces among the tourist crowds nor among the common Chinese population that throngs the major streets of Shanghai.

The Nanjing Road East pedestrian walks, a beautifully laidout open walkway, all high quality marble laid and also beautifully designed gardens and marble land chairs and sit outs, brought a new sense of elan, a new optimism and a new sense of achievement throughout the day and also night. The crowds was such that there is every sign of Chinese people from other parts of China thronging to the pedestrian walkways so shop, to eat and entertain themselves in so numerous ways. In all our days in the city  we couldn’t walk into or walk out of the thoroughfare either in passing or for simple delight of sightseeing and  visiting the malls that are simply huge and gigantic affairs.

All the world’s best brands, from Hermes to Tiffany’s to other big brans have their shops there. If you can’t spend in lakhs then you have no work in these shops. Yes, everything was high end. There are high end cars too. There were parked Rolls Royce, Jaguar and many other brands. The entire city is filled with high end cars, mercedes to other brands, all the high end taxis are Audi cars, and the super brands like Rolls, Porche and Macerating have their show rooms in Shanghai.

Maglev, the world’s first fastest train

From the airport we took the high speed train, called affectionately, as maglev(magnetic levitation technology-driven high speed train that takes you into the city, in 15 seconds, running to a speed of 420km per hour! In our short run it made us feel like a flying train. It runs from Pudong International airport to its terminal in just 8 minutes!(Longyang Road station is the terminal from where you have to change trains.

Those with air tickets there is a concession, for one person it costs  Yuan 50 per person.

The taxi from the airport to the city center costs Y 160.One Yuan is equivalent to Rs.10.

It literally flies over the rails and  in the next  few days we used to see the high speed, bullet-fast  Maglev, almost everyday. It is a technological wonder and it is said that only China runs this commercially viable train in the world. By the way China has also specialised in other types of high speed train technologies and once in China you can experience this new generation Maglev, you can’t but admire the vast network of Shanghai Metro, again a vast operation that covers almost the entire city which runs in either direction some 150 km and 150 km. We took the Metro twice, once a short hop and the next time it took us almost to the outer limit of the city once.

It was a real experience. Compared to the Bangalore Metro that is now in its initial phase, it looks like a baby step!

May be by the time we finish the Bangalore Metro to some respectable spread, it might be another three r five years.

In so many such technologies, including the vast network of elevated roads and six-lane highways, China is definitely years ahead of India.
All the city taxis are latest cars, Toyato and Audi and other Japanese and Korean cars. All driven with much precision and discipline. No higgle-haggle there in China.

Of course I should note down here that as soon as we disembarked from the Maglev, we came out of the railway platform and saw one woman, only one woman, who  didn’t look poor but she was begging on the street with her child, a small daughter. That created  a surprise for me. In all my week-long stay, only once more, this time too it was a rare sight, I saw one man begging in the main road in the busy Nanjnig  crossing area. Otherwise, people all look well fed and well groomed and well-dressed, oh, the average Chinese girl is so fashion conscious, it is all minis and what have you.

As for boys too they are all well-dressed and well groomed and the only surprising thing is that an average Chinese boy or a girl can’t speak one word of English!

This make you wonder, it made me wonder that even without such knowledge of English, if the Chinese people can build such  vast enterprises, most of the Chinese manufacturing come from public sector companies, though the private sector is now thriving in select economic zones. Even Chendu is located in a special economic zone where most of the Indian IT companies are located, I was told.

The Shanghai city proper has much to give the average tourists, though we were not in search of the modern day  sightseeing spots. The taxi drivers are mostly honest, we never had any problems with them.
We had our own agenda and there were such a lot of things to do, to learn and get things done even in this far off place.

Very soon after our arrival or even before we left Bangalore, we got in touch with some of the clients who were all linked with our media and other online activities and that gave us an insight  into the workings of the minds of businessmen and entrepreneurs. This is a city ideal for international trading activities. Surprisingly we met two African businessmen who were living in Shanghai for 25 years and the last 15 years or so they have done so much work for the African governments in exporting agriculture machinery and other hard machinery and here was an insight for us to learn from them.

So too other businessmen. One who had done much in converting stevia leaves into crystal sugar and exporting to other countries. While in India, with all its big noise about the Green Revolution, the ICAR hasn’t got any such agri technological inventions and this was surprising how much progress the Chinese have made in agriculture exports. This was only one small instance.

There were many such developments. While we were in Shanghai, we read how the Peking government was hosting an African summit of state heads to boost Chinese investments in African nations.

Surprisingly again, there was hardly an Indian face and wherever we went we were keenly watched and people were surprised to see us in the Indian traditional costumes and they all seemed impressed with the Indian culture and customs while they were already getting “Westernised” in their taste for foreign brands and the latest fashion fads!

People and language
People are extremely polite and courteous and are willing to stop and help you and spend time on your behalf. One lady tunnel train ticket inspector was very helpful and when I told her to travel with us the full length of the travel, some 10 minutes, she said:”Please come to my home and I want to serve you the best Chinese dinner!”

Another young girl  who spoke English and said she was serving as an intern, whom we asked the way to the East Nanjing Road, said:”Please come with me. I am just going there by the underground Metro. I will take you all with me!”She literally walked us a few metres and went down the train platform and showed us how to get the tickets by the automatic machine and once we go the tickets got us into the next Metro train and in the next station she bid goodbye to us!

I wondered how many of us, we Indians would spend such time on unknown foreigners!

Language
Chinese speak what they call the Mandarin, the standard language and pronunciation. There is another very widely spoke dialect, called Cantonese, spoken in the Southern China, more so in Hong Kong.
In Shanghai, they say they speak another variation, called Shanghainese, spoken by 13 million people of Shanghai. In fact, we learn that the Chinese language(which I studied in my student days at Santiniketan in the  late 1950s and was to travel to China for further studied some half a century ago!)Have many dialects even today. And let us not forget China is, very much India is a very diversified country with various geographical regions, the North is very different geographically as well as culturally, Tibet and the border region, also the Inner Mangolia have their own distinct languages and cultures, has quite a rich diversified culture and languages and literatures.

We also travelled and spent time in one very fashionable part called French Concession, the French quarters, if we can say so, very much like the Pondicherry’s French quarter.

Here tree-lined streets give a beautiful contrast, very calm, quiet and very soothing to the fresh air pervading there.

Now, what we did in Shanghai, others won’t do, as we thought so, were the four national historic sites, the former residences of the great Chinese leaders.

First we visited the former living quarter of the great Chinese leader and patriot and liberator of China from the foreign occupants, Sun Yat-sen. In what was then called the Moliere Street. Here Soong Qingling lived here till 1937.

He is very much like our own Mahatma Gandhi. He was born in the late 19th century and died in 1925 in Peking.

This is his long time residence in Shanghai. I have to write separately about him and his historical importance. I would consider Sun Yat-sen greater than Mahatma. There are very many historical reasons.
On the same road, though this we discovered only the next day is the former  residence of Chou Enlai, the Communist Premier who had visited many times. I had the great privilege of shaking hands with great leader as I was then(1955-59)studying Chinese language under the legendary Prof.Tan Youn-Shan.

When we reached this house it was already four past in the afternoon and the premises was closed. When I rang the doorbell it was answered immediately. Once the guard came to know we are from India he was gracious enough to open the doors and showed us around the premises. There are the rooms Chou used, including one suitcase that he carried from his northern hideout whenever he came here to stay and organise the propaganda. Here too there is much for me to tell on Chou and the China India war time happenings. Later I would write.

Another important site was the original home where Mao Tse Tung lived for long! His rooms, his personal effects, including the sofa he sat and received visitors and the ground floor table and chairs, here too  he would sit and receive friends and colleagues and visitors.
On the last day of our stay we rushed through to visit another famous shrine. This is the residence of Soog Qingling(1893-1981)Mrs.Sun Yatsen, a great lady of charm and energy.

She ,along with her two other Soong sisters went to the USA for her education and came back and married three great men, the other Soong sister married none other than the great Chiang Kai shak, the Komintong leader.

Madam Sun Yat-sen lived through the years of China’s many revolutions, starting from the  1912 Revolution which drew her towards Sun Yatsen and when she married him in Japan to her later years along with the Komintang and then with the Communist Revolution of 1949.

She was made the chairperson of the Chinese Communist government. Even now she is a much revered national icon.

Obviously, she was a very strong person and a personality, well-versed in Chinese and foreign affairs, she visited India(as dis her other sister)she was friend of Pandit Nehru and she lived till 1980.
Her English looks very contemporary, she was sent to an English school in Shanghai and then she went to attend US colleges, Wesley College.
All the personal effects, her first passport, her medals, her marriage certificate and many other personal memorabilia are well preserved and guarded.

All of us were very pleased with this visit for the life of Madam Sun Yat sen is a source of inspiration for many women leaders in her own time and later in our own times too.

All these residences are now guarded as  historic sites, though the tourist literature doesn’t highlight the places.

One word about the present government in Peking. Both the Prime Minister, Wen Jiabo and President Hu Jintao belong to the new generation of Communist leaders. They seem to be very open-minded, they adopt a very moderate line on many international affairs and they also seem to realise that before long the Chinese people too would yearn for more freedoms and also some more recognised democratic rights and institutions. Mao, ZHou Enlai, Deng, Jiang  Zemin, who was mayor of Shanghai, now Hu Jintao. These are the  Chinese leaders we must remember. Another Shanghai man  is now the Vice-President in Beijing. Thus, Shanghai is the political powerhouse even now!

Though at present there is very little sign towards this opening of the Chinese society and politics.

There are no newspapers as we have in India. No bookshops as we have here. In all of Shanghai, I could find one newspaper. Though I was give a blitz-like tabloid version of a daily called Shanghai daily.
In the biggest Shanghai book shop, Charterhouse book trader, a 7-floor large book shop, there is not one single latest book in English. The Economist magazine was not replaced for full four days. The old issue hangs, while the Time magazine’s cover of the US Time magazine featuring Manmohan Singh in a poor light there five copies unsold when I went there.

So much for the Chinese interest in the outside world.

Yes, China still seems to be an odd country. It is still shrouded in many mysteries. It is still an enigma.

Though Chinese people and  their current leaders seem  loveable too!
By the way, the Chinese standard of living is quite considerable compared with India. The per capita income in China is 5,000 dollars, while in India  it is still 1,500  dollars only!

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