Little me in big China
China? Why China? Four to eight years there? Good God, that is a mighty long time. “OK so I really don’t mind – China, they say, is an emerging nation so let’s give it a shot,” I said to myself.
We arrived at the Baiyun International Airport on December 28, last year at approximately 4.00 in the afternoon. It was chilly and that surprised me – I had no winter clothing with me! I realized that I had not been as prepared as I thought I was – unpardonable, especially in this day and age when information is literally at one’s fingertips! I had met a few people back home who claimed they knew China well. “Oh Guangzhou is so much like Sri Lanka all year round,” they said. Why would I need winter clothes then?
Looking back, I now realize that there are many in Sri Lanka who would like to get to know the people, the country, the culture and most importantly the mechanisms in place that are so efficiently steering this massive country into an emerging nation. My mission therefore, is to empower my countrymen with an expat insider’s thoughts on this mighty nation.
Our drive from the airport to the Garden Hotel (one of the many five-star hotels in Guangzhou alone) situated in downtown Guangzhou was a good 40 minutes. My very first glimpse of China was a very impressive massive steel sculpture together with a well laid-out highway. The rich plethora of plants bordering the highway caught my attention. The fact that the vehicles were whizzing past us indicated that the roads were perfect for driving.
What also struck me most during my initial glimpse of China was the similarity of this particular highway to those I had seen in Japan - they looked impeccably clean and monstrous. There were highways above us and highways below us, there were highways on the left and highways on the right – I have seen highways on my travels to the west before but this maze of highways certainly caught my attention. I also observed the endless stream of high-end vehicles on the road – the BMWs, the Benzs, Lexus, Rolls Royce etc together with the new Toyota models.
Rather exhausted I finally arrived at the Garden Hotel and was pleasantly surprised by the mammoth Christmas tree outside the hotel and another beauty of a tree, well decorated and well lit, in the foyer. The continuous medley of piped Christmas music made me feel very comfortable – especially because I had left all that behind me and thought I ventured into a very rigid communist country where religion has nothing to do with life. The spirit of Christmas was very much alive – every nook and corner was a delightful reminder of a joyous Christmas.
The Garden Hotel by itself was a massive building with the largest gold plated mural in the whole of China. I looked out of the foyer and all I saw were massive buildings, well lit and well decorated. Everything looked vibrant, new, dynamic and full of life. Massive name boards and hoardings in a delightful array of colour boasted of brands such as Gucci, Paco Rabane on one corner while Starbucks, McDonalds and Pizza Hut showed off on the other – did you say China was a communist state? Well there were no signs of communism here! Was I in Europe by some odd chance? Guangzhou reeked of cosmopolitanism, high consumption and the high consumption was an indication that there was, by and large, a fairly high standard of living.
While I took all this in, Flora, the lady from the office, checked us in to the hotel. I was amused by the staccato style of speech and by the endless apparent explanations. I was also taken aback by the lack of friendliness surrounding me – the concierge, the receptionist, the lift operator – in essence by all and sundry.
After the lady from the office saw us into our rooms we were on our own. I was excited. After freshening up and little rest, we decided to venture out. The mass of humanity, the brilliance of flashing lights, the vibrant colour, the maze of vehicles, highways on all sides and colossal constructions – I was reminded of Harry Potter being lost in the maze – made me realize what a tiny creature I was. My enthusiasm for exploration, my exhilaration died a natural death when I went up to someone and said ‘excuse me, where do I find the reception?’ and the reply was a vacant look with a vigorous shake of the head! It then dawned on me that China was a country where English plays no role – I then realized that there wasn’t a cat around who understood English! I cried, I laughed and I was motivated – I am privileged to be here in China.