Saturday, July 24, 2010

Zaijian Zhongguo

Goodbye China, goes the title of this post. For this will be my last post from China as I wind up here and head back to India. For nearly three years, Guangzhou has been my home and you’ll perhaps forgive me for a misty eyed long farewell post.

One of the first things that struck me when I decided to come here was how little, we in India, know about China. We study a lot about European history and culture, the Pharaohs of Egypt, the Incas and Aztecs of South America, everything about the US. But we know very little about China – most Indians can’t even name a city after Beijing and Shanghai, let alone know about China’s rich history. The reverse is equally true – very few Chinese know anything about India at all. I came to China as a newbie, quite ignorant of this country.

I leave China, equally ignorant, but perhaps with a greater understanding of my ignorance. China is a complex, fascinating country rich in culture, diversity, history and tradition. It is changing at such a rapid rate that it is almost impossible to keep up. It is a country like no other in the world

Business China is, of course, fascinating and excruciating at the same time. Probably the best known facet of China. The vibrancy, the size, the dynamism, the sheer energy, the opportunities, are all well known, and take your breath away. The scale is simply astounding. When you see a factory with 100,000 workers as common place, you know you are seeing a colossal giant. The pragmatism of many of government’s policies, the foresight on developing infrastructure (the phrase “build it and they will come” has an altogether new meaning here) and the single minded pursuit of economic development are all lessons every other country would do well to learn.

Cultural China, on the other hand has been a disappointment. This country has westernized completely, but with one big exception – language. Much of traditional China is gone in the cities. If you close your eyes, and discount the colour of the skin, you could be in any western country in the world. Buildings are steel and glass. Six lane highways everywhere. Everybody is western clothes. Only the very old do Taichi – the young are in yoga , or belly dancing. I was struck by an observation somebody made – From the west, India took the language and but kept its own culture. China took the culture, but kept its language. Ring of truth in it.

Sporting China has been an absolute delight. You would expect a sports nut like me to cover this, of course. Unbelievable facilities. Great events – sitting in Guangzhou I’ve been to the World TT championships, World Badminton championships, seen a couple of NBA teams, watched the Olympic fever (alas, didn’t go to Beijing) and if I had waited for three more months, the Asian Games. Yes, the Asian Games in November will be in Guangzhou – you’ll see a bit of the city on the telly then. Not to mention great sportsmen and very pretty sports women. Been teased mercilessly for my infatuation with Zhao Ruirui, Guo Jingjing and Xie Xingfang !!

Musical China is all western. Both classical and pop. Concert halls here rival the best in the world. Traditional Chinese music ?? What’s that ?

If you mention China, you have to mention food. But you have to excuse my mere passing mention, given that I am a freak who does not eat meat.

But above all, far above all, are the people. You cannot help being blown away by the friendliness . The people are simply amazing and incredible. Despite my not knowing Chinese, I have made some wonderful friendships that are unforgettable. At work and outside work. The warmth of my colleagues at work, who accepted a foreigner with open arms and took me into their hearts has been both a privilege and a honour. The sheer joy of friendships outside work and the smile of the stranger are reasons why this has been such a memorable time.

Have there been difficulties and things not so nice ?? Of course there have been. But it would be churlish and petty to dwell on them. For the joy and delight have been so overwhelming that everything else pales into insignificance.

I leave China with mixed emotions. I will truly miss China and the wonderful friends here. As I have done the rounds of farewells over the last month, I‘ve been saying it’s a small world and that friendships are not bound by distance. But I know it won’t be the same . We all move on and we will go our divergent ways. But at least, I am thankful, that for a little while, we journeyed together.

With a lump in the throat, with a heaviness in the heart, with a trembling of the lip, with a tear that’s threatening to spill over, I say zaijian to Zhongguo.

I’ll leave you with this song, for what better way is there to walk off into the sunset than to the strains of music ……..