Friday, August 04, 2006

Welcoming WuHu: Anhui Province安徽, China中国

Welcoming WuHu

WuHu has given its energy, endeavour and enterprise to for centuries. In ancient China it was a major distributional centre for foodstuff, particularly rice and tea. In pre modern China its role became international. From all this it has attracted appropriate abundance.

Coming down the Yangtse River it has the first port for seagoing vessels. This port provides direct access from China’s heartland to the world. Wuhu is also a key hub on the Chinese road and rail network. It has excellent links to the North to Heifei, Jihan and Beijing, East to Nanjing and Shanghai South to Fouzhou, Guangzhou and Hong Kong and West to Wuhan, Chongging and Chengdu,

Wu Hu is one of those comfortable quietly powerful, cities that unnoticed power the economic development of great nations. Like Montreal, Detroit, Cologne and Manchester it provides water access from an interior heartland to the sea and so global trade.

This city hums like the turbine hall in a modern power station. Each dynamo sits on solid foundations in perfect balance with itself. Each works quietly but hard to produce with little fuss of bother. Almost, but not quite, silent, each of Wuhu’s industrial turbines, in cars, building materials and air conditioning works quietly, and reliably to take goods, people and ideas forward for 21st Century China.

Wu Hu is pretty but not picturesque, clean but not pristine and hard working but not frantic. In these things it should be contrasted with the two larger cities downstream of it on the Yangtse, Nanjing and Shanghai. Nanjing as a former capital of China is picturesque and authoritative. Shanghai asserts itself with frantic commerce sustaining a pedigree for commercial leadership on China’s Pacific shore. These three Yangtse cities are in the vanguard of the New China’s industrial development.

Wu Hu’s is less evidently distinct than the others. It has a lower political and commercial profiles but it is more central. It has been commercially embedded for centuries in the interior network of agrarian trade that made China, till the 18th Century, the richest country on the planet. For this reason in the late 19th Century it, like Shanghai and Nanjing became a Treaty Port where foreigners were allowed to trade. This gave it international credentials recognised again today by the Chinese government helping it set up the Wuhu Economic and Technological Development Area (WEDA) .This special status give Wu Hu significant advantages when setting out to attract inward investment.

As a port directly accessible by sea going vessels Wu Hu can bring imported materials to the city without transhipment and export its products directly.

Its commercial past, present and certainty of a great future is reflected in the city’s present. Firstly it still has a number of impressive late 19th Century European style buildings: its impressive Catholic Church, the Garden Hotel once Wu Hu’s first departmental store and the building housing the F. Y. Old Tree Cafe.

These turn of the 20th Century buildings border the lake that is the focus of Jui Zi Garden Park. This is the centre piece of the city. It is separated from downtown and the local university college by a lovely long confidently curved, covered, colonnade leading into an attractive paved marble Plaza. This is dominated by a baroque bronze column festooned with statues of the Jui Zi bird. These mythical birds are symbolic of fruitful endeavour and resilience. Here they stand assertively on a large globe the topmost lifting an other globe up into the unknown but hopeful future. This Chinese Phoenix is entirely symbolic of this city’s passion for rebirth over the centuries based on past substance, demonstrable current successes and belief in its role in its country’s future.

Leading of from this Plaza and the Lake is a modern pedestrian shopping precinct similar to that in modern Central Vienna. This is a wide comfortable curved area flanked by shops, restaurants and cafes catering to the widest of modern Chinese taste rooted as it is in the exuberant flamboyance of a generation who unlike their parents and grandparents have experienced nothing but rapid improvement.

This modernity is reflected in the industrial development estates that are dotted around the city. These are not the dark satanic mills that heralded England’s short sojourn as the “First Industrial Nation” but pristine shiningly clean well organised modern plants with the latest in technology.

The three principle industries here are all at the leading edge of the current boom: Automobiles, Chery; building materials and fitments, Conch; air conditioning, Media and Hitachi. Associated with these are supporting suppliers of substance: Siemens, automotive parts; AMICI automotive components; Conch, cement.

Chery has a big strategic vision. In the domestic market it already competes well on price with VW, Toyota, Hyundai and GM. Its plans to face off to Lexus, Mercedes and BMW on quality. If it succeeds in this it will be the first home grown Chinese car company to hit the high spots of the global automobile industry. Its assault on the US market is to be led by that indominitable and influential American automobile salesman Malcom Brickland. His company, Visionary Vehicles, plan to use low prices underwritten by unsurpassable quality per dollar to take the US market by storm in 2007..

Conch is a traditional and a post modern supplier to the booming Chinese building industry. It manufactures cement and polyurethane products, conduits, double glazed windows, door panels etc. Its ultra modern factory has few workers and expensive state of the art German machinery. It is clear that in an open Chinese market opens its wage advantage will be limited and so it has and is competing directly n quality.

Media is the Chinese air conditioner supplier. There is no doubt it has a fine well designed product but only time can tell if it will be a successful one. The Japanese have set standards of reliability for air conditioners that is hard to beat. Year in year out reliability of the kind they demonstrably offer takes years to establish. Serviceability with little maintenance or repair are the watchwords here.

The Hotels dotted around the city are all clean comfortable. They are all welcoming and inviting but for those who wish to escape from the city in the city the Tie Shan has no competitors. It is in a delightful setting that puts it in the country not 300 metres from the city centre’s bustle. It is set in its own gated secure grounds adjacent to Cuiming Park. This tree covered park rises attractively up from it and the city skyline. The hotel is scattered comfortably around a small secluded lily padded lake surrounded by mature lush bamboo. It is a delight. It is not plush and ultra modern but it is clean, comfortable and charming with everything one needs including free broadband internet, a pool, sauna and gym.

If one were to seek reason to complain as a foreigner one would note that the only television stations available are CCTV and local Chinese ones, no CNN, BBC, CBC, Fox, RAI, RFF, DTV or SKY.

The CCTV’s English language broadcasts remind one of the BBC fifty years ago with its stilted over respectful interviews and constrained, accurate factual unemotional view of news. Even the excitement, and Chinese pride, in the opening of the Tibet high plateau railroad to Lhasa came over as contrived conviviality not politely constrained passionate national pride.

However, one is thankful for small mercies, one is spared the stifling US centric television of the New World. Even on CCTV4 in Chinese the News comes across with a global outlook not just a Chinese one. The rest of the world is evident. US television contrives that the planet outside the USA, with no US lives at risk, does not exist. Chinese television has far more global consciousness.

However the broad minded editorial policy of CCTV does not necessarily reflect Chinese society’s knowledge of the needs of Westerners. I found it difficult to find what I would consider a bar. It was even harder to buy a gin and tonic. This is a small thing. However it is symptomatic of something of wider significance for those wishing to facilitate Chinese contact with the rest of the world.

Wuhu, Anhui and China wish to attract and impress million of visitors over the next few years to the Olympic Games and The Shanghai Expo. This is without considering the real investors in automotive and other services Wuhu itself seeks to attract. Such investors want to send their personnel to communities in which they and their family’s can feel at home. From a Western perspective Wuhu lacks an approach to service such people will seek to find.

Open public social congress by choice is the meat and drink of Western society and business. Westerners like a choice between being ostentatiously seen and seeing and discretion and intimacy. Wu Hu is a delight for intimacy. It is replete with restaurants, cafes and bars full of extremely comfortable alcoves and private dining areas all serving the exquisitely fresh delicious Chinese food the city’s rural hinterland makes available. My hospitable hosts entertained me beautifully in a number of such places. They allow one to indulge in the intimacy with business associates, colleagues, lovers and friends that Westerners normally choose to enjoy privately in their homes or a “pied a terre”.

In private I particularly enjoyed the French restoration charm created in the Y.F. Old Tree Café. It overlooks the city lake in one of the turn of the 19th century buildings described earlier. Its dim lighting, really comfortable sofas, pleasant service and the quite tinkle of the discretely screened off piano all added to an atmosphere in which one would want to entertain a lover.

However virtually nowhere in Wuhu seemed to exist where one could take ones new trophy wife or girlfriend for display or sit down at a bar and engage in the impromptu “badinage” with strangers Westerners like. I thought I had found this in the Royal Crown Café next to the central hospital but found that what I thought were bar stools were not. They were an expensive decoration along the front of the main bar. They were not for sitting on at the bar.

Not to be able to sit at, or in, a comfortable bar, was a major disappointment to me. It is a facility sought and looked for by Western visitors. Those parts of the opening up to Western business have found such places essential. They provide an ambience Westerners feel comfortable with.

Places for public congress do exist in Wuhu. As in French, Italian and Spanish cities on find them in public parks, squares and promenades. There the old, young and unemployed stroll or sit engaged in love, play or conversation. It was a delight in Wu Hu to see them do precisely this in the public parks. However France, Italy and Spain are also replete with bars and cafes providing this commercially. Until I came to China, even in ethno-phobic Japan, I never failed to find commercial ventures supportive of convivial congress.

In Wu Hu the only place close to this bill of fare was the International Student’s Centre. This easily served me a gin and tonic and made social congress easy with stools along a bar at which if one chose one could strike up acquaintance. This I did. With my promptly served gin tonic and ice, but no slice, in seconds I struck up a casual acquaintance with a Vietnamese, Phillipino and German.

It is not that the Chinese are not outgoing and friendly because they are. Smiles interest and engagement are all around one. Contact is easier than any where else on Earth but a social milieu, café or bar allowing one choice in engagement with strangers is simply not there in the manner most Westerners expect.

Westerners need an environment where they feel they feel they engage with others or not. In Wuhu finding this was close to impossible. Even in Beijing it is not easy in non-Western Hotels. For example I did not find it in my comfortable well run Chinese hotel in Beijing, the Continental Grand at the International Conference Centre. I did find it at the US run Crowne Plaza next door.

However on all occasions when an opportunity arose contact with Chinese people easy but often unsought. If anything Chinese social behaviour might be seen as intrusive by Westerners. Questions and attention are directed at one in a outgoing direct manner. To a Scot this is oft ways the norm. So I find this endearingly familiar and not difficult to respond to. However I am certain many Americans and English people would see it as rude and difficult to deal with.

They are wrong to find it so in my opinion but they do. Illustrative of the joy one can find in Chinese intimacy and interest were seen in two delightful excursions I made from Wu Hu. Both are amazingly easy to embark using public transport. My first excursion, given the city’s central situation in China’s agrarian heartland, was to the agricultural community at Jinghu Lake. My second was to the beautiful Huanchong mountain range some 100 kilometres South of Wu Hu.

On the first I spent a delightful morning exploring traditional Chinese agriculture at Jinghu Lake followed by a lovely Chinese meal with local officials. This lake is about 30 kilometres out of Wuhu. Its system of canals, locks and levies are reminiscent of the polder in Holland but were constructed a thousand years ago, not a few hundred, to cultivate among other things, lotus flowers. I ate the sweetly delightful lotus seeds, marvelled and the botanical complexity of the plants and saw the operation of farming them and Chinese style agriculture in general. I was ably guided in this by the colourful leader of the local tourist operation Mr Da. He himself is a farmer and lotus plant horticulturalist and breeder.

On my other excursion I unfortunately did not have enough time to explore the full beauty of the Huanchong range so my attention was focused on a two day trip to Jiuhua Shan. This is one of China’s four centres of mountain based Buddhist contemplation prayer and spiritual rebirth. They are a top mountains as only there is their nothing above one but the sky ad heavens and everything locally on the planet is spread out beneath and around the full 360 degrees of the compass, WOW! what a feeling of uplift this engenders. One can understand why many great Buddhists found there way to such places. Jiuhua and particularly the Monastry atop Heng Feng were palpably spiritual places..

We stayed overnight in a delightful, beautifully clean, bed and breakfast adjacent to the Phoenix Pine, a pine tree shaped like a bird. The food the landlady served was delicious especially the burn trout. I had not tasted such since as a boy I “guddled” for brown burn trout by hand when I was eight years old in the Scottish Highlands. The trout we get in the UK nowadays is nearly all rainbow trout and farmed at that. These Chinese mountain trout were delectable.

In walking around the mountain village on my own in the evening and very early the next morning I had easy enjoyable but uninvited congress with the locals. They invariably accosted me in whatever English they had access to.

On my morning walk I had a prolonged conversation with two shy but engaging teenage girls. They were avidly reading English out loud as I approached. They clearly wished to talk. They wanted a chance to speak with a native English speaker. From this encounter arises a good tip for the foreign visitor to China. If you get stuck for communication ask a teenager.

All modern Chinese school kids are taught compulsory English from kindergarten on. Teenagers are still learning and being tested so are keen to practice their English skills. If you ask them you will have access to all the help you need. The Chinese, unlike the Japanese, are unabashed, in fact keen, in making contact.

Previous to this I had another communication experience worth relating. My landlady’s husband had a computer wirelessly connected to broadband internet via his mobile phone. Our B&B was in a canyon 1/3 of the way up a mountain in the wilds of China yet there were mobile phones and computers everywhere. I never found a mobile phone deadspot anywhere in China. This is in sharp contrast to my experiences in the UK, Australia, the Canadian West and the USA

I therefore quickly found myself accessing my emails. I was almost immediately surrounded by almost everyone in the locale. They looked unabashed over my shoulder at what I was doing. In the end I gave in to their curiosity, and logged into my own website to their delight with its picture of me and wonderful views from space of the Planet and China and the Silk Road in particular.

They clearly wanted to know everything there was to know about my business. As an unabashed self publicist I had no hesitation in satisfying their interest some Westerner’s I know would have found their intrusiveness difficult to deal with.

But so what for me my whole trip was crowned by our party’s intrusion into someone else’s life. A meeting was set up for me with Mr Chau a respected historian. At 70 he has forsaken the comfort of the city for a peasants life as a tea grower in the foothills of the mountains at Jiahua.

He still writes. Over two delectable country meals he shared with us his glowing personality and views on the world the universe and everything. This was to our common and mutual delight. His latest book, translates as “The Child Hood We (Humanity) Have Forgotten”. It is based, as much traditional Chinese scholarship is, on the analysis of ancient texts in this case the “I Ching”. This of course has origins going back to the dawn of Chinese civilisation and is not attributable. It has never not been of record and can be attributed to no single individual. Its origins like all creative knowledge is communal with no copyright dues to pay.

His textual analysis suggests that the distinctions we modern humans choose to make between male and female, individual and communal and ourselves and our environment were invisible to the mind of the ancients. In his opinion technology only appears to have changed this and other features of our lives. Fundamentally nothing has changed. This being so he then argues that all humanity needs to survive effectively is to remember the childhood we have chosen to forget.

I am sure the Buddhist monks who created the communities he lives close to further into the mountains would not disagree as I myself do not. I was greatly moved by his personality, togetherness and confident unassuming satisfaction with his chosen lot. He exuded the quite industrious endeavour that I found epitomised my experience of Wu Hu, its people and commerce.

In this Wu Hu reflects China’s past, and certain future as a powerful state. If his sentiments underpin Wu Hu’s and China’s endeavours, and the rhetoric of the modern Chinese leadership says it does, then there is real hope for a peaceful and effective future for our global community of people, enterprises and states.

In this light one must see the roar of J11 fighters over Wu Hu from the local PLA airbase as like the stone lions outside a Buddhist Temple and the fierce sculpted warriors inside as indicative symbols of peace hard sought. Such symbols like the martial skills of Shaolin monks are their so they need never be used. This reflects the Scottish Presbyterian view that you should walk with bible in hand but carry a big stick


1 comment:

fed said...

I Have been living in Wuhu for almost 2 years now and I like the description you gave about this city. I'm glad to tell you that you now can find a couple of new bars even though most of them might be transformed into KTV some nights!