It's a Nanjing Thing

by wandering freditor / Jul 11, 2009 / 0 comments


We took off from Doha on one of those brand new Airbuses that the Qatarese find so easy to purchase and gas-bag about, and headed off over the Gulf, a Kiwi at the controls and a Susie Wong look-alike, in a Jacquie Kennedy pill-box hat, in the cabin. A sumptuous, leisurely meal followed and somewhere over the Himalayas, I drifted off thinking Kipling-esque thoughts about the Man of the East, as a curious beast, and dreamed of dragons of gold. With a most gentle nudge, a zephyr more than a breeze, I looked up into the face of the smiling Suzie, and she told me that we would soon be landing. Then she reached across me, like a silk shawl descending, and pressed my buttons, so that with a vibrator-like sound, I was gently elevated into the erect position, moments before we touched down. Outside the cabin, the light was brooding and grey, so typical of foggy Heathrow on a late-October day, and as we taxied to the terminal, there were the usual spread of tail-planes, United, BA, Cathay and Air China. I bade farewell to the crew and hurried off the plane into the cavernous glass and steel terminal, airy and bright even on the dullest of days. I made my way through Immigration with a multi-cultural smile from the uniformed official, and down the escalator to the little train that shuttles you to your baggage. I looked around admiringly. “That Norman Foster sure makes a statement in terminal design” I said to myself, and concluded yet again “Why, I like Terminal Five”. It was only when the train arrived and a distinctly Oriental voice said Welcome to Beijing, that I realized I was a whole continent away!


Napping in Nanjing, China

Napping in Nanjing, China


It was soon easy to see that I was not in London, for we were pressed like pilchard into our carriage. There is something that the Westerner feels about space that has no ring with the Oriental space invader, and I used my bulky carry-on to prevent a closeness that bordered on wifely affection, for our trip to the bags. After a journey which seemed like London to Liverpool, past mile after mile of concrete terminal, and vast lines of buses, we arrived at our destination and were assailed in Chinese and then English, to Prease Aright. This is the end of the rine. Everywhere, there were uniformed people with those little batons that have a bulls-eye on them, to shepherd you in the designated direction, and they were very good at it indeed. Let’s face it, in China they have to deal with vast numbers almost every time so they are well practiced in crowd control. I know that one in four people on this earth are Chinese, but at the airport, it felt more like they are three out of every four! Our bags, naturally given the length of our journey, were there before us, and everything was done with the utmost efficiency so that before you could hum a bar of The East is Red, we were in the First Class lounge of Air China and into the steamed buns and the cans of soft-drink that looked awfully familiar, but for the strange squiggle.

What struck me straight away is how the Chinese smile a lot and try to be helpful, in a confident and assuring sort of way. Most, mind you, were young and when not in uniform, then they were in Western-style dress, with not a Mao-style outfit to be seen, even among the elderly. All those we met seemed to try, with a smattering of English, to help or otherwise they would quickly get someone who spoke English. They were also incredibly polite in a manner that you do not seem to find in most Western countries. Later, when we were ushered aboard our bus for the journey to our Air China Airbus, we were bade farewell with the counter-clerk telling me “I hope that you enjoy your flight” and she sounded as though she meant it! When we drove out through the gloom and across the vast concrete acreage to our waiting aircraft and scrambled up the steps, I realized why an Air Bus is a most appropriate name in China. More people came aboard than the entire population of Bahrain, and certainly more than on the 417 to Clapham Common at peak hour! It rumbled long kilometres down the runway, and sounded like the 417, more pelican than pigeon, but at last we lifted off and into the mire which coats Beijing, and settled in to our flight.

I have travelled on many airlines over many years, but I can honestly say that I have never found in the seat pocket in front of me, a pair of thongs. (I mean of the flip-flop variety dear reader – I wasn’t Ralph Fiennes flying Qantas you know!). Yet there they were, two cloth thongs, and also in the seat pocket of the man beside me. As if by telepathy, he promptly kicked off his shoes and ‘donned’ the thongs, his socks fitting neatly around the rubber centre-piece. Now some airlines have rubber bottomed socks for the wet toilet area we sometimes find on dare I say it, incontinent – al flights, but I made a mental note not to go to the loo unless I was busting! Wow if they needed thongs, there really was a problem. And this was First Class! What about those in Economy. No wonder they kept their shoes on! I stood up to stretch, and looked down the cabin and all that I saw was a series of dark-haired heads, crammed into their seats as though with a potato masher. I made another mental note that blonde jokes would probably not create much joy in China. What was more, it seemed that everyone had a lap-top out, as though ‘up here’ they were nearer to cyber-space and therefore more productive. I could see no signs of food or drink and concluded that most simply dined on their cyber-meal!

My own dinner was rice and two veg, as well as a piece of a scrawny bird that had been knocked back by Colonel Sanders. Nevertheless, it was surprisingly tasty and succulent. There was a choice of warm local beer, warm local Coca Cola or warm Sprite as well as a demi-bottle of red wine to be shared among the twelve passengers in First Class. I chanced a guess that wine wasn’t a big seller on this flight, and I saw that while it looked French, the vineyard had a distinctly Tahitian ring to it. There were, however, jasmine towels in abundance, and again the smile was warming. It all helped to pass the time as we coursed through the inky sky. 

The terminal in Nanjing was distinctly Chiang Kai-shek-ish, for this had been the Generalissimo’s capital before Mao and the boys had given him the boot across the straits to Taiwan. It was grey, dull and cavernous, with all the marks of millions of hands and feet, and from a number of walls hung huge banners to try and lend some colour to the scene. A sea of touts were waiting after very serious baggage control monitors checked each baggage tag, and one shoved in to my hand a card which was covered in Chinese letters, the silhouette of a large plane, and the only word that I could read, said Qantas! The guy had a shifty look with a mole on his chin and a trailing hair, and while he wore non-descript clothes, he was wearing a pair of brothel-creeper shoes with a thick crepe sole. For all I know, his card may have said “Ex-Qantas hosties – Cheap”, but I had already moved past him and he was handing them out to brethren and foreigners alike, two hands proffering the little card and a tiny bow, in inimitable Chinese style. I was off to negotiate the wilds of the car-park where I could have sworn that all the drivers must have done their training in Saudi Arabia, all speed and swerve, with a hand super-glued to the horn, another to the light flasher, and the steering wheel gripped between their knees!


Nanjing, China


The long trip from the airport to the city proper was like delving into the Netherworld. Lights were scarce but where they were present, an oily river kept us company, the light giving it a burnished sheen rather than a sparkling reflection. Along the way, arc-welders were at work, casting bluish shadows on the plated steel, men scurrying like dung-beetles, carrying scrap on their backs. Dante would have recognized the scene. And then, just as suddenly, we were on a ring-road system, one with roads criss-crossing each other like a plate of noodles, all full of trucks, cars and two wheeled contraptions, with nary a helmeted rider to be seen. Beside the road now, was the ubiquitous high-rise, few places with lights on, for the Chinese work long hours, and at street-level there was signage, mainly in garish red neon, advertising goodness knows what, with lots of flash, but little panache. Restaurants looked full, for the Chinese eat early and now, before my eyes, the throng appeared, footpaths full of people that people like me only see on the first morning of the post-Christmas sales. It is claimed that if you sat at one spot and the Chinese went past you continuously, and at eight abreast, you would never get to the end in your lifetime, such are the numbers of the newly born. And that is even with the one-child policy to curb creation, if not copulation! Although maths fiends tell me that it cannot be so, I now firmly believe it, because I have seen its manifestation at an intersection in Nanjing!

The first thing that strikes you about an intersection is that it is a little bit like a Jackie Chan movie in which the assailants come, at great speed, from all directions, and all at the same time! Somehow it flows, and there is a great level of tolerance by fellow road users. There are too, policemen on every corner, waving little red flags and whistling as though they are on the field at a particularly unruly football match. Above each street there are huge green ‘count-down’ boards telling you exactly how many seconds that you have before the amber – which by the way goes three-two-one as quickly as you say it, and immediately another throng sets forth. Yet even so, bicycles still maneuver through the pedestrians like fish around river reeds. And no-one shouts or waves a fist. While there was always noise and lots of car horns sounding, there was an absence of sirens a-la New York, and when the ‘theft alarms’ went off, it was usually because someone had bumped a Moped!


Nanjing Temple Roofline

Nanjing Temple Roofline


When we eventually arrived at our hotel, there were about twenty people to welcome us, all with big smiles and “Welcome to the Nanjing Sofitel” as a mantra. The lift was a dazzle of silver, so bright that you couldn’t see the actual floor numbers, and they were set so low that even a midget would be able to look down on them. Like a crouching tiger I pressed Forty. I was in a lovely and spacious room , but one of those places where you need an engineering PhD, just to work the light-switches and taps. And the whole bathroom was a glass tabernacle, shower and loo too, totally see through. Now the Chinese might be socially relaxed with communal exposure, but I am afraid that I like the privacy of a solid door to my loo, thank you, even when I am the only occupant of my room. What if the maid came a'calling, or one of those irritating staff who come at the most inopportune time to check the mini bar? Oh too be caught sitting there; the mind boggles! And on that score, my loo didn’t flush properly either. There is an old adage that plumbers are really basic fellows – payday is Friday, poo travels downwards. What could be simpler, and here, from forty floors up, simpler still! Happily, and only a few Chinese whispers and some hand-wringing later, the problem was solved. And speedily too! While problem solving can sometimes be an issue, the level of service and helpfulness is of a high order, and the smile is still there, even when some people spoke to staff in the slowest, baby-style English, and I found myself wincing with embarrassment. The Chinese however, just smiled and maintained good grace, inscrutable as always..

I unpacked and looked about the room, all ultra modern with stylish furniture, a huge bed, a complete range of gadgetry, and a computer set-up with all manner of plug sockets so that even my Australian plugs were catered for. There was an iron and an ironing board, so seldom seen in European establishments, fine mass produced sculptures and discrete paintings and photographs on the wall with none of those collections of Chinese lettering which might well say “Up Yours Capitalist” for all I know. And in the bathroom, a full array of toiletries and cleaning aids, although in the see-through clothes cupboard, there was a fire escape mask kit in a tin box which said “Once off only for individual self-saving from poison”. I guess that they didn’t mean you should slip it on when you saw a spider or snake, or indeed if you planned on drinking the milk or eating the eggs, both of which had recently been condemned by the WHO because of melamine additives! Clearly someone had seen The Towering Inferno! I replaced the tin carefully in the cupboard and hung my clothes, they, delighted, no doubt, to be home again as China produces fifty percent of the world’s garments. My shoes also skipped lightly, the Chinese make them too, despite their ‘French branding’.


Nanjing Park

Nanjing Park


The next day, I woke and threw back the curtains and saw, well, … little. Visibility was about 300 metres, a sort of gentle smog that droppeth from the direction of Heaven, upon the place beneath(with apologies to Will S). One day it rose to 500 metres and on the Sunday, a few kilometers, but I had about as much chance as “seeing clearly now” as that song’s creator! Why only by peering, could I even see the place beneath. When I ventured down in the ear-popping lift and asked directions to go walking, I immediately drew a crowd. That happens a lot in China, and a helpful group crowded around me as at fish feeding time, all to offer advice, and at the same time, some of it quite contrary. I found my head swiveling like one of those ping-pong ball-swallowing fairground clowns, trying to respond to all. Over-servicing is everywhere, but it is not an issue for the Chinese, and besides, it is fun to engage in a bit of street-theatre and recall all your Charades short-hand to communicate. It is extremely rewarding when there suddenly is a great exhalation of breath, followed by a big smile to signify that the light bulb has suddenly been switched ‘On’

With map and directions, I headed into the famous Hunan Road, a veritable great wall of shops. The first thing you notice is more people wearing surgical masks than you would see in an operating theatre during a quadruple heart by-pass operation! I looked vainly for Dr Kildare (The Hugh Laurie of my generation), but if he was amongst the crowd, he now wore jeans and a puffer jacket, rather than the white coat of old. And soon I was going with the flow. Like driftwood, I had little alternative and like driftwood, I gradually maneuvered my way to the side when I wanted to turn or take a breather. The sides of the footpaths were crammed with artisans, sitting on little stools darning – yes darning, mending shoes or selling all sorts of cards and handing out flyers. There was even an outdoor wedding catwalk where bridal-ware was flashed before the ogling street-walkers.

The streets that I traveled down were lined with big shady elm trees and while there was certainly ‘the grot of ages’, and here and there a rancid smell, on the whole there was little litter. An army of sweepers, carrying brooms which looked as though they had been grabbed from fly-by witches, carried all before them while a man riding a sort of trunk on wheels, gathered it all. There were a few Department stores with photos of Western models, and a few brand names that I recognized, but in the main there were lots of hole-in-the-wall shops selling every imaginable item, particularly in the food line. I saw one store called Anything’s Possible and thought it to be a truism. If Mao and Lin Piao returned today, I am sure that somehow they would think that they had been transported out of China and into a Western China-town, for it would all be so ‘foreign’ to them. No Communist uniformity, with streets full of people in Western dress and again, not a Mao-suit among them! And this was only Nanjing, a sort of Shanghai hand-me-down city! They would have been mollified however by the sight of the Red Army guards outside old military establishments, ramrod straight, holding their AK-47’s, and looking ready to shoot anyone foolish enough to ignore the No Photographs sign. As the only foreigner in the throng, I stood out like the proverbial dog’s chestnuts, and like a Sugarfoot in Larado, I kept my equipment holstered.

Nanjing, of course, has a turbulent history going back many millennia and seven generations of the Ming dynasty have tombs on Purple Mountain, as do other rulers. It was the capital for longer than Beijing has had that association, and from 1358 to 1425, it was reputedly the largest city in the world. Like other leaders, Generalissimo Chiang ruled here till his demise, but most associate Nanjing with the atrocity perpetrated, and still denied, by the ostrich-like Japanese, which became known at ‘The Rape of Nanjing’. Between 300 and 400,000 people were brutalized, raped and killed between December 1937 and February 1938, men, women and children and there are the photographs and accounts to show it. Now a simple monument marks the tragedy. Today the parks and manicured gardens mask what happened here, and the city has grown and expanded in the shadow of other Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, but it retains its stature as one of the great cities of China. In those parks, people now play badminton or checkers, or simply gather under the trees and relax from the nearby thrum of the wide avenues with their ultra-modern sky-scrapers. Yet just off those streets, there are the old houses, grubby from the decades, where the laundry hangs like bunting, and the electricity cables are like frayed rope. They can still tell you a thing or two about the time when the Japanese were here.

Nanjing too has its own “great wall’, maybe not as long or renown as the one further north, but impressively higher, none the less, even though it was only completed in 1368 after 21 years under construction. It enclosed the old city and it runs for many, many kilometres, a testimony to the stone-masons and the labourers who built it and it later served as the model for the wall surrounding the Forbidden City in Beijing. I wandered through a massive gate that guarded the attractive Xuanwu Lake with its four islands joined by isthmuses, and sat and watched couples doing whatever couples all over the world do in similar settings where there is a view and a bit of seclusion. I saw mainly willowy women, with long dark hair to the middle of their backs, often a short skirt, and invariably booted. Mind you, as a casual observer, I saw many curved legs beneath the skirts, and I am sure that had Robin Hood seen some of these striplings, he would have instantly seized them for his long-bows. May be it is the diet, or all that sitting on Mopeds! There were stands of trees and bamboo curtains, just right for canoodling, and over a patch of lawn, kites flew. On the lake, golden boats with dragon prows, carried their occupants to off-shore assignations. I sat and gazed through the haze at the tranquil scene, and then suddenly noticed not a bird was calling, and the lake was absent of ducks or water-birds. Where had they gone? Were they all shot and eaten? (Later I was told that Chairman Mao said that as the birds stole so many seeds at planting time and grain at harvest time, they should all be shot. People readily obeyed). I silently asked Confucius what had happened to all the animals as I had seen so very few, and then just to humour me, I am sure, that wily Con had a dog burst from the bushes right beside me! It was, to be sure, a Pekinese.


Walk to the Ming Tombs

Walk to the Ming Tombs


Nanjing certainly has lots of open places and parks so that people can escape their small apartments (even the newly built ones are small) and share the tranquility of a park. And what is more, there are always lots of people enjoying the parks. I saw a wizened little old man doing tai chi and watched his deft moves and slow karate chops, and I was instantly reminded of that scene when Indiana Jones watched a similar display … and pulled out a gun! The city certainly has a great deal of civic pride and has embarked on a massive program of slum clearance and beautification which has won it a UN award for its ‘betterment’ policies. It is very focused on redeveloping the areas along the mighty Yangtse River, and on greater greening projects in the new areas. I am sure that in spring, if only the smog would disappear, it could actually be classed as quite beautiful

I wandered up to the beautifully sited Yuejiang Lou temple which sits on a rocky outcrop and overlooks the Yangtse River in the distance, and is an oasis of tranquility. The temple was built for an early Ming Emperor in 1411, and is all rosewood and lacquer within, with intricate staircases rising six levels to the top, and all glazed tiles and roof dragons outside. Contrary to many places in Nanjing, there was ample signage in English. The ceilings are in bold colours, with gold dragon motifs and the whole temple gives a feeling of majesty and lightness. It is surrounded by thick woods and landscaped gardens, with matching outhouses, and it overlooks one of the old city gates. In the distance, through the haze, I could just see the famous Yangtse River Bridge, with its non-stop columns of traffic above, and large ships below. On the way back, I wandered along a street with toilet sized restaurants that were straight out of ancient China, and looked as though they had been around since then. From my limited knowledge of Chinese script, I could swear that they were serving Italian food because one was obviously called Hepatitis Eh and another Hepatitis See. I fore-went my hunger, and hurried on!

The following day, we traveled by bus to the brand new Conference Centre on the outskirts of Nanjing, with at least 5000 policemen along the way to ease our plight in peak hour traffic. A year ago, there was only swampy ground, and now a year later, a whole new city has arisen with an incredible ‘Olympic’ stadium, beautifully landscaped housing and high-rise developments, parks with walks and borders of flowers, wide, well lit streets and to cap it off, a huge Conference Centre which can comfortably seat 5000 people and has huge Exhibition halls to match. No matter that we drove past groves of messy houses and hardware shops, a river the colour of camouflage, which was really quite unnecessary as everything in it was dead, unlike the “great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo River” which, when I last saw it, was the same colour, but quite alive, albeit with crocodiles and hippos! This was the new Nanjing, built with the “Thy will be done, oh great leaders” mentality, whereas everywhere else in the world, they would have said “God no; impossible”, and not even started till ten committees and as many ministers had formed a view. Only in China could the phoenix rise so quickly. The Conference Hall has every available modern facility, and huge audio visual screens like those in an IMAX theatre. Before the actual opening of the conference we were entertained by some stunning ‘wrap-around’ pictures of China and even Nanjing without the smog! Some photos really took your breath away.

The opening ceremony was quite stupendous, but I expected nothing less from the people who brought you the Olympics ceremonies. There were incredible tumblers who used a lariat more dexterously than Hoppalong Cassidy or Roy Rogers ever did, and two ballet dancers whose poise, balance, strength and grace was breathtaking. But in a definite first for me, they were followed by another similarly attired ballet pair, except he was missing a leg, and she was missing an arm, yet they were similarly spectacular, and just as graceful. Now please permit the cynic in me to prevail. In a sense, these conferences are just the same, only the locale is different and a year later, the same ‘concerned crowd’, expresses the same pious comments and moral outrage over hunger or poverty, and reassemble and rehash it all again, recycled words and all. This time it was the World Urban Forum, gathering Number 4, which conveniently morphed into WUF4 and I am sure you are asking that same question – WUF4? I am sure that the personal interaction between development conscious souls does do some good, but I am also sure that if all the vast funds expended to hold the conference, as well as all the travel and five star hotel costs, were bundled together and given directly to pro-poor projects, the Third World would be better off!

And the other thing I question is why, in the main, the concerned crowd is generally such a scruffy lot, or otherwise cultivate the ‘prison officer look’?  There are a plethora of women in saggy kaftans, or severe pants suits, with either spiffingly short hair, or curly matted locks, while the men are invariably in corduroy trousers with Hush Puppy shoes. All have that pinched look which says I know all about the plight of the poor, much more so than you callous and unconcerned people out there, so hang the cost of my conference attendance. And when a host of such people gather together, it is a little frightening! All that moral superiority in the one venue!

Now there are two lots of people at these conferences that I try to give a wide berth to, Nigerians and Indians. You see the Nigerian women, who are generally large and colourful, and gather in groups, are hell to see around when the sit in front of you. Their head-dresses, the size of a table-cloth, are folded in such a manner that you simply cannot see over them, and hardly around them! Then there are the India rubber men, never staying seated or watching the cultural event. They are more intent on bobbing up and down so that Rajev can take a photo of the group against the backdrop of the podium and the conference banner. And then Bish gets up so that Rajev can also be in the photo, then Krishna, and on it goes. Flash after flash like some human tandoori. I really wonder why they come because they seldom seem to listen to what is being said, but I am sure that the photos go down a treat back in Kolkata!

It was at the Conference opening that a very nice young Chinese girl asked me if I would do a radio interview, and with the aid of an interpreter, we squared up. “Where are you from, and what do you think of Nanjing”. I thought that it was only the Australian media that so badgered the recently arrived, but I saw that this type of in-depth probing, was universal in application! When I told her ‘Bahrain’ we hit our first speed bump, although on reflection I think it was more like the Great Wall! She asked again and I tried to explain, ‘Gulf, oil, Grand Prix’ for I am not unused to this reaction. Conversation stalled, then ceased, even when I showed her the map. Then she looked at my pass, which had inadvertently been stamped Australian Government Representative because I had proffered an Australian passport as proof of identity, and her eyes lit up. “Oh Australia, very good swimmers”! So I put on my old Aussie cossie, and jumped into the pool again after an absence of four years, and gave Oz a plug, and the PM as a Chinese speaker, and our mineral exports to China policy. She nodded sagely and was very happy, more so when I said Nanjing was ‘lovely’. We Aussies carry a rather heavy burden when we travel abroad, even when as a paladin for another regime. Later in the hotel gym, I was escorted to the pool and when my Chinese guide asked me where I was from, and I told him, he pealed off from his ‘watching brief’. “Austrarians are very grood swimmers” he said in parting company with me, probably thinking, “Here is one little duck that can swim!” They probably even think that we can still play tennis!

We drove back to our hotel that night on newly opened highways and tunnels. China is expanding so fast that it is just astounding and to date the global financial crisis seems merely to have been a vesper with claims that the growth in domestic consumption may well account for the anticipated fall in exports. There are still many millions to be made here. Oh to be able to sell a helmet to every Chinese rider, why I’d be richer than Bill Gates in an instant! Opportunity is knocking very loudly and China is opening the doors. You cannot drive down a street without seeing a signboard, in English, which has the word development or enterprise in the title, for it is almost mandatory. We saw examples of both when we passed an establishment with huge billboards displaying women in bikinis and nearby there were a suite of suitably named hotels, the Doit Quick hotel, the Good Times Holiday hotel and the Mee Dun hotel! Who told me that the Chinese were a subtle people?

On my last day in Nanjing, I caught a taxi to Purple Mountain, one of the “Top Twenty” sights in China because it contains the tomb of the first Ming Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang dating from 1381, and the Mausoleum of Dr Sun Yat Sen, the father of modern China who was interred there in 1929. The mountain was shrouded in mist and mystery, but pitter-patter rain started to fall as I arrived and I hurried my visit. There were wonderful walks through areas where the stone guardians of the Emperor’s tomb were assembled, huge beasts like elephants and camels, dragons and unicorns, and also statues of generals and civil servants. There were paths, ever upward, to walled places and temples, stone bridges over tranquil brooks, paths through groves of fir trees, and plum trees which flower spectacularly in the spring. The lacquered tiles glistened in the drizzle although everywhere people talked in subdued voices as though this place was dripping with history, and the Emperor might just be listening. I imagine, that on a clear day in spring, or under the mantle of winter snow, it must be an awesome and inspiring place. Unfortunately the rain got heavier and while it was a sin to see Sun Sen’s spot from afar, I wound down the taxi window just enough to see the bright blue roofing tiles and the white marble staircase leading to the Mausoleum, before a waft of mist obscured all, and we headed for my hotel.

More so in China than virtually anywhere else that I have been, did I feel my language limitations, and my inability to communicate. There is so much I wanted to ask taxi drivers and people who helped me in stores with rudimentary sign language, about their impressions of the gargantuan change which had taken place in their lifetime, and to learn about China. One day I wandered for two and a half hours along one of Nanjing’s main streets and saw not another Westerner (who the Chinese refer to, I am told, as Big Noses!). Many thousands of people stared at me as though I was a movie star, signifying that the sight of a Westerner was still something of a rarity even in this large and modern city. I am sure that it is different in Shanghai and Beijing, but somehow, I had expected it also in Nanjing as there are so many facilities that have an association with the West. It was more pronounced for an Arab colleague however, in his thobe and head-dress. To the passing Chinese he looked as though he had come from Uranus, or certainly the arse-end of the world!

To me, and people of my generation, China is an enigma. Oh we never under-estimated its strength and potential, but we always saw it as a lumbering leviathan, tangled in Communist philosophy, bureaucracy and that wonderful oxymoron, state enterprise. We always felt that if it was ever likely to overwhelm us, it would be purely in Malthusian terms, through sheer weight of numbers. Instead they have overwhelmed by adaptation and adoption, and by working hard, and smarter. Like an outsider at the races, this old nag has come from nowhere, and the rest of the riders have had to go for the whip to try and keep up or stay ahead. The Chinese have a UN veto vote, they are in space, they have the bomb, the third largest economy in the world, and a smart and getting smarter workforce. Those wonderful philosophers from the Monty Python team probably got it right in their catchy little song I Like Chinese:

There’s nine hundred million of them and they’re here to stay,
So you’d better learn to like them, that is what I say.

Say no more, say no more, for while we were all nudging and winking, the number has risen to over a billion. So I close aptly, with a final thought from Monty:

If Darwin is anything to shout about
The Chinese will outlive us all, without any doubt

Farewell my old China.

Winfred Peppinck is the Wandering Freditor Editor for Wandering Educators