The road to China
Our driver rallies down the main road, weaving in-between five lanes of traffic, a cigarette in one hand, his phone in the other. The driving is like nothing else I have ever experienced. I cannot help but look up every thirty seconds as the horn goes or because the suspension catapults me skywards due to the excessive braking.
Everywhere I look azure blue trucks line the roads, no indicators are used only horns, seatbelts are tidied away because they look messy, dogs roam the streets freely and young mothers walk up the highway with children clinging to their backs. I simply cannot put into words the pure exhilaration of this two hour long bus ride.
The horn sounds again, this time a seven tonne truck pulls a U turn on the fast moving highway. The horns get louder and more frequent now, the highway is ending and all of a sudden eight lanes become two as we approach the toll barrier. We are being squeezed and now I feel like Indiana Jones must have done in the Temple of Doom when the walls came crushing in. We narrowly make it through the clutches of the domineering trucks, I only wish that my new pants could tell the same story.
I haven’t seen much English in the last three days, everything is in Chinese, I see the odd McDonalds sign but mostly I just recognise brands and logos. I feel somewhat out of my depth, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
The moment I stepped off the cramped train from Hong Kong and arrived in Donguan I knew I was now in China and no longer in the arms and safety of our former colony, Hong Kong.
I remember how we walked out of the station like two lone yaks onto the plains of the Gobi desert. Firstly we were approached by one tout, ‘taxi, taxi’, but no sooner had he uttered the words than an angry and aggressive policeman ran at him brandishing his nightstick. As the pioneering tout was being dealt with more moved in like hungry Mongol Wolves preying on fresh and easy meat, ‘taxi, taxi’, ‘where you go?’. Surprisingly enough these ‘taxi drivers’ are not in actual fact taxi drivers at all, they are just ordinary men making some extra money on a Sunday in their family cars.
However as this is the only option, all you can do is stay cool and collected. My father lights up a cigarette and tells them that ‘first he wants to smoke’, thankfully giving me time to phone the hotel in the hope that someone will guide the driver to our destination. It also gives the policeman a chance to re draw the boundaries between the somewhat bewildered yak and the circling wolves. Eventually we pick a ‘taxi’ and safe to say he got us to our hotel. His driving was good (by Chinese standards) but what struck me as a little concerning given what I have already said about the driving style here was that he managed to watch half an episode of Lost on his in car DVD player.
So why do this? Why come all the way here to do business? Why come to a place that hasn’t seen blue sky in decades because of the pollution? A place where bicycles ride on the outside lane of the motorway? Why venture to a country that in the last few days has seen me eat chicken feet, sea slug’s and cold jelly fish?
Because here at the 105th Canton International Trade Fair you are submerged into a world of opportunity. This is the world’s biggest trade fair. To give you an idea just how big, all green regiments of Chinese soldiers march the corridors and electric taxis are needed to ferry you up the mile long bridge that connects two of the three centres. It is split into 3 phases and runs over the course of a month, covering every product conceivable to the human mind. Companies flock from every corner of China to exhibit here, from the very North in Dalian to the West in Kunming. China opens its doors, and traders flock from every crevice of the world entire to see what it has to offer.
There is a buzz about China as there is with most of the Far East, but beyond all the spitting, the noise and the whistles there is so much good here. When the people here smile you know that they mean it, they smile with their eyes. It doesn’t feel like they are trying to prove something or be someone else. Trade here is like what I imagine it to have been many, many years ago in the West, a little bit Piratey, a bit more adventurous and a whole lot more opportunistic.
Yes there is great opportunity here and yes you can come here and make money, but what we need to realise is that China is no longer just a place where you can buy cheap product at a fraction of a cost and importantly this isn’t anymore just a place where hundreds of workers are crammed into hot factories and ordered to make exclusively branded trainers.
This is China the superpower, China the country that every single American owes $4000 to. This is China that is sending its workers to build railroads that will link Nigeria to Ghana. This is China that currently has three hundred thousand millionaires and this is the country that plans to urbanise seven million people in the next six years. There is no doubt that China will be the super empire of the world and we are witnessing it happen right now.
The current economic downturn will only speed up the process and when we come out on the other side some countries will fall and slide in the world rankings and others will rise from the furrows of the tables.
With the UK’s economy mirroring that of Iceland’s in 2008, it will surely slide down many places. We now have to face the fact that the glory days are over, the empire is no more and it feels as if the country is on the brink of collapse. I know that I am told to only to report good news, and that doesn’t sound so great, so I urge you to re consider how you look at China. Think not what you can get out of China but rather what you can take to China and I assure you, you too will soon experience great news.
(Phase 3 will be running from May 3rd – May 7th covering Textiles and Garments, Shoes, Office Supplies. Bags. Medicines and Native Produce)