There was a certain bubbling excitement brewing inside me just waiting to burst. He looked at my face then looked down and with a big thumping sound made his mark on the page. The stamp was in Chinese and I guessed the translation to be “Permit to Enter People’s Republic of China”. I grabbed my passport and happily passed the customs officer to the other side of the gate.
I was in a communist country, for the first time, and it was the most exhilarating experience. Having read so much about the communist ideology over the years I was only too eager to find what it was like in real life. I looked around for signs of communism, posters of Mao Tse-Tung and men in dull grey communist uniform. I found none. Instead I found myself awestruck by the high glass ceiling and the vast interior of a modern airport. The atmosphere and the services seemed to be as good as any in the West, complete with well-kept waiting lounges and clean lobbies, plenty of customs booths, taxi and hotel and other standard airport services.
Outside the lobby my local hosts were patiently waiting underneath an overcast sky. The air was warm and heavy, warning us of a tropical downpour. Driving into town I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the lush hills partially covered by mist, just like in old Chinese paintings. We were in the southeastern province of Guangdong, heading for the city of Guangzhou, an ancient Chinese city believed to have been built in 214 B.C. and sacked by Arabs and Persians in 758 A.D.
Fast forward to 2005 A.D., Guangzhou was a bustling city with almost 7 million inhabitants. Conveniently located in the Pearl River Delta, a massive manufacturing center, they could hop on a train and arrive at one of Asia’s main trading posts, Hong Kong, within 2 hours.
I was mostly impressed by the modernity of the city and the existence of just about every consumer product. However, at $200 a night, the 5-star hotel, considered 4-star elsewhere, was not affordable by most locals.
The culture of hard work was also quite evident. Everyone seemed to be busy working. It was hard to find people simply hanging out on the streets killing time. It didn’t seem that the concept of wasting time existed in China and their demeanor clearly displayed the thoughts of prosperity on their minds, as each continued to reach for it with their hard work.
Rain seemed to be a frequent gift from the heavens, washing away the grime and leaving a shiny new city for the citizens to enjoy. As I strolled down the streets of one of the neighborhoods of Guangzhou I was particularly surprised to find the golden arches of McDonald’s restaurant. It seemed that the communists were planning to beat the capitalists at their own game. And they were succeeding. Shopping malls were popping up everywhere. Consumerism was on the rise and ubiquitous.
The eating experience was something to write home about. One restaurant provided private dining rooms complete with Television for groups who desired more privacy while dining. Another allowed the customer to personally choose from numerous exotic sea creatures swimming in tanks in the kitchen prior to preparing the dish. Snakes and frogs were among the more popular dishes in one restaurant while a young china boy serenaded American songs and strummed his guitar at each table. And the prices were absolutely unbeatable. The vegetable sellers rowing about on their canoes on the river announcing their goods were also terribly charming.
The ubiquity of the moped and the motorcycle as a common form of transportation for both men and women was a joy to watch as an environmentalist. Although the laws of driving motor vehicles did not seem to apply to them.
Despite the modern environment it was difficult to find foreigners of non-Asian background. However, it was obvious that would change soon as immigration laws are changing and more people are bound to discover China and all that it has to offer.
Given the underlying communist principles, it was ironic to find signs of famous luxury brands everywhere. The concept of satisfying individual desires on a socialist foundation seemed to be working, at least in that region. Admittedly there are many sections of the social/political/economical fabric that need to be mended or completely replaced, but on the onset the glowing hope on the Chinese face for a prosperous future is undeniable and it is a sure sign that the dragon is waking up.