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Where should I start? What would be interesting or appropriate to write? Which period to compare with the present? I give it a try.|
My interest in China and anything Chinese started when I was a young student. With the tender age of 15 I got permission from my parents to ask 'Guozi Shudian' to mail me regularly the 'Peking Review' which was printed on ultralight airmail paper. So I got many information about China's political life (what the outside world ought to know) as well as nice stamps which I collected over the time of several years). Since living in a neighboring country which in all aspects was strongly influenced by Chinese culture and which, when it comes to peace and war, has a dismal past and selective perception of its history I wanted to know more than what we were told by the education system, in particular having witnessed different school systems with very different history lessons.
After finishing university I got the unbelievable chance of traveling to China. In meantime we wrote the year 1976 and the CR was still in full swings and Mao was still alive. Since I stayed in Europe for a short while I took for my first flight to China an Air France flight (B707) from Paris to Beijing. I stayed in Beijing but also visited Shanghai during my stay. What I saw was not what I expected. I came to a very poor country where people lived under conditions that I could not understand. I tried to fathom what I saw and experienced. In the beginning it was as if living suddenly on another planet, in another world. Soon I discovered that people were very kind but either too shy or afraid to come in closer contact with a foreigner. I still remember the old man, he was over 70, who had the job of being my companion. From time to time I gave him cigarettes although accepting them could mean trouble for him. Beijing was a dirty and in a way old fashioned city where the scars of the past were visible all over the place. The only nice thing was the Palace Museum where I admired the gold woven suit of armor of an emperor which was on display during that time. I also still remember the Ming tombs of which one could be accessed by visitors. Also very impressive were the hundreds, if not thousands of people working the fields with big red and yellow propaganda banners all over the place. During my stay I lived in the Friendship hotel (Chang An Ave) where at breakfast I was one of two or three foreigners in a huge dining hall. Unreal and scary to say the least. Nevertheless, I overcame the 'culture shock' and in spite of the difference of living standard I was hooked since this trip.
My next trip was in 1980 from Hongkong to Guangzhou and Guilin. I joined a tour of Kiwis ex HKG. The trip was breathtaking because I've never seen such a beautiful scenery before. I stayed in a small but new hotel which was build for foreigners, paid my souvenirs with 'funny money' (foreign exchange certificates) and still remember the breakfast butter which was rancid. One of the Kiwi's claimed that the butter was probably ordered before 1949. But let's face it there were the first signs of change already visible. The tour guide on the Lijiang river cruise was a nice lady who spoke English well and liked the conversation with us. In Guangzhou I visited the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall which I found very impressive. Also the train ride from Guangzhou to Kowloon was something I really enjoyed.
Several years later I was offered a position in Beijing which at that time I could not take because I was now married and had two young kids but the schooling system in Beijing was not up to what I expected. On a familiarization trip (I believe it was 1987 or 1988) I was standing on a hill outside the capital and overlooking Beijing where a decent number of high rise buildings showed everybody that China has arrived in the modern world. I had tears in my eyes because my prediction to a Hongkong Chinese friend several years earlier seemed to come true (We had lengthy discussions and a very different opinion about the future of China). And here I was standing and seeing with my own eyes that China was rising with tremendous speed.
Over the next years I came to China and experienced so many differences to the past. Travelling all over the country was now possible and I loved to visit the mountains of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Tibet, a passion that is still alive in me and will probably last until I'm to weak to travel these places.
In the early 2000s I settled down for a couple of years in Beijing. The capital had become a top modern city, Beijing had just won the Olympic Games 2008 and a building boom started all over the city. Looking back and talking to relatives and friends about China then (70s) and now is like a fairy tale. One of the world's poorest country has now become a rising world power and all this without aggression, without threats and military adventures. China now has the world's most modern and impressive infrastructure, state of the art highways, high speed railways, top modern new airports and railway stations, bridges that are the envy of many nations. The list is endless. How far had this country come. Less than 40 years ago the main means of transport were bicycles and ox-carts and now this vast country is the envy of many. Still, I believe that China is at the beginning of the road that leads the country to a glorious future.