15 Years in China

August marks my 15th year in China bar several months spent on short term contracts in the UK, the US and Indonesia.  Entering Hongqiao Airport, August 2002, the only airport in Shanghai at the time after relocating from HoChiMinh City.  I was collected and shuttled 3 hours west to Changzhou where along the way, the car broke down mid distance.  Since then much has changed.

I had dubbed Changzhou at the time, Gotham City, it was grey and somber due to the constant grey clouds and the dullness of the city.  2002 marked the year the local government ripped up a green tree lined central square in favour of concrete, the year Pizza Hut came to town bring a feeling of home in an environment where Chinese at the time looked at me like I was from another planet.  SARS brought more excitement as locals wrapped themselves in latex gloves and face masks, cities went into curfew and quarantine roadblocks appeared.  The year-end brought another surprise for Christmas dinner, unbeknown to me I was taken to a dog restaurant by my team, kind gesture but not a good memory eating Benji, it was snowing, and dog meat supposedly warms you up.

My first five months was certainly full of excitement.

Well, a lot has changed since then.  There is a local Chinese coalition trying to ban the trade of dog meat.  Corruption is on the decrease besides the perceived right from certain individuals that taking bribes is just part of doing business.  The renminbi has appreciated, cities are far more cosmopolitan, better equipped with unique high-speed metro systems and no one looks at me now as an Alien.  I can buy nearly every daily necessary I need from multiple local deli’s, mini-marts, malls or online stores, thank you Amazon for been in English.

Cycling at TongSha reservoir, Dongguan this morning as I do most mornings at 5:30 am, I realise how lucky I am to have seen so many life changing events.  I continued along this less developed reservoir with its great smooth and fast tree-lined asphalt roads, blossoming lotus flowers that many runners and cyclists enjoy along with a plethora of wildlife; birds, very noisy cicadas and frogs, rats, dogs, goats, cows, snakes and giant earthworms.  But as all things go there once again seems to be the need to overdevelop with more concrete being laid to make an environment over commercialised, thus removing what nature is remaining.

15 years ago birds were a rare sight.  Today they are abundant.

From 2008 when I first resided in Dongguan, I was excited about seeing one single star in the sky a few times a month, now I can see up to 13 stars in the night several times a month.  The environment is on the improvement which is to the praise of the local government as is the purging of a city once riddled with prostitution and organised crime.  Dongguan today, a conglomeration of 32 towns engaged in light industrial manufacturing and hub based processing is certainly upskilling as it heavily invests in robotics and infrastructure with the first metro line opening last month.

I often hear Chinese tell me how beautiful West Lake is in Hangzhou, well I am telling all of you that Dongguan lakes certainly have more to offer.  November 2015 saw shutdowns of industrial plants in Zhejiang and Jiangsu to make way for Government Summits that occurred in Suzhou and Hangzhou to ensure pollution free skies.  With the G20 Summit coming to Hangzhou in September 2016, how long will Zhejiang, Jiangsu industry need to shut down to achieve clear skies?  Maybe south China would have been a better venue.

The world has witnessed incredible changes in China which are nothing short of remarkable.  The country has moved from a rural to industrial mecca, and now major Chinese cities are emerging as global service industries, it makes the mind boggle what is to come.  What hasn’t changed is the Gotham like feel due to rows of concrete, beige tiles that are tarnished grey and a continual thick haze in the air throughout central and north China.

I do hope it isn’t another 15 years until carbon emission controls are indeed employed and China doesn’t remain a homage to Gotham.

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