|When my friends at China Daily proposed that I share with its readers some impressions from my experience of living in China, I thought that one day I would like to write a book to record in detail those impressions and rich experiences I gained through living and working in this great land. However, for an article I have to be brief. Therefore, what I would like to share are some of the dimensions that I discovered about China and the Chinese people through my experiences in three different cities.|
Beijing was my home city in China. I have many fond memories of my life there, that developed to a sense of belonging to the city that makes part of me feel like a "Beijinger". Of all the cities that I had lived in around the world, Beijing was the only one that I kept returning to after leaving it.
From 2005 to 2008, I observed Beijing planning and preparing for the opening of the Olympic Games that took place at 8 pm on Aug 8, 2008. The capital city was transformed in many ways. Ancient sites were restored in a magnificent way. Many old neighborhoods gave way to new residential, shopping, and business areas that were developed with state-of-the-art architecture and landscaping. In my view, ordinary people were the champions of the event: the construction workers who came from the provinces to build the Olympic City and Beijing's new high-risers, the middle school children who hosted students from a school in Egypt to celebrate the spirit of the Olympics, and the senior citizens of the city who I used to meet in the parks. They would practice their English language with me so that they could volunteer as guides to foreign visitors during the Olympics. Needless to say, the Chinese youth who volunteered during the events from the opening until the closing ceremonies of the Olympics were equally champions.
What I realized during this period was that as much as hosting the Olympics was a goal to be achieved by the Chinese people, it was also used as a mean to upgrade Beijing's infrastructure and services. In addition to that, the Olympics were a way to develop the capabilities of the Chinese people and further integrate them with the world. It was also an opportunity to show the world what China and its people have achieved through 30 years of opening up and reform. Furthermore, the Olympics built a momentum that was built upon in subsequent years. The Beijing Olympics proved to be a successful model that was emulated throughout the country, such as when Shanghai hosted the Shanghai Expo in 2010 and when Guangzhou hosted the Asian Games in 2011. These successes show how the Chinese government is developing society by setting goals and challenges to meet. Once these goals have been achieved, they create a model to be followed and built upon in different areas.
Shenzhen in Guangdong was another city on the mainland where I discovered different dimensions of China, especially related to the Chinese people's dynamism and mobility. It was one of the cities that I visited several times during my stay in China, and each time I used to witness and learn new things that added to my knowledge and enriched my understanding of China. The city stood as a symbol for and a result of China's policies of reform and opening up that were launched by Chairman Deng Xiaoping. Shenzhen was one of China's first experiments with a special economic zones (SEZs), and it represents, in my view, a model for other developing countries to learn from.
The speed with which Shenzhen developed and grew gave it the title of the "Overnight City"; people used to compare its rising buildings to bamboo shoots after a good rain. I admired the way the city was planned, keeping a balance between urban construction and natural greenery. Shenzhen is a city where young people represent the majority of its population. Many of Shenzhen's inhabitants migrated from their home cities and villages in the western provinces to pursue their dream of having a better life.
I can imagine the positive impact of the exposure that many of these youths gain from living and working in Shenzhen. Equipped with new skills, knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit, many of these youths could return to their home villages and cities in the western provinces to contribute to their social and economic development.
In modern history, while many developing countries are exporting migrants to the outside world for economic or political reasons that create the phenomena of brain drain, most of the migrant movements in China during the past decades are heading from the country's western provinces to the eastern ones. The result of these migrant movements will be that the successful models of the eastern provinces will be emulated in the western ones.
Although Shenzhen is not a city of ancient history like many other places in China, I admired the attention paid by the city's government and urban planners to the cultural features of the city. When visiting Shenzhen, I used to enjoy attending many of the cultural and art performances there, as well as the "Culture Industry Fair" hosted annually by the city.
Shenzhen, which started off as a small fishing village looking out from the mainland at Hong Kong, has transformed into a big, vibrant metropolis, standing tall and setting the speed and quality by which China has been developing since the 1970s.
Chengdu in Sichuan was the third city experience I had in China that deeply influenced me. I visited the city twice. My first visit was as a guest to see the industrial area in Chengdu, where I was impressed by the developed aviation industry in particular. Later, I had one of my most memorable tourist experiences by climbing the mountains to visit Gugaizhou Park, a place of natural beauty and tranquility that moves the mind and the soul from earth to feel closer to heaven. Later on, I paid a visit to the panda station where Chinese experts created a special environment to breed and protect one of the most adorable animals in the world. The panda has become a Chinese icon and a distinguished part of Chinese diplomacy because it is the only animal that is issued a special passport to travel as a guest to different countries around the world.
My second visit was on a rather sad occasion but it left a deep impression in my mind and heart. On May 3, 2008, part of Sichuan suffered from a strong earthquake that caused a lot of damage and led to many casualties. Egypt was one of the first countries to express its sympathy to the Chinese people and government by sending urgent relief on two big military aircraft. I flew to Chengdu to receive the cargo and handed it over to the Chinese rescue authorities so that they could distribute it to the people in the affected areas. When I expressed my wish to visit the people in the areas most affected by the earthquake, the Chinese officials in charge were surprised, as this was the first such request from a foreign diplomat. I am glad and grateful that they responded to my request because what I witnessed made me feel closer to the suffering of the people and allowed me to experience the strength and resilience of the Chinese in the face of hardships and calamities.
I will never forget the smiles of the children I visited in a newly built, makeshift school when I gave them a small gift of children's story books. I brought from the city as a personal gift on a day that happened to be the International Day of the Child.
What I witnessed, from the speedy mobilization, the resilience of the people and the smiles of the children in their classes in the middle of the disaster area not only impressed me but gave me a glimpse of the future of China.
The above are just part of my experience in China, which covered many places, events and interactions with people from all walks of life. I still live and enjoy not only the memories I carry with me but the knowledge I try to gain everyday about the history, culture and developments in this great nation.
About the author:
Mahmoud Allam is former ambassador of Egypt to China. He is also a keen observer and scholar of Chinese studies. Currently, he works as Ministerial advisor for Ministry of International Cooperation. The author can be reached at [email protected]