Only a few more minutes before the airplane to Shanghai takes off! I’m on my way to China, country of huge cities and millions of trees, plants, flowers. Entering China isn’t that easy. You only get a visa when you’ve got an official invitation and you meet a whole range of other requirements. Proof that you’ll return to your own country, for example. Don’t try to secretly stay behind in this country with 1.4 billion inhabitants.
Doing anything secretly would be hard anyway, because the Chinese government seems to be everywhere. Like on the streets. I recently saw in a documentary how they’ve got cameras literally everywhere, registering everyone and everything. People walking through a red light, for example. If you do this kind of thing too often, you’ll build up a track record, which could have a negative impact on the rest of your life and career in China. I’d better watch out and try to adjust to the local culture!
I don’t expect a complete culture shock, though, because this isn’t my first visit to China. I travelled around the country with my wife ten years ago. Mostly per night train. Where we met many friendly Chinese people wearing uniforms, only one of whom could speak just enough English to translate the Chinese characters on the menu for us.
This kind man was only in the restaurant car at lunch time, though. He wasn’t there at dinner time. So, in the evening, we’d just handed over the bill listing what we’d had for lunch in, for us incomprehensible, Chinese characters. Same again, please. It was delicious, anyway.
It took some time to get used to the Chinese culture, though. Like not using a paper tissue to blow your nose. It’s considered very inappropriate, as Chinese people use those tissues to wipe their face. Those kinds of habits and customs. And how about the traditional toilets for example, consisting of a long drain channel running underneath a row of open boxes.
And the traffic! There are police officers here and there, and there are markings on the road, and the trees right beside it have been painted white. However, traffic in China is still very much a survival of the fittest. Drivers demand space by honking their horns, as they push their way through the many overloaded cargo bikes.
The overcrowded cities and train stations made us longing for some peace and quiet, so we decided to take a trip down the Yangtze river from Chongqing to Yichang. A great boat journey, which we shared with a few hundred Chinese people who were proudly admiring the beautiful natural surroundings and enormous building projects of their country. They didn’t speak any English, apart from one woman. When we were counting the many coal ships that we were passing by, she smiled and said that we weren’t sailing through smog, but fog. It was misty, that was all.
Through some informal contacts, we were able to visit some ‘miaopu’, tree nurseries, in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Wuhu and Ningbo. They looked like forests of trees and bushes, every metre of land was planted. Almost all the work was done by hand. All root balls, even those of rose bushes, were wrapped in rice straw. They did have some form of motorised transport to take their produce to the market, albeit often rickety, on three wheels, and all blue. Even the bigger trees were loaded by hand from a Dong Feng to a Jac or a Faw.
It’s been ten years since I saw those Chinese nurseries. In the meantime, the Dutch nursery industry has seen more and more Chinese produce come in. So, what’s the state of the Chinese industry? That’s what we’re going to find out the next couple of days. Ni hao!
Photos: Arno Engels