Grey, gloomy, bare, with a few green spots here and there. That’s what Shanghai looks like on the day of my arrival. Before we get to immerse ourselves in Chinese greenery, we have to drive for a few hours. We’re going down a toll road filled with slowcoaches on the left and overtakers on the right.
Ni hao, welcome to China, where antics on the road are the norm: driving without lights in the fog, and the rain later on, lane changing without indicating and so on. We constantly see vehicles jump in the gap in front of us and our driver doesn’t stop honking his horn at the lorries to get them back into their own lane, because they’re about to push us into the guard rail.
The weather is getting wetter and colder now. Last week, it was still pleasantly mild, but by now, the maximum temperature lies around eight degrees. The roads are lined with evergreen shrubs. Some of the trees still have their leaves, others have already lost them.
Driving through the metropolitan area of Shanghai, which has a few million more inhabitants than all of the Netherlands, it becomes clear that the Chinese construction sector is still booming. We can see apartment blocks and skyscrapers being built, cranes dotted all around the place and some sites even come with their own cement factory.
In recent years, a high-speed line was built in no time. As well as an extremely long bridge across a bay that’s so long that the guard rails have been painted in a different colour every so many kilometres, to prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel.
Office above McDonald’s
After a long drive, we approach our next metropolitan city: Ningbo. It’s mid-afternoon now, and it will be dark in two hours. We won’t be looking at any trees until tomorrow. First, we’ll get to meet a few entrepreneurs from the Chinese greenery sector. And we don’t find them in an office in a nursery or a commercial area. Instead, their workplace is located above a McDonald’s restaurant.
Our driver keeps honking his horn when he drives down the narrow street. Proper parking isn’t something they’re familiar with here. Just chuck your Lexus over there and your Maserati over here; who cares that you’re blocking everybody’s way? And luckily, we do manage to get around all the obstacles eventually, and we get out of the car in front of the fast-food restaurant.
And then? We make our way through the restaurant, all the way to the back, where we take the lift up to floor 12B. There isn’t a 13th floor in China, because that’s an unlucky number. There isn’t a 14th floor either. After 12 comes 12A, 12B and then floor 15.
The entrepreneurs on floor 12B tell us all about their business. In Mandarin, and with the help of an interpreter. Green, grand and ambitious are the key words for their plans – they’re expecting at least 100,000 participants in a few years’ time. They also show us some tables. Overviews of various things, in Chinese characters. It gave us lots to think about. And to decipher…