A Business Trip to China - 1999
Jim Carr works for a national inventory company providing
I was preparing for my 5th trip to China, when I was asked to write this article. In the process of ensuring that my customers would be attended to in my absence and making the last minute trip preparations, my thoughts escaped to the land across the Pacific. This would be a trip to the new HONG KONG since transitioning back to the People's Republic of China. What will I encounter? Will people and places have changed?
The day finally arrived and I met my co-worker Jim Louis at the Carlsbad Airport. We caught a commuter flight to Los Angeles. Jim is an American born Chinese and eager to see the Orient. From there, we met our third co-worker, Theo Jackson, and boarded a United Airlines Boeing 747 for the 17 + hour flight to Hong Kong. Theo resembles someone famous in the U.S., which will be revealed later.
During the flight, I studied my Chinese grace phrases again. Iíve found that you receive a warmer reception by attempting to speak in the native language. The customer we have contracted with thoughtfully provided us with flash cards with destinations written in Chinese on one side and English on the other. We really do not require these in Hong Kong, but they are needed once we cross into Shenzhen.
This was my first time landing at the new Chek Lap Kok airport on Lantau Island. They no longer make the daring landings among the multiple high-rise apartments and office buildings dropping into Kowloon. They even built a huge bridge (Tsing Ma Bridge) linking Lantau Island and Kowloon to accommodate the traffic. Once we arrived at the new airport, I was awed by itís immense size. The runway is about 2.16 miles in length. Approximately, 87 millions passengers can be processed through this airport on an annual basis.
As we made our way through customs, we were greeted with the slight smile of a Hong Kong Customs Agent. After our papers were examined, we proceeded to the Airport Express Train. A new high-speed train connects the airport with Kowloon and Hong Kong. It is very modern with plush seating and a LCD monitor in the back of each seat. This is where we learned that Hong Kong was in a Stage 3 Typhoon Alert. Two days later it would rise to a Stage 8 Alert for three hours and then drop back to a Stage 3 again.
I marveled at the mass transportation system in Hong Kong and interior China. The modes of transportation are seemingly endless and inexpensive as well. We enjoyed the Express Train from the airport. and the bus from the connecting station. The ever-present taxis provided us with tame rides in Hong Kong compared to Shenzhen or Kunming. The romantic trolleys rumbled through the streets of this modern Hong Kong. My favorite was the Star Ferry boats which crosses the harbour every ten minutes from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back again. Finally, the Canton-Kowloon Railway connected Kowloon with Shenzhen. The drivers and employees of each mode of transportation were always eager to assist and get us to our destination.
Our stay in Hong Kong was a brief 36 hours arriving and 36 hours departing. But we were determined to make the most of our time by spending very little of it in the hotel. We walked to the main courtyard of the old Council Chamber building. Stopped to examine the wonderful architecture throughout downtown Hong Kong. Visited several tourist spots, Planet Hollywood, and the Hard Rock Café. We then proceeded to partake in the local flair of the street markets on Kowloon. Again, we were met with very nice locals willing to direct us to our destination.
I have been asked repeatedly, has the reverting of Hong Kong to the Peopleís Republic of China been dramatic. My answer to them was NO. Very little has changed or was even noticeable to the tourist. Hong Kong is still a marvelous and wonderous place of old and new clashing together to make it what it is today. One could not be without the other. That is Hong Kong.
From Hong Kong, we boarded the Canton-Kowloon Railway for the 45-minute trip to Shenzhen. Upon reaching the station, we disembarked and walked across the river into The People's Republic of China. I was surprised to still see the guard towers and distinct separation of Hong Kong and PRC. I learned later that they still maintain the border check to curtail the influx of people into the Special Economic Region. I did notice that the guards with the machine guns were missing. But the ever business like agents were still at their post.
My co-workers were in amazement at the greeting we received upon our disembarking the train station. Sellers of all sorts and a few street beggars besieged us. Jim & Theo were shocked to learn that it is legal to beg with a permit in Shenzhen. Shenzhen is a melting pot of East meets West flavor. Everywhere you look, we could see the western big city influence. In several areas, you could still experience the true Chinese culture.
As I said earlier, the taxi rides in Shenzhen are akin to Mr.Toads Wild ride in Disneyland. I have never had so much enjoyment as I did while watching my co-workers' faces the first time we rode in a taxi going the wrong way down the street or running the red light or driving on the sidewalk or, well you get the picture. Not all the taxi drivers were this ambitious. Nevertheless, it was something to remember.
We then settled in for the next week preparing for the jobs that we had been sent to do. Our job included training the local associates on the procedures and equipment necessary for the task at hand. We were all amazed at how quickly the associates picked up the procedures and advanced functions of the equipment. We also were humbled by the respect we received from everyone on the sites.
As we made our way to the Shenzhen Airport at the end of the week, our Chinese interpreters were constantly being queried by passers-by. When we asked what was going on, they replied that they wanted to know if that was Michael Jordan (Theo)? It seemed that people were standing away from us taking pictures and attempting to work Theo into the picture thinking that he was Michael Jordan.
We arrived in Kunming on the eve of World Horticultural Exposition. The city was exceptionally spotless and trimmed to perfection. There were brand new hotels and restaurants everywhere. We settled in and went to work for the next five days.
We marveled at the discipline at which the Chinese poured into their jobs. They appeared to give nothing but their all no matter what the job was. And, it had to be perfect, nothing less would do. Something to be learned here. It was an honor to work with the Chinese people. They embraced us with respect unknown at home.
We finally were afforded a day off and set off to do some local sight seeing. A tour was arranged by our customer/host to the Stone Forest located approximately a hours drive from Kunming. We were advised to bring bottled water and a snack unless we wanted to stop at one of the local roadside stands to partake in sun baked duck hanging from the sellersí open-air racks.
We arrived at the Stone Forest unaware of what awaited us. We learned at the gate, that the only way to get true understanding of the Stone Forest was to do so with a local guide. Upon agreeing to the guide, we then set out to obtain a guide that could translate into English. We were in luck and Scott came forward dressed in the native costume of one of the local 36 ethnic groups in the area. Scott was wonderful as he spoke of how the Stone Forest came to be and the legends of each of the stone formations. He sang and danced regaling us with stories upon seemingly never ending stories. It was quite a popular attraction as was Theo. He was constantly asked if they could stand with him to take his picture. Theo was gracious the whole time and I think he rather enjoyed the misplaced notoriety.
Our arrival that evening in Kunming was not a pleasant one. We learned that US-UN forces had bombed the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo and there were mass demonstrations in force. We were advised to stay in our hotel rooms and prepare for immediate departure. During this time we just couldnít fathom why this had happened. We were eager for any news. When we attempted to procure a taxi for the ride to work the next day, we were met with icy stares and our interpreter advised us that a couple of taxiís refused to accept us since we were Americans. We understood their feelings and hoped that their anger would not be directed towards us. We decided to walk to the job site that day. During the day we learned that in Shenzhen, the other sites we had completed were now being targeted by demonstrators and they even received a couple of bomb threats. The next two days we were on constant advisement to be ready for immediate departure.
We completed our assignment in Kunming on schedule. Said our good-byes to our new found friends. Gathered our souvenirs and headed for the airport for the two hour flight to Hong Kong and the final 15+ hour flight to the states. Jim and Theo were still in wide-eyed wonderment at what they had experienced in the last two weeks. I was eager to get home to my family and tell them again, of the wonderful sights and gracious people I encountered on this far away land, the Pearl of the Orient.Posted: August 1999
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