In 1800, it could take at least 3 or more months, depending on the winds, to sail in a damp, humid cabin to China from Sydney. In 1900 coal allowed one to steam north to Shanghai in 4 – 5 weeks. Today I am flying to Beijing in 11 hours, thanks to the jet engine. I am not going to swelter in a tin box, catch typhoid, drown or be ransomed by pirates (not until the taxi touts at the airport get me anyway). On reflection, this progress is staggering, as is the affluence and development one finds on landing in Beijing.
As a child China was the porcelain monk on the mantle piece, the ghostly fish in a bamboo frame or the flash of a dragon on the shimmering silk of a woman’s dress. When young in Wellington, NSW there was a Chinese man with a brown smiling face who delivered fresh vegetables grown on the Macquarie River flats that he sold from his cart pulled by an old Clydesdale. Hard- working Chinese provided much essential commerce to the bleak early gold rush towns. Chilled oysters on ice by horse and cart to Hill End! Restaurants, radio repairs and businesses were created by productive Chinese families many of which had stayed and prospered after the gold rushes around Hill End and Bathurst in the 1850s – they are now some of the oldest Australian families.
Whilst studying Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws with a major in Chinese at USyd, my wife’s daughter Antonia gained a Chinese government scholarship to further her studies at Zhejiang University. This was 2011, she was 20. To avoid the temptation of speaking English on campus she moved in with a local family. This intimacy was of crucial importance to her understanding of daily life and culture. She speaks Mandarin now with a provincial accent and writes well if a little slowly. After returning from China she casually observed that now she didn’t notice if a person was occidental or oriental. An empathy achieved by intimacy.
Old Beijing still resides in a nook behind the old city or what is left of it at the ‘Liqun Roast Duck Restaurant’. It is in a dusty hutong and visually fascinating. It’s off the track and the duck is… wonderful.
I have noticed for some time that Chinese people seem to rub together in a polite easy way. They appear to attempt to avoid confrontation. Not unlike people anywhere you may think but in the West there seems to be a lot of civic anger. It may be in China also – I wouldn’t know as I don’t speak the language – and even if I did….? But sometimes you ‘don’t have to drink the ocean to know it is salt’. The endless violence, assaults, road rage and terrorism that we have had to become accustomed to would attract draconian responses in China. They know that public disorder may lead to chaos – akin to hell in Chinese culture. Consequently, one feels very safe day or night in the city.
I am in Beijing with POTUS and FLOTUS. They are causing a lot of fuss and disruption to the traffic. China has a long and tragic history trusting foreign ‘goodwill’. If you look carefully as you walk the streets you see that faces display a cynicism and occasionally disdain on spotting a guailo or Westerner and who could blame them considering the Opium Wars as just one example. Conversely the charm and manners of people one is involved with is superb; the key is language. To learn to speak Mandarin may not be that easy but more of us must. It is not only shows cultural sensitivity but good manners. .
Returning through the hotel gardens in Shanghai I watched a uniformed security guard standing in repose. I then realised he was studying a large leaf on the drive. After some consideration he picked it up, inspected it closely, turned it over and in a leisurely manner put it through the opening of a bin. Lucky leaf – Zen Buddhist security maybe?
ART 021 – the Shanghai Art Fair is a fine example of the international art fairs pioneered by Art Basel.Literally hundreds of galleries showing a huge selection of post-modernist works interspersed by occasional gems that make the whole visual effort rewarding not to mention the beautiful architecture of the Shanghai Exhibition Centre which was the old Sino-Soviet Friendship Mansion built in 1955. Art 021 corresponds with the West Bund Art and Design Fair on the Bund which features international European galleries such as Hauser and Wirth alongside local and Asian galleries. The combined efforts of the Shanghai International Arts Festival is positioning Shanghai as the pre-eminent art market centre in China and perhaps Asia. Move over Beijing and Hong Kong? Anyway it is certainly energetic, exciting and very well-attended.
We took the modern shiny train from Beijing to Shanghai. It takes between 4.5 to 5.5 hours to cover 1318 kms and travels up to 350km/h. The Maglev from downtown metro to Pudong International Airport travels up to 430 km/h and gets you there in 8 minutes whilst the ‘Maglev Not’ from Central to Bowral (depending on the change at Campbelltown) can take over 2 hours on what is starting to look like a 3rd world rattler and excluding days when track work routes you off the rattler and on to a bus to battle the M5 carpark en route to Central. There are 25 million people in Shanghai officially and we are juggling just over 4 million here in Greater Sydney. The elevated roads built effortlessly around Shanghai provide solutions to the millions of luxury cars now on the roads.
It makes one wonder what on earth is happening to Australia. Short sighted, inept, conceited and corrupt governance appears to be taking us over the ‘Argentine precipice’. Unless we get leadership with backbone the whole legion of unionised, welfared and over- taxed mugs, that has become a significant part of the Australian population is going to find it hard to get a job as a caddy on a Chinese owned golf course. Considering the vast progress of Asian countries we Australians are going to have to change to even consider competing.
Still as always it is great to be home. Merry Christmas Fellow Mugs.