A gweilo in 1980s China – Chapter 14

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Written by Tai Pan

If you haven’t had yet the chance to read the previous 12 chapters, I suggest you do so by going to the Story of my Life section.


After my first trip to China in the spring of 1983, coming back to Italy was really strange: I felt like I went from a lifestyle to another, and I could see that I changed after my experience and I knew that nothing would have been the same again. I began to enjoy and appreciate the ‘small’ things, and when I had some work or personal issue, the “gweilo” in me, reminded what I saw during the trip in rural China, and I would immediately turned into a positive and optimistic mood!

I do not hide that after a few weeks in Italy, I started to feel that strange emotion called by the Brazilians “saudade”. In other words, I wanted to convince myself that China was not my homeland or my home country, but even so, I felt like a big piece of China was inside me. It was integral part of me and I could not wait to go back. My goal was actually achieved as, the Chinese textile companies I was in business with, were extremely successful, and they needed me to go back to make the next order!

After 5 months in Italy I was finally flying back to China!

When we landed in Shanghai, where I felt just ‘at home’. It seemed that I had never left.

shanghai airport 1983

This time we were not staying at the Park International Hotel, but we decided to try a different hotel and stay at the Peace Hotel, which was located on the corner between the Bund and Nanjing Road. From my bedroom window I could actually see Hangpu River and its countless small, medium, and large boats sailing non-stop at all hours of the day.

Shanghai Huangpu river 1980

This second trip was organised to do some specific business negotiations of silk products, and for this reason on our second day there, we took a train to go to Hangzhou, a town in the Zhejiang province, which was famous in those days for having the best quality silk in the whole of China. The journey there was quite short as the place was not too far from Shanghai; nothing like the wonderful trip Shanghai – Changsha, which I told you about in chapter 11.

old china 6

Everybody told me that Hangzhou is considered as one of the most beautiful and traditional cities in central China, and as soon as we reached the train station there, my eyes could not believe was I was seeing: the landscape was even more wonderful that what I optimistically expected!

hangzhou west lake 2

I recently type Hangzhou on Google to see what would have come out, and the photos that appear on the page show a place that I don’t not recognise anymore. The green gardens and the small Chinese buildings are all gone, now it’s all about skyscrapers and modern buildings. However, in the autumn of 1983, what I saw in that city was magical and enchanting: there was a beautiful lake surrounded by a dense vegetation, in the middle of which there were some picturesque pagodas; some parts of the lake were entirely covered in lotus flowers and water lilies, and typical little Chinese arc-shaped bridges connected different islands together.


It is not easy to describe, all the feeling and sensations overwhelming me when standing in front of those wonderful and unique expressions of mutual respect between nature and man, made me feel so in peace with myself and so happy, that it is really impossible to put these feeling down to words.

west lake coutest 4SInner West Lake of Hangzhouhangzhou 4

Indeed, only pictures can help you fully understand the beauty and uniqueness of Hangzhou, and help me to explain how, when I saw those beautiful living ‘paintings’ capturing such a tranquil natural landscape, the whole world just disappeared, and it was only me and wonderful lake.

whuzen hangzhou10290386-wuzhen-zhejiang-china

I found myself for the first time in front of myself, learning to meditate and read my thoughts and ideas from an objective point of view. I learnt to split myself in two: the one who watched and examined, and the one examined and watched. This was – and still is – very important as I realized that only nature, with its manifestations, is able to have this effect on human beings. So back then in 1983, this is exactly what happened: a young Italian Gweilo walking along the banks of the magical lake of Hangzhou, in Zhejiang, and letting the whole atmosphere immerse him in a self introspection.

hangzhou 3hangzhou 1per copertina tai pan

That gweilo once again came to the conclusion that China was an incomparable school of life, that and he was a privileged man to have had the opportunity to live this experience! On that day I went through some unforgettable and unique feelings, which I hope if I ever have grandchildren, I would like to tell them and teach them about, as a grandfather and as a good ex-young gweilo.

Next week, the story will continue with the world of silk in the Zhejiang region, and the return to Shanghai. See you soon!

(All photos are from Google.com, and they all belong to their original owners)

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