A Gweilo in 1980s China – pt. 12

copertina tai pan 12

Written by Tai Pan

If you haven’t read the previous episodes, you can go into the Story of my Life section and start from part 1.


The day after the hilarious “accident” in the elevator of the hotel, we had a flight to Canton, the second destination planned for my trip to the Far East in 1983. At that time Changhsa airport – jokes aside – looked like a farm house, more than a real airport. While we were waiting for our plane, I was observing the airplanes that were taking off and landing on the runway.canton 4Except for one that came from Hong Kong, I saw only propeller, twin-engine and bomber aircrafts; and once again, as I was a young gweilo, I began to compare that airport with the ones in Italy, and I thought that the planes that I was admiring were actually quite old!canton 3I began to get anxious, and when I boarded on the plane, my axiety incresed even more…. The interior was ruined and stuffy, I could barely walk to my seat, and there were only forty chairs. The space between a seat and another was really small, and I had to keep my legs cramped with my knees almost touching my chin.
However, as soon as the plane took off and I immediately calmed down. But that ‘peace’ didn’t last for too long as another surprise stricked me: suddenly I saw smoke coming out of the ceiling, and the first thing I thought of was FIRE! Fire on board meant an absolute emergency!
I wasterrified! The Chinese man from Hong Kong who was sitting beside me, smiled and told me in perfect English: “The plane is being pressurized, and becausewe have ancient systems to do this, before the aircraft stabilizes, it expels a sort of steam that looks just like smoke.” In fact, after a few seconds, the smoke dissapeared…A part from a scary take-off, I must say that the rest of the journey was quite pleasant.canton 1When we began to land in Canton, I began to view some really beautiful landscapes, and I was particularily amazed by the Pearl River, or “river of pearls”, which crossed the city of Canton. We were staying at the beautiful White Swan Hotel, one of the very few 5-stars in China.
As soon as I walked in the lobby I was enchanted by the beauty of the interior decorations: precious marble was covering the floors, and in the center of the room there was a small waterfall surrounded by plants, and a small pagoda built on top of the waterfall!withe swan hotelThe hotel was located on Shamian Island, on the banks of the Pearl River.withe swan hotel 2After settling down in our rooms, the two Italians and I went out to go see the Textile Fair Of Canton. The fair was organised mainly for traders like us; indeed, there were the exporting government agencies representing each of the major provinces of China.canton 8 linhua trade fair buildingShanghai was a metropolis where tradition and culture made the place extremely beautiful. Changsha was a small town where things were evolving and developing really fast, but Canton seemed to me like an actual erupting volcano! It was a city where, thanks to its geographical position, every fair and traditing event would take place. Because of this it was also full of Gweilos, who would travel there for business. Canton was constanly moving, lively and active. Indeed, this city is in Guangdong: right between Hong Kong – British colony – and Macao – Portuguese territory.canton 5The next morning,I left our room to go have breakfast, and when I reached the restaurant, I noticed the view that the hotel had on the river. A nice background-music was played in the dining section were I have sitting, and the walls of the restaurant were all covered in glass, so it was easier and more pleasant to enjoy the view over the river.pearl river junkI still remember that breakfast: the piano playing a very elegant and relaxing melody, the river and the locals who were sailing up with their little wooden boats. I will never forget the hats they were all wearing, the traditional big hat that covered all of their bodies, so they did not tan.Guangzhou_Harbor oldFor a moment I thought I was watching a movie, but then I realised that all that was happening for real in front of my eyes. In that instant I thought about James Clavel’s “Tai Pan”, where he talks about trades and business deals between a Gweilo and China; In particular, he writes about the Pearl River. As I told you in the first episode, I felt like I was being assisted by Dirk Struan (Tai Pan’s main character) in my commercial deals.tai-pan-filmWhen this incredible breakfast ended, I was abruptly brought back to reality, and my colleagues forced me to finish my coffee, so that we would have been able to go back to the fair to finally discuss business. Sad about leaving that magical restaurant, I followed their advice and finished up everything and I left the hotel section to head off to the fair.
After doing some tiring business negotiations in Canton, my next stop was Hong Kong, after which I would have gone back to Italy. In the next chapter I will tell you about my day spent in Hong Kong, a day of sightseeing, shopping, and many more exciting stuff!

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