A gweilo in 1980s China – Chapter 15

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Written by Tai Pan

If you haven’t had yet read the previous chapters, I suggest you do so, but going to the section Story of My Life and start from part one!

CHAPTER 15 – DISCOVERING THE WORLD OF SILK

As I said in the previous episode, my second trip to China was focused primarily on purchasing products made of silk, and in particular, underwear, night and dressing gowns, and pajamas.

When I flew back to China, I organized my trip so that I could travel to Zhejiang, the main region where silkworms were bred. Indeed, thanks to the abundance of raw materials in that province, a lot of garment factories were specialized in silk production, and so the clothing pieces were very cheap to buy.

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Before that particular trip, I had no knowledge about silk, even considering that Italy in the past was famous for making the best silk fabric. Once again, I felt like I was discovering a new world and learning so many new things.

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As I told you in episode 11, I had already been to some factories when I went to visit the Hunan province, and those factories were also specialized in garments, which were, however, made of ramie, a fiber similar to linen. Despite the different material used to make the clothes, I found many similarities between the factories in Zhejiang specializing in silk, and the ones in Hunan: first of all both regions presented the factories organized in departments, with women walking everyday to work from the countryside, and some even living inside the factory itself.

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I asked the manufacture manager in Zhejiang, to be shown and taught all about the stages of the production process, from silkworm to the looms and woven fabrics. Thanks to my request I obtained the respect and admiration of both the government officials, and the factory’s employees, who were accustomed to cold and detached gweilos/businessmen who would only visit the factories to check and make sure that their negotiation was worth the price, showing no interests in the Chinese working there.

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I noticed that my Chinese business partners were really pleased to explain and show me everything that concerned their work; and then I realized how passionate they all were for what they were doing in that silk factory.

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In fact, I realized they were all proudly showing the history and traditions of their jobs, and my sincere and spontaneous interest was making them so happy and proud. I like to think that I changed their perspective on gweilos, who before me Chinese thought they were uninterested, hungry with money, and unrespectable.

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Back then, I was literally immersed into their world, the world of silk: I found myself surrounded by bugs tireless (little animals that produce a so special and precious material), and everything seemed so unique and incomparably magical.

I considered – and still do – those two days spent in Hangzhou as “rare pearls” that I luckily found along my travels around China.

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While I was staying in that beautiful part of the country, I used to wake up in the morning and open my bedroom window to change the stuffy air inside. I can still remember the fresh perfume of the lake that overwhelmed my room as soon as I let the air come in. I remember that the lush vegetation made me feel protected from the rest of the world, and that I felt like I was in a timeless place, where the only things that reined were peace and serenity. It could seem crazy to say, but I felt like I was in total harmony with the universe.

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The days in Hangzhou ‘gave me’ all those wonderful feelings, and in particular, the last moments of that magical stay were even more memorable than the rest! The last night we had dinner with the managers of two factories that we signed a contract with to have silk garments produced for us, and we affectionately greeted each one of them, promising to each other that we would have met again soon.

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The morning of our departure, after having had breakfast, I took my luggage and went to the ground floor; I paid the bills at the front desk of the hotel, and while I was leaving the lobby I noticed something that let me speechless (in a positive way): there were the two managers together with their two deputy chiefs from the two factories I visited, and they were all there waiting me!!

Why were they there if we had already said goodbye the night before!?
When I walked to them, they told me, with the help of an interpreter, that they had decided to come and give me two gifts, one for each factory, to thank me for respecting their work and be genuinely interested in every single of their tasks.

I was absolutely moved by the whole situation! I actually felt tears coming down on my cheeks! I was struggling to hold them in! The four Chinese men noticed it and, they immediately responded to my reaction in a way that I can still picture in my head today: the two managers moved two steps back, and they gave me a smile accompanied by a slight recline of their heads. That whole scene filled my heart with strong and indescribable emotions!

After that, we left to go back to Shanghai, and while we were driving into the city I didn’t even notice the huge buildings as my eyes were still picturing the Lake of Hangzhou.

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Next week I will tell you some other unique events that happened to me in Shanghai, right before leaving for Beijing. See you soon!

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

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