A gweilo in 1980s China – Chapter 19
Written by Tai Pan
If you haven’t had yet the chance to read the previous chapters, I suggest you do so by going to the ‘Story of my Life’ section and start from part 1.
CHAPTER 19 – DALIAN, SEA AND RUSSIAN INFLUENCES
After the unforgettable days spent in Beijing and surrounding areas monuments, I moved to Dalian, a city on the seaside in the Liaoning province, north- east of Beijing.
I went to that specific area because that’s where they make a type of silk called Tussah, which presents different characteristics to the one called Mulberry, used mainly in the south-central China.
As I had already learned during my previous visits, every Chinese province had specific architectural characteristics that made it different from the others.
Shanghai, a hectic metropolis, presented Anglo-Saxon architectural influences, due to the English colonial period.
Changsha, a rural town of the internal province of Hunan where Mao Zedong was born, had a strong traditional countryside style.
Beijing, large and majestic, was “rich” in history and it presented different kind of architectural features, from the traditional Chinese, to the colonial ones.
Canton was typical southern city, pulsating, lively and chaotic! Due to its geographical location, not far from the British colony of Hong Kong, it had some pretty strong English influences.
As soon as I landed I noticed how Dalian was like a typical seaside town, with its small wooden harbour.
Since I was born and raised on the seaside in Naples, I immediately liked Dalian, mostly because the view of the sea reminded me of home, and made me feel comfortable and in peace.
I told this to the local officials who came to pick me up at the airport, and very kindly they promised me that they would have taken me on a boat ride, since I like the sea so much.
Finally I arrived at the hotel, I checked in at reception and took possession of the room: an absolutely clean and simple accommodation, with one double bed, a small wardrobe, 2 chairs with a little table, and a… bathroom, which, one of the officials explained, it was a real privilege to have! Indeed, apparently most of the rooms had no bathrooms inside, but the guests had to share the toilet with the rest of the floor!!
To cut it short, Dalia’s hotel was nothing compared to the ones I stayed in when I was in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou!
Shortly after I checked in, I realised that I wasn’t given the key to lock my bedroom door, so I thought that the boy who escorted me to the room had forgotten to leave it! As I went to open the door I had a second surprise: it was locked from the outside!!!!
I began to get nervous and I screamed for help! I banged on the door with my hands and I heard a noise in the hallway and immediately after only few seconds someone from the outside unlocked and opened the door…he was the floor’s keeper! I asked him why the door was locked, and he told me, in a very broken English, that the hotel rules demanded that all the guests were locked inside their bedrooms. Obviously for each floor there was a 24h ‘key’s keeper’ that would open the doors in case anyone wanted to get out.
I was furious and went downstairs to complain to the receptionists. The manager, with pleasant manners, invited me to his office. He offered me a drink and asked if the local textile’s officers had explained the rules. I replied that I knew nothing about the whole hotel regulations, and so the director began: “Because Dalian and generally the Liaoning Province is in a strategically geographic position, not far from Korea, Japan and Russia; it is an important location for the military defence of China. For this reason, the foreigners that come visit cannot be free to walk without the supervision of the locals.”
Unbelievable but true!
Later I found out that the officers did not tell me anything because they were embarrassed and feared that because of this, I wouldn’t have wanted to go visit Dalian and do business with them! Fair enough….
When I went to sleep, I dreamt about all that I experienced during my first day spent in Dalian. After the hotel manager’s explanations, I dreamed I was a spy for the Italian secret service, and that I was in Dalian to collect information on the Chinese military defence system, but the officials realised my plan and revealed it to the military!
I was in a military prison waiting to be questioned and I was terrified, but fortunately, the dream ended just before being tortured, as the alarm went off. It was early in the morning and I, with great relief to be back to being a businessman and not a spy, wrote down the dream so I wouldn’t have forgotten it.
The two days that followed were peaceful and relaxing, I purchased the clothing items made of Tussah silk, and while I was in Dalian I also had the opportunity to take a tour around the city and to appreciate the local architecture, which presented Russian influences.
The beaches were absolutely deserted, not for weather, but because the concept of “being on holiday” or enjoy the sun and the sea, did not exist in mainland China. Indeed, at that time the People’s Republic was just starting its “climb” to the position of world super power.
This climb ended recently with the passing of the United States as second most powerful country in the world, after, of course, China.
However, China became what it is today only in the 21st century, so when I was there, in the autumn of 1983, the PRC was making its first steps towards being a super-power, and this made it so fascinating: it was a country that was barely explored by the Westerners (gweilos).
For that reason I can consider myself so privileged to have lived and experienced all this.
All the Chinese I encountered during my time spent there, were admirable people who taught me not only the tricks behind trading strategies, but also about life; and all the learning is still up to today burning hard as a flame both in my heart and in my soul!
Next week I will tell you about my wonderful journey to the Fujian province, so watch out for episode 20!
(All photos are from Google.com, and they all belong to their original owners)