A Gweilo in 1980s China – pt. 23

a copertina

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.


The group of officials I told you about in the previous chapter came to Italy in September, and almost a month after that I was back in China again. As you could imagine, I was generally pleased and excited to go as on that trip I would have gone visit the Sichuan province, the most populous area in the country!

My friends-traders from Shanghai explained to me that it would be better if they came with me to Sichuan in order to allow the supplying of raw materials used by their clothing factories in Shanghai.

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While I was on the Cathay Pacific plane heading to Hong Kong, I began to fantasise about the great western provinces of China, and in particular about Sichuan. While the other provinces had a population of 40/50 million people – and was for me already a huge number – the Sichuan had almost twice as much!

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I remember that I feel asleep while taking off, I think I actually passed out as soon as the plane was in the air. On that occasion, I dreamt of Dirk Struan, James Clavel’s Tai, and how he helped sort out some negotiations for some textile materials.
I was getting really excited about my transactions in company of Dirk, when I heard a voice saying in perfect English: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are starting to land at the Kai Tak Hong Kong airport, we will get at there…” and I woke up abruptly, confused by noise and by the fact that I realised that the business negotiations were all a dream…

It took me several seconds to realise the difference between dream and reality, and when I finally did, I was pretty disappointed to find myself without my “friend” Tai Pan…
After spending a night in Shanghai, we flew to Chengdu in Sichuan. I am not ashamed to admit that I was as excited as a kid on his first day of school!

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That city was actually charming and wonderfully unique, not to say that it was terribly crowded with people walking, driving and cycling to and from all over the place. Chengdu was a metropolis where time stopped at the year 1950.

Seeing all those big roads reminded me of Beijing, with the only difference that Beijing, as the capital city, was much more majestic.

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One of the officials from Shanghai told me he wanted to talk to me in private and so, overwhelmed by curiosity, I invited him to join me in my room where we could talk freely.

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He arrived almost immediately and his embarrassment began to worry me “What is going on?!” I asked… he explained that for them to travel around their own country was very difficult or almost impossible, and going to Chengdu was a really unique opportunity for them to see the beautiful Sichuan province!

I felt really happy to have agreed to travel with them to that province, I felt proud I gave them the opportunity to visit other parts of their own country.

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Luckily my travel plans were quite flexible, so we agreed that once the business negotiations were concluded, we would have had 3 days to discover the province, and visit the most famous and beautiful places in the area.

Anyway to cut it short on the boring negotiations, everything went well and I closed a really good deal with some factories of the Sichuan. Once the business transactions were over, the three officials and I had the most amazing days of our lives!

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We had the chance to discover the Sichuan province, or rather a part of it, as it was – and still is – incredibly big!

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First we visited the city, which I was told was founded over 2,000 years ago!

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I walked around lots of old streets, each with its own characteristics, and the road I liked the most was the “Sewing Ladies Street”: a street where women brought their own sewing machines and would sew any kind of dress or garment to anyone who required it, amazing!


I also saw some Panda bears, as in the area around Chengdu there were a lot of wild animals.

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Then we organized a day trip to visit the area of Leshan, about 150 kilometers south of Chengdu, and when there, we saw what I thought was one of the most beautiful things this planet was given to: the great statue of Buddha, the largest statue in the world.

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It’s difficult to fully describe what I felt, but I remember that I felt “enormously” tiny compared to the gigantic statue.

While I was enchanted and captivated by the amazing view of the monument, I tried to imagine the effort people had to make to create such a colossal thing without the hep of modern technology.

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The next day we visited another area closer to Chengdu, only a few kilometres away from the city.

There I saw another amazing demonstration of the intelligence and ability of the Chinese people: the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, created a few centuries before then.

The whole system was designed to supply the capital city of Sichuan, and still up to that day was working perfectly!

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This system diverts partly the waters of the Minjiang River; however the most amazing thing about it, is that it was created from digging inside a mountain! How did they do that 200 years ago?? How did they take the measurements, and how did the dig in the rock?!

We are talking about the third century B.C. and TNT did not exist yet! So the way they did it was by first heating up the rock, and then cooling it down. This made the hard material softer and easier to work on…absolutely genious!

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After that, we also visited Mount Qingcheng, a mountain which height was – and still is – less than 1,300 meters, so it’s more like a hill.

Mount Qingcheng is considered sacred by the Taoist mythology, and so several temples were built there.

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All the places I visited were magical and with a unique and relaxing atmosphere, which overwhelmed me and gracefully surrounded me just like a nice wool blanket in a cold winter.

My travelling companions reminded me of a group of cute kids on a school trip, it was like they shown the world for the first time in their lives.

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Unfortunately the time to go back to Shanghai came, so they thanked me for allowing them to have such an incredible experience in Sichuan, and told me they would have proudly told every family member and neighbours about that incredible trip!
Another wonderful memory of the 1980s China to possessively store in my memory box.
Another unique experience that change me inside, and made me a better man. When I think about those business travels that allowed me to see places, meet people, and get to know different cultures, I re-live everything exactly how it is when I lived it back in those days.

In 2000 UNESCO declared Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System part of the World Heritage List. However, In 2008 Sichuan was struck by a violent earthquake, 7.8 Ricther. Anyway, I still believe that nothing – neither the inexorable passage of time, nor a violent earthquake –  could ever get rid of the magic and charm of Sichuan.

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I will “see” you next week fellows!

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

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