Amsterdam-Helsinki-Shanghai and the bitter-sweet of China

6 November; the central European airports are celebrating Christmas already. Amsterdam hits the top as always, with the Finnish one being more modest and aligned to its grey environment with only little blue lights on the Christmas trees; far at the back and over the white snowy field, the same trees in real are forming a dark horizontal line on the grey landscape.

The actual flying time is something that I try to forget; my discomfort on airplanes is known, I think. Luckily I found the perfect book to read on the airplane so my wasted time found some meaning: “China in Ten Words” by Yu Hua, a book with a straight forward voice on the bitter and on the sweet of China. Till they switched off the lights on the second flight I had devoured 120 pages of careful reading. I intend to finish it tonight.

Shanghai transparent

My flight arrived exactly at the foreseen time. The Pudong airport is a brand new one, huge in size giving a feeling of being empty. All went fast with luggage and migration clearance; somewhere at the far I could see groups of uniformed people walking after someone with a flag; other uniformed people with obvious authority were doing their routine walk up and down, which I did not know where to place but it did give a weary feeling. In between total newness and communist symbols, I entered China. A most helpful young man was waiting for me, as promised, to take me to Nantong. We walked through the vast not busy corridors and came to the car which already had collected the first two passengers. Off to the other airport of Shangahi for the last passenger, I was introduced to the light and air of the big-cities China. The sunshine was dampened by a thick cloud of smog, dust and humidity. Rolling on the enumerable highway air bridges designing the landscape, I could grasp snap shots of normal street life behind this new design of prosperity. Lots of people, motorbikes, steaming pans, street merchandise, small tracks and all types of carriages, work, movement, business and at the back somewhere the port of Shanghai almost transparent. The first contact with Chinese billboards fell in the same area as the new Chinese painting that we see at big art events; it is as sticking the tongue out to aesthetics having at the same time something fresh and something totally conservative; the clog in the throat is almost inevitable despite the up-mood images; about the text I have no comments. From the first meters of the drive it was clear that the driving ethics are completely different to what we know in central Europe, stopping at the side of the highway, blowing the horn a lot, behaving more nervously than expected. In city streets the chaos is bigger, with motorbikes (lots of them) even driving against the official stream. There is a lot officiality here but the road is not part of it. This evening, to get with the assigned busses from the hotel to the river for a sight-seeing cruise, a police car was engaged to open the road for us.

arriving in Nantong

Anyway, while waiting at the ‘ banana’  level of the airport for the last passenger of our car, I decided to close my eyes for a few minutes. From that point, tiredness took the upper hand and I spent basically half asleep the last bit of our trip from Shanghai to Nantong. Once at the hotel though I picked up my energy and walked to a building 50 meters further that seemed to attract thousands of people of obviously low income. Walking into the building, I realised that it was a kind of shopping mall for fabrics and garments, set up in a way unknown to our experience; practically hundreds of stores packed in this building seeming to do some kind of business to earn the day’s bread. Speaking of bread, I was hungry. The lousy food of the airplane had left me with a disturbed feeling; I found again some meters further away a noodle fast food and had something that helped me go back to the hotel and get some sleep. I woke up two hours later and stood up reluctantly; needed to get ready for the cruise on Haohe river. On little boats and with a young girl as our guide, we drifted on the water admiring somehow the effort that this city made to decorate with all kinds of colored lights (many of them moving) the buildings that stand out as architecture or as historical points. This I want to mention: it does impress me the sense of admiration that Chinese people seem to have. Our guide was explaining that for Nantong we are talking about one city, one man and one river. One city because Nantong though old as establishment, is the pioneer modern city of China, one man because all this modernity is owed to a man called Zhang Jian who believed that progress comes through industry and education and one river because all important buildings are around the river bank. I can do nothing else than nod, yes.

On the way back and in the bus, I noticed that actually there are also many statues that entail light moving parts. Without any comment; I do try to see their view. Tomorrow, the opening of the exhibition but also seeing other things, like maybe Shen-style embroidery (?); the new fibers that they produce here in the area would also give a shot of inspiration, but now back to the book, finishing the word “Revolution”.

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