Wednesday, December 12, 2007

China - First Impressions

For many years, I've described myself as a "banana" i.e. someone who looks Chinese on the outside, but behaves like a Westerner or Caucasian on the inside. This is possibly a result of growing up in a country which often glorified the virtues of her colonial masters. Everything I'd ever read about China was written in English and told from a Western perspective.

And so I was really excited about making my first business trip to China in early December. I had the opportunity to meet some team members in Suzhou and run a leadership course in Shanghai. I went with an open heart and mind, and came home with a sense of awe and renewed respect for the country and its 5000 years of history.

Aunty Jo-Jo enjoying the famous Zhuo Zheng Yuen or Humble Administrator's Garden in Suzhou

Suzhou is famous for its private classical gardens and I spent the morning wandering through the Humble Administrator's Garden. Upon entering the grounds, I was completely dumbstruck by the Chinese classical vistas. The central pond was inspiring and majestic, and yet there were other little nooks and crannies that were simple, sweet and comfortable. I'm told that these lotus ponds are a must-see in the summer months. This Ming Dynasty garden was built by Wang Xian Cheng in 1509AD after his retirement from political life.

Suzhou is also famous for its water townships and I visited Shantang Road right in the heart of the city. Walking along the ancient streets and canals, I felt as if I was in the middle of a film set for a historical TVB epic. The streets were filled with tourist attractions, food stalls and handicraft shops. My colleague Sandy and I had lunch at a delightful little shop that was frequented by locals. The food was exactly what we needed on a cold winter's day - hot, simple and home-cooked.

Aunty Jo-Jo admiring the new Peace Tower (left) and old colonial buildings (right) along the Bund in Shanghai

In contrast, Shanghai is a bustling, in-your-face metropolis that just takes your breath away (literally!). The first thing that struck me was the heavy smog that blanketed the city. Yet, I soon lost myself in the dynamism and energy of the city. It's growing at an incredible pace and the young Chinese are hungry to acquire knowledge and business skills.

I'm looking forward to spending more time discovering and learning about China.

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