For a country whose growth moves at such incessant speed, it is somewhat ironic that China’s traffic remains at an almost perfect standstill.
A blur of high rise buildings, history, culture, street markets, insane bargaining and beautiful scenery, to name only a few of the facets that make up the China we see today, 13 media reps boarded on to a plane for a long journey to see as much as can be seen of the giant of a country in a week-long trip, courtesy of the Chinese embassy in Cyprus.
What strikes the most after several meetings with high level business persons and officials is that China doesn’t just look ahead – it plans ahead.
Beyond President Xi Jinping’s recent announcement during the 19th communist party congress of his plans for China to become a “leading global power” by 2050, the same forward planning is seen ranging anywhere from trade to technology.
Hangzhou, for instance, is home to a High-tech zone, one of many scattered across the country that contains a cluster of tech companies all working towards pushing the boundaries of everything we know to be the norm in the field of technology ranging from the health sector to environment and security.
Set up in 1997 and spanning 73km, the High-tech zone in Hangzhou employed 25,000 new people in 2016 alone. Most were science and engineering majors.
One of the many gigantic buildings there, houses Hikvision, that alone employs some 20,000 people around the world. While the numbers are staggering, so too is much of what they showcase.
Their equipment ranges from anything from an underwater camera to some extremely sophisticated surveillance equipment that can within seconds assess your height within a range of a few cm, gender and whether you wear glasses – I was advised to check back in a year to test whether it reads contact lenses.
There are drones that can shoot down other drones, cameras with an algorithm that can provide a crystal clear picture, cutting through the smog that so often permeates China’s air to read whether a driver is wearing a seatbelt, see their number plate and capture a still of their face.
Some of their software estimates a person’s age simply by scanning it, though it did age some of the group members by a few decades and boosted others ego by shaving off a good few years from their real age.
The company doesn’t just have the state as a major client but has even worked with the London underground. Some of their more ‘humble’ equipment includes door handles for homes that only open to a set of specific fingerprints.
It is quite telling of the future that awaits us.
Employers say they are willing to employ talent no matter where in the world it is coming from and those hired from abroad are well taken care of by the government which can handle everything from housing to children’s education so that employees won’t have to worry about anything else apart from their work.
It’s not a bad allure to youths in Cyprus that can apply for a scholarship through the embassy to study in China. After all, 20,000 new jobs are offered every year in the district that houses companies such as Nokia and Alibaba.
When landing in Beijing, we were welcomed with a cool air that was far cleaner than anything we had anticipated and craned our necks to see to the top of the innumerable high rise buildings, brightly lit up at night and making us feel like ants throughout the day.
The bustling capital with a population of over 21million people contains beautiful gems like the Houhai lake and the narrow winded alleys in the Hutong markets.
Shopping in China is certainly an experience one must undertake but proceed with caution – the stakes are very high and be prepared to bargain – hard. Don’t be afraid to ask for 70 per cent of the price you’ve been offered. You’re still probably being ripped off, even with that amount.
But as always, there is of course kindness in strangers, willing to help out lost tourists. Locals all too happy to be standing at the top of the Great Wall of China with foreigners and their bubbling happiness at snapping pictures together.
Of course, a trip to Beijing is incomplete without seeing the Forbidden City – an endlessly stunning site of unending largess.
But a visit to Shanghai’s pilot free trade zone required a long journey we took on China’s high speed rail that goes at speeds of up to 350 km/h.
The pilot free trade zone in China is a testing ground for economic and social reforms. The one in Shanghai encourages imports and exports trying to open up trade from abroad and is working with countries such as Japan, Singapore, the US and EU member states.
“We look forward to seeing Cypriot companies visiting Shanghai,” director of external communications Wang Ying said.
In 2015, $50bn was invested in Shanghai’s trade zone and one of their feats has been reducing the number of regulations companies had to go through. From 190, there are now 95 and companies can go through the procedures required to get set up from one location in the pilot free trade zone rather than flit through different government departments.
Despite the briefing, it still came at quite a bit of a surprise when we visited a store selling imported goods (Shanghai Waigaoqiao) from all over the world spanning from Germany to Japan, Vietnam and Signapore, to see juices imported from our tiny island, Cyprus.
That’s right. And they were sold for roughly €2.
While the results of China’s forward planning remain to be seen, it is definitely a very different rhetoric than the one heard closer to home of vague promises looking to the distant future of becoming a hub of one thing or the other.
Encouraging hard work however seems to come from the top as Jinping, in his own writings says “a happy life comes from hard work.” Interestingly enough, colleagues at the state run China Radio International told us their annual holiday leave is five days. A far cry from the 21 – for starters – we are generously offered in Cyprus.
Nonetheless, the age old adage of never having expectations certainly holds true while travelling. Undoubtedly there is a lot more to China than the high-rise buildings and the suits and ties but go in with an open mind and bid goodbye to your social media – seriously it does you good to detox – and let your journey open your eyes to the differences and similarities that span across the globe.