PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with friends and students in mainland China because it costs them too much to order a copy from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, USA, aUGUST 20, 2019 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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I enjoyed my time with Bob and his family and the city of Wenzhou and on February 5 at 3:53 PM, (two days before the most important day in China, Chinese New Year Eve’s family reunion dinner on February 7), I was boarding a high speed train on the way back to where I started my holiday trip: Xiamen, Fujian Province. It was like going home. High speed trains in China are the best in the world and are efficient, punctual and always on schedule, carrying thousands of people who depend on them each day. I arrived at the Xiamen north train station around 7:21 PM and Jake was there to greet me. We had made the plans months earlier to meet Demo (Jake’s best friend in college) in Xiamen for a night. I arrived at around 7:21 PM and Demo would arrive from Beijing around 11:00 PM at the same north station. Jake and I went to the station to welcome Demo back to Xiamen. We had planned this for a long time, to spend the Year of the Monkey with his parents in Jinjing, two hours away by bus from Xiamen. The Chinese New Year’s Eve is right around the corner, and for almost all the Chinese in the world, the family or reunion dinner is a must, a moral imperative in the Chinese culture and tradition, the most important and one time of the year when the whole family will get together around a table to welcome a new year and enjoy a reunion dinner. Starting a new year together with people you care and love guarantees peace, love, happiness, abundance, longevity, and harmony for the rest of the year. In most of our Chinese traditional thinking, everything we do the first day of the lunar year will lead to what will happen the rest of the year. And this is no laughing matter in our Chinese culture. This is instilled in all of us Chinese since the day we can talk, walk and understand our parents and grandparents and our rich cultural heritage. This is China.
Jake is a resourceful young college graduate student and he was able to secure a very cheap hotel room for the three of us for about 100 yuan…not far from the train station. Why so cheap? Because the north train station is a new station built in an undeveloped area in north Xiamen Island. And the hotel is also new in the area, a humble operation, run by a young couple with a child. It is not one of those expensive chain hotels but one with an unknown local name. We were given a big spacious room with two big beds for three of us. It was a cold winter night.
Demo was traveling home from Beijing, where he works as a civil engineer since graduation from the same school with Jake. He could spend a night with us in Xiamen before he took another train home to Quanzhou to be with his parents for the Chinese New Year. Demo and Jake attended the same school where I taught. A few months before graduation, both of them moved out of the campus to find a quiet place to
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prepare for postgraduate examinations. And that was how they met, two students pursuing two different majors: Demo in civil engineering and Jake in computer science. They speak and share the same language: youth and aspirations. Most of the ambitious students would do that because they often sought a quiet place to concentrate on their test preparation. And because they were preparing for post-graduate exams, Jake and Demo also had the privilege to have their own study desks in one part of the library.
Now Jake is a first year student studying for a master’s degree in Information Safety and his campus is not far from Xiamen. He was able to find a rather inexpensive hotel near the train station and everything looked fresh and new, especially the spotless tiled floors and untarnished walls. We had to walk a distance through winding but clean well-lighted streets (more like a well-trodden path) to find a somewhat hidden restaurant to have a simple evening meal. I wasn’t sure if we could retrace or remember our steps back to the hotel. Three brains are better than one, for sure. The entry door into the small restaurant was left open and the cold air accompanied our dinner. We ordered what was available in this small restaurant: fried vegetables and tofu, a pork dish and some hot soup. I watched a few men return to help themselves for more steamed rice from an electric rice cooker at one corner of the room. This is China. (This practice of helping yourself to more rice is common in cheap restaurants in China. In more expensive well-established restaurants you would be charged for every bowl of rice you consumed. I was once in a Korean restaurant near the campus, where students would help themselves to more rice and soup. While white kids in America love bread and potatoes, Chinese college students are always hungry for more steamed rice.)
It was a simple meal in a village restaurant. We had no problem finding our way back to the hotel by foot. In our cold beds, there was much to catch up and unload our heavy burdens about our different lives and pursuits in different parts of the world. Demo would prefer to work for a different boss and company…most rookies or first year young professionals somehow always think the grass is greener over the fence or elsewhere. For most, this is their first taste of what a working life is all about: you have to work very hard to earn your money, that life is not a party anymore, that life is not a bed of roses, that from now on you have to prove to others (your boss or employer and some senior colleagues) that you are worth your college education, your talent and abilities and their faith in you before you are paid your monthly wages, usually unattractive meager amounts the first year or so. Recruiters would often say, don’t ask what the company can do for you (translated it means don’t demand how much are you willing to pay me), but how well and hard you are willing to work to make the company bigger and richer. Lest you forget, This is China.
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I was excited when Demo introduced me to his uncle (mother’s younger brother), who is an established publisher in Beijing of books for teenagers and children. They put out a famous teenage science magazine with major contributions from foreigners, working in Beijing. Since my boss in Hangzhou is interested in children’s books, I thought this would be an opportunity for her to meet Demo’s uncle in Beijing. They might be able to co-operate and collaborate in publishing some books for children by local authors.
Demo went to work in Beijing, while Jake decided to pursue an advanced degree in Information Safety at Minnan Normal University (MNNU) in Zhangzhou city, not too far away from his parents in Jinjing.
Originally Jake wanted to pursue his graduate studies at Shenzhen University. Shenzhen is about four speed-train hours away from Xiamen.
Shenzhen, labeled the New York City of China, was a quiet place inhabited by fishermen and rice growers and a modest population of 20,000 people four decades ago. It is now a giant metropolis with over 15 million people. Shenzhen is located in the area that was once covered with rice fields and deep drains, with rivers and streams crisscrossing the rice fields. People who live there used the word “zhen” to refer to the drains (because most of the local inhabitants were rice farmers once) and so Shenzhen means “deep drains”. Because of its swift transformation, it was singled out in May 1980 as China’s first Special Economic Zone (SEZ) by the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, whose huge statue sits on top of a high mountain in the city today, allowing the influx of foreign investment money to come to the city. This was the first city President Xi Jinping visited after he became the President of China in 2013 to pay respect to the man—Deng Xiaoping—who started the whole economic revolution, development and expansion in China, allowing China to be what it is today, second only economically to the United States of America.
As one of China’s wealthiest cities and a SEZ, it continues to attract a diversity of wealthy investors, venture capitalists, new and proven entrepreneurs, steady streams of migrant workers and young professionals to its golden gates. As a major financial center in southern China, hosting buildings of some of the leading architects from the Western world, it is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange, the headquarters of numerous high-tech companies—like Tencent and ZTE—and has become one of the busiest container ports in the world. Its vibrant economy is the direct result of rapid foreign investments since the implementation of Deng’s policy of “reform and opening up” of China to the world in the creation of Shenzhen as the first Special Economic Zone. Deng’s words of wisdom are on display everywhere you walk to
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remind locals and tourists of the humble origins of this mighty city and Deng’s pragmatic approach to China’s gradual emergence as an economic superpower in the decades to come.
As a computer science graduate, Jake was attracted to the presence of numerous high-tech companies in the vicinity of the campus of Shenzhen University (SZU). Fearless Jake took part in its post-graduate examinations hoping to study software engineering. In the second round, he was ranked 23rd and as fate would have it, the university only wanted 22 students for the new class. But being a resourceful young adult, he immediately applied to Minnan Normal University (MNNU) and was accepted to its graduate studies in Information Security in the computer science department.
American graduate schools do not require students to take special examinations offered by any particular institution (like Shenzhen University) and so any student who has passed a difficult GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, may apply to study at any institution of their choosing—in humanities or sciences. You have a choice of a master’s or a PhD degree or a combination of both. And most schools do not offer housing or accommodation for these students, many of whom are married by then and they will have to find their own housing outside the campus. A few are young married couples with children. Some have worked briefly before entering graduate schools. This would not be true in China.
But Jake and I were not disappointed with the results of his admission tests to SZU. We went to Shenzhen for business and pleasure. We both have friends who are working and living in the city. Tina, Carlos and Wang Yueshan became our willing tour guides and took time off from whatever they were doing to show us the most sought-after tourist spots in the city. Shenzhen, separated from Hong Kong by the Shenzhen River in the south, is always known as the “Back Garden of Hong Kong”. Because it lacks the history and natural scenic spots and beauties like some other big cities in mainland China. Catering to thousands of tourists, Shenzhen is smart with money and know-how and determination to develop its own unique exotic theme parks and man-made scenic spots to attract tourists from all over China and the world.
I had talked to Carlos numerous times when I was still in Xiamen that a visit to Shenzhen would be incomplete without tasting the best dim sum in the world in Shenzhen. Our first big meal, therefore, was at a dim sum restaurant which Carlos introduced to us. Carlos warned us there were too many “fake” dim sum restaurants in the city. Copycats? Those enamored with cheap Chinese products are well aware of many copycats in China. The Shan Zhai is a term used widely in China to describe all fake and imitation products, brands and services. To a hungry man, everything tastes
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good. We were not disappointed with Carlos’ choice of the restaurant inside a big hotel.
I did come across a news item in my research about where to visit in Shenzhen, reported by Reuters news service, dated October 9, 1990: McDonald’s Has First China Outlet. It reads: “SHENZHEN, China, Oct. 8 – The McDonald’s Corporation, the American fast-food chain, opened its first restaurant in China. China is the 53rd country in which McDonald’s has opened an outlet. Unlike Kentucky Fried Chicken and Pizza Hut, which opened their first Chinese restaurants in Beijing, the capital, McDonald’s advanced from the south, opening in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.”
Obviously locals, domestic and foreign tourists, flocked in droves to gaze at the business sign of McDonald’s in Dongmen Street, one of Shenzhen’s busiest thoroughfares (it is the same with locals, domestic and foreign tourists flocking to gaze and order coffee and snacks at the first Starbucks store—where it all started—in Seattle). You would think the whole of China were there at Dongmen Street the day we visited this special location, eyeing rows and rows of shops vying for your attention and money selling products ranging from A to Z, specialized centers like SED Electronics Market (Tablets Market) offering all kinds of electronic components and products, shopping malls exclusively for those with cash to burn (Tina made sure “this place is only for the very rich in Shenzhen to shop, not for us poor souls”), the modern public library adjacent to the center for performing arts, public areas where the talented and the brave put on their best performances free to the public, countless variety of snacks, desserts, foods, and delicacies in one exclusive multi-story building in Dongmen Food Street (here the hard-working migrants from all over China make and sell their most delicious enticing foods to you), and the wide and long boulevard up a mountain in Lotus Hill Park to pay homage to the statue of Deng Xiaoping, the man who created the modern Shenzhen. It seems to me every place of importance in China involves you climbing thousand steps to meet your hero or an object of immense historical significance. By now I was too tired to climb the steps to meet Deng Xiaoping.
At the SZU campus, Jake, Yueshan and I rode the university bicycles and toured the campus. According to its website, “Shenzhen University (SZU) is a full-time comprehensive university accredited by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China and is funded by Shenzhen local government. SZU was founded in 1983….Located on the picturesque coastline of Shenzhen Bay in South China, SZU’s 144 square kilometer campus, which boasts its own lake, spreads across rolling hills covered with lichee trees, an abundance of green space and works of art.” Its beautiful
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campus “tops all in mainland China”. What is interesting to me is that Peking University and Xiamen University both claim to be the most beautiful campus in the whole of China! And I had the privilege of visiting all the three campuses. For security reasons, I assume, tourists stood in line at the west and south gates at Xiamen University, to be admitted into the campus. The three of us enjoyed the leisurely ride around the SZU campus and I stopped once to talk to a group of young men, inquiring curiously about if the high-tech companies near the campus had sent their professionals to the campus to share their expertise and talk to the students about the future of computers in their careers. They smiled and nodded their heads.
almost all the man-made scenic attractions: China Folk Cultural Village (a national style museum of China’s 56 nationalities), Splendid China (a miniature scenery theme park), Shenzhen Happy Valley (a famous modern theme park), Fairy Lake Botanical Garden (a place for nature lovers), Dameisha and Xiaomeisha Beaches (two finest seaside resorts), Shenzhen Safari Park (the first stocking safari park in China), Donghu Park (renowned for its chrysanthemum exhibitions), Overseas Chinese Town East (a national ecological resort), and Minsk World (a military theme park). We devoted our time only to Window of the World which covers an area of 48 hectares.
Instead of flying around the world to see the famous scenic sites, historical heritages and world’s wonders, here at Window of the World we could see vivid replicas and reproductions of famous sites from different countries. This is China. Geographically speaking, the nearest to mainland China would be the fantastic replica of Angkor Wat of Cambodia, Mahamuni Pagoda of Mandalay, then to the Pyramids and the Sphinx or the hamlets in Africa, to the gondola along the canals in Venice, to ancient Athens, to the Tower of Pisa and the Eiffel Tower, then to the Tower of London, and across the Atlantic Ocean to the towering Manhattan skyscrapers. As I stood quietly looking at the towering Manhattan skyscrapers—especially the replica of the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center complex in New York City—my memory took me back to that morning of September 11, 2001 when my son and I were watching the morning TV news (part of our morning routine) while eating our breakfast.
At first I thought it was just an accident of a burning building. Students in my school were glued to the TV news. Before long we all learned of the full extent of the September 11 attacks by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda on the United States. American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the North and South Towers, respectively, of the World Trade Center complex. And within 102 minutes both 110-story towers collapsed, causing partial or complete collapse of all other buildings in the complex. American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon,
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the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense in Virginia, while United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. I stood there reliving the events that took place September 11, 2001.
The 9/11 attacks were a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks, killing 2,996 people and inured over 6,000 people, the deadliest incident in the history of the United States.
I was sad looking at the two replicas of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center…they are not there anymore in New York City today.
I know I will return to Shenzhen because we did not see everything because of our limited time. It is getting more attention than Hong Kong or Shanghai or Beijing. It is the place to be for young professionals from all over China.
After our visit to Shenzhen, Jake returned to Minnan Normal University to study Information Security. Jake would like to pursue a PhD degree if he has the opportunity in the near future.
The future of China is its young people, the bonsai kids like Jake. This is China.