(This Is China-80) November 10, 2019 – Chapter 81 from THIS IS CHINA

CHINA

 

personal note: I decided to share this book with my friends and students in mainland China because it costs too much to order one from USA. Enjoy it and share it with people you care and love. Peace, Steve, usa, November 10, 2019  stephenehling@hotmail.com    https://getting2knowyou-china.com

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Chapter 81

My trip to Quanzhou for the Lantern Festival would be the last leg of my holiday trip to China before returning home to the United States.

Quanzhou is a very unique place, though Xiamen has more tourists than Quanzhou. I doubt all mainland Chinese realize or know that Quanzhou was once the eastern terminus of the Maritime Silk Road. That the word “satin” comes from “Zaiton”, the Arabic name for Quanzhou, the port that would transport the satin fabric to the West. It was estimated Quanzhou once had a large (100,000 or so) international community, of Arabs, Persians, Indians and others. It was the Shanghai of China about 1,000 years ago, China’s forgotten historic port. It was the largest port in Asia, located in southeast of Fujian Province during the Song (968-1279) and Yuan dynasties (1271-1368). Legend has it that Marco Polo called this city “the Alexandria of the East”, and it was here that he bid farewell to China. It was about this time Kublai Khan’s fleet to invade Japan sailed from this port, but unfortunately the kami kaze (“spirit wind”) destroyed them. The Ming Empire under emperor Hongwu, its founder, sealed off borders, cut off foreign expeditions, destroyed the records and allowed the ships to rot in the 1420s and Quanzhou declined as a historic port.

David took time to show me some of the historic spots to prove its historic importance. One is the Maritime Museum, one of a few maritime-themed museums in China, on Donghu Lu (road) with its Soviet-style structure displaying the city’s maritime past of the remains of the Song Dynasty ships dug out of Quanzhou Bay in the 1970s. In another wing of the building is a collection of gravestones and steles, dating from the Yuan Dynasty, commemorating deaths of foreign merchants from different cultures and religions, truly a reflection of the city’s multi-culturalism and maritime heyday.

Not far from the museum, at the corner of Hongdu Lu and Lingshan Lu, is the Islamic Cemetery. This was the final resting place of some of the important Muslims, including two of Mohammed’s disciples. They had been coming to Quanzhou via the Maritime Silk Road since the Tang Dynasty (618-907). And their wealth is seen in the Ashab Mosque (Qinging Mosque), still standing at 108 Tumen Jie, with its former beauty and glory embedded in the towering arched gate and the impregnable walls. And next to this mosque is the most prosperous Guandi Temple in the city with is ever present smoke billowing from the continuously burning incense sticks. Though Guandi is the god of war, he is one of the most popular deities among Fujian’s seafarers and businessmen because of their hopes for health, peace and fortune.

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Both David’s parents are business people with their own factory but in the center of their living room is a family altar dedicated to their religious belief in a deity, with electronic chants on 24/7, like soft murmurs of the temple monks offering their daily prayers. The altar is always crowded with sacrifices (mostly foods and fruits) and his parents would burn golden paper money on certain ceremonial occasions outside their apartment on the ground floor. I had witnessed it a few times during my visits. As the only son in the family, I could see David following closely what his parents are teaching him, the importance of gratitude to the deity that has bestowed many blessings on their lives: abundant health and wealth. I never questioned David’s religious belief but I could see he will continue the traditions of the family. In China, the women tend to visit the temple more often than the men, because men are always busy making money to support their families. In America, if a family goes to church, it means usually the whole family: father, mother and the children. Unless of course you are single parents with, or without, children.

For dinner, David had planned to eat outside in a fancy restaurant inside the famous Wanda Plaza. With my limited teacher’s pay, I would not dream of going near or shopping at or eating inside Wanda Plaza, which is located in the economic heart of Quanzhou. Wanda Plaza is China’s biggest shopping center (mall?) selling expensive foreign brands, targeting wealthy customers. Of course, there are eateries from all over the world: Chinese, Western, Japanese, European and Asian. In one word, Wanda Plaza tries to integrate retail, leisure, hotels and residential into one functional complex that attracts many well-to-do Chinese people, especially the young and the professionals, like the millions—rich and poor—who shop daily at Walmart stores in my own country, USA. We had invited Jackie, one of David’s friends and also my student for dinner. Unlike David, Jackie wanted to study in Singapore after his undergraduate studies.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Jackie as a student in two courses of study 2010-2011. The first semester focused on Contemporary British Culture and Society, while the second semester we studied Contemporary American Culture and Society. From the start he impressed me with his urgent desire to learn and improve his spoken and written English because, in his words, “being able to speak and write English fluently is the way to move forward in modern China. And this is true because China has become a powerful economic force in the world.” I was amazed by his strong conviction.

With that admirable attitude, he proved outstanding and diligent, always striving for excellence in every class. He was not shy to speak up in class and would answer every question with a deep understanding of the subject matter with sprinkle of knowledge

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he had gained from his wide reading about matters that were close and dear to him. Unlike most Chinese students, he was not afraid to share his own thoughts and ideas in and outside the class. Instead of occupying himself reading books or magazines pertaining to his major, English, he would bury himself, with his learning ability and research interest, absorbing news and articles in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and The Economist. What got my attention was his personal interest not only in learning English but also in expanding his knowledge of what was going on in the business world. With my own background in teaching economics in America, we often talked and exchanged ideas about the speed of the economic development in China and its inevitable impact around the world. And with his now growing mastery of the English language, he found it exciting and fulfilling to read and appreciate the complex events affecting the world economies beyond the borders of China.

He learned to analyze, think and try to make sense of the economic issues that propelled China to greatness but depressed and undermined economic developments in countries around the world.

It was an invitation to visit his home and parents in Quanzhou that finally helped me realize why Jackie had developed an unusually keen interest in economics and finance and world trade. I had the pleasure of getting to know his father and mother and his grandparents. His father is a typical self-made business man who struggled to start a small factory making small parts for some shoe companies. He watched how his father worked hard to compete with others more well-financed and developed factories so he could give his only son a good education. His father was his first teacher in matters of money, saving, capital, finance, labor, raw materials and development and how to compete and survive in the real world. His father continues to have a great influence on him in matters of capital and how to develop a company from nothing. Most importantly his father instilled in him that big companies, small companies, and everyone can and must contribute to the expanding economy in China today.

I took Jackie to Hong Kong during one May Holidays. I was saddened that he had no interest to play tourist but instead he bought himself an English edition of Buffett Beyond Value: Why Warren Buffett Looks to Growth and Management When Investing by Prem C. Jain. How could anyone stop this young man from furthering his interest and knowledge in finance and the economy? I believe profoundly Jackie, watching his father and his struggles in business in China, was determined to prove to himself and his father that with an education in finance he could achieve his dream of working in a financial institution in the near future.

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More than anything else, this was what Jackie really wanted to do. He would rather spend his time reading, understanding and exploring the world of finance and how financial institutions have an important role in the economy of a country or a nation. He is absolutely intrigued by how the Chinese government is managing its financial and economic policies in reducing poverty and creating wealth for many Chinese today.

It would seem a long jump from studying English to studying finance, but based on my own observations on my campus, I discovered when I first came to the campus that students who spoke fluent English were students who would major in economics, accounting and finance. So, it seems natural that to pursue graduate studies in finance, Jackie had built a strong foundation in the use of the English language. And because of his deep interest to hone his English language skills, both spoken and written, he continued to spend countless hours with me during his spare time practicing his English and exchanging ideas in English. This became more obvious now in his ability to read, understand and to communicate in English.

As a foreign teacher, I was proud to be his teacher, mentor and friend and proud of his academic achievements. Worthy of mention was his warm personality, maturity, honesty, dedication and reliability. He had the “academic spirit” and he proved it through independence in self-study, research and pursuit of higher knowledge.

I knew, and he was convinced, that he had the capabilities and potential to enroll in a program for a Master of Science in Applied Finance in a school in Singapore. I was positive this course of study would be the best to help develop his interest and goal to work for a financial institution.

China today needs many young people like David and Jackie because the youth of today is the future of China. I believe very strongly if he was given the opportunity to pursue this graduate program in the distinguished university in Singapore, he would have achieved his dream.

After the first interview with a group of professors at Xiamen University from Singapore, Jackie was sure he would be accepted to study in Singapore. But fate had a different future for him and his second interview would prove a total failure for him. Since then, he had adjusted well to a new life working for a manufacturing company that produces outdoor lights that are very popular in the United States, those you see planted in people’s yards and gardens and driveways. Knowing Jackie and the wealth of his parents (who own quite a few apartments, with real estate prices going up and up every day), he will soon start his own company to compete and prosper in modern

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China.

We met at a very expensive looking restaurant at Wanda Plaza and we were all Jackie’s guests. One big difference about this place was the small serving on each plate we ordered, unlike most Chinese restaurants when foods came out in big plates or big bowls, also in a huge metal tray if you had ordered some kind of fish. The evening reminded me of foods beautifully and aesthetically arranged on small platters in a Japanese restaurant…many served on small saucers and small square, round or rectangular plates. A Japanese restaurant tends to use more serving dishes than a regular Chinese restaurant. With small servings of foods we all took time to talk, though eating was the reason we were there. For the first time I was enjoying the soft cool ambience and the small dishes before us. Quality, and not quantity, took my breath away. It was as if we did not come to eat but to enjoy each other’s presence. We avoided talking about life after college or what was exciting about our individual career.

Something took me by surprise as we were enjoying the wonderful meal: it seemed none of them had put on any weight since they left college. Blame it on wonderful Chinese non-fatty diet. Jackie was planning to get hitched soon.

This is China.

 

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