Friday, August 07, 2009

West looks east to China today

Article published in Sunday Chronicle under "Asia Pacific Perspective: China +", Papua New Guinea Sunday August 9, 2009

By Mathew Yakai

LAST Sunday this commentary looked at what prospective Papua New Guinean students would expect in China when they leave for study early September this year.

Twenty students will leave. Some have read and asked more questions through e-mails.

I anticipated such questions because I did the same before knowing China well. Things mentioned last Sunday and now will not cover the vast landmass of China with its long history.

The best way to know China well is for one to get there and experience the surprises. But what I plan to mention here are some of my personal experiences in China and the fact that China is a major player in the world today.

One need not to go further then read and hear the news around us to realize that China today has a major influence in economy, diplomacy, politics and now Washington suspects that not long will be militarily.

West now looks east to China. PNG can not ignore the fact that the factory chimneys of China can be clearly seen when the sky over the Pacific Ocean is clear. What I mean is that China is in the region and PNG must adjust herself to accommodate China.

How PNG will accommodate China and work along with the country which has a long history with dynamic economy is pretty difficult. First and foremost is the language and culture.

Therefore, those students who will leave for China early September must know the fact that language and cultural differences are waiting to give a surprise.

Most e-mails received asked what kind of life they will expect and the language barrier including others.

If this is your first time to go to China and out of PNG then this is an experience in your life time. Take it!

It is very important you know that this century is the Asia Pacific Century and all is happening in China.

When the world was toppled with the World Financial Crises caused by the lone and declining hegemony (USA), China has maintained its GDP around 8 to 10 percent.

This stabilized the world economy with China, India and most of the developing countries seen taking the leading role. China stood tall amongst the rest given her surplus RMB in its reserve.

Before that, China has played host to the 2008 Olympic Game, successfully launched manned spacecraft while standing up against some of the devastating natural disasters in her history.

In 2010, China will host the Shanghai World Expo, hosting states, international organizations, multi-national companies and renowned research think-tanks to showcase their pride.

This is the China that new PNG students will experience. Now, there are many reasons why one should be in China. I share my experience, not to convince you to go but I see its better for PNG once you experience China at the personal level.

First, China is an interesting place to be, especially when more people were gaining wealth and the business environment is becoming more conducive. This will enable you to see some of the wealthy people in China and see for yourself how business is done, and you can compare that with PNG.

The first generations of Chinese entrepreneurs were beneficiaries of the open-door policy in 1978. They started their companies in 1993 and there were lots of opportunities, driven by the government. Those who were canny, creative and ruthless in seizing the opportunities made it.

Over the past three decades, the Chinese society evolved very quickly and now you see more philanthropists. You will acknowledge that after the Sichuan earthquake last year, they got these huge amounts of pressure on people with social position to publicly give.

In fact, China is a land of opportunity in every thing if you are comfortable with Chinese language.

According to a Shanghai based newspaper, London-born Sahr Johnny moved to Hong Kong in 1993 to teach English in the nearby city of Zhuhai in Guangdong province when he could not secure a job back home as Europe was in recession.

Knowing that proficiency in Chinese is a must to succeed in China, he brushed up on the language at a university in Beijing in 2004 to prepare for a career in the country.

Johnny had since worked for McCann Erickson in Hong Kong and Shanghai before setting up his own internet business.

I think China will continue to be an amazing growth success story, and its rich and diverse culture will continue to be a magnet for people around the world including Papua New Guinea students.

Johnny today plans to settle in China to witness more of the monumental change it has been going through since the Communist Party took over the leadership in 1949.

“I think my future is in China. I am comfortable here in terms of lifestyle and career. Speaking both Cantonese and Mandarin helps a lot, of course.”

“It also helps if you love the people and the culture,” he said.

I do not suggest you go and settle in China but I portray how some foreigners enjoy China today.

I attended Jilin University in the north east of China. At my university were students from all over the world.

We attended classes together. And what happens in a class comprises of students from all over the world is another story. Most don’t agree with your opinion when it comes to class discussion, especially on international and regional issues.

From that experience, I realized how ignorant I have been when I was in PNG, not even attempting to know the history and famous events around the world.

But I felt so privileged having heard and participated in class discussions and debates with such a group. Some times we call our university a mini United Nations, because it really represents students from this globe.

Most times, debates get nasty when sensitive issues are discussed. Some of them include the Tiananmen Square up-rise, China – Japan historical relationship and Shrine visit by Japanese leaders, the Iraq War etc.

When talking of poverty, African students will always dominate the discussion saying that they are rich and do not need lectures from the West, but have an option in China.

Such experiences made me realize that I have a clear view of the world and events of significance affecting PNG today.

In my opinion, China is intentionally providing scholarship to international students in thousands to go to China, interact amongst themselves and their Chinese colleagues so that the world is a global village comprising of upcoming leaders of Asia Pacific and the world.

As soon as one lands in Shanghai or Beijing, all you see is jungle of buildings. They are still building more sky scrapers and I wonder when they will stop.

In Beijing alone, the subway is getting so complicated. They are building more to cut down the traffic congestion and it is believed that in 2015, Beijing might debase British subway line.

Train and bus trips between cities in China are some of the interesting ones. I found out that its better one gets out for a travel to learn more about China then reading thousand pages and know little.

Even better is riding bicycle from one city to the other. An experience I suggest because you actually run through the cities and roads, even people will literally stop you when they see a foreigner. They do not try to rob foreigners but want to chat with.

If you are tired along the way then you can spend a night in some of the cheap places that would cost you around K10 per night. You will enjoy some of the best dishes too.

You can also visit the famous parks and zoos in cities and towns throughout China, even the historical sites and scenic spots. My experience is that a one time visit to a place is not enough. You will have to visit many times to satisfactorily abstract the utility of the nature and place.

The exciting time is during the winter, when you have heavy snow downfall. The northern part of China experiences heavy snow. This will be your first surprise because it does not snow in PNG. Keep warm because it can affect your health.

Most of the lakes at your host cities will freeze and people use that to ski. Get out and have a chance on the ski-board but be very good at that because you might seriously hurt yourself.

There is more but let me finish with this. As a black person, you will get a lot of attention in China. It is not because Chinese are racist but for most, it will be the first time to see black person. Remember, most of them have not traveled abroad.

They will stare at you from the tip of your hair to the toe. Don’t be embarrassed. Speak a little Chinese to them and they will befriend you immediately.

Chinese people like to talk to foreigners and help foreigners. You will find them helpful. My regular travels within China have been made possible by those kind people, willing to help and importantly long hour jokes and fun in our long train journey across the huge China.

Importantly, you must study Chinese, at least the basic to enjoy your stay in China. The easiest way to improve your Chinese is to have a Chinese friend who may want to improve his/her English. For guys, having a Chinese girl friend is better. In the process of helping each other, you will improve your Chinese language and also know more about their culture.

They will even invite you to their homes to meet their family. Go and make as many friends as you could.