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Five thousand years of Solitude and a Prancing Stallion on the Silk Route!

August 11, 2014

Twenty one years ago when I first went to work and live in Hong Kong, a drive to the border post of Luk Ma Chow was a major attraction. From here one could peep, across the border, into a not so distant Shenzhen in the Guangdong province. All that you saw in the close proximity was duck farms. On a clear day, without having to rub your eyes, you could also spot an emerging concrete jungle of tall buildings with cranes atop. And you could not miss out a high density of container traffic flow through the border check point.

I had spent a couple of years in Thailand before this assignment. In the course of which I made a very fascinating discovery. Thanks to a trader client well connected to the land of his origin and a new found ‘guanxi’ (network).  He would buy used earth moving equipment from the world over, recondition them and export these to China. What is it that spurred such a demand?

Like never before, China was moving the earth. For the first time in the history of mankind any part of the world witnessed such frenetic pace of growth. The GDPs of coastal areas including Guangdong grew 30 to 40% pa. The stories about truck drivers with wives on both sides of the border or guys getting overwhelmed by things like showers in hotel rooms in Guangzhou – are a couple of a multitude of frivolous stories I can recount – from those times. But on a serious note, a few weeks ago, I crossed the border into Shenzhen, on an invitation to present a paper at an academic conference. It is then that I witnessed the full thrust of what the late Patriarch Deng Xiao Ping meant by “One Country, Two Systems”.

The Shenzhen magic races far beyond the Special Economic Zone, which the pragmatic leader saw as a counter to the then English colony of HK. The times when the English Governor Chris Patten of the queen’s territory daily sparred with a super power in making. The ferocious velocity of which was perhaps far beyond the scales of their speedometer. An hour plus long drive brought me to the Ping An Institute of Finance. The big gates open into a very modern and immaculately landscaped full sized golf course and an impressive array of buildings. The foyer of the main building has a statue of Confucius and Einstein greeting you.

The famous Mission Hills Golf Club, world’s largest golfing ground with a dozen courses, is close by. I am told Ping An, a leading insurance company, has 50 campuses big and small across China. A market which is already a USD 100 billion worth of non-life business and slated to more than double in the next ten years needs a very large army of knowledge workers and this is indeed one definite way of building it. This is where the amazing growth story rolls on notwithstanding the English language.

At the grand dinner by the host company in the Mission Hills Golf Club, I have young David from the Tsinghua School of Management from Beijing sitting on my left. He has lots of questions and observations from this only Indian at the event. It does not take much effort to convince him to call me by my first name. India is a land of mystery to me, he says. He is curious about the serious divide between the rich and poor. We continue our dialogue between speeches and the toasts.

The return ride back to the Shenzhen border next day was fascinating. I tried hard to figure out which was the tallest building around and where was the Ping An tower sprouting, world’s second tallest building – to – be after the Burj Khalifa, Dubai. My driver today, as well, merrily laughs to my queries in English. He is blissful and it does not really matter to him whether or not he is proficient in English. Life transformed for good, despite it. He is speeding as if these freeways have been there forever and the big cars is what he grew up in. Then suddenly there is a roaring sound from behind. A red Ferrari, wanting to overtake all that is ahead. In no time it navigates through and well before I can focus my phone for a quick shot, it’s gone. I have even stopped hearing the prancing stallion.

Once back home, I get a polite mail from my new found friend David Zheng enclosing some pictures from the event. I promptly thank him. And then comes the return mail which looks and sounds innocuous. “Dear Praveen, he says, It’s glad to receive your message! And this is my first time to receive message from outside of China…” It’s like I wrote a postcard to him some five thousand years ago when our’s were the two dominant civilisations. We actively traded on the silk route. There was an amazing flow of wares and ideas. We had the well known Hiuen Tsang (Xuanzang), the ‘Prince of Pilgrims’,  and Fa-Hien (Faxian) visiting our centres of learning. We exported Buddhism to them. We also exported the concept of Dhyan (Sanskrit for a state of no-mind), which moved to the Buddhist language Pali incarnating as Zhan. Becoming Chan by the time it reached China and eventually Zen in Japan!

Today after several millennia David Zheng found a medium to communicate and complete the loop. He has bridged the march of our civilisations. I am sure the mysteries will shed. Like my revelations beyond the duck farms at Luk Ma Chow…

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