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A Miracle of The New Silk Road!

July 26, 2015

“Do you believe in miracles?” asked my new found friend Richard, on the last leg of my trip from Hangzhou to Hong Kong. When I first boarded the flight from Hong Kong and mentally prepared myself for a leap from the Pearl River delta to almost the Yangtze delta – the thought of straddling the civilisation’s fastest and highest economic growth region was uppermost in my mind. On the flight path would zip past names like Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou, Guangzhou, Taiwan (across the straits), Xiamen, Fuzhou and many others as the plane advanced from the South China to the East China Sea. Some of these locations had witnessed an annual GDP growth in excess of 30%. It was as if everyone had conspired to ensure China’s staggering growth virtually from zero to hero!

It was literally a smooth landing in Hangzhou. The baggage, immigration and customs were spot on. All real superefficient. At the exit it was not a Mr Zhou but a lady in her fifties standing with a placard bearing my name. In no time I was in the sedan heading to my hotel. The only communication that I had with Ms Li (got to know the name when confirming my return drop) was a smile. She knew no English whatsoever. I am sure she learnt driving when in her thirties if not forties. But she drove as if she was doing it forever. Not many amongst the hotel staff knew any English either. However, in no time they would pull out their mobile and rely on the Google translator. I am sure they would do so if they ran into an alien as well! My English is not that good is what I heard all the time from both the speakers and the audience at my conference. That, however, is no glass ceiling for anyone in the country.

Shanghai which is just an hour away from Hangzhou by a bullet train can take two plus hours by road. My friend Andreas, a German, his Chinese wife Min and little son Alexander chose to be driven by Mr Tao. We ended up sightseeing one of the many water towns in China. Wu Zhen (pronounced Oo Ten) is almost mid-way from Shanghai and Hangzhou. On a Sunday it was an incredible collection of cars. Andreas tells me why no smaller ones were visible. To keep the car population under control, in Shanghai, you must buy your registration number in an auction – if that costs equivalent of Rs 8 lacs, who would buy a small car? I remembered from my times in HK when cars were stolen and ferried across to the mainland in a speed boat. It all started with small cars. Eventually as the other side got richer, it was the Mercs and Lexus which became the hot favourite. None cared whether it was a left or right hand drive! Today China is the largest auto market in the world.

Richard and I agreed that all this could not have just emanated from Deng Xiao Ping’s vision alone. It called for much more. He had the courage to make the choice to transform China, implement his grand design and eventually influence the rest of the world. Richard moved from textiles business to women’s designer clothing. From HK he was headed to New York where he was attending a trade show. With him was his business partner wife Lily. My Chairman is how he referred to her. The couple is extremely articulate in English. Their son Rocky is a budding artist. What to do, says Richard, he is constantly demanding attention. With the one child policy – he has no company. Every night I must tell him a story. Is it true I ask him whether there is a severe shortage of brides? Yes he says, they must buy them from Vietnam. With a chuckle he tells me sometimes the wives run away. They must buy another wife!

Zhejiang is a small province but one of the richest. The Zhejiangese are astute business folks and are often referred to as the Jews amongst the Chinese. Their businesses are not very big but profitable just like the Italian companies. Small is better! Says Richard. He is very proud to share that Jack Ma’s office is in the same building as theirs. Lily tells me Jack still runs English classes.

During the travel I discover what the Chinese call Jing-Jin-Ji (“Jing” for Beijing, “Jin” for Tianjin and “Ji” the traditional name for Hebei Province). This is supposed to rival both the Pearl and Yangtze River Deltas. This supercity of 130 million would be spread over 82,000 square miles and will hold a population larger than a third of the US, according to Ian Johnson in International New York Times. With high speed rail hitting 150 to 185 miles an hour will possibly stretch the urban area concentration way beyond the thumb rule of 60 miles which on an average a highway driving covers. “Speed replaces distance” the paper quotes Professor Zhang of Hebei University of Technology. Thereby “It has radically expanded the scope of what an economic area can be”, believes the Professor.

Alex who is not yet three, is what I call ‘ambilingual’ with either parent. He converses with the father in German and in Mandarin with the mom. Where will he eventually grow? Does it really matter? With grandparents in Beijing, self in the heart of the Yangtze River delta and a likelihood of his dad moving to HK could just make him transcend three of the civilisation’s most dynamic hubs ever.

On the Dragonair flight back to HK – we are discussing the prospects of what the Mainlanders are eagerly hoping will also translate the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ into a reality. The possible merger of Hong Kong with Shenzhen! The New Silk Road as means of soft power for China, as well. The on-flight magazine incidentally has a cover story on this theme. It features Kunming, Kathmandu, Almaty, Xiamen, Da Nang and Colombo. Richard is very excited about its prospects. Will it be a brick and mortar silk route this time or a virtual one? I believe it will be the likes of Alibaba riding the internet that will lay the newest silk route. Charting the road less travelled. As we get off and part, Richard ensures that I log on to ‘wechat’ to stay in touch. Well, Open Sesame if that is the access to The New Silk Route and how can one just not believe in miracles??

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