15 – The Pearl River, a Youth Dream

I am 70  years old , and, in my life, I have gone through many, very different, jobs. In 1978. when I was 30, I was responsible for business development in countries for an Italian tannery.Among other countries, I had got in touch also with the Chinese Government. So, I was invited to attend the International Guangzhou Fair. At that time, it was not so easy to travel extensively in Asia. Therefore, I had arranged to link together my travels towards different countries, including Bangladesh, China and Korea. Notwithstanding a lot of difficulties that I met, it was for me an unforgettable experience.

Unfortunately, in the absence of cell phones, and being a work holiday in Italy, nobody had informed me that also the Government of Ivory Coast had called me for an urgent meeting in Abidjan. So, I had already arrived in Hong Kong. The day after, I postponed my meeting in Korea and organized a flight back to Italy via a different route. Moreover, because of further difficulties in communication, I had no clear idea on how to reach Guangzhou from Hong Kong. So, after a meeting in the Bank of China offices, I went to the premises of  the PRC travel organisation, where I bought a huge set of tickets which should have been of use for me for travelling, entering PRC and reaching Guangzhou. The following day, at 6.30 a.m., I  left Hong Kong central station by a metro driving through the New Territories and arriving at the PRC border, where I was obliged to go through a medieval check point not very different from the Jade Gate in the Great Wall, where very kind officials performed a lot of border checks offering always  new cups of tea.

In the afternoon, after lunch, I took  a very smart train provided with sleeperettes and good Chinese music in the background. From the windows, I could see, where now we have the skyscrapers of Shenzhen, just rice fields and peasants. When arriving in Guangzhou, the passengers (mostly businessmen visiting the International Fair), were welcomed by thousands of children flying multicoloured flags. In the hotel, my interpreter and guide informed me that I was invited by the management of the Fair to attend a show in the central theatre of  Guangzhou. The show was a political ballet alongside the style of the Beijing Opera, with texts in Mongolian, devoted to the Four Modernisations, a policy which had been launched just in those days.

During the night, I  found it difficult to sleep, because I was awaken continuously by the fuzz of the huge number of bicycles, to which I was not accustomed in Italy. The day after, I looked for my partners of the state-owned import-export company specialised in the international trade in hides, skins and shoes. Very competent guys, which were delighted to be able to discuss with me at length about the Italian market. At the end, I invited them to visit  our tannery – a thing that they did not much time later-.Afterwards, I visited the fair, which, at that time, looked very exotic, because it was devoted for a large extent to traditional Chinese productions, such as carpets and porcelain.

When coming back to the hotel, the reception recalled to me that, like in many other developing countries, I could not have left China if I had not  confirmed in advance my back flight and I had not obtained my exit visa. So, I paid a visit to my air carrier and to the police station. I  had also the time to make a tour through GuangZhou, which, at that time,  had not yet been completely reconstructed after the destructions of the war. Finally, I travelled back with some businesspeople of my town coming back after having purchased carpets and porcelain at the Fair. Then, I hurried to Abidjan, with a short round trip to the Luxemburg Court of Justice.

Without any doubt, my life in those times was very stressing.  I could not have endured it if I would not have been 30 years old; nevertheless, it was the most charming period of my life. Unfortunately, I could not attend the visit of the Chinese officials because I had become, in the meantime, an official of the European Communities in Luxemburg, a much lighter and safer job. However, I regret not having been able to be there, as well as not to have continued my business relations with the Chinese tanning industry.

I do not stop wondering how China has been able to develop since those distant days, and I think that its unique experience may be useful for the whole mankind.

If I could have become young a second time, I probably  would not have chosen to join the European Communities, and I would have continued to pursue the development of business in the charming Far East. But, since life is becoming longer and longer, why not doing it now, that the New Silk Road exists?

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