Towering construction cranes dot the skyline at night like stars forming the Milky Way leading into Shanghai, the Chinese financial mecca of 24 million people.
As far as the eye can see, massive developments fill former rice fields and land that once housed millions of people in low, shaky structures.
Some of the new buildings can house up to 10,000 and they are built in clusters competing with the “older” skyscrapers built, maybe, one or two years previous. The developments are staggering in scope and amazing to witness.
This was our introduction to the glitzy showpiece of one of China’s most famous cities. By the time we made it to the downtown core, the oohs and aahs had subsided and were replaced with head shaking and one word, “unbelievable.”
Days earlier, we flew into Beijing, the dusty capital of the People’s Republic of China and spent our first few days in one of the world’s most populated cities visiting historical sites that have defined the Chinese for decades.
We climbed the Great Wall of China and visited Tiananmen Square, where we felt the chill from its past creep into our psychic as our tour guide pointed out that one third of the “visitors” in the square were actually soldiers, on guard for any unusual behavior.
We had already noticed the highly visible security cameras attached to every pole and structure as far as the eye could see and we were cautioned that security was very tight in this, the political hub of China.
I was part of a 60-person delegation from the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce and we were joined by hundreds more chamber members from southern Ontario and many American cities to visit cultural and select industrial sites in China.
The tour guides for the group I was in were excellent ambassadors for China: fluent in English, warm, wonderful personalities, caring individuals with a sense of humour and deep wells of knowledge about their country.
We stayed in the best hotels, toured four cities — Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai — and visited industrial sites that were tied to China’s heritage. The well-orchestrated industrial tours were buffered by visits to showrooms where we were romanced by some of the most persistent salespeople to spend money, whether we wanted to or not.
These “tours” included a government-owned and operated pharmaceutical plant where Chinese doctors were available for medical consultations and for providing prescriptions for those of us convinced that Chinese “natural remedies” would help with our Western ailments.
The plant supplied all of the necessary medications to fulfill the prescriptions, and included a document to help us clear customs with our medicinal purchases.
The same procedure followed at each carefully planned commercial destination: tea plantation, silk factory, embroidery factory, jade factory, etc.
Workers were displayed at their stations labouriously starting or finishing projects. It was all part of the demonstration process, watching workers at their various crafts, seemingly oblivious to the hundreds of gawking business people filing by on their way to the showrooms.
The real manufacturing factories stretched out over miles and miles of former farmlands on the outskirts of the cities, with their only distinction being their green and red-coloured flat roofs.
We didn’t get to see those facilities. It was hard not to notice the numerous Mercedes Benz and BMW showrooms or the miles of yellow backhoes, forklifts and tractors, filling the yards of huge industrial plants along the highways.
A few familiar names jutted out of the business skylines, including Vale, Royal Bank of Canada, and Metro supermarket.
We were told the Chinese worker retires at age 50 with pension in hand. This makes way for the younger generation to have jobs. Apparently, there is almost full employment in China.
We later learned that the retired workers look after their grandchildren in their golden years so their children can work. There are no daycare centres to be found, or retirement homes for that matter.
Education is free, as is health care.
There is a one-child-per-family limit in China to help curb the burgeoning population, but the ratio of males to females is unbalanced due to years of “select” births, favouring boys over girls.
Many young Chinese girls are marrying men 15 years their senior because the older male has had time to save money, buy an apartment and car, and be more financially stable.
The Chinese are very competitive people. Everyone we meet, from the government scientist at the tea plantation to the doctor at the pharmaceutical plant, is skilled in sales and marketing.
That could be their competitive advantage, along with the 24-hours-a-day of production in their manufacturing plants. They all sell. They are all masters with their pitch and they are aggressive in their pursuit of the sale.
Maybe that’s the real lesson we learned on our trip from Sudbury to Shanghai. There is always a sale to be had if the price is right and the pitch ignites the desire.