Story & Photos by Recto Mercene
China will give you stiff neck ogling at those tall buildings that have sprung up all across the eastern seaboard of this vast country since its economy was opened up to the world some 30 years ago. Thirty years ago the tallest building I saw in Beijing when I first came here was the Friendship store, sort of a duty-free shop for China products. Today, driving Beijing’s main streets, skyscrapers seem to dominate the skyline.
The BusinessMirror’s Amor Maclang and Delfin J. Wenceslao, head of a leading construction company in the Philippines, have agreed that a true sign of a country’s greatness is in its state of infrastructure.
That is China today.
China has invited eight journalists from the Philippines representing print, broadcast and online to attend a workshop entitled: “Understanding China for Philippine Media.” We spent the next four days listening to lectures at the Communication University of China, a sprawling compound.
The rest of the week was spent visiting Fuzhou and Xiamen, and after the end of our trip, we concluded that China has “arrived”. We were impressed by how much China had accomplished so much in three decades, a feat that the Philippines has been trying to do in the last 70 years without much success, by comparison.
China has the most number of skyscrapers, the largest railroad network in the world, the largest seaport in the world, the world’s largest dam and the only country with a commercial magnetic levitation train (Maglev), among others.
Thirty years ago, when I first came here as a member of the media covering the opening of diplomatic relations by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, millions of bicycles were on the road and only a few cars could be seen. Today, millions of cars vie for space in the metropolis despite its wide boulevards and the five ring-roads that surround Beijing. Like the rest of the developed world, China is coping with traffic jams.
“Welcome to the club,” are the only words I could mutter.
The traffic is heavy during peak travel hours; our tour bus crawls, like the rest of the other vehicles on the street, but luckily, we still arrived on time at our destinations.
We have often read or told that Communist countries are a police state. I assumed then that the police would be everywhere and on the prowl to arrest any kind of troublemaker.
It might surprise you to hear that in all of my four days in Beijing, I never saw a single policeman on the streets. I asked our guide, Ricky, why this is so. “We have traffic laws in place and violators could easily be seen on closed-circuit television (CCTV) around the city.” He added that if an accident happened, like a car collision, someone watching the CCTV would dispatch the police to the scene in a matter of minutes to help untangle the situation.
Ricky added that, in strategic locations on the city, there is a man in blue uniform who is not a policeman but some kind of factotum who stays in a small cubicle. He does some sort of police work, like cleaning his area of assignment.
The real policemen we saw are inside the compounds of huge building where we conducted our interviews. They are in green uniform and stood stiffly inside their glass enclosures. They salute smartly upon our arrival, looking straight ahead.
The latest news reports said 128 skyscrapers over 200 meters tall were completed last year, 84 of which were in China. “The annual report from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) has revealed that the number of skyscrapers is greater than ever before—making it the third record-breaking year in a row,” the report said.
In 2016 China built 106 buildings over 200 meters high, which bring the total number of these structures worldwide up to 1,168.
“But China was by far the most active country for skyscraper construction in 2016, responsible for 84—two-thirds of the entire worldwide total. This includes the tallest building of the year, the 530-meter-high Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre,” the report said.
Seeing all of these infrastructure I could only conclude that if all of China’s skyscrapers are gathered together, it would not fit in Manhattan Island, whose tall buildings were once the yardstick by which all skyscrapers are measured against.
The Guangzhou CTF Finance Centre is but one of 14 Chinese skyscrapers that make up the list of the 20 tallest skyscrapers of the year. It is now the tallest building in its city, the second-tallest building in China and the fifth-tallest building in the world.
Presently, 328 buildings in the 200-plus-meter range are currently under construction in the country.
“It’s safe to say that the role of the tall building in China will never truly fade; the only question that remains is how long it will continue to keep a majority share of tall building completions annually,” reads the report.
“With the closest national contender, the US, in 2016 having only seven completions and China having 84, it’s clear that the gap will take a number of years to close, if it ever does.”
But despite all of these achievements, it seems that China’s airline industry has yet to make its mark in the world. Last Friday our flight to Fuzhou from Beijing was delayed by six hours, allegedly due to “bad weather” at the capital.
We were told that many more flights were delayed that day in Beijing’s international airport, blaming bad weather, although when we left the hotel, there was only a slight rain, and the weather forecast was a rainy and cloudy day.
After the three-hour flight without having lunch in the plane, we arrived in Fuzhou under a blue sky and a very hot weather. This is the same scorching heat we had in Beijing because China is in the grip of the warmest summer it has ever experienced, blaming it on global warming.
We were told that flight delays are a common problem of Air China.
We spent an overnight stay in Fuzhou, capital of Fujian province, “the largest source of tourists that visit the Philippines and where most of the Chinese migrants from the Philippines came from,” according to Li Lin, director general, Foreign Affairs Office, Fujian People’s Government.
Fujian boast of 1,000 years of tea planting and is one of China’s producer of tea, and where jasmine tea was invented.
On our arrival at the factory, we were given small packets containing the jasmine flower and when we smelled it, we cried in unison, “sampaguita”.
Since the Chinese claims that thousands of years ago, their seafarers have reached Luzon to trade and taught us farming, I concluded that the sampaguita plant was introduced to us from Fuzhou.
According to Zhang, the master of Chun Lun Tea Co., the flower buds are gathered from May to June and they use 7,000 tons each year making jasmine tea.
Zhang said Fuzhou produces 380 million tons of green, black and jasmine tea, exporting 330 million tons and consuming the rest of the 50 remaining tons of tea. We watched a demonstration how tea—after it was delivered to this warehouse—is dried and winnowed, weighed and packed before it goes to the market, a highly laborious process.
From Fuzhou, we took the bullet train, whizzing along at 200 kph, and arrived in Xiamen in three hours, “which usually takes seven to nine hours by bus,” our guide Mason said. He said a faster train, capable of 300 kph, would be finished in 2020. Indeed, I saw tall concrete columns of what would be the train’s track support, parallel to our track during our journey.
Xiamen is one of the most westernized cities in China we have visited. This is evidenced by the many English channels available in our hotel room, whereas in Beijing, I tuned in only to one English channel, and it is not CNN.
Like in Fuzhou, there are more tall buildings here than I care to count. A small city by comparison, Xiamen has a population of 4 million, and its most famous landmark is the Gulangyo Island, just recently named World Heritage Site.
It is said Gulangyo Island has the most number of piano in the whole of China during WWII.
What surprised me most was when Mason, the guide, told us the jasmine plant was brought to Fujian from Southeast Asia, “maybe from the Philippines.”