Mixed feelings engulfed my mind when Nation Publications Limited (NPL) nominated me to join a group of journalists travelling to China for a week-long visit. Excitement pulled me one side, anxiety the other.
The idea of leaving my year-old daughter left me very anxious. Again, the question of food—coming from a background where popular belief was that Chinese food is dogs, crabs and frogs—made me think twice about leaving.
But then, the greatness of China as an economy, artistic and cultural identity, education, history and so much more, lured me more to go. Travel, they say, is the best teacher.
Come September 17, I joined Paul Kamanga and Ernest Ndalama from MBC-TV, Wanangwa Chafulumira of Times Group and Zodiak Broadcasting Corporation’s Christopher Sande on the plane from Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) to Bole International Airport in Ethiopia. A day later, exactly at noon, we were at Beijing International Airport in China.
Alighting, the ‘scent’ of adventure tickled my instincts. Wild stares and language barriers took centre stage. We made it through the checks and met our host, Miss Wang Xiou.
After a 20-minute drive, we were at Kuntayi Royal Hotel which was our home for the first two days.
Having changed and refreshed, it was time for lunch. Then, it was time for our first affair: a visit to the legendary Red Theatre of Kung-Fu.
As we made it through the checks to the auditorium, Paul and I started doubting if at all we would see something new since we have grown up watching all sorts of Kung-Fu movies.
But we were in for a surprise of our lives. Once we settled in the auditorium I realized that you cannot claim to have experienced Kung-Fu until you see a live performance. The actors, both young and old, were a marvel to watch. Depicting a story of a monk who fell prey to the desires of the flesh. As I got out of the auditorium after a 90-minute performance, I felt I had just been welcomed to China!
National Beijing Stadium was the next point of call. Making our way through the busy streets of Beijing, I wondered what I would possibly find interesting in an empty stadium. But once we reached the gate, I realised that our Chinese friends meant business when they built the stadium. Also known as the Bird’s Nest due to its shape, the stadium was initially constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics and will be used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.
Inside the large complex were thousands of tourists, mainly Chinese people in groups, touring the wonderful piece of architecture.
The next day, we had official engagements with Guo Haiyani, counselor in the department of African Affairs responsible for Central and Southern African countries. But it was the evening shopping escapades that opened my eyes that indeed the world is one and whereever you go, vendors will always be vendors.
As we ‘sneaked’ out of the hotel to do some shopping at the famous Silk Market, without a guide, we were welcomed by persuasive vendors strategically waiting for potential clients outside the market complex. With them were wrist watches of all shapes and sizes, handbags and scarves, among other things.
And yes, these vendors were good English speakers by Chinese standards!
As we made our way back to the hotel our taxi driver started offering us information telling us where we can find ‘adult’ toys, where my male friends could find ‘escorts’ and all the related information.
My counsel to my all-male team was simple and terse: “Musatengeke nawo awa, mungapite ku Malawi opanda kalikonse.” I strongly believe they all listened and never tried to sample that aspect of China!
I did not let that worry me much, as we had to visit the Summer Palace, the abode of ancient Chinese kings.
The following day, it was time to change provinces and go to Shandong Province. Our first stop: Jinan City. I must say it was nice to ride the speed train which was as far as 190km per hour! Our first visit in Jinan was the Shandong Museum, where the history of early life in the province is well-documented.
As we made our tway hrough the galleries we heard some clicking sounds; flashes and more clicks. It was then that we discovered that we were being pictured by the curious and interested.
Those with courage asked for selfies with us. As we left the place I looked back and wondered why in Malawi we do not have our rich history well-documented for all to see and learn from.
But the best was yet to come in Shandong! From Jinan city we went to our final destination: Waifeng city. In Waifeng, our main visit was the Shandong Agriculture High Tech Fair where farmers have this huge demonstration farm to learn from. All sorts of fruits and vegetables are grown in neat tubes, bottles and pipes with little soil but well watered and with all the nutrients for their growth and survival.
As we made our way through the place, our host Zhou Huiqing, director of Shouguang Foreign and Overseas Chinese Affairs Office reminded us that the demonstration garden is there to help farmers in Shandong embrace modern high tech methods of farming for maximum results.
In between other small visits to media houses and markets we finalized our tour with a visit of the China-Japan-Korea Industrial Expo.
The expo was a replica of Malawi’s own trade fairs only that in China many of the things on display were being offered for patrons to try food or game gadgets.
Now one interesting aspect of my China trip was the food.
The Chinese love their food. They have a variety of food for one to choose from and always well laid at the spinning table.
We had fun trying out their ‘weird tasting’ foods. Thank God we did not develop stomach pains, we all survived.
The time I was in China, I noticed people going to work daily. A taxi driver told us that in China, there is no such a thing as a weekend.
Said the taxi man: “Here we work every day and long hours because we want to achieve personal success. The longer your working hours, the better the pay.”
Before I knew it, the September 23 had arrived and I had to kiss China goodbye. With fond memories I made it out of Weifang on a high speed train straight to Beijing International Airport where my workmate Yvonne Sundu was waiting. Hugs, jokes and loud chit chats, then we had to go. We were inside the plane on my way back home, back to Malawi. As the plane left the grounds of China, I looked back at the beautiful city of Beijing as I quietly said ‘China, thanks for the lessons’! n