THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Second impressions of China
Andrew Allison - A Conservative View: I'm back

Some days restore your faith

Dscn0957Yesterday was my last night in China - for a while. I have learned a lot about business prospects here and not all of it was good. Still, I hope to come again. Shanghai is a great city. I visited professional colleagues to discuss business. Then I went shopping for Mrs Paine's present. I have never checked the original text, but she assures me it is law she must have a gift from a new city. Who am I to argue?

Then, in the evening, I had an excellent time. The young American who helped me out when I was stranded the other night had invited me out. First we went to the opening of a new apartment complex. I think his plan was to show me how good life in his adopted city could be. He succeeded. The first of my photos is of the view from the penthouse (which is 650 square metres and costs no more than my 200 square metre apartment in Russia). The second is of an upmarket shopping mall near my firm's offices.

Dscn0954Later we visited his fiancee's gallery. Formerly a journalist with the PRC's Xinhua News Agency, she has now become an art dealer. Her gallery features both contemporary Chinese and European art and was most impressive. I had promised to show them my own art gallery in Second Life. While the software downloaded, they took me to a neighbourhood restaurant. This was the sort of place no businessman staying in a 5 star hotel would find. It was a Cantonese "hot pot" restaurant. A hot plate was sunk into the table on which cooked throughout the evening something that started as a kind of chicken broth but morphed (as more and more ingredients were added) into a never-ending succession of flavours. As we talked, the people of Shanghai enjoyed themselves around us in the most affable, sociable and (at one point) musical way.

We chatted. We exchanged life stories. I ended up sending my best regards to her father (whom of course I have never met) who seems to have been a convinced Maoist at about the same time as me. In a sense, he still is, as he will still hear nothing negative of the Great Helmsman. Nonetheless, he is apparently very happy with the present economic reforms.

Jokes and stories were told; food was enjoyed and the world seemed - briefly - a much better place. I was not able to show them my gallery afterwards because, while I can access Second Life from my hotel room, it cannot be entered from a Chinese home. You can ignore all my previous comments about accessibility of websites from China - the hotels frequented by foreigners are on a different network. This would be an issue for me if I were ever to move there. I would miss my digital existence.

GalleryTonight though, was not about barriers. It was a moment for a cynical, grumpy, middle-aged man to acknowledge that - while the arguments he may have with other grumpies of his vintage are important - the young are already building the world anew. As they do, every generation. As our generation did, so badly in many ways. Maybe they will get it right this time. Let's hope so. After all, who could have imagined such good things in our own time as the fall of the Soviet Union or the economic liberalisation of China? As a Cold War teenager, so many things have happened to me that I would have then regarded as ridiculously optimistic to hope for.

Hope is never foolish. Tonight reminded me of that. My new young friends are getting married on April 18th. Their cultural backgrounds are irrelevant. They are just two intelligent, cultured young people in love. I wish them well.

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