China Visit by Dr. M. A. Ibrahimi in 2017


Visit to China

China has been connected to India since ancient times. Fa Hien and Hiuen Tsang studied at Nalanda University. China was always an attraction to me. Not much is known about it except about its phenomenal economic development in spite of being a country having largest population in the world. I used to read about Mao Tse-tung’s Communist Revolution and Cultural Revolution, the latter during my student days. I also read two novels based on China, the Good Earth and the Pavilion of Women written by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Pearl S Buck. I had visited Hong Kong in 1995 when it was under British Rule, now part of mainland China. Rehan Sultan who works for SABIC of Saudi Arabia was working on deputation at Tianjin, near Beijing. He invited me to visit China which I heartily accepted. On the 21st December, 2017 I reached at Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 much before time. After dinner I checked in at Air China counter. I fly by flight CA 948 departing New Delhi at 3:10 AM of 2nd December. I was allotted seat no. 39H. The boarding time was at 1:50 AM. I got immigration stamp at the counter for diplomats and officials. At the counter was a person from Muzaffarpur. He asked what I was doing after retirement. I said doing just social service.

I boarded my flight CA 948 at about 2:00 AM of 22nd December 2017. The flight took off a bit delayed from STD 3:10 AM. The flight duration was 5 hours 45 minutes. I got a comfortable seat. Soon afterwards we were served breakfast at an unearthly hours. After that light in the aircraft was dimmed and window panes were downed. The passengers got reasonable sleep in the long duration flight. I landed at Beijing Capital International Airport just little delayed from its STA. After Immigration I boarded people mover transport and reached the exit building where China customs had put up x-ray screening machine. After that I came out of the exit door where I was received by Rehan Sultan. We took a taxi and reached the Imperial Mansion – Beijing, Marriott Executive Apartment located at North Gate, No.1, Xiagongfu Street, Dongcheng District, Beijing. It would be better if I say that the famous Tiananmen Square is located at about two kilometers from my hotel. In vicinity of our hotel were prominent government and political offices and residences of China. I found several buildings having army guards on duty at these places. The guards were standing erect in total attention with piercing looks. Nowhere had I found any chair or sitting arrangement for them. After getting fresh I along with my host Rehan Sultan roamed around the area.

Tiananmen Square: Before sun set we reached the famous Tiananmen Square, named after Tiananmen, ‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’ located to its north. There was huge crowd of local Chinese population besides tourists from several other countries. This spot is well known throughout the world. There was a huge portrait of Mao Tse-tung or Mao Zedong who proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1st October 1949. He also launched Cultural Revolution in the last decade in power (1966-76) to renew the spirit of the Chinese Revolution.

At the time of sun set the national flag of China is lowered in a military contingent ceremony across road in front of the huge portrait of Mao. This road has six by six driving lane and this is the widest road of China. In view of flag lowering ceremony there was fixed arrangement for tight security maintained by army and police personnel. I noticed that the security was lenient for me, an Indian, but stricter for local people. The security arrangement was round the clock. Across the road at the edge of the square is located the famous Great Hall of the People, used for legislative and ceremonial purposes, besides some other important buildings. Behind the long and red wall displaying huge portrait of Mao was the famous royal palace complex. The ceremony of lowering of Chinese flag by the army contingent was spectacular and impressive. I found the army carrying the flag after folding it in downward portion of a rod.

From Tiananmen Square we took a taxi and went in search of any restaurant serving Indian cuisine. After about an hour drive due to heavy traffic and spending Chinese Yuan 60, we could locate a Muslim restaurant in Soho area where we had good food of our choice. We saw Christmas celebration lights and display at shopping areas. Even trees were decorated with colourful lights. In China religion is confined as indoors activities but Christmas decoration was spectacular for commercial and marketing purposes.

On the 23rd December 2017 we started the sightseeing schedule by visiting royal palace complex of which the wall facing Tiananmen Square has huge portrait of Mao Zedong. The Imperial Palace is also called Forbidden City was built in 1406 – 1420 by a million labourers during Ming dynasty. It is south of Tiananmen Square behind portrait of Mao. The complex consists of 980 buildings, 90 palaces and court yards for 14 emperors and covers over 180 acres. It used to be seat of Imperial Chinese Dragon throne from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty for almost 500 years (1420-1912). It was called Forbidden City as people were not allowed to enter the area without permission, now no more forbidden. It was satisfying to see that the famous communist revolution had not wiped out the royal palaces displaying Chinese culture, art, architecture, painting, sculpture, ground and parks. The Forbidden City attracts huge tourists from China and abroad, every day. I think there may not be any other building or complex in China which depicts so vivid the period of Ming and Qing dynasties where the culture of China is show cased so beautifully.

Summer Palace : After viewing the captivating royal palace complex we went to Summer Palace located in periphery of Beijing. The royalty used to shift to summer palace from heat of Beijing. The complex has several attractions. There is a royal palace and a seventeen arch bridge over the river. Here also I found huge crowd of tourists carrying cameras or selfie cameras connected to sticks. There was huge crowd for a special reason. In end of December every year the sun rays pass by all the seventeen arches for about twenty days. This is an important phenomenon witnessed every year for about twenty days.

The news about the tourists visiting the summer palace was reported in the local English daily. ‘Thousands of tourists and photographers equipped with cameras and selfie sticks, surrounded to the Seventeen Arch Bridge and nearby Island at Beijing’s Summer Palace on Friday, the winter of solstice, aiming to record the famous view of setting sun shining through the arches. The phenomenon only occurs during the 20 days before and after the winter solstice and lasts for about 20 minutes each day around 4:00PM. The Seventeen Arch Bridge was built in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and connects the shoreline of Kunming Lake with Nanhu Island in its centre’.

I also found that the huge lake was frozen. There was warning displayed to not to go near ice. The river becomes ice for most part of the year. I was happy that within one and a half day I could see most important places of Beijing and China.

I used to read China Daily, English daily published from Beijing whenever I could get its copy. In the newspaper of 23rd December I saw a photo of China’s foreign minister Wang Yi with Samih Karakra, adviser of the Palestine Investment Fund and Hilik Bar, deputy speaker of Israel’s Knesset in Beijing on Friday 22nd December 2017. Below the photo was report captioned ‘Clear Palestinian Stance Reiterated. China’s stance is clear and we have always upheld our claim that is, one support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that enjoys full sovereignty, with East Jerusalem as its capital and based on the 1967 border’, Wang said while meeting with Palestinian representatives from a two day symposium on peace between Palestinian and Israel in Beijing’. The initiative taken by China on Palestinian issue shows its growing interest on the issue. This initiative will curtail supremacy of USA governments since long, which has shown its arrogance in UNSC and UNGA in spite of having been isolated on Palestinian issue. I think China will now play balancing strategy on the issue. China has strong trade relation with Israel also. Donald Trump and USA will experience challenge from China.

The Great Wall of China: On the 24th December we proceeded to see the Great Wall of China at Badaling which is located at a distance of 70 kms from our hotel Marriot located near Tiananmen Square. There are two other points near Beijing to see the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu at a distance of 72 kms and Simtai at a distance of 140 kms from central Beijing where our hotel was located. Our car journey was warm and comfortable to reach Badaling. When we got down from our car we were struck by biting cold and harsh wind. It was good that I wore full sweater, coat and long jacket besides covering head with woolen cap and additional hood of jacket.

History of Great Wall of China : The Great Wall of China with a history of more than two thousand years is a master piece of human civilization and the symbol of the Chinese nation. It is located in northern China. It was built in different areas by different states and dynasties to protect different territorial borders. The first emperor of China Qin Shi Huang built the wall in 220-206 BC. The majority of existing walls is from Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The Great Walls were built to prevent invasion and protect silk route. The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood and other materials. The earlier sections on the wall are made of compacted dirt and stone, later in the Ming Dynasty they used bricks. The materials were carried by hand, rope, cart, goat, etc. During its construction, The Great Wall was also called the longest cemetery on earth because more than a million people, mostly convicts and soldiers, had died during its construction. It is the longest structure humans have ever built. It is about 21,196 kms long, about 9 meters wide and 7 to 15 meters high. The walls were generally built along an east to west line across the historical northern borders. The Great Wall of China is among Seven Wonders of the World and was designated as World Heritage Site in 1987.

The Great Wall at Badaling : It is famous for its long history, rich culture, magnificent architecture and majestic momentum. It is the most outstanding representative of the Wall of China, the best preserved section of Ming Great Wall, a cultural relic of mankind, an important national cultural relic under state protection and a key national scenic area. Badaling Great Wall has become a symbol of peace and bridge of friendship.

After reaching Badaling we left our car at a scheduled parking place and reached the base of the cable car ride by a warm and free shuttle bus service. We purchased cable car ticket for Chinese Yuan 140 per person for both ways journey. The cable car reached the top in six minutes. This is among Seven Wonders of the World. This Wall was constructed to check foreign invasion. Not only the project was so gigantic but also reminds about the harsh weather condition used to be faced by the Chinese soldiers. After reaching the peak where the Great Wall is built the cold, windy and harsh weather at about 00C was quite a trying time. However, I took it as adventure sports to travel on foot on the Wall. I thanked in my heart the woman who pressed me to purchase from her a pair of woolen gloves for Yuan 10 just before riding the cable car. I made long video to capture the unique scene of the Wall. The Wall has shelters for the use of the soldiers in those days. But cold wind was making us unstable, though The Great Wall is fully secured for the climbers and visitors. The peak season is April to October and off season is rest five months. I saw several non-Chinese tourists including few Indians. I met a Muslim family from South Africa also. Since China is a large country the Chinese tourists are also found in huge numbers at all tourist places. We spent about two hours at the peak of the Great Wall. We took the return cable car and reached the base from where we went to car parking place.

On return journey from Badaling we took a route to see a complex where some of the kings of China were buried. We did not go inside the building but saw the surrounding of the complex. It appeared that though the buildings were made but there was hardly any interest in their history or lives. But as a low priority tourist place they are there away from Beijing. By evening we returned to Beijing. We took Indian cuisine that night again at Khan Baba restaurant located at fifth floor of a commercial building in Soho area. That was a popular area for evening visit. There was an Arab restaurant across the road also. Because of Christmas celebrations the shops and trees were specially decorated. Most of the side way trees were lighted with colourful lights. I also saw trees lighted in exclusive single colours. In shopping areas and also in the hotels Christmas trees were erected and lighted in various colours with Santa Claus and gifts around them. At the Khan Baba restaurant I saw a team of Tabligh Jamaat from Malaysia. I learnt that in China there is freedom to have religious activities indoors. But activities or propagating religion outside is not permitted. I learnt Buddhism is gradually spreading in China. The sayings of Buddhas are erected at Lama Temples. In western part of China there are areas where Muslims live. I think there is no visible control of the government over Buddhist culture in Tibet in China.

At about 7:30 PM we loaded our luggage in the car. We started from Beijing and reached Tianjin at about 9:15 PM, in about 1 hour 15 minutes. There is fast train service also connecting Beijing to Tianjin in 34 minutes. We reached our hotel, The Ritz Carlton Executive Residences, located at 167 Dagubei Road, Heping District, Tianjin.

On the 25th December 2017 I got up leisurely late at 8:00 AM and got ready for the day. We went down floor to have sumptuous breakfast. But I picked items carefully. When I inquired about Halal items the reception staff (Margaret alias Khadeeja) told me that she was a Muslim. She also greeted me in Islamic way. She identified about a corner table where items which were not Halal were kept. She gave small Christmas gift also. In China Christmas is celebrated beautifully for entertainment and commercial purposes even if not for religious spirit. I was in mood to relax at the huge luxurious apartment. The individual apartment is good for family living with big space and all types of facilities. I did not get any newspaper in English language. Our apartment had most of the Indian Channels. The previous night I saw news about India. That day I saw film Tiger Zinda Hai on TV Cable. This film features Salman Khan and Katrina Kaif. It is based on joint RAW and ISI mission to rescue 28 Indian and Pakistani nurses from captivity of ISIS in Ikrit in Iraq. It appeared that the film was shot in real locations at least partly. Though there was lot of dare devil fantasy but for entrainment and awareness about crimes of ISIS it is a good film. We spent evening watching Indian TV channels. I was told that the cable operators somehow download Indian channels through internet and make them available to Indian viewers.

On the 26th December 2017 I got up leisurely and took breakfast in the dining hall. There I met Engineer Mr. Jain from Gurgaon who was living in the similar apartment like us. He was also working for the same SABIC company project. After breakfast I strolled outside the hotel premises. At the front garden of the hotel I saw about two dozen senior citizens doing dance exercise in unison with Chinese music playing. Later I learnt that phenomenon of elderly people doing dancing exercise on music is quite common in China. This is good for maintaining good health. I went to the nearby canal. There are tall towers and impressive canal fronts. Water in the canal was frozen as ice. I saw the same frozen river in the night also. Tianjin was constructed on the pattern of European cities. The whole day I spent either at the hotel premises or walking around it. I had good lunch at the hotel. I took steam shrimps, boiled vegetables and steam rice. In the evening also we walked along the canal. Tianjin is on sea coast. North Korea is about one hour air travel from Tianjin but also connected to mainland China.

On the 27th December 2017 I got up leisurely. After breakfast I went out for a long walk along canal over river Heihe. I took the route crossing the bridge at one point and returning by third bridge. The canal roads and the bridges emphasis European look of Tianjin. The canal was ice frozen. However, some enthusiasts were busy fishing in the canal water using fishing nets and other means. They made some holes and spread the nets. I saw a good catch of huge size of fish. China cares so much for plantation is visible to see special green covers made to protect plants from severe winter. Even lower portion of trees are covered by tight clothes. This thing I found everywhere in China. Even hotels and shopping malls take measures by couering the plants and trees by clothes. There must be huge expenditure on plant protection. While travelling on a bridge my spectacle fell down from my pocket which I could not notice. But a cyclist showed me by gesture that my eyes thing has fallen. When I looked in search I found my spectacle invisible due to a rod structure. I picked the spectacle. I wanted to thank the Good Samaritan but by then he had gone away. As usual I took my lunch at international dining restaurant ‘Zest’ of Hotel Ritz Carlton. As usual I alerted the stewardess about my reservation about some items. They were very helpful and took my care smiling and cheerful. I took red lobster, boiled vegetables and vegetable fried rice. The lunch was both tasty and fulfilling. I noticed that information about China is difficult to see. Even in my five star hotel there was no newspaper available not even in Chinese language. The previous night I went to a huge mall showcasing large number of international brands at prohibitive prices. There I located a book store. But it too had only Chinese books. When I inquired about a map of China I was given one sheet map but written in Chinese. Next day I approached the reception staff who gave me a print out of a general map of China written in English. Though I have seen the map of China several times in my life but that day it was out of necessity also. I found that most of the prominent cities were located on it like Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Hangzhou, etc. The industrial city of Guangzhou is located in south on eastern coast, near Macau and Hong Kong. There are some special regions. Tibet is Buddhist area in south west while Kashgar is Muslim area on western side having borders with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Besides them China has borders with large number of other countries also, namely, India, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, North Korea, Mangolia and Russia. In the evening Rehan decided to visit Suzhou and Shanghai the next day. Accordingly, I went to the railway station and purchased train tickets with the help of the Chinese driver who did not understand English. But the lady at the ticket counter could speak some broken English; Moreover, as usual earlier in India or else where I wrote details about my intended journey on a paper. It helps the staff at counter to book ticket more accurately in spite of some language hassle. The ticket was for train No. G211 departing Tianjin Ki at 9:31 AM. The details of our passport and visa were also recorded in computer system beside some details on tickets also. The fare of one way journey from Tianjin to Suzhou, one station earlier to Shanghai was Yuan 513.5. However, the destination mentioned on the ticket was Shanghai Hongqiao. My seat no. was 08 13B.

On the 28th December 2017 I got up a bit early and got ready for the day as we had to take high speed train from Tianjin to Sozhou. We reached the railway station which was well maintained like several airports in India. We occupied our seats. I sat at the window. The train departed exactly at 9:31 AM as it was printed on the ticket. Before boarding the train my ticket, passport and visa were checked by railway staff. I found all railway staff wearing impressive uniforms in bright colours with caps, more like airline crews. The train speed was at 302 km per hour. After halting at few stations the train reached at Suzhou Railway station, one station before Shanghai, at 2:15PM. The train journey was quite informative to me. I could see both urban areas and rural areas on the way. There was great emphasis on agriculture. The agricultural land was ploughed in regular shapes. The houses in villagers were generally both single storey to three storeys. It appeared heating arrangements were installed in the village houses also. The plants and trees were well protected in China on heavy expenditure. In order to keep trees straight, both in urban and rural areas, they are fixed by metallic supported having rods entrenched in the earth. The lower portions of the trees are painted white to protect from pests and insects. In some places I saw small bottles attached to the trunk of the trees which give gradual nutrition to the trees. In case of plants also special cover of green painted clothes is made to protect them. The plants were covered from some sides or all sides to protect them from harsh winter climate. After reaching Suzhou, among big cities, located before Shanghai, we went to an industrial unit WILHELM, a complete welding solution group. There we met general manager Sherman Guo, chief engineer Mick Wu, R&D director Ibrahim Karakoc who told me that he was a Turkish national whose mother used to pray namaz. He was not a practicing Muslim and indulges in eating food considered prohibited by Islamic laws. He had worked in several parts of the world. After visit to the industrial area we went to an Indian restaurant Mehndi Indian Kitchen and Bar, located at a lane. The whole staff of 4 or 5 was Chinese. I met the cheff who hails from Himachal Pradesh. He told me that another cook was also Indian. Though he told me that meat items served were purchased from Halal shops but I was not convinced about its authenticity. I took fish and some other vegetable items. On advice of Rehan the Chinese members of the team enjoyed Indian cuisine. The Indian restaurant was decorated in drab colour and style (or no style). There were two or three black and white ordinary portraits of a Hindu sadhu praying while standing chest deep in the river. The sadhu dominated the wall of the restaurant. I also found an ordinary photo of Anuksha Shankar, daughter of Ravi Shankar. I was stunned to know that the Hindu cook prepared the beef item also. The owner of the restaurant was an Indian living in Europe. It was drizzling and weather was inclement late evening we reached our hotel Ramada. We checked in room no. 1211. I went to sleep on time.

On the 29th of December 2017 I got up a bit early and got ready for the day. That day after a long drive from Suzhou we reached another industrial unit Roc Master Piping Solutions Ltd. It was located at suburb of Suzhou. It had a big campus. I noticed that the industrial areas were free of noise and pollution. In that unit 272 employees were working including 40 foreigners from India, Bangladesh and Iran. I learnt that the owner and President of the company Ms Jady Rao was struggling to obtain approval of the government authorities for increasing number of foreign employees. There I also met marketing division business development manager Mohammad Forghani of Iran. I saw flags of Iran along with flags of China at three conference tables which indicated about Iranian delegations recent visit to the industrial unit. I saw one prayer room exclusively for namaz. Besides carpet even prayer mat was kept there. Nearby was toilet having washing facility which was rare in Chinese culture. I learnt China exports machines to Iran and imports oil and food items.

We went to take lunch hosted by Jady Rao. I took boiled or steamed long white fish, prawn fish, besides steamed vegetables. I thoroughly enjoyed the lunch. After that we drove 107 kms to Shanghai by road. When we were approaching Shanghai gradual traffic jam started. Shanghai is a huge city with mostly tall towers and flyovers everywhere. The people were moving fast in the city in all types of transport including scootis and cycles.

We checked in at Shanghai Yuyan hotel located at no. 673 Fuxing East Road, Huangpu District in Shanghai. After check in formalities we went out for sightseeing. I saw beautiful evening of Shanghai. We took a sightseeing red double decker tourist bus. It covered the beautiful and important tourist places of Shanghai. The weather was dry so I could make video of the places. The illumination of buildings and parks were spectacular. There were LED screens all around catching attention of the tourists and other people. After sightseeing ride on the bus we decided to search any Indian restaurant which we failed to locate even after walking for about five kilometers. There were some eating outlets displaying Halal foods but their authenticity was quite doubtful. Not even Halal but even ingredients used in the preparation of food items were also doubtful in nature. After great efforts we could locate a Turkish restaurant called Keravan Orient Express located in front of the Hotel Le Meridian Shanghai. This was a small restaurant located on first floor of the building. I found an illegible certificate of Halal food hanging on the wall. From the Chinese waitress who spoke broken English I learnt that the restaurant owner was a Turkish man who lives in Shanghai itself but was not present at that time. As decor there was a crude painting of Turkish musical cultural scene on the wall. A full length Turkish carpet was also hanged on the wall. I went to the toilet which was also not kept well. I expected at least a water nozzle pipe or tap for use. But I was disappointed to see that the Turkish owner also could not arrange any decent toilet facility. He could not create an ambience of Turkish culture and left the restaurant to Chinese staff only. We took lentil soup and chicken shawarma and rice. After dinner we walked for about five kilometers to reach our hotel. I had seen Shanghai well. We decided to sleep on time and get up leisurly in the morning.

On the 30th December 2017 we got up leisurely at 8:30 AM. We took tea and got ready for the day. We searched a mosque at about 5 kms from our hotel. It was mid noon time. We spent some time there. The premises were not well maintained. From a Muslim gentleman at the mosque we learnt about a Muslim restaurant providing authentic Halal food. We took fried rice, soup and chicken. I ate full with great satisfaction. After lunch we took a taxi to reach camera market. There I purchased some missing cords for my handycam camera. We returned to the hotel. We could not roam around further due to inclement weather of Shanghai. It was cloudy in the morning but drizzling and rain in the afternoon and evening. We decided to leave hotel early next day morning to catch a train for Tianjin reaching there by 2:00PM. By then I was satisfied that I could see Shanghai also well.

On the 31st December 2017 we got up early at 6 o’clock. The weather outside was inclement and drizzling. We reached Shanghai Hongqiao Railway station by taxi of which fare was reasonable and comparable to fare in India. On the way I spotted a replica of Buddhist Temple of Bodh Gaya fixed on a Buddhist temple in the high rise towers area. The railway station is located beside the Shanghai Airport. It must have been very convenient to user travellers. The premises of the railway station also looked similar to premises of the airport. We purchased ticket for high speed train to Tianjinxi by showing passport. We took train no. G1258 and fare per person was Yuan 513.5. I got seat no 01C of bogey no. 04. The train departed exactly at scheduled time 9:12 AM. On the way the train stopped at only few stations. The peak speed was 304 kms per hour. The train reached Tianjin railway station exactly at 2:30 PM. An elderly Chinese gentleman seating beside us was exercising his palms with stone balls. He communicated by gesture that it was good for him to remain healthy.

On the 1st of January it was New Year of 2018. This was my last day in Tianjin, Beijing and China. I enjoyed my stay in China. My base was apartment no. 283 of Ritz Carlton Executive Residence of Tianjin. When I went to the apartment restaurant for breakfast I was greeted Happy New Year 2018. The hotel and apartment attract Europeans and Americans for their stay. Hence, the staffs of the restaurant were aware about cultural background of the guests. There was no celebration for New Year. The people celebrate Chinese New Year falling in February on grand scale. We decided to take lunch at Tianjin before going to Beijing to take flight CA 947 of China Airline to New Delhi. While leaving Tianjin I spotted one small and one big mosque in Tianjin. We reached Beijing Capital International Airport by taxi on much before time. The STD of our flight was 8:40 PM. We became worried about Delhi to Patna leg of journey on 2nd January as there was huge fog in Patna and Delhi cancelling hundreds of flights to Patna and even trains. However, we reached Patna safely.

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