I gathered with nine others from Canada, the United Kingdom, Iran, Columbia, Holland, and China and climbed into a van for the hour or so ride from downtown Beijing to the Great Wall.
Along the way, the English-speaking Chinese tour guide asked an interesting question when she found out we were all first-time visitors to her country.
"How many of you," she asked, "expected to see everybody wearing somber clothes and riding bicycles and see buildings that all looked the same?"
I said to myself that, to some extent, I held some of those beliefs. But over the past 20 years or so, China has opened itself to the West in terms of encouraging both capitalism and tourism.
In the two cities I visited, dress codes didn't exist. While many dressed conservatively, others went in the opposite direction. Bicycles still were much more evident that in any U.S. city, but they also shared the road with a rapidly increasing number of cars, buses, and pedestrians. In some intersections, there was no protocol for who had the right of way, but everybody seemed to manage navigating through.
The architecture indeed is changing, with high rises and even skyscrapers seeming to have the highest priority. Building cranes are everywhere in both Beijing and Shanghai. And while the former more and more resembles the standard big cities of the United States, the latter has a glitz to it, especially at night, with its flashing lights and signs that make it look like a giant Times Square or a Las Vegas with very, very tall buildings. It is all those modern buildings that are creating the demand for HVACR technology.
East And WestChina is a country embracing Westerners, both as tourists and as investors. (The rapid establishment of factories and other businesses is evidence of the latter group.)
In these large cities, many signs and printed directions are in both Chinese and English. Those working at the major hotels and business centers speak fluent English. In the tourist areas, vendors speak enough English to quote prices and enter into obligatory negotiations for a lower final cost.
In the larger, more Americanized hotels, a dozen television stations are in English. These include not only the news channels like CNN and BBC, but also those that air such American fare as "CSI," "Alias," "The Simpsons," "Oprah," and, yes, even "Fear Factor."
The business aspects related to HVACR manufacturers will be described in detail in future issues of The News, as well as in my report on the expo itself, "Manufacturers Reach Out To Asian Market," in this issue.
But, now about the Great Wall: The site we visited was closest to Beijing and has been extensively restored to reflect what it might have once looked like. After a walk of several hundred feet on a gradual incline, visitors then climb steps (actually, hundreds of steps) as the wall works its way up a steep slope.
Even by today's standards, it is an engineering marvel. The very earliest stage of the wall dates back to the fifth century B.C., and construction went on for hundreds of years. Soldiers and peasants were conscripted to haul huge blocks of rocks up the slopes. When it was done, it stretched for 4,000 miles as a means to ward off various enemies.
It is a lesson for any of us in what can be accomplished when creative minds face a challenge and find a way to overcome it.
Peter Powell is refrigeration editor. He can be reached at 847-622-7260, 847-622-7266 (fax), or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: 06/07/2004