Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Nanjing balloon factory, my alma mater university Nan Da and meeting my Chinese teacher

ALLIE : DAY 33: Monday, the 19th of March

A nostalgic tour around Nanjing and a historic meet with my Chinese teacher

After a wonderful breakfast with cereal, fresh fruit and strong real coffee (we realize now what we had missed for the past 2 weeks!), we set out to visit the largest balloon factory in China. Meitie lends us their driver Mr. Cai and he manages indeed to find the compound. 

Mr Cui and myself in discussion
A friendly and straightforward Mr. Cui greets us and shows us around his factory.

He used to be a parachutist with the Chinese military until in the earyly 80is he started to set up his “aerial sport equipment factory” in the south of Nanjing.

They don’t only produce hot air balloons but also parachutes, gliders and other aerial sporting equipment. 

We of course want to know more about the balloon production and I engange Mr. Cui in a pile of questions translating to Phil what I can gather as information. 
inside the Nanjing balloon factory

I won’t elaborate now on all the contents, but it was very interesting for us and surprisingly in formal: “Yes, you can take pictures, no problem!”
Clearly worlds between North Korea and the ever so liberal and open seeming P.R.China!

Chinese burner system

Mr. Cui invites me to join next years ‘International female pilots flight over the Great Wall of China-Competition” and I eagerly say “Yes!” (notes by myself: it never happened and I never heard a word again from them!).

Mr. Dai drops us at the Fuzimiao, an area that used to be full of nice old shophouses and lots of interesting shops. But in 2007 even this area has changed into the usual modern outfit and doesn’t impress us very much. 

infront of the main entrance to 'Nanda'
We move on the explore my ‘alma mater’, the Nanjing University, shortened in Chinese to 'Nan da'. It is very frustrating and sad: all our nice dormitories have been demolished! 

Gone room 201 forever, but not the memories of it. I used to share my room with Yukiko, a nice Japanese girl. Since she didn’t speak any German, and I didn’t speak Japanese, we were forced to communicate in Chinese. 

But that’s certainly helped both of us to progress fairly quickly with our spoken Chinese. It also gave me a first insight in how different Japanese Culture and behaviour was. 

When most of us foreign students had to leave China after the disastrous massacre in Beijing, I went to Japan to live with a Japanese family for a year. 

The culture shock that I was faced with in adapting to Japanese culture was far greater then coming from Germany to China and I had taken me months to get used to it. Not so in China. 
The Nanjing massacre memorial

I made many Chinese friends and enjoyed my life there so much that I would have loved to spend another year in Nanjing.

Sadly everything changed after the crack down of the democracy movement in which even we foreign students took some part.

I could talk now forever about my experiences in China in 88, but that would fill another book. So I better move on…

After driving to the Japanese Massacre monument which sadly was just under construction, we strolled around the Mo Chou Lake park and relaxed with a cup of jasmine tea and popcorn. (Even this park which used to be in the outer countryside of Nanjing is now surrounded by high rise modern housing estates).

me and Jing laoshi
Another highlight of this interesting day was meeting my former literature teacher at a small coffee shop near the university. 

We haven’t seen each other for 18 years but we still could recognize each other, there was Jing laoshi. A bit of a rounder face but still the same nice man as he was then. 

He loves coffee, he told us, so we had to choose from the 6 different types of freshly brewed coffee in his favourite coffee house. 

Even though Jing laoshi had spent a year in the States, his English was very poor and we communicated better in Chinese.

There are 2000 foreign students now at Nanda (as Nanjing Universtiy is abbreviated in Chinese). He also went to Turkey to teach Chinese. Live is definitely better and lots of rich Chinese afford to send their children to universities in the States or even in Britain – self paying!

our fancy dinner at the Sofitel
The rest of the evening is spent with an opulent and expensive dinner at the brand new Sofitel, where we also happen to know the food and beverage manager Laurent and the hotels general manger Christophe Lauras (but even this doesn’t seem to help to be invited for this meal!). 

Never mind, it was a nice and enjoyable evening with good seafood and interesting conversations!

PHIL: Day 33/March 19

After a night in the sumptuous residence of Herbert Bock, Siemens software chief in China, his driver is put at our disposal for a visit to China’s main manufacturer of balloons who just happens to be based in the city. 

at the balloon factory in Nanjing
Set in a semi-military industrial complex there is, to our surprise, no call for identity documents or permissions to enter the guarded main entrance. In a yard around the back a single ‘bottom end’ has been set up for our inspection.

It is  crudely finished by western standards and seems to reflect outdated technology & practices from the ‘80s, but I’m sure it works.

The envelope manufacturing floor seems mainly occupied with military work on parachutes and all is plush velour office furniture out of the Mao era. The section manager, in suit and tie, is friendly but not very informative.

By taxi now to the Nanjing Massacre memorial which turns out to be closed for refurbishment (the 70th anniversary is in December 2007), followed by a walk around a typical Chinese urban park with boating lake and restored pavilions now surrounded by high-rise apartments which dwarf the delicate willows and flowering cherries.

student reading in garden of Nan Da

Allie learned her Putonghua at the University here, so it offers many nostalgic turns, mostly dispelled by the passage of time since 1988. 

lots of student bicycles infront of the University
Her old student dorm has given way to a characterless block and most of the old shop-houses are now in the clutches of Starbucks or KFC. 

Her former language lecturer meets us for coffee but seems not to have changed as much as his surroundings, apparently.

The evening is a contrast with drinks and dinner in the Sofitel with its two French expat managers joining us – though still leaving US to pay the bill.


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  2. Oh, Almut! I enjoyed reading your blog so much! So no more Smoky Joe, and those nice little shops, I guess. Thank you for this report.