When I was invited to visit
China again, I was thrilled with the idea! This would be my third trip to this fascinating
and rapidly changing country and I was having the same or even stronger
emotions as in my first time there.
Others who had been to China for several
times had already told me that anytime time you go to China, you get a totally
different experience, and this was the case to prove such a thing.
While travelling to the airport to get the
plane to Beijing, I was taking a look at the agenda that we, a group of
Albanian journalists, were scheduled to have during our stay in China. Of
course, what got my attention first was Shanghai, the world-famous city, which
fired my imagination.
I say Shanghai because I had already
visited Beijing, China's capital. But, soon as we landed to Beijing and took
our bus to the hotel where we stayed for three days, I felt like I had much to
discover. However, the city, the people, the atmosphere and everything
surrounding me, made me feel like coming back home. I felt at ease and it felt
good being there again.
As we were approaching the hotel, near
the Tiananmen Square, I recalled my first trip to Beijing which was a
mind-blowing and fascinating experience. That trip totally transformed the
perceptions of China and Chinese people and has turned this great country into
a place where I can't wait to go back to again.
I started that journey with very
positive attitude towards China and Chinese and I was marveled not only by the
breathtaking landscapes, modern skyscrapers, innovation, development, etc, but
also by the greatness and at same time the humbleness of the Chinese people,
their politeness, culture, hard work and kindness. This is why I always suggest
to the people who want to visit China to go there with a positive attitude,
create your own ideas and perceptions and open their hearts to enjoy the
kindness of the Chinese people and get a lifetime experience.
And I feel like once you make a Chinese
your friend, he or she will always remain such. In this regard, I am proud to
say that now I have lots of Chinese friends, in Albania and in China too.
And this was the case with the three
extraordinary friends that accompanied us during our stay there: Vera from the
China Radio International, Albanian section, Cathy from the Association of
Journalists and Burim. Vera and Burim spoke Albanian very well and had Albanian
names, what made us feel at home and enjoy their presence.
As we arrived at our hotel, we were
invited to have lunch together with our new Chinese friends with whom we all
became very close-knit. When I first came to China, I made a "try everything at
least once" rule for myself and the same thing I suggested to my Albanian
colleagues. I told them that if you miss out on that, you're missing out on an
integral part of what it means to visit China. The relationship with food in
China is very special and fascinating and I have always been amazed at the
diversity of ingredients and flavors as well as the way how Chinese enjoy and
share the food. I think Chinese food is the most varied food on the planet and
the diversity is the one that best describes it as it completely changes from
province to province, while you can find almost everything in the Chinese
dishes. And, despite the flavors and diversity, the Chinese food feels healthy
which, of course, is the most important thing.
But what has fascinated me the most is
the way how Chinese serve the meals. I was told there that food is also a
connecting and unity point. In Albania like in many other countries in Europe
or the West in general, everyone has his or her own plate while in China, each
person eats from shared plates in the center. You can take whatever you want
from the shared plates and put it in your own plate in front of you. It is
something very beautiful and special at same time because it creates a very
positive feeling of sharing and caring for each other. It is a sign of unity.
Our first day in Beijing. Our group of
journalist went to China Radio International where we met with the Albanian and
Chinese journalists working in the Albanian section. It was quite an
interesting and important meeting for all of us. We were also received by the
representatives of this institution who noted that the CRI in Albania had a
significant audience. After sharing our experiences with our colleagues there,
we moved to another place where we were received by Secretary of the
Secretariat of China's Association of Journalists, Mr. Ji Xingxing. He briefed
us on the development of the Chinese media, its challenges and objectives. I
believe such meetings serve to create communication and cooperation bridges
between the media of the two countries. Given that the media plays a key role
in the promotion of the best values, I think that both Albania and China can
further elaborate cooperation in this field. In my view, the media here should
offer more information on China to the Albanian audience and vice versa. We
already share an old and traditional friendship but time has come to get to
know each other even better and this can start and be better promoted through
Our second day to Beijing. As we all
know, Beijing offers some of the world-famous landmarks, visited by millions of
tourists every year. And we were lucky to visit two of them: the Great Wall of
China and the Forbidden City. These two places are both mystiques and
wonderful. While walking through the gates of the Forbidden City or while
climbing the Great Wall, you feel like entering a different world, a mysterious
one where the wonders and beauties never end.
Chinese love the gardens, beautiful
landscapes, greenery, waterfalls, lakes, trees and tranquility, and you get
such perception anytime you see the way how they take care of nature and how
they praise such assets. Both the Forbidden City and Great Wall were full of
foreign but mainly Chinese visitors. People there were very warm and always
greeting you with a genuine smile. Yes with genuine smiles that really moves
you. While asking for some photographs with them, you see in their eyes how
open and welcoming they are. This is why when you come to China, you feel like
there is room for everyone.
At the end of the day, we knew more
about China history and culture, getting even more familiar to this huge
country. Actually, the more you know over China, the more you are eager to
learn about it. And, it is only when you go to China, see it, experience it, that
you begin to realize that the country is incredibly diverse and unique.
Chinese culture is so rich, dating back
thousands of years while traditions are so strongly interconnected with the
life in modern day China. Old customs stand there as modern skyscrapers go up
every second and China's face keeps changing turning into a global engine of
world economy. Small villages perfectly stand next to highly developed and
modern cities and seems like people live in full harmony with this.
Each province in China is home to
different ethnic groups and ways of life. Language varies too, as there are
many dialects. There are 56 recognized minorities with their own culture but still
they all live in harmony and this is why I say that China and its people are
"Belt and Road" Forum, New Approach to
Third day in Beijing. A big day. Early
in the morning, we took the bus that sent us to China National Convention
Center where the high-level forum "One Belt, One Road" took place under the
auspices of China's President Xi Jinping who first launched the Belt and Road
Initiative in 2013. Being part of the group of journalist to attend the opening
ceremony of the greatest event ever held by China was a very special and
unforgettable experience. We were part of a great project that has been
launched by China to extend cooperation and build new cooperation bridges in
the framework of the B&R initiative. Cooperation, openness,
inter-connection, harmony and productivity were some of the key words of the
most important forum "One Belt, One Road". "It's not just China. It's China
teaming up with other countries to get a better outcome and lead to win-win
solutions for all," Chinese President Jinping told the audience of over 1,500
people during opening ceremony. Looking at the hall and watching the leaders of
some of the most powerful countries as well as numerous high officials from all
over the world gave the impression that now people are getting China right. I
was happy to see the great support provided for the promotion and realization
of the projects under the "One Belt, One Road" initiative and I felt positive
and optimistic that even a small country like ours, thus Albania, will be able
to have its benefits from this highly important and strategic initiative.
With the organization of such high-level
forum, China showed once more to the world its openness to extend the hands of
cooperation as well as show its great and rapid development. Whether it is a
developing or developed country as many try to debate, I think that China has
proved that it is a developed country, working hard to make its citizens' lives
even better, trying to provide the best future to the young generations and
offering endless opportunities to all. China is modern. When I say modern, I
mean the high speed rail, subways and architecture of China, the roads,
bridges, tunnels, metros, trains, train stations, airports, airplanes and so on.
With investments spread all over the
world, with numerous foreign companies coming there, innovation, high
technology and also high security level is showing its greatness not only in
terms of the size but also in terms of its value and definitely it doesn't feel
like a "developing country."
So, after three days, we left Beijing on
May 14. The weather was perfect while the blue skies and some small white
clouds turned down everyone's perceptions that Beijing was always grey due to
pollution. Then, we took the flight to the next destination. We flied to
Shanghai Pudong Airport but where we got the high-speed train that took us for
nearly 20 minutes to the city of Suzhou.
Visiting "World's Oriental Venice"
When we went to Suzhou late that
evening, we didn't know what to really expect from that city although we had
been told that it was a very developed and well-structured one where people
loved to live. So, next morning we were all so interested to see more of this
city. Suzhou is a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East
China, about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Shanghai. It is a major economic
center and focal point of trade and commerce, and the second largest city in
the province after the capital Nanjing. Our Chinese friends told us that Suzhou
is famous for its Classical Gardens, also part of UNESCO World Heritage Site
and the Humble Administrator's Garden was one of the gardens that we had the
pleasure to visit.
Suzhou was a nice, quiet city where
everything seemed to be well-organized. You could learn a lot on Chinese art
and culture from this city. Known as a center of silk trade, the city is
especially known for brocades and embroidery.
But it was also impressive to notice the
fact that Suzhou was surrounded by waters. The city is on the Yangtze River and
many canals run north to south through it. This is why it is called as "the
World's Oriental Venice."
On our first day to Suzhou, we visited Suzhou
Science and Cultural Arts Center located in Suzhou Industrial Park. We were
welcomed there by a nice girl who told us that the Center covered a total area
of 138,000 square meters, of which the construction area is about 150 square
meters. The building was designed by the world-renowned architect Paul Andreu
while she noted that the core design philosophy of the center was "a pearl, a
wall and a garden." The three traditional elements reflect the conception of
architectural aesthetics of Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Center. Suzhou
Science and Cultural Arts Center was home to a variety of function facilities:
Grand Theatre, Cineplex, IMAX Theatre, Performance Hall, Ballet Theatre, SIP
Cultural Centre, Art Museum, Arts School and Commercial Centre. We entered the Grand Theatre in this Centre and
it was amazing. It had combined the traditional and the modern elements.
After that stop, we went to Suzhou
Television Broadcasting Station (SBS) where we were introduced to the
technology used in their TV station, the way how it functions and so on. We
felt so welcomed but at the same time we were amazed by the way how the
journalists worked there and the modern infrastructure they had at their
disposal. Then, the next stop was the visit to the garden Zhuozheng or the
Humble Administrator's Garden. The girl directing us at this park told us that
this garden was a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous of the
gardens of Suzhou but also one of the finest gardens in all of southern China.
It was a very interesting experience. But what came next was even more
fascinating. As it got darker, we went to the ancient Shantang Street.
The entire street featured typical
characteristics of south China. I was impressed by the clear river meanders
along under small arched bridges interspersed with wooden boats adrift, passing
numerous old residences and shops. The whole street was very picturesque
indeed, especially with the moon-like bridges which made the view magical and
surreal. We went down the street, trying some local food, buying some souvenirs
and boating through the river. But, when the night fell and the red lanterns were
lightened up, we felt like: Great, this is China! With the lanterns above our
heads, the smell of food, the music played in the nearby bars and the people
greeting us warmly, the picture was complete. What a great night! I will keep
it in my memories.
The next day, early in the morning we
visited an old temple. That served us to tackle a little bit the issue of
religion in China and see from close an old temple where people used to go and
In the midday, we took the train to get
back to the great city of Shanghai. Travelling at 270-280 km/hours, we couldn't
wait to see the famous city of Shanghai.
Shanghai, the City of Lights
As I said above, in China, the
traditional and the modern are closely tied. And I like how the Chinese look
forward but also keep an eye on the past, as to never forget the roots and the
path they have gone through. And they are masters in preserving the traditional
objects or in paying tribute to their national assets. As we got off the train,
you could feel that you are already in a very big city. The skyscrapers seemed
like they were in an ongoing race to catch the sky. The air was clean. The
weather was nice. You could simply enjoy the view and jump into that lively and
charming city. We first went to a part of the city considered as traditional
one, with shops and buildings featuring traditional Chinese characteristics. It
was a very bustling street, full of foreigner visitors who like us were getting
some of the China's taste.
After staying for some hours there, we
headed to Shanghai center. We went to the Tower of Shanghai which gave us the
opportunity to have a full view of the city from over 600 meters up.
At the bottom floor, there were a few
areas showcasing the tallest buildings in the world and their statistics,
including the section about the Shanghai Tower, the second tallest tower in the
world. Shanghai Tower is a 632-meter, 128-story mega tall skyscraper in Pudong,
Shanghai and it is equipped with the world's fastest elevators at a top speed
of 18 m/s which took us to the 118th floor's observatory in under a minute.
When we entered the observatory, the
view was simply mind-blowing. Everything was beautiful and big. There were no
cameras that could put in focus all that beauty. Actually, the trip to Shanghai
made me realize how much I loved the hustle and bustle of that large city. I
felt in love with that city. It was so huge but also so clean. A cosmopolitan
city which, being watched from the Tower of Shanghai, seemed as if it belonged
to another world. With the greatest ever skyline, Shanghai is about to become
China's epicenter. When the city lights were switched on, the view was
spectacular and we enjoyed such scenery from the restaurant where we spent our
last hours in China before heading to airport. This trip will remain embedded
in my mind and in my heart together with the people, art, history, culture,
music, cuisine and lifestyle of China.
I will keep in my heart the red lanterns
of the old and traditional villages and small towns as well as the mesmerizing
lights of Shanghai. I would like to conclude this article with a simple
expression: China was Outstanding then and it is outstanding now. And I believe
it will always be this way.