By 1978 I had been living and working in Hong Kong for nearly four years. I had visited the Canton Trade Fair quite regularly and joined one tour group to China, which was by invitation only in those days.
Telephones were rare in China . Only very senior leaders or VIPs people had phones at home. Hotel rooms did not have telephones. Business was not done by telephone. Telex, cables or letters were used instead. Business was done at a snail’s pace.
I was about to make my regular twice yearly visit to the Canton Trade Fair, which was then nearly a full day’s journey by train from Hong Kong’s old train station, next to the Star Ferry Terminus in Kowloon.
Once you arrived at the Guangzhou Rail Station, you would be met there by someone from the host organization which had invited you.
This person was assigned to assist with your meetings and arrangements while there. They would listen to your requests upon arrival, and get back to you later with details of what could or could not be arranged.
Nothing could be arranged in advance, and there was inevitably a lot of spare time spent sitting around drinking hot tea, warm Laoshan mineral water, or cold Qingdao beer.
So it was with great surprise that one morning in Hong Kong, I heard our office receptionist tell me that I had a caller on the line from China.
It was unheard of to receive a telephone call from China. I was due to leave for the Canton Trade Fair within a few days, but expected as usual that all arrangements would be made on the spot after arrival there.
I was sure the receptionist must have made a mistake, or that it was a prank call.
I picked up the phone and a male voice on the other end said in British-accented English “This is You in Canton.” I was caught off balance by the call and the fact he was speaking English, and almost said “But I’m not in Canton. I’m here.”
It turned out the caller, who was surnamed Yu, was indeed an executive at a company I was hoping to meet at the Fair, and had called to propose a meeting date and time. I gladly agreed.
I had a feeling from this and a variety of other experiences around that time that big changes were just getting started in China.
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I am an American who has lived in Hong Kong and traveled frequently throughout China since 1974.
My Sibuxiang blog posts began with anecdotes from before the Open Door era, and carried on through its its early days. Gradually the range of topics has expanded, but I am particularly interested in cross-cultural communication, human resources, education, travel and a variety of management topics .
My posts are bi-lingual, in English and Chinese. Click on the title of any post, and the bi-lingual version will appear. Although I read and speak Chinese, I write my posts in English and review the translation before they go live.
Sibuxiang is a deer-like animal known in English as Pere David's Deer. In Chinese it also means “neither fish nor fowl”.
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