我的第一次中国之行(一) / My First Trip to China (Part 1)

我的第一次中国之行(一)

广交会

1975年4月的某天清晨,我满怀兴奋之情,从香港的老九龙火车站登上了前往广州的列车。老九龙车站位于天星码头附近,当年的钟楼如今依然伫立在旁边。虽然从香港到广州坐火车只有80英里,但车程却需要整整一天。

学了七年的中文,终于能有机会去看看讲普通话的地方,我激动万分。尽管当时我只是一名总部在香港的贸易杂志的助理编辑,但凭借美国商会驻香港代表团成员的身份,我还是获得了出席广交会的邀请。

那时邀请函并不容易得到,尤其对记者而言;签证也只发给接到邀请的人。在香港,邀请函是由外贸部驻香港的分支机构——华润公司颁发的。那时华润还在中环银行街的老中国银行大厦办公。一进银行大门,迎接客人的就是两张乒乓球台和头上高悬的马克思、恩格斯、列宁、斯大林画像。如今,这里已经改成了中国会餐厅。(香港中国会餐厅位于港岛区中环银行街老中国银行大厦14楼,餐厅以精致的点心闻名,实行会员制,餐厅内有不少古董及文物——译注)

从香港去广州需要在九龙车站搭乘早班火车,准时抵达罗湖,才能赶上下午前往广州的列车。当时还没有其他交通方式,飞机、渡轮和高速公路都还没有出现。从香港到北京最快捷的方式就是先坐火车到广州,住上一宿,再乘第二天的航班。

在深圳河香港一侧的罗湖口岸办理完清关手续以后,旅客需要拖着行李,步行通过河上的木制廊桥——眼前飘扬的是中国国旗,而身后则是香港的旗帜——到大陆一侧办理入境手续。

在中国一侧的速度明显放缓。一走出廊桥,就感觉像是一个巨大的唱片机从每分钟78转的播放速度直接降到了16转。两岸不仅效率不同,景象、气味乃至声音都不尽相同。深圳河作为一条河流而言,并不是很宽,但只要一过河就把人们带进了另一个不同的世界。

从中国一侧火车站的窗口望出去是沉闷的农业社会景象:人民公社的一角,水牛在泥坑里打着滚,桑树掩映下的鱼塘里游弋着鸭子,还有稻田和低矮的砖房。这里就是深圳的前身——宝安,但它大约在五年之后才改名为深圳。

香港一侧的广告牌到了大陆这边就换成了政治标语,上面写着“我们的朋友遍天下”、“农业学大寨”、“毛主席万岁”、“深挖洞、广积粮”和“为人民服务”等口号。

要填写的表格很多,办理入关和入境手续的速度也很慢,但换来的却是所有外宾都可以在这座低矮、空旷的火车站里享用一顿包括12道菜在内的中式豪华大餐。午餐过后,人们还有时间在摆满扶手椅的房间里休息一会儿。扶手椅很舒适,套着椅罩,下面还放着痰盂,墙上挂着一幅巨幅山水画《迎客松》,涂成淡蓝色的吊扇在天花板上徐徐地转着。

痰盂如今虽然早已绝迹,但在当时却是贵宾会议室的特有装饰。标准的痰盂通体为白色搪瓷,痰盂口饰有大红圈边,腰部及以下绘有蓝色的喜庆花卉。当时每个会议室必备的迎宾三件套就是:痰盂、带盖的茶杯和烟灰缸。国产香烟千篇一律都是大红包装,牌子有工农、红灯、丰收、团结、光荣、大生产、大跃进、英雄、红旗和劳动等名称。

My First Trip to China (Part 1)

Canton Trade Fair

With a sense of great excitement, on an early morning in April 1975, I embarked on the full day, 80-mile train journey from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, starting from the old Kowloon train station next to the Star Ferry, where the clock tower stands today.

After seven years of Chinese studies in the U.S., I was excited at long last to be going someplace where Putonghua was widely spoken. I had obtained an invitation to attend the Canton Trade Fair as a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong’s delegation, despite being the assistant editor of a Hong Kong-based trade magazine.

Invitations were not easy to come by, especially for journalists; and visas were only granted to those with invitations. In Hong Kong, invitations were issued by the local arm of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, China Resources, whose offices were then in the old Bank of China Building on Bank Street in Central District, where portraits of Marx, Lenin, Engels and Stalin welcomed visitors from above a pair of ping pong tables — premises currently occupied by the China Club.

Travelling from Hong Kong to Guangzhou required boarding the early morning train from the Kowloon station, which brought you into Luohu (Lowu) in time to connect with the afternoon train to Guangzhou. No other transport connection was available. This was before the era of airplane, ferry, and highway links. The fastest way to get from Hong Kong to Beijing involved taking the train to Guangzhou, and an overnight there in order to catch a flight the following day.

After clearing exit formalities on the Hong Kong side of the Shenzhen River at Luohu, passengers walked with their luggage across the quaint, covered wooden bridge — with the PRC flag waving ahead, and the Hong Kong flag flapping behind — and began entry formalities on the China side.

There was a distinctly slower pace on the Chinese side. Emerging from the covered bridge, it felt as if a giant stereo turntable had been stepped down from 78 r.p.m. to 16 r.p.m. Not only was the pace different, but also the sights, smells and sounds. The Shenzhen River was not very wide, as rivers go, but crossing it at that point brought you into a very different world.

From the windows of the train station complex on the Chinese side one gazed out at a sleepy farming community, one corner of a People’s Commune, with wallowing water buffalo, ducks dotting mulberry tree-lined fish ponds, rice paddies, and low brick buildings. This hamlet was the forerunner of Shenzhen, although it wouldn’t be named Shenzhen for another five years or so. This was Bao An.

The advertising billboards near the Hong Kong side of the border were replaced by political billboards on the mainland side, with messages like “We have friends all over the world”, “In agriculture, learn from Dazhai”, “Dig tunnels deep, store grain everywhere,” “Long live Chairman Mao”, ” Serve the people”, etc.

There were many forms to be filled out. The tempo of inbound customs and immigration formalities was slow, but the reward was a sumptuous 12-course Chinese banquet served to all foreign guests within the cavernous low-rise train station complex. After lunch there was time to relax in a room filled with plush antimacassar-backed armchairs with spittoons at their base, beneath a huge Chinese landscape painting captioned “The welcoming guests’ pine tree.” Light blue enamel ceiling fans whooshed lazily overhead.

The spittoons, long since disappeared, were a unique feature of the design motif of meeting rooms. The standard spittoon had a white enamel finish with a stripe of bright red trim around its mouth and a cheery blue floral pattern circling its bulbous midriff. They were the bass note in the triumvirate of receptacles which awaited visitors in every conference room: spittoons, porcelain-lidded tea cups, and ashtrays. Local cigarettes featured copious quantities of red in their packaging, with brand names like Worker-Peasant (工农), Red Lantern (红灯), Bumper Harvest (丰收), Unite (团结), Glorious (光荣), Great Production (大生产), Great Leap (飞跃), Hero (勇士), Red Flag (红旗), and Labor (劳动).

那个时代的香烟商标 / Cigarette brands of the era

午餐和休息过后(午睡期间一切活动暂停),就该乘火车去广州了。车程大约需要两个半小时,乘客到站时差不多就是下午三、四点钟了。车窗外满眼都是农村景象:不见公路和高楼,没有工厂,机动车也寥寥无几。

(未完,下周待续……)

After lunch and the rest break (everything ground to a halt during mid-day nap time), came the 2 ½ hour train trip to Guangzhou, which delivered passengers there between 3 and 4 pm. The view from the train windows was overwhelmingly agricultural: no paved roads or high-rise buildings, virtually no factories, and few mechanized vehicles.

(to be continued next week…)


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