十一小时的车程(上) / The Eleven-Hour Drive–Part One



中国最早的广告牌之一,位于广州白云机场附近 / One of China’s first advertising billboards , near Baiyun Airport

十一小时的车程(上)

1979年5月,我参加了第45届广交会。展会期间,我出席了香港美国商会会员公司与多家中国对口单位之间的几次贸易和商务会谈。

与一、两年前相比,中国当时呈现出的巨变势头愈加明显。

长期遭禁的广告牌在广州各个重要地段如雨后春笋般地大量涌现,这些广告最早宣传的是外国银行、洋酒和化妆品。像《人民画报》之类的官方期刊也紧随潮流,爆出了整版彩色广告收费25,000美元的天价。

其实,早在1979年以前,一些变化的迹象就已经初露端倪。1978年秋季广交会期间,东方宾馆新楼的大堂里突然冒出了中国第一个汉堡热狗摊——热狗1元/个(按当时汇率合0.64美元),汉堡4元/个(合2.60美元)。据说这也是中国第一个可以花钱喝到咖啡的地方。但是,由于这些变化本身具有试验的性质,所以这个快餐摊“先驱”只维持了六个月左右的时间,就在1979年春季广交会开幕之际消失了,而且没有给出任何解释。

当时,诸如补偿贸易等新的业务模式刚刚获得批准,形成了向外资开放的第一个阶段。美国银行争先恐后地与中国银行建立关系,特别是在当年年初中美关系实现正常化之后,他们的热情尤为高涨。

变化之风席卷而来。如火如荼的南中国海大规模油田勘探搅热了香港地产价格。人们的期望值一路飙升。广交会上,大企业的重量级人物、皮包公司的淘金客、坑蒙拐骗的高手纷至沓来。

The Eleven-Hour Drive– Part One

In May, 1979, I attended the 45th Canton Trade Fair. During the Fair, I joined some meetings between members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and various Chinese counterpart organizations to discuss trade and business issues.

Compared with just a year or two earlier, big changes were clearly gaining momentum in China.

Advertising billboards, long taboo, had sprung up at various strategic locations around Guangzhou, initially promoting foreign banks, booze, and cosmetics. Official periodicals such as “Peoples’ Pictorial” also jumped on the new advertising bandwagon, offering one page full color ads for the princely sum of US$25,000.

Some signs of change had begun prior to 1979. At the Fall, 1978 Trade Fair, the Dongfang Hotel’s new wing lobby suddenly sprouted China’s first hamburger and hot dog stand –RMB 1.00 (US$0.64 at prevailing rate of exchange) for a hot dog; RMB 4.00 (US$2.60) for a hamburger. It was arguably also the first place in China you could buy a cup of coffee. Underlining the experimental nature of these changes, however, this pioneering fast food venture lasted only six months or so. It disappeared without explanation by the time the Spring, 1979 Fair opened.

New forms of business such as compensation trade were now permitted, as a part of the first stage of opening to foreign investment. American banks were jostling for position in establishing relations with the Bank of China, especially in the wake of the normalization of US-China relations earlier that year.

Change was in the air. A massive search for offshore oil was underway in the South China Sea, sending Hong Kong real estate prices into the stratosphere. Expectations were sky-high. Trade Fair visitors included big corporate heavyweights as well as carpetbaggers and scam artists.



我们搭乘的汽车轮渡之一 / One of the two car ferries which we took

1979年春季广交会临近结束时,广东省外贸局盛情邀请美国商会的参展团访问沿海新建的一个外贸区。当时人们对那儿的情况一无所知,只知道它名叫“宝安外贸基地”,听起来颇有些军事化的味道。

此次参观的计划是从广州乘车前往新建的贸易区——这也是中国的第一个贸易区——进行参观,然后听取介绍,当晚下榻于当地的宾馆,第二天再返回香港。

听起来这像是一次有趣的探险,于是我和美国商会的其他七、八名成员都报了名。我们觉得自己将是第一批到这个新贸易区参观的外国或中国商业团体。

一大早,我们分乘两辆汽车从东方宾馆出发。美国商会的会长、也是美国一家大银行的负责人乘的是小轿车,而我们剩下的人则坐上一辆日本小面包。广州地处亚热带地区,即使是清晨,天气已然十分炎热和潮湿。

我们估计,到宝安外贸区的直线路程大概有80英里。但我们没有预料到,由于路况原始,几处过河地点缺少桥梁,车子又出了机械故障,再加上沿途出现的许多意外耽搁,这80英里的路程会花上我们11个钟头的时间!

不过,当我们从广州出发的时候,对于整个旅程还是感到相当激动和向往的。大家情绪十分高涨,纷纷往相机里装好了柯达胶卷,笔记本也已经准备停当。

Towards the end of that Spring, 1979 Fair, the Guangdong Foreign Trade Bureau kindly extended an invitation to the Amcham group to visit a newly formed foreign trade zone along the coast. Little was known about the place at that time. It was referred to as the Bao-an Foreign Trade Base, a name which had a quasi-military flavor to it.

The plan was to drive to this new trade zone – China’s first — from Guangzhou, then tour the area, listen to briefings, spend the night in a local hotel, and return to Hong Kong the following day.

It sounded like an interesting adventure, so I signed up, along with 7-8 other Amcham members. We were under the impression that we would be among the first foreign or Chinese business delegations to visit the new trade zone.

We set off from the Dongfang Hotel early one morning in two vehicles: a sedan for the Amcham President, who was the head of a big American bank, and a Japanese minibus for the rest of us. Even in the early morning hours, the spring weather in subtropical Guangzhou was hot and steamy.

We reckoned that our road trip to the Bao An Foreign Trade Zone would take us a distance of about 80 miles as the crow flies. Little did we know that due to the primitive state of the roads, the absence of bridges at several key river crossings, mechanical failures and various unforeseen delays along the way, the 80-mile drive would take us 11 hours.

Still, as we set out from Guangzhou, the whole trip had an air of excitement and exploration about it. Spirits were high, cameras loaded with Kodachrome, notebooks at the ready.


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