Day 13. Nanjing-Shanghai-Melb. Thurs 1st Nov.
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My last day. I woke up feeling sad – really sad to be leaving. I put on my MP3 player, Checked out, Got a $3 taxi to the fast train station, asked for help, got it, SMS’ed yesterday’s company rep to let her know I was on the train (yes of course she booked the ticket for me), hurtled at 300km/h through the heavily polluted Jiangsu countryside into Shanghai once more, went to the tourist area to finish shopping for the obligatory souvenirs, got them all, and then by 1pm just… went and got as lost as possible again.
It was a good day. I saw some chickens living beside a busy freeway in a heavily built up area with apparently no owners around. I ate one of the best dumpling meals in one of the coolest alley’s I’d yet seen. I took lots of photos for other tourists (mostly Chinese tourists in the big city). I sat and watched the World go by. But I really was sad the whole time – which reminded me very strongly just how much this trip had meant to me.
With two hours till I needed to find my way to the airport I asked a lady with a Versace bag “I unfortunately only have two hours till I have to leave China. Could you suggest something to do in that time?” She thought for a minute and said “Bund?” No, been there. “Market?” Sorry, had plenty. “Dumplings?” I’m still full from the last! “Massage?” Ah! Yes – I hadn’t yet had a Chinese massage. Perfect. I asked her for a recommendation and she wrote something on a card in Mandarin characters, and under in English “Green-Massage”. Even the name was perfect. She said I’d need a taxi as it was 15 minutes away and hailed one for me as I thanked her, and jumped in.
15 minutes later I was in front of a very expensive looking building squeezed between Dior and Chanel stores. Uh-oh, I thought as I realized the lady's Versace bag wasn’t a copy. I wheeled my old half-broken suitcase inside and approached the beautiful and impeccably dressed staff in my barely-clean traveling clothes. They were unfazed and gestured towards the services book. The prices started at about AUD$150 for two hours of all kinds of stone and aromatherapy treatments - WAY over my meager budget. I was thinking about just straight out apologizing and bolting out when I came to the last page. “Traditional Chinese Massage. 45 minutes - $150RMB” which was… About AUD$25! I quickly paid up and before I knew it was walking through the dimly-lit and very serene complex to a change room to get changed into silk robes before a massive Chinese man appeared with a smile (and no English) and showed me to a room where he violently massaged all my aches and pains away before saying a simple “Done”. I was done.
I changed out of the silks back into my cargo pants and t-shirt and stepped out into the blinding afternoon sunset feeling very loose and nimble. It was time to get to the airport.
Ninety minutes later I was at Gate 13 looking mournfully though massive glass walls into the night at a Qantas jet getting ready for passengers to board. My amazing and wonderful Chinese Solar Energy Storage trip was over.
I looked back over the past two weeks and reflected on what I had learned, and here is an attempt to put that into point-form:
• China at the high end is producing truly World-class products, and nobody in the World I know realizes this.
• China still has many many problems to overcome before living standards truly approach what Australians take for granted.
• China will make any products that purchasers want – and the market still wants the bottom end (from China), so the quality of Chinese products that we see in Australia is mainly consumer driven.
• China is intensely proud of its history and culture, but is also increasingly aware and proud of its growing importance in the modern World.
• Chinese workers are well aware of their poor wages and living standards, but (appear to) accept these as necessary drivers of business from Western clients. This was the hardest thing for me to learn in person.
• China’s pollution levels are truly terrifying. All Chinese people know this, which is driving growing demands for improved environmental policies, including addressing climate change.
• The Chinese people are genuinely the nicest and most welcoming I have ever met.
• The Chinese solar industry is at the beginning of a collapse brought on by being locked out of the US and EU markets, and is collectively desperate for clients in “friendly” markets like Australia.
• Most Chinese solar companies are not well informed about the quickly changing state of solar rebates, Feed-in Tariffs, and therefore the market in Australia – and are appreciative of any information.
• Many Chinese I met in the solar industry can’t believe that Australia doesn’t put more of an effort into using our huge renewable energy resources that are available. Why do we insist on using an outdated centralized grid of fossil fuel generators when our sparsely populated land would be ideal for a more decentralized renewable energy system? Good question.
• China has already overtaken Australia in technology and services in many ways - such as the rail system.
• Until China can clear its own pollution across the vast populated areas, its own solar installations will only be possible in the far western provinces.
• China views Australia as being a golden market for small systems but non-existent of mid and large scale systems. Of course this is changing as mentioned above.
• Anyone wanting to do business in China needs to VISIT IN PERSON. Chinese people and companies really do value personal connections.
I am now in Australia and feel my two weeks in China were among the best in my life. I have learned so much and made so many great new friends and contacts. I’m very confident of being able to bring high quality solar components into the Australian market and see Chinese solar as a vital way for Australia to switch from a fossil fuel economy to clean energy. Australia has much to value-add such as design, civil and construction, installation and maintenance - but perhaps the most valuable asset I now realize that Australia has is vast amount of pollution-free and high quality sunlight, and enough wealth as a nation to install and harness that energy – if we choose to.
Ironically this reminds me of the title of Australia as a “quarry island”, but now not only for iron-ore, coal, or other mined goods. This time the asset ripe to be mined is our sunshine, and as an extension to this – our vast wind, wave, tide, and geothermal reserves as well.
This future is as exciting as it is clean and carbon-free and I strongly feel it is up to people exactly like me (and you) to do whatever we can to make it happen. I’m inspired!
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