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Changsha: The capital of Hunan for a reason

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By Talibeh Hydara
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A few days ago, I was explaining to someone in China that “province” in my country means rural areas. These are communities deprived of the most basic social amenities; water, electricity, roads and higher education. If you want to enjoy any of these, you would have to migrate to the cities. My village is at least 100 years old but we still don’t have electricity and it is just 5km from the highway and not more than 70km from the biggest cosmopolitan, Brikama. We’re still in darkness. The villagers charge their phones using solar panels that generate little power or watch television with a generator. People in the cities use such generators as standby, in case there are power cuts. In our village, it is not a standby, it is our main source of power. That is province in The Gambia. That’s what I expected to find in Hunan Province. However, I was shocked to see that Hunan is as developed as Beijing. China has managed to decentralise development and that should be a lesson for governments like mine, whose main focus is to promote growth in the cities while provincial settlements slum in pitch-black nights.  

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I welcome you to Changsha, the capital of Hunan, a city that has impressed me more than Beijing. This is an inspiring place for any visionary person to visit. There’s everything; cutting-edge technology, cultural heritages and delicious food. It is not far from Yueyang, our first hosts and only two-and-a-half drive away. Changsha is like a work of art. Immaculate green trees, colourful flowers, futuristic skyscrapers and beautiful bridges and lakes. It’s like standing in front of a Picasso painting.  

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We visited Malan Mountain, a digital industrial park which has taken innovation to a whole new level. Malan promotes high tech; AI, 5G, big data, etc., to make life easier for people through cultural creation, production and dissemination. With its average age at 26.5, Malan Mountain is also a hub for young people to grow and make difference. This shows China’s efforts in putting youths at the center of its development objectives. Opportunities are hardly given to young people in Africa as all the key positions in both governments and private sectors are held by those who have been alive since the time of Aristotle. African leaders tell us we are the future. The future never arrives in Africa. It’s a trap.

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We also visited Kilimall, an e-commerce company that has been importing African products. This is significant because the products I saw there; coffee, pepper, moringa plant, herbs, are abundant in Africa. It is a huge opportunity for African countries to introduce our materials to Chinese consumers. This will be key in the China-Africa trade activities which is significantly growing. African governments need to maximise the continent’s potentials. China is importing moringa plants. We use the moringa tree for firewood. Imagine the disaster we are cooking because we would eventually finish burning the trees and then we will be forced to buy products made of the same trees at a high cost. 

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The place that left my mouth open for an hour was Broad Group, a high-tech company that develops products with stainless steel. The Holon building for example, is a 11-storey which was built within 29hrs. That’s quite ingenious! The building can be bought and transported anywhere in the world with a thousand-year lifespan. This is a game-changer in construction and transportation. In my country, buildings rarely survive a decade. If the corrugate doesn’t leak in a year, it corrodes in a few months.  But with the right structures and foundations, the Broad Group stainless steel building has the potential to be passed down to generations in perfect condition. People like me can struggle all our life to buy the house and then pass it to our children without them needing to buy a new house in the future. The truth is, I cannot afford that house in a million years. The only thing my children will inherit is poverty because that is all I inherited. It is our family inheritance so they must have it too. Broad Group also provides factory-made stainless steel bridges and non-electric air-conditioning.   

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We also visited Tongguanhao, a rural settlement being revitalised after it was abandoned. Beautifully decorated in a spotless valley, the small village has restored its glory and visitors book the place for rest and leisure. It is a strategic way to maintain relevance of places even though there might be less people. I even got to see an ostrich, a bird I haven’t seen in a long time. China calls that place a village. It has all the features of a village though; ducks in ponds, cattle grazing in farms, fishing, tight roads, and peaks. But I can tell you for a fact that it is more beautiful than our capital. In the same outskirts, we visited Tongguan Kiln, a porcelain museum housing ceramics dating back to over a thousand years from the period of the Tang to the five dynasties. The museum protects cultural relics and it has been pioneering the art of Chinese ceramic decoration. From Zoomlion to the embroidery, Changsha represents China in its entirety; culture, heritage and high-tech.  

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I knew a bit about the Orange Island before I visited Changsha. Of course, Chairman Mao was born in Hunan Province and the young Zedong sculpture on the island is something to behold. The island is located in the thousand-mile Xiang River, littered with wonderful oranges and tangerines. It’s a Saturday and the island was full to the brim. Families, kids, lovers, colleagues spread around like grains, each marvelling at the great man watching over China.  Zedong died in 1976 but I can assure you he’s alive and well in that sculpture, taking millions of selfies each year with different people. According to records, the statue is 83 metres long, symbolising Mao’s age at his death, 41m wide, symbolising the number of years he led the Chinese Communist Party from the Zunyi Conference to his death, and 32m high, representing Mao’s age when he wrote his poem: SPRING IN A PLEASURE GARDEN, dedicated to Changsha city. From riding in a shuttle to walking around the sculpture, I felt what the Chinese people feel about Zedong. He set the country on the path to revolutionary development, a kind of visionary and selfless leadership in short supply in African countries. 

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Hunan is an amazing place that feels like home. The foods are delicious, spicy and never finish. They just kept bringing us food and I just kept eating. The Huogongdian temple restaurant charmed me. I’ve never eaten so many different foods on the spot like I had.

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Changsha has enough food to feed the whole of Africa; pure and tasteful, with a welcoming population. I stood next to the bronze statue of Chairman Mao at the Huogongdian temple taking pictures with the locals. Like I always say, when a guest feels welcomed, they show their teeth and Hunan has been an amazing experience so far.

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There are so many things to write about Changsha. I feel like I can write a book. Aside from the cuisine, there is a vibrant nightlife and blinding illumination. Music, dance, performances, pictures and street food dominate nights in Changsha. The city doesn’t sleep and how the buildings illuminate at night is mesmerising. Saturday was punctuated with a boat trip that left me re-energised. I belong in Changsha. Chenzhou, here I come!

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