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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Haidian District: The heart and cradle of China’s future

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By Talibeh Hydara

It wouldn’t be out of place to say that China’s future is already sorted. That it will soon be belatedly categorised as a ‘developed’ country. Education, science and technology, tourism and culture, all play significant roles in advancing a country. As far as these are concerned, China might be in a league of its own and one particular district hugely credited for this is Haidian. Strategically located in northwestern Beijing, Haidian is the Mecca of education and technology. There are sixteen districts in Beijing. I have been to Pinggu, Shijingshan and now Haidian. But there is rarely any place that embodies a country’s education, science and technology as much as Haidian does China’s. A little over three million people, Haidian is like the Cambridge of China, being home to Ivy League universities like Pekingand Tsinghua and 25 other institutions of higher education.


Haidian also has 99 national-level research institutions, 23 national engineering research centers and 50 national key laboratories with nearly 200,000 students graduating from colleges and universities across the district every year.

According to records, human activities near Haidian date back to 5000 years ago and the word ‘Haidian’ first appeared in books over 700 years ago. It’s home to royal gardens since the Liao, Jin and Qing dynasties with historical relics like the “Three Hills and Five Gardens”. The districts I visited so far have all shown not only China’s prowess in science and technology but also its admirable preservation of history and culture. In this world of advanced science and technology, not many countries can boast of equally persevering its culture as much as China can. Haidian alone is home to nearly 700 historical relics, 300 libraries and museums, over 100 theaters and top-class cultural and art institutions. Now, let’s pause for a moment and discuss my country: The Gambia.

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Yes, we’re small. Smaller than most of us realise. But many small countries in the world considered their size an advantage and quickly developed. We still continue to consider our size a disadvantage. A small size means, with a serious and visionary leadership, you will leave behind bigger countries in terms of development. Let’s see if you will believe this: The Gambia has just one national university; one theatre; one college; one national library; and one museum smaller than my room at DRC. Historical documentation revealed that about 5,000 slaves a year were shipped to the Americas from The Gambia during the 17th and 18th centuries, taken to the mines of Mexico and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean. That’s at least a million Gambians in 200 years. No wonder our population is small. But surely, we could have a bigger museum and preserve that history, instead of trying to forget or erase what happened.  There should be a massive research and data collection; bigger and more museums built to honour that history. A history that not only humiliated and violated our humanity but also depopulated us so we can inspire generations to cherish their past and work for the future. Enough about my country, let’s talk about Haidian!

Broken bones? No problem for Naton


When I was a kid in Foñi, in the West Coast Region of The Gambia, there were dozens of traditional bone-setters in the community, most of who were known across the region and beyond. In fact, there is hardly anyone in my age group who didn’t break their leg, hand or had a joint displacement of sort; knee, hip, ankle, wrist and more. We were just breaking our bones and displacing our joints for fun because of football, karate and climbing trees. But because we had really good traditional bone-setters, a lot of us are lucky to still have our physical structures intact. That changed, however, when the bone healers died and the knowledge wasn’t entirely and accurately handed down to the next generation. Now if you break your leg or your hand, best case scenario is that you might escape being totally crippled but there will be significant changes in your movement because the bone wouldn’t be properly set by whoever claims to have the knowledge. Traditional bone-setting is almost dead in The Gambia and we haven’t made major investments in orthopaedics either. We are dearly paying that price because we have not been handling fracture care well and more and more people get crippled as a result of a fracture that could have been fixed in a matter of hours had we invested in orthopaedics. I must state, however, the excellent work that Dr Kebba Marenah and his team continue to do. He is The Gambia’s first orthopaedic surgeon and I don’t think we have more than three throughout the country. Just imagine, after 58 years of independence, we don’t have more than three orthopaedic surgeons in a population of over 2 million people. No wonder some of us walk like chameleons when we recover from any kind of fracture. This is a tragedy beyond measure! We had our first knee replacement surgery in 2021 and it was done by Dr Marenah, bravo!

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It is helpful for a country to identify priority areas and invest in them. It baffles me that The Gambia still hasn’t capitalised on the fountain of knowledge and technology currently at China’s disposal, including Traditional Chinese Medicine. For orthopaedics, there is no better place than Naton Medical Group in Haidian. Naton Medical Group was established in 1996 but has since expanded with at least 19 subsidiaries across the world. It is one of the leading companies providing cutting-edge orthopaedics solutions.


In the past two decades, Naton provided metallic implants covering dental, joint, trauma, and spinal, sports medicine, etc. Whatever happens to your bone or joint, even if it breaks into smithereens, it is not a problem for Naton. If it cannot be fixed, it can just be replaced. Not only that, the company has different equipment to facilitate your physiotherapy after the surgery. We can learn a thing or two from Naton Medical Group and invest in orthopaedics for posterity so that we at least increase the number of ortho surgeons in The Gambia. We owe that to the next generation!       

Autonomous driving? Yes please


I have said this so many times that it feels embarrassing now: I cannot drive, at least not the manual. I hate the manual. The thought of having to switch from pressing down the clutch to moving the gear stick just makes me give up. It doesn’t have to be that difficult. I know, that’s probably the most inexcusable reason for my inability to drive.  I just use it to console myself. The excusable one, however, is that I don’t have a car. When I do, if I do, I will drive it even if it is as difficult as rocket engineering. But I found a better solution for my inability to drive at Pony.ai, a leading global autonomous driving technology company in Haidian. Technology intrigues and scares me at the same time but those robo-buses and taxis represent everything good about technology.


The company believes autonomous technology can make our roads exponentially safer for travelers and I felt safe in that vehicle as I could see everything outside from the inside tech screens; every human, every bike, every animal in clear pictures and motion. No driver, just someone sitting in front of the steering wheel doing other stuff. If you like put your hands in your pockets or play with your phone because you’re not the driver; you’re a passenger in a driver’s seat, for lack of a better expression.    


Founded in late 2016, Pony.ai is the highest-valued autonomous driving startup in China, having received a total investment of USD762 million from top investors such as Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital, Legend Capital, Morningside Venture Capital, ClearVue Partners, and Eight Roads Ventures.

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With such technology, I don’t need to learn how to drive if a machine can do that for me safer. I am happy to give up that part of my being. Hundreds of people die in road traffic accidents every year in The Gambia. Faulty cars, drunk drivers, careless driving, tight roads, etc all contribute to such high numbers but with such technology, autonomous driving is the future.   

China’s smartphone king


Technology is moving at a breakneck speed. As humans get lazier others get smarter and, in not-too-distant future, Artificial Intelligence would be the new human. It appears humans have told God, in very few words, that his creation is faulty and lazy and that they can do a better job. Hence, we now seek perfection. That’s why AI machines are gradually taking over. Humans have never been able to control God but, very soon enough, our own creation in Artificial Intelligence will control us. For now, let’s enjoy it as much as possible. Speaking of enjoying technology, there is no tech device that takes so much of my time than a smartphone. So, follow me, as I introduce you to Xiaomi, arguably the best smartphone producer in China. Ranked 3rd brand worldwide, Xiaomi is an electronics and smart manufacturing company, producing cutting-edge smartphones and smart hardware connected by an IoT (Internet of Things) platform.


Founded in 2010 by startup wizard Lei Jun, Xiaomi invaded the smartphone industry and is comfortable among the elite smartphone makers in the world. I got to see a variety of its top-tier smartphones, a transparent TV screen, a 98-inch flat screen and a smart house. You heard me right, a smart house. Humans are making things smarter than them.

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The Xiaomi smart house or home is a dream complex for any lazy person like me. The light, the television, the curtains, the appliances, are all connected to the lock. In the house, just a voice command is enough to set things up for a movie or to sleep. It’s like the Amazon Alexa, a voice-controlled virtual assistant.  Forget about the smart home, how about the cyberdog?


I got introduced to a robot dog for the first time. That is quite ingenious. The robot dog has bionic movement, interactive bionic visual and auditory experience. The dog can follow directions, recognize the owner, and even automatically follow the owner’s movement. I love dogs. The only animal I feel comfortable sharing my home with is a dog. The rest either get on my nerves or tempt me to eat them. This Xiaomi bionic dog is of course exclusive to China but that is one dog I would love to have in my house. Xiaomi is up there with best and its slogan of innovation for everyone can actually be a dog for everyone, including me. It was a good tour of the place and I even got to see the flying pig.

The Haidian trip was satisfying. I found out how much China has invested in higher education, science and technology and how much my country needs to refocus on such areas. Science and technology are the future and Haidian is the heartbeat of China’s future.   

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