So our bus had a break-down on the way to Shunyi District. That was new. It never happened to us before. The drivers and the buses have been as reliable as a clockwork. Park in front of Building Number 4 and swallow us to whatever destination on the day’s schedule. This time, unlike many other times when we took the lead, the other bus was ahead. I don’t think we even left Chaoyang yet and the bus started speaking a different language. Despite the driver’s best efforts, it ground to a halt in the middle of rush-hour Beijing streets. We were all surprised. Few minutes later, the driver managed to start the engine again and we were back on the road. But running without changing the gear meant even bikes were overtaking us and if we had continued with that snail’s speed, Shunyi, as close as it is, we would have reached there next week. The other bus had already sped away and the only option was to change ours at the nearest stop. The assistants assured us not to worry. I laughed my ribs out. We are from Africa. The only time we get worried in a vehicle is when the driver is veering toward both sides of the road at break-neck speed and hitting edges. This bus was so steady that we could have alighted and pushed it back to DRC. We swapped buses at the garage and smoothly resumed our journey to Shunyi District, a critical air gateway and window of external exchanges for the capital, Beijing.
Leshi heritage restoration
I love history, so anything that is even remotely related to history intrigues me. If I step into a heritage mosque, church or temple, I feel connected to the forefathers in ways I cannot describe.
The National Base for the International Culture Trade has a warehouse of treasures preserved for thousands of years. Leshi restoration center boasts of paintings, sculptures and inventive ancient architecture in both stone and wood, tracing the history of Buddhism in China. The treasure house protects heritage through digital technology with every piece of information; carved, painted or sculptured, also equally digitalised to maintain originality and longevity. It is the throat of heritage centres in China; underlining its importance to preserving history, something remarkably consistent throughout the country.
The handiworks traced back to 366 BC when a Buddhist monk saw a shine of ‘Thousand Buddhas’ on the mountaintop during his journey along the Great Silk Road. The monk took this vision as a sign and went to the mountain, cutting through a first cave, where he spent a long time in meditation and prayer. Buddhist monks have since visited the place and across China, building caves for meditation and spreading the religion to Chinese civilisation. I found all kinds of gods in the relic centre, especially in the Meditation Room, which is visited by maximum four monks a time. I saw the Buddhist nāga, a deity that has a human head and snake body. I saw the Mahākāla, a deity with six arms and ultimate destructive power. The god of battle and Ganesha with his legendary elephant head.
The collection in the warehouse inspires humility and faith. The Monalisa of the East, created during the Beiwei Dynasty from 386-534 BC. The Sakyamuni portrait, the founder of Buddhism. It was portrayed during the prosperous years of the Tang dynasty between 713-755. Sakyamuni wears a green robe on the inside and the kāṣāya on the outside, peacefully sitting on the lotus flower. The sculpture portrays kindness and peace, slightly glancing down, left hand resting on his left knee and his right-hand suspending mid-air with his palm open towards the sky. He represents divinity and solemnity!
In good company was the standing Bodhisattva, immortalised from the Tang Dynasty. Tall and slim, an immaculate S-structure, the sculpture depicts life and vividity and the aesthetic ingenuity of the Tang dynasty. The other Bodhisattva, sitting on the lotus flower with the right leg crossed, lost in his thought and simply unbothered by the vanities of the world. Bonded hair, green eyebrows and a staggering physique, the Bodhisattva is a terrific portrait encompassing beauty and divinity.
The Shami carving, also done during the prosperous years of the Beiwei Dynasty, is an original 9-centimentre sculpture depicting a child, sort of, about to become a monk. A contagious smile on his face, the Shami sculpture is a classic symbol of the dynasty handiwork, inspired by an apprentice who could not hide his pleasure in assuming monkhood. History must be protected and the treasure warehouse is extraordinarily ensuring heritage protection with technology.
China-Germany industrial park
Deviating from heritage to business, we also visited China-Germany Industrial Park, a national-level cooperation project between the two countries, with key industries in the park including new energy intelligent vehicles, the intelligent equipment and industrial internet sector, scientific and technological services, business exhibition and the digital economy. The industrial park prioritizes new-energy intelligent automobiles, intelligent equipment and digital economy as well as advanced manufacturing services to support industrial development. More than 90 Germany-funded enterprises, represented by Benz, BMW, Ameco, Bosch, and Wilo, now operate in the Industrial Park, contributing an annual output of 35 billion yuan. In the same high-tech park located China-Germany Plaza, which mainly accommodates German hidden champions and small and medium-sized enterprises, advanced manufacturing service providers, business associations and attracts global leading innovative and industrial talents. Bosch Group, a Global 500 company, is also housed in the park. Founded by Robert Bosch, the multinational and engineering company has established presence in automobiles and intelligent transport technologies, industrial technologies, consumer goods, energy and architectural technologies. It is a top manufacturer of automobile components globally; and one of the originators of German Industry 4.0.
Niulanshan distillery, a liquor company, was established in October 1952. Before that, China has had a legendary history with alcohol, becoming one of the first countries to make wine at least 9000 years ago, as evidenced in the variety of alcoholic beverages featured prominently in the earliest writings of the Shang dynasty over 3000 years ago. A Muslim man, fasting in the last ten days of Ramadan visiting a liquor company, yes, that was tricky. Niulanshan distillery has the biggest production capacity in the world, with 800 different products and two major flavours distributed across China and exported mainly to the United States and South Korea. We first went to the exhibition hall with over 300 special collections from 50 distilleries across 28 regions in China. There were all kinds of liquor brands; even those that look like nothing. I toured the company, learning the 16 processes in liquor-making and appreciated the uniqueness of Chinese wine, especially the Erguotou, a light-aroma baijiu made from sorghum.
I watched, step-by-step, how liquor is made, from a grain of sorghum sprouting from the ground in East Africa to a drop of wine in China, there is poetry and art in Chinese liquor-making. No wonder Li Bai loved drinking and his name appeared in the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup. The Niunlanshan distillery generated 10 billion yuan in 2021 and is on the cusp of extending reach to other markets. The liquor-making process was comprehensively explained. I feel like I can start my own wine-making business and be the next Habib Karam. The truth is, I cannot drink alcohol. I don’t like it. I know it is not accepted in my religion but I still wouldn’t drink even if it were allowed. I always want to be in control of my mind; of my sanity. I am not willing to give that up for a fleeting moment of euphoria. It is time to taste Chinese liquor. It was poured into small cups and distributed among us. It wasn’t entirely ready for consumption though, so it would taste different. Some took the cup as far as their nose and gave up. Some drank half, others full while some wine connoisseurs imbibed seven cups. As for me, I didn’t need to drink it to get drunk. The tour around alcohol alone got me drunk.
The last place we visited was the most beautiful. Alcohol and flowers give different vibes. So the visit to the Beijing flower port was needed, having been intoxicated by liquor. There was first a lesson on the anatomy of butterflies, a category of insects that came into existence 145 million years ago, almost at the same time dinosaurs roamed the earth. As beautiful as they are, butterflies don’t live long, with the oldest hardly crossing 90 days. I learned that butterflies have colour taste, perseverance, sense of motherhood, big heart, and team players. Qualities that made me want to become a butterfly but the short lifespan is a turn-off.
Beijing international flower port is a high-tech agricultural industrial park, integrating landscape with ecology and flowers. The flower port is just exquisite. I fell in love with a queen there. The port has 100 different tulips, with stunning deep pink stripes and mottled colours. It is spring and the port is littered with bloom. I met the queen of the night. Its meaning is to enjoy the small temporary moments. It is the most beautiful of the lot, with dark maroon petals that appear black. I enjoyed the view, so I proposed to the queen. The flaming kiss tulips sparked the park, displaying breath-taking mottled, striped petals in vibrant shades of red and pink on white. A visit to that flower port increases your lifespan.
The Shunyi visit is arguably the most diverse I have experienced so far. From a cultural base, which houses thousands of years of treasures perfectly preserved; the China-Germany industrial park, which focuses on economic and technological cooperation; the liquor company, which has the largest production capacity in the world; to the flower port, which has at least a hundred different stunning tulip flowers, displaying one of the most beautiful sceneries ever. Shunyi District represents China’s holistic development. The country is moving at a fast pace in all areas; economy, environment, technology and heritage.