Rather than fly directly to Fremantle’s newest friendship city in China, I decided to catch a train most the way through China. Below are some reflections on an extraordinary train trip.
China – a land of unfinished futures
Travelling through China is like riding through a land of unfinished futures. A nation changing and modernising more rapidly than any nation in history
Perhaps there is no better way to appreciate the unprecedented changes going on in China and watch the future unfold than through a long train ride the length China. In this case it is the 24 hour journey from Hong Kong in the South to Beijing in the North.
I boarded the train in Hong Kong – once again part of China but still very different. A Bladerunner landscape, a vertical city of unprecedented proportions. A place whose population intensity is often mind boggling for the Australian psyche used to our flat urban landscapes. Its population density is rarely matched anywhere else in the world and it keeps growing as apartment buildings reach new heights. 6400 people per sq km compared to 300 odd in Perth.
All of this is coated in the sparkle of endless shops and neon lights. As you leave Hong Kong and travel North and into mainland this glitz starts to fade but not before you pass through the mainland city of Shenzhen with the biggest glitziest entirely gold skyscraper I have ever seen. It is a less than subtle monument to the new prosperity of the world’s second biggest economy.
As you gaze out the window an astonishing theme starts to emerge. One minute you are gazing over green fields and orchards and forests of eucalyptus. Then out of nowhere a nameless half built city emerges from the green fields of rice and corn.
Huge, grey, partially-completed skyscrapers under construction everywhere. Uncountable, anonymous and unpainted– topped by cranes and covered in bamboo scaffolding.
Along with them huge unfinished freeway interchanges, train stations the size of football stadiums and factories the size of small Perth suburbs. You can’t help but wonder why a huge city is emerging here in what otherwise appears to be an unremarkable place.
This new city, seemingly built from scratch, that will soon be home to millions of people moving from west to east as part of the biggest, most rapid process of urbanisation the world has ever seen.
It is hard not to marvel at these structures emerging from the countryside but as you head further north it rapidly becomes apparent that this amazing nameless city is not unique but a rapidly emerging norm for an increasing majority in China’s 1.4 billion people. As the kilometres of comfortable train travel pass, the green and rural China of forest, river trees and fields is increasingly punctuated by more and more of these new mega cities. Most not yet occupied, all half built, all with taller buildings than almost anything we have in WA.
From the narrow strip of China you can see through window of the train you can see as the hours click by the hundreds if not thousands of high-rise buildings spouting from the otherwise flat earth.
It is interesting to think how connected WA and our mining boom is to this China building and development boom. There is a little of the Pilbarra scattered all over the China countryside in the steel that holds the skyscrapers and freeways together.
There is of course a dark side of China’s growing development and prosperity. As you head North the growing pollution that makes blue sky permanently a dull shade of brown/ grey is everywhere. It is like there is a permanent fire smoke across the whole country.
The China century has become a cliché – as has China and the WA boom. But from the window of T98 HK to Beijing it becomes very real and very powerful moving picture of the unfinished future of the world’s most populous nation and the major role WA is playing.
It is like watching modernity half-built on a scale never before seen in human history. In many ways it is not only train ride across China but also a ride that gives you a very powerful glimpse into the 21st century and its very Asian future.