The final stop on my whirlwind tour of China was Guangzhou (Canton). This is the epicenter of China's 'economic miracle' of the past couple of decades, originally being the only place that Westerners were allowed to trade with the People's Republic from. It is now the trading centre of the whole world, a place where almost everything we buy is sourced from - the collection of cities around Guangzhou, the Pearl River Delta, is incredibly populous and wealthy - home to more factories than anywhere else on the planet.
The highlight of the trip, apart from obviously visiting a school and a university and giving over 30 interviews with the local press, was a trip up the Canton Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world. The tower's claim to fame was that it is 'home to the world's highest bubble tram'... a ring of funny little pods that circle the outside of the building, giving you an incredible view of the futuristic city below.
Their local 'catchphrase' is "In Guangzhou we eat everything that flies, apart from airplanes. Everything that swims, apart from submarines. And, everything that crawls apart from cars." Being a vegetarian, this was, of course, music to my ears..
We actually ate very well and managed to avoid eating anything endangered.
Kids dressed as air-hostesses serving me tea at a college in Guangzhou.
When i've mentioned my trip to China over the past few days since I got home, i've been struck by people describing China as 'the future'. That is a total misconception. China is today.
Napoleon said "Let China sleep, for when she awakes, the world will tremble".
China produces more English-speaking university graduates than England, more engineers than Europe, has more than 200 cities of over 1m people and is building two 20,000-student universities.... A WEEK!
On an hour long high speed train journey (on a better train than anything i've traveled on in Europe - First Class was something along the lines of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class - not quite the soggy sandwich and two hour delays i'm used to back home) from Shanghai to Hangzhou, we saw thousands of cranes, dozens of motorways under construction and hundreds of thousands of new homes for people moving from the Chinese countryside to the cities to seek their fortunes. I can barely even describe the scale of things I saw in China.
I was blown away by the English skills of the students I met (at some events we didn't even need an interpreter). As we walked around the gigantic university campuses, I had a feeling there was something weird going on. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, it was something i'd never seen before... oh.. the students were READING BOOKS! And at 8pm at night, after ten hours of classes.
At a high school, we gave the kids a chance to pitch their own business ideas, 'Dragon's Den' style, not really expecting all that much to come from it. A 14 year old kid comes onto the stage holding a 4-prop helicopter than he had built himself (after telling me it was 'very dangerous', I let him set it off, flying up above the audience and getting a huge round of applause).
The local TV station asked what I thought of these kids and the world they find themselves entering into. I said, at least in terms of opportunity (leaving human rights, democracy and freedom of expression to one side), if I had the choice to be a 14 year old kid anywhere in the world, i'd choose China.
These kids grandparents generation probably scratched rice out of the ground under Mao, their parents generation maybe worked in factories and now they are soaking every last drop of education they can get their hand on - they work scarily hard - they're going to be running the world.
Why is China growing so fast? Why are they taking over the world?
Because they don't have Facebook.