Luke was a staff member of the International Affairs Department of the Software School of Xiamen University and a co-ordinator for Check-IT between 2009 and 2012. Many past students and resident teachers would be curious to know where his life has taken him since. I decided to pay him a visit to find out.
It’s the 3rd of October. The Republic of China has existed for 64 years. Most people have the day off, although the software park buildings remain open and, for a handful of companies fighting for a position in the market, it’s business as usual. This doesn’t apply to the Check-IT students, who have the day off, so it seems like a good opportunity to see how Luke is doing.
Luckily I still have his phone number somewhere. Luke lives in Xiamen, in an apartment provided by Prof. Fang, one of the founding supporters of Check-IT during its formative years. On Luke’s days off and during the weekends, he usually stays in Quanzhou where his girlfriend lives. So it’s off to Quanzhou for me, a place I had never heard of till now. At first I thought we were talking about Guangzhou, a city formerly known as Canton. But it isn’t Guangzhou and it’s not Zhangzhou either, which is another city altogether with more than a million inhabitants bordering on Xiamen. No, it’s Quanzhou, a city with a population of 10 million, 3 times the size of Xiamen and renowned in China for the industrial suburb of ShiShi with its gigantic clothing and footwear industry, and its massive trade in natural stone and stone products.
I’m travelling in the new fast train that has become part of the Chinese public transport system in recent years. Comfortable, lightning fast, spotlessly clean and with a timetable accurate down to the minute, it’s a huge contrast with the older dilapidated system still used in many parts of the country. China has become a world player in fast train technology and is competing effortlessly with the west in this area.
It’s ridiculously busy at the station, as if the whole of the country wants to jump aboard a train to somewhere or other. I’m beginning to wonder how I’m ever going to find the right one! There is a strangely serene sense to the chaos here though, despite the heaving masses. Every now and then I show my ticket to someone who looks like they might be able to point me in the right direction. There are enough of these caring souls around and before I know it I find myself in the right station hall where I am politely escorted to the correct platform for the right carriage and the right seat.
Before long I am zipping past high rise buildings, factory complexes, industrial wasteland and fields where Chinese workers toil away under their elegant sombreros. I’m as comfortable and as rested as I would have been in the train from Arnhem to Amsterdam. As we pull into a station with an undecipherable name an hour later the woman in the seat next to me makes it clear in no uncertain terms that I should stay in my seat. She continues to make sure I stay put each time the train brakes for a new station until we reach Quanzhou.
Upon arrival I find myself in a chaos similar to the one I left behind at Xiamen station. My cell phone rings and 15 metres away I see Luke standing there hunched over his mobile, peering around to see if he can spot me. It’s nice to meet up with him again after such a long time – it feels like it was only yesterday.
Luke is now an advisor with a government body that checks whether new constructions satisfy state regulations for clean and efficient energy. It’s a very good job and it fits perfectly with the course he followed at the University of Xiamen but he is still a Check-IT man at heart. He shows me around the suburb of ShiShi and the gigantic design park being constructed there. The project aspires to turn Quanzhou into a major player that can hold its own against Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in the design and fashion industry. It’s an awe-inspiring project and when I tentatively suggest to a site manager and a board of investors chairman that it looks as if it will be a couple of years before its finished they look at me as if I’m mad. It’s going to be ready on the 1st January – no question about it! This is an example of “Chinese time” and I’m thoroughly impressed.
Luke is barely able to conceal his pride, and it’s a pride that rivals his interest in Check-IT. We agree on the spot to organise a Check-IT reunion in November for participants who live, work, study and enjoy life in Xiamen.