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I arrived in Guangzhou in August 2003 from my hometown in South-East London knowing not much about the Chinese mainland except the Great Wall. My only other exposure to China was of Hong Kong, but of course nothing compares to the true authenticity of the mainland. What really fascinated me about China was the food and language. I am a keen linguist, and the Chinese scripture amazes me up to this day. It's amazing how people can read and understand a set of lines crossing each other on paper. It must be one of the world's most beautiful and polite languages.
The sudden culture shock and the contrasts between life in London and China could not have been more different for me. It was my first experience of being in a real Chinese city, and I immediately fell in love with this beautiful country. Why? I honestly cannot answer this question because when you fall in love with something it is very difficult to explain why you have fallen in love with something or someone except that you have! I suppose it was the attraction of the city's strong association with Chinese culture that really caught the twinkle of my eyes. China is a land of enormous opportunity and the people of the world need to realise that. China is where the world's future is, and this is where the money is. Countries such as the U.K. and U.S.A should be learning from the Chinese way of governing.
Dreams are what keep us going, alive and focused for the next ultimate adventure in life. Yes, sometimes I do wonder that I have been fortunate enough to do things that most people have not had the chance to do or experience. I have written two travel guidebooks to China, or even travelled extensively to over 40 countries, as well as being able to live in China as if I were a Chinese person. I am not all into those expat bars and expensive ways of living a grand life, despite being educated at Dulwich College, one of the best schools in the United Kingdom. I feel that the sheer hospitality of the Chinese people and the culture have made me become more Chinese.
Now, what I really want to do is to have my own bookshop in one of the beautiful cities of this country. Maybe I am going to give away a few ideas here to avid readers who are thinking of some entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, I am not afraid to share my China dream. There are bookshops in other cities of China, such as in Suzhou, and Shanghai. However they are not of the correct posh taste that would be classified for both Chinese and Western people. I want to have a bookshop that does not portray the ‘fake' Western look, and certainly not a bookshop that pretends or strives to blend in a bar cum library. Not at all. My Chinese bookshop would be my retirement dream similar to a classic bookshop that blends in something like a Chinese cum Parisian café.
I want to retire in this country and own a small bookshop full of Chinese and Western books, comics, and collectors newspapers from yesteryears. It would be the perfect way for me to enjoy my retirement because I will have lots of time to while away and read all day (something I don't have the luxury of doing now in my youth).
I do believe that in a city such as Beijing, as well as in the whole of China, there is a genuine need for classic bookshops that are aimed at the more classy readers who prefer to sit down, have a nice cup of coffee, and read a book. In fact, during my travels around the country much to my disappointment, there are not that many bookshops around the city.
Yes, there is the book city in almost every city in China I hear you say, but that is not a proper bookshop in my opinion. It's far too noisy, and far too crowded for my liking. My dream is to have a sweet minute shop that would house some of the rarest novels and fables available in this world. In the shop customers would be able to enjoy the luxury of sitting on fine mahogany while sipping away on either Gin & Tonic, or perhaps a cup of nice Jamaican Blue Coffee.
I am fully aware that China is a country that has millions of bookworms, though I mean that in a nice way without sounding too stereotypically negative of course. Therefore, it would be the perfect setting for a small bookshop to be situated in Shanghai's Xintiandi or Beijing's Solana Park. Who would resist reading a novel of CS Forester, or PG Wodehouse? An internationalist, I do believe that people should embrace languages, reading and different cultures into their daily lives, because after all we are part of one world, one race- and one dream.
Oh, and to put the cherry on the top of the cake, I would like to decorate my bookshop with a wallpaper that would have a collage consisting of photos of all my travels' around the world. On one side of the bookshop, I would also invite the most loyal of readers to pin their personal travel stories and photos. It would definitely be full of colour, and bring along a different flavour to the residents of China. My predictions are that by the time I retire, China already has become a booming and stable economy. Perhaps by that time, China would have thousands of these bookshops. Who knows?
Nevertheless, for me it would be a dream come true because at the bottom of my heart I will know that all those years ago in 2003 I arrived in a different country, not knowing?? what it would be when I retire and have my own bookshop. The feeling would easily eclipse anything else that would be present at that time, and it would bring along an undeniable feeling of success that would brush off any type of competition around me. After all, I would have nothing to lose, as I would finally be living my China dream.
Navjot Singh is a freelance journalist and photographer. Navjot is a published author of two travel guides to China, and is due to publish the 2nd edition of his ‘Newcomers Guide to China' in late 2012.