Hao’s Journey – the wanderings of a little red bird

By Ariel Fana’afi Ioane 18 July 2016, 12:00AM

It had been a long time since Hao had last stretched his wings. The little red bird bid farewell to the balmy, humid shores of Samoa and prepared for his long journey. His final destination was somewhere he had perched before.

His pattern of flight, dramatically changed - from sitting in a carefully wrapped collection of jewellery and mementoes from a trip to China, to the lapel of the jacket I wore as we – Hao and I - set out.  Hao is one of a set of brooches of little birds that my grandmother brought back when SHE went to China, no less than thirty years ago….Hao flew, and lit, in three different cities- Guangzhou, Beijing, and Shanghai (respectively) in China… land of sky rocketing achievements in modernization, yet at the same time, ancient and wise..holding firm to the civilization their ancestors established, centuries ago. 


was our first impression of China.  We met our guide Dana, who would faithfully stay with us during our entire trip and a local guide Daniel, a proud native of this fastest growing city. Once we hopped onto a big, spacious bus, we were welcomed warmly with a brief introduction of “Guangzhou- the Southern Gateway” to the rest of the world. 

Also known as “Canton” by the English- (hence the residents are called “Cantonese”), Guangzhou (though I had never knew of its existence before), was a pivotal location for China’s foreign trade due to its location near the South China Sea, making it accessible to Arabian, Asian, even Western countries for silk, porcelain, ivory carvings and tea trade….and the place where most of our own Samoan Chinese people came from, more than a hundred years ago, through the Germans who were in Samoa! 

Due to this long history of trading, in the 1980s the government decided to open up law Reform policies by dividing the province of Guangdong into zones to operate separately for better and faster development.

I’ll admit, it was very hard trying to focus on what Daniel was relaying to us, without turning my head to look at all the high-rises. Sky piercers surrounded me at every angle; so much so, that Hao and I felt extremely miniscule….like ants! Being a teenager from a small country where the tallest building only has 8 floors, these gargantuan structures kind of left me in awe.

While marveling at the sky scrapers, (and at the same time developing an uncanny fear of heights!) I could see that these buildings and roads must have been established quite a while ago. What amazed me more was when Daniel said that all these buildings and roads are relatively new. 

Come thirty years ago, (hey, when Hao came last!!) there were hardly any skyscrapers, roads…. kaput. Nothing as major as it is now. Businesses weren’t set up, and the economy of the country overall was very low. The Chinese people were very poor. 

Then, the government had to ration out food and clothes to make sure everyone had an equal share. So much so, that having a bicycle was a status symbol for the “rich” in those days. 

My forehead wrinkled in confusion. Nearly every person in the street now was riding on a bike! I couldn’t picture what Daniel and Dana were explaining without getting shocked. To develop all of this in a short 30 years seemed near impossible. 

By opening up the Law Reform Policy in Guangzhou, jobs were opened up to the people. However, I believe it wasn’t merely just the availability of jobs. These people wanted to raise their standard of living. That simple reason drove them to build sky scrapers, to set up successful businesses, to be realized now,  worldwide,  as a nation of wealth. 

A nation that came from almost nothing. That gave me new insight on this country, on these people. Not only are they ambitious, but they are passionate and focused on developing their country further, to make sure they never go back to that hardship and poverty. 

The Chinese earned my respect that day. 

We met a handful of economic and language students from the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies.  We discussed issues such as how the youths can contribute to further development of both our countries. Hao and I were impressed that the same problems we face in Samoa such as unemployed youth and lack of people in different areas is also a challenge China is facing. The exchange of ideas was varied due to our different backgrounds, but the overall essence of the desire to better our countries was very much universal. 

Another moment for myself and Hao, was getting to stand from the highest floor of the Canton Tower, the third highest tower in the world. The cars looked like matchboxes from the 107th floor. The tower is a peculiar shape that looks like a piece of iron twisted in a very artistic way – also a feat of engineering – to keep it all aloft!! 

A brief day trip from Guangzhou to Shenzhen, a neighboring city, that is a few decades younger (and therefore more modern and developed) than Guangzhou, where Hao fluttered around the China and Folk Cultural Villages, the biggest miniature park in the world. Basically, it’s a park which has all the mini versions of all the attractions in China. There was even a mini Great wall!!


According to Dana, Beijing was not always the capital of China. However an emperor during one dynasty was determined to move the capital to Beijing (actually pronounced Peking) and showed this by burying his empress in Beijing instead of Nanjing to show the people he was actually bent on shifting the capital!

Beijing is very different from Guangzhou, more culturally infused; you can tell it’s an old city (it’s 5000+ years old FYI). This is probably the China I expected before I came here. There are more traditional gates and wooden buildings, giving you a humbling sense of “royalty and majesty”. There were so many cultural sites around the city that have been preserved through time.. not only with colors and their symbolic meanings, but also how certain numbers and sets of pillars, animals and rocks..having much significance.


When we arrived in Beijing we went straight to the Summer Palace, the Palace where the Emperor would spend his time during, no prizes for guessing...summer! Keep in mind when the Chinese say “palace,” they mean an entire compound with several palaces and maybe an occasional man-made lake with bridges and breathtaking gardens. You can bet this was a real vacation escape for the royal family! 

There’s a saying among the Chinese, that if you haven’t tried the famous Peking duck, and you haven’t taken a picture in front of the Gate of the Forbidden city, you haven’t been to Beijing. So the Forbidden city (built in 1407 by the Ming Dynasty) was definitely a must see. 

Its name came from the fact that it was forbidden for anyone to enter into, unless you were of the royal family or a very high ranking official (which is kind of ironic since thousands of non-royals flood into it every day now). It was opened to the commoners in 1949. The city can only be entered through the Ti An Men Square, which is the size of four football fields. 

It was so huge that Hao and I actually got lost within a few minutes of entering! (Though it was Hao’s fault for wanting to buy a selfie stick from a passing vendor…hmm). 

Anyway, the 250 acre palace consists of 9999 and a half rooms. The Chinese believed that 1000 was the number of the Godfather. So the emperor who built this palace made 9999 and a half rooms, so he could exclude himself from the common people, yet at the same time not angering the God-“father”. 

Recently Dana had been telling us about how in China, two lion statues are always built in front of imperial houses. The lions never face forward unless it was the house fit for an emperor. The largest lions in China were found in front of the Forbidden City. These large, bronze beasts definitely gave you the feeling that whoever lived in that house was all powerful and fearsome.

Anyone on the planet can easily identify China with its Great Wall. This 2300 year old world record holding structure was built by a young emperor during the Ming Dynasty to unite all of China. This wall stretches across nine provinces. Being able to set Hao’s feet on those bricks of history was truly amazing. It was a good thing the air up there was cool because our whole delegation worked up quite a sweat climbing up and down all those steps!! 

 Beijing made me envious of the Chinese. I praise them for their efforts to preserve their culture, and at the same time; deem them lucky to have such a dry environment that keeps all their treasures intact and away from decomposing. I can say with all certainty that Beijing was my favorite city. 


A city known for its trade, Opium Wars, and the second tallest building in the world. Shanghai stood out for me because there were actually western style buildings, along with flash buildings that sky rocketed into the sky. The well trimmed gardens and parks, along with the many creative structures around every corner suggest that they make a lot of money from tourism.

 The history of Shanghai dates back several 100 years, due to its location near the sea. A famous street, called the Bund, is a string of different shops with English architecture buildings, that stretches along the Shanghai Harbor. 

The bustling population of people wandering around made me wonder whether Chinese people ever do sleep! As we walked around we were told how the British,  Americans, and French tried to trade as much as they could with the Shanghai-nese, so much so, that they built permanent buildings within the city! Today the the French, British styled buildings, cafes, cobblestones, serve as a landmark of a slice of China’s past history, left alone by the government to remind locals and show tourists. 

However this doesn’t mean Shanghai was stripped of its own culture. We managed to visit the Yuyan Garden, a classical garden made by a government officer for his parents in 1577. The trees in this garden are over 300 years old. Some of the trees are so old, that wooden fences have been built around them so people don’t touch the fragile bark of the trees.

There is so much I learned on this trip, and I have only been able to share a fraction of all I had experienced (I will probably continue all my other little adventures with Hao in the next couple articles I write!) 

Thank you Dana, for being our faithful guide throughout the trip. You’ve imparted so much knowledge to us about your country. I hope that one day you will be able to see our country someday too! I know Samoans can be very loud and odd at times, but you endured our group! 

To the Samoa Observer, my utmost gratitude. Thank you for allowing me to experience such an amazing expedition.  Last but not least, I would like to thank His Excellency Wang Xuefeng and the Samoan Embassy of China for the vision and generosity in giving our delegation the opportunity to travel to your homeland.  As the first youth delegation to China from Samoa, I feel humbled and very privileged to have been chosen.

Thank you for letting my little red bird, Hao, flutter and alight in some amazing places in China…Although most people won’t even remember the flitting through of a little red bird, our wanderings will be treasured forever.  Xiexie nimen.

By Ariel Fana’afi Ioane 18 July 2016, 12:00AM

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