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In the late 1980s, I visited a Western country for the first time, and still recall being struck by the cafes and bars along the streets and admiring the people spending their daytime leisure hours drinking beer and sipping coffee.
At first, I assumed such lifestyles could only exist in capitalist countries because their wealth made things so easy and comfortable.
After traveling to a wider range of Western countries, I eventually realized that the phenomenon should also be attributed to different eating and drinking cultures as well as varied attitudes depending on geography.
It seemed to me that Westerners drink coffee and beer, while Chinese prefer tea and liquor: the former pair promotes a casual life, while the latter two are used to relax after hard work.
Since ancient times, Chinese people have advocated a lifestyle of diligence and thrift. They habitually save their earnings in a bank and think about the next generation. Westerners, however, aren’t as concerned about the future and tend to spend as much as they make.
Most Chinese citizens still lead diligent, thrifty lives. At my age of 75, I have many literary friends, battle companions, schoolmates, and business partners who still work and can’t imagine retirement. In China, we would consider young men idly drinking beer and sipping tea during the day to be lazy.
In the 1960s, I served in the army in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, where I saved my monthly six yuan subsidy in the bank. Years later, when I bought a house, I sighed with emotion upon seeing the endless list of tiny deposits.
Last year, after the Hannover fair in Germany, I did some traveling in Shkoder, Albania. It’s a relatively small city with a population of 80,000, and neat and beautiful structures with white walls and red tiles scattered across a green blanket of plains and lush trees.
The streets are lined with shops and stores, in front of which are tables, where people enjoy coffee and beer in the sunlight.
Our guide was a young lady from Serbia, who studied Mandarin Chinese in Shanghai. “Don’t they work during the day?” I asked. She replied, “People might spend a couple of hours here for just one cup of coffee. It’s part of our work culture.”
As we were hanging around, she pointed at lines in English on the back of a passerby’s T-shirt: “See? ‘Live! Live! Live! There is no life after marriage.’” I still didn’t get how this behavior could be acceptable. “Who pays these people?” I snapped. “You!” she rebutted, and I was silenced.
“Every year, we welcome over 3 million tourists from every corner of the world,” she illustrated. “Tourism has brought an injection of funds that has tremendously boosted the local economy. Why should we still toil away for long hours every day instead of enjoying some leisure time?”
On the trip, I visited a total of six eastern European countries that were once part of Yugoslavia, but are now independent following many years of war late last century. It has been the new-found inbound foreign tourism that has brought freedom and happiness to the residents.
Chu Jiwang is president and founder of the Ningbo Ruyi Joint Stock Co., Ltd., a major Chinese logistics equipment manufacturer. More than just an entrepreneur, Chu is a recipient of the China Charity Award, the top philanthropic honor in the country. In each issue, he shares his business insights and inspirations gained from his life experience.