Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Greek – Chinese connection

The port of Piraeus

Greek politicians are happy: China wants to help Greece out of its economic crisis with huge projects including a major investment in the port of Piraeus. What’s more, Chinese tourists have chosen Greece as their favourite European destination.

In May this year, Turkish and Greek tourist agencies worked together to attract Chinese tourists to this region with a plan for twenty-five offices in Istanbul and Athens all aimed at Chinese visitors.

Even though Lesvos has a few Chinese inhabitants, a Chinese tourist is still a curiosity. Chinese residents have shops selling cheap clothing and sometimes you see them driving around in over-loaded old cars, but I bet they total no more than the fingers on your hands.

On Rhodes there are several Chinese restaurants but the only one here, in Mytilini, closed its doors years ago. Chinese on Lesvos? You will only find them in their cheap stores in Kalloni and Mytilini.

This sudden friendship between China and Greece is not so strange. Both countries are said to be the cradle of civilizations: Greece of western civilization, China of the east. A Greek archaeologist, Theresa Mitsopoulou, thinks that the Greeks originally came from China. It is conventional wisdom that they are descend from Indo-European people, but she claims they are Sino-European in origin.

Theresa did her studies in the 1960s and discovered many similarities between ancient Greek and Chinese cultures: in their languages, techniques of shipbuilding, the use of the snake as a symbol, or an amulet against the evil eye. Her theories were too controversial in Greece. No proud Greek could ever admit his roots were in China. However people who agree with Theresa are convinced that there are archaeological finds in Greece that confirm her theory: in particular the use of the undulating snake with the heart shaped face; the ships once built and designed in Santorini especially for shallow waters clearly resemble Chinese ships; and in the language there are several similarities such as the Greek word for wood - dasos - and the Chinese dashu which means ‘tall trees’, and the clincher: the Greek word for grandmother is Yiayia and in Chinese it is Yeye.

Besides being an archaeologist Theresa used to be the bestknown tourist guide in Athens. She speaks six languages including, of course, Chinese. Had she not decided, after thirty years climbing the Acropolis, that she was now too old to get up to the Parthenon, to give up being a tour guide, she would have been be the ideal companion for the coming flood of Chinese visitors.

For Chinese tourists visiting Lesvos there is good news. This week on Lesvos the authorities assembled about the permission to install a custom post in the harbour of Molyvos, so that cruise ship passengers could be processed there instead of Mytilini. At present they have to endure a ninety minute bus ride before they can see the wonderful medieval village of Molybos on the opposite side of the island from Mytilini (although the journey does take them through the island’s gorgeous landscape). To land them directly at the port of Molyvos is a very attractive proposition all round. Lots of cruise ships already pass close by on their way to Istanbul, so it’s hoped by the 2012 season they can drop their passengers in Molyvos - and who knows how many Chinese we will then be meeting?

And although there are similarities between the Greek and Chinese language, Chinese remains impenetrable to people who haven’t studied it. So, it’s probably a smart move if our school children started learning it soon - and shopkeepers too. Before you know it the Chinese might even buy Molyvos harbour. So I say Hyanying! - my first Chinese word and I think it says Welcome!

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2010

1 comment:

  1. Don't be so open as to your negative attitude to the Chinese arriving on Molivos and how successfully they will ruin your speculative plans regarding real estate prices etc.
    Don't be so open as to your disappointment when you see some kind of light in the dark Greek tunnel.
    Don't be so open as to your attitude to the Chinese unless your Aryan race mentality forbids you to.
    Maybe the Chinese will finally get you off the island and to another poor, unfortunate destination that you may set eyes on.
    I will go "Hurray!" when that glorious moment comes!
    Welcome, Chinese, with all my heart!