When the Swiss men emerged again for another smoke, I learnt that they were engineers trying to build a milk-powder factory for Nestle, just outside Harbin.
They were going to Beijing to buy some food and do some shopping. I was curious to find out what they planned to buy.
"Some cheeses and sausage especially!" the older engineer smiled from behind a puff of smoke.
They asked where I had been in Harbin.
"I guess you saw all of Harbin," they replied in unison.
"Ze cold is narsing now. On vensday ve had snow and it gets to meenus thirty or forty in vinter; zen it's cold!"
I was glad to be heading south. I left England to escape the winter; I wanted warmth on my body.
"You know," the older engineer continued, "Harbin of fifty years ago vuz Paris of ze East. Zere vere casinos in elaborate Russian architecture."
I asked him about the dome-shaped buildings I had seen.
"Oh, zey are neglected now. I sink vun vuz a church, you know. Ze Red Guards zey came and smashed so match. Vun building all of vood, you know, viv no niles; completely destroyed. And now zere is zis concrete!"
The building of the milk factory was not on schedule. They had tried to employ a very able Chinese engineer but he turned the job down because he didn't want to leave his unit and lose the benefits.
"Zis is ze problem now. Ze Chinese are not used to zeese choices and zey only take ze good sings from zis open freedom. Zey are sinking only of ze money zey can make today. You know changing money and zis sings."
"If a farmer buys cows, he can make much from milk. Maybe ten cows and he is living well. Ze Chinese don't have so much milk. A farmer is better now zan before, but even still he is better selling cigarettes."