Warwick Freemantle is an importer of fine audio equipment to Australia, including Acoustic Signature, Altmann Micro Machines, Boston Audio Design, Continuum Audio Labs, Eastern Electric, Feastrex, RCM Audio, Red Wine Audio, Sonic Purity, Yamamoto Sound Craft, Zerodust, Zu Audio and ZYX Corporation. He recently traveled to China to ink a new exclusive distributorship for Melody Valve HiFi Pty. I was in Hong Kong at the time but too busy with my own RoadTour Hong Kong assignment to accompany Warwick to meet Allen S.H. Wang, president of Melody. However, our man from Oz kindly offered to pen a report for our readers. Voilà, a new 6moons column entitled On Assignment, open to select volunteers like Mr. Freemantle who can enhance our efforts at globalizing our reportage on audio playback and the exciting companies and personages that make the equipment we need for it. Without further ado, the virtual pen and camera pass to Warwick so we may accompany him on his memorable trip to Guangzhou and Shenzen in mainland China. Gracias Warwick! - Ed.

As I flew in to Hong Kong from Australia, over the South China Sea on my way to mainland China, I was not quite sure what to expect. I had been looking for an amplifier manufacturer with products in an affordable price range to compliment the other products I am importing. Via 6moons and other sources, Melody came to my attention and I made the decision to explore this manufacturer a little further. Up until now I had been skeptical about Chinese-made valve amplifiers because the quality I had seen was not -- in my opinion at least -- quite up to snuff. However, recently, Eastern Electric products had started to change my mind and I was prepared to be proven wrong. Was I ever...

Allen S. H. Wang [above] founded Melody in Australia and for a while had a shop in the Melbourne suburb of Bayswater. I remember passing it a few times but never went in. He soon realized that manufacturing products with the high labor content typical of valve amplifiers was not a good idea in Australia. A few years ago, he moved his factory to Shenzhen, China. He rented a factory and worked very hard to build the brand, receiving excellent reviews in both Asia and Europe. This year he opened a brand new, state-of-the-art factory in Shenzhen and I was invited to visit it after attending the AV Fair in Guangzhou. He built this factory without any borrowed funds, quite the achievement and an indication that Mr. Wang is a conservative man with a long-term vision and the tenacity to see it through.

When I arrived in Hong Kong, I visited Mark Cheung at Hit Audio who is the local dealer for Zu and Melody, two brands I now represent. Mark's shop is located in the Sham Shui Po district where there are dozens of HiFi shops. Most are packed into very small spaces and you can see all sorts of high end products in these tiny stores. Mark has a nice store specializing in Zu and Melody because there is a good synergy between the two products.

The Sham Shui Po district is densely crowded.

From there, I first traveled to Guangzhou, about a two and a half hour train ride. You need a visa to enter mainland China from Hong Kong and boarding the train, you are greeted by smartly uniformed girls at the door to each carriage. The train was spotless and it passes through the Shenzhen district on the way to Guangzhou so I was able to get a preview of the area I was to visit later.

As you pass over the border from Hong Kong to mainland China, the level of cleanliness and building maintenance drops dramatically. However, starkly juxtaposed against a backdrop of run-down dwellings are some brand new, state of the art ones. You can see downtown Shenzhen from the train and a new skyscraper dominates the skyline.

Shenzhen seems to go on forever, with factory after factory and housing block after housing block. The sheer population density is hard to comprehend. These views made it easy to appreciate how China commands an unlimited source of cheap labor that will last for many years to come. My economist training had taught me that as the employment levels rise, so will the cost of labor and therefore product prices. This is normally true but in China, there seems to be an almost limitless supply of people looking for work so I cannot see the labor rates rising anytime soon. The major cost component of any product is labor, whether it be in extracting minerals from mines or fabricating goods. I have often looked at Chinese-made products and thought, we cannot buy the raw materials for this price, how do they make a finished product and sell it for this money? Well, now I know.

As the metropolis of Shenzhen gradually gave way to countryside, I saw some huge new apartment complexes that looked like cities in themselves. These complexes are enormous.

I also spotteds some luxury resort-style residences that are obviously occupied by those who've made serious money in China. I thought as I passed by, what would Chairman Mao think of all of this? Make no mistake, there are a lot of wealthy people in China. I was told that there are more billionaires in China than in any other country in the world.

The contrasts between rich and poor were further evidenced when I arrived in Guangzhou. Getting into a taxi at the train station -- an old bomb Volkswagen Santana -- the driver actually started the meter, a rare occurrence. I handed the driver a card with the hotel address written in Chinese and English and we were off. I had been told that sometimes the drivers will drive around in circles to hike up the fare but fortunately this one was honest. We turned from the station into a wide main road and to my surprise, I saw a Ferrari/Maserati dealership after a few minutes. This was soon followed by Mercedes Benz, BMW, Audi, Porsche and a number of others. I laughed out loud. Chairman Mao would turn in his grave or applaud progress, I wasn't sure which. It seems that for those who have made money here, there are no reasons to hold back enjoying it. This goes for Hi-Fi equipment as well. The Guangzhou show presented virtually every expensive high end brand from Europe, USA and Australia.

This show was held at the White Swan Hotel and Convention centre located on Shamian Island on the Pearl River. This is a small district of Guangzhou that is like a piece of paradise in the midst of a teeming and overcrowded city. The buildings are French colonial in character and beautifully restored.

The hotel that Melody had recommended is located behind the convention centre. Called the Customs Hotel, it is a superb 4-star joint with an old façade looking on to a pedestrian precinct and gardens.

The Friendship Garden out front was constantly occupied by children and adults playing, exercising, strolling, taking tea or coffee or being professionally photographed.

A superb tea house and coffee house front on to the gardens and wedding couples were being immortalized on cameras. I was extremely impressed and felt very safe and comfortable. Allen Wang certainly has superb taste in accommodations.

The newly weds all looked terrific.