China is what we used to be
Well, I’m back from China and our trip was a major learning experience for me. Given that my level of knowledge about China was limited to major articles in the NY Times, it’s not a surprise that China was not what I expected. So in no particular order…
My major impression is of tremendous energy and a “can do” attitude that we seem to have lost here in the States. There is construction everywhere. Want to move from polluting (coal) energy to clean (hydroelectric…) energy? …Build a series of dams, flood many cities and move the 1.5 million displaced people into new buildings in new cities above the new waterline. And then create a tourist attraction out of it to generate revenue. No problem. It reminds me of how we used to be before Washington got hopelessly gridlocked.
China has a long and rich history, but it’s not resting on its laurels. China is big, and growth is everywhere and dramatic. Shanghai’s population quadrupled in the 10 years after 1994 (it’s now over 23 million) and you can see the result in all the new, modern, exciting skyscrapers.
Guilin, a small city by Chinese standards, has a population of 5 million. With all those people, I expected China’s cities to feel crowded, but they didn’t. They have built the infrastructure to handle millions of people: subways, trains, buses, major 10-lane streets, large public squares.
China has a bustling and vibrant middle class and people generally seem to be happy. We didn’t see any homeless people or beggars and their street vendors are assertive but not overly aggressive. Everyone is friendly.
While China does have a major air pollution problem, the cities and countryside are clean. No graffiti. No garbage. The air pollution is really bad, though.
The Chinese are not fat, but give them time. There are KFC and pizza places even in small towns. Chinese food is really good. I like good Chinese restaurants in New York and the food in China didn’t taste all that different. I know they toned down the spices in a few places. I gained weight and loved every mouthful. But all the food has a lot of salt. Most of us on the trip had swollen ankles after about two days.
As a Westerner in China, you are a tourist attraction. While we were taking pictures of them, they were taking pictures of us. A young boy of about 10 came up to me in Xian, held up his camera and asked me something in Chinese. I assumed he wanted me to take his picture in front of the Great Goose Pagoda so I nodded yes. He then positioned himself next to me, held his camera out in front of both of us and took our picture. And that wasn’t an isolated experience. My husband was walking along in Chongqing when three girls said hello. He said Ni Haw back and before you knew it one was standing next to him while the other two (and I) took pictures.
The V for Victory sign is the Chinese equivalent of “Say Cheese” (apparently).
In the cities, many people speak English and the street signs, etc. are usually in Chinese and English. The English in some of the signs was interesting, to say the least: “Warm tip: Please take care of your belongings” (what would be a “cold tip”?); “The photography place of ‘If You Are The One 2′” (on The Great Wall); “Former Things Shop” (antiques? dead animals?); “Don’t Take Elevator When Fire Alarm”; “No Surmounting in Thunderstorm” (at the Three Gorges Dam viewing platform); and my personal favorite:
No clue what it means. But before I could feel superior, I wondered how many of our signs are translated into Chinese, however well or poorly done.
For whatever reason Chinese people don’t stand on line. The minute there is any hint the plane might be boarding (long before there is any announcement), everyone is crowding forward jostling for postion. You either push forward yourself, or get pushed out of the way. They don’t even think of it as rude. It’s just what you do. At the Hall of Prayers for Good Harvest in Beijing I was standing looking into the temple when this tiny, but forceful woman pushed in front of me. I made an involuntary sound sort of like a squeak and she squeaked back. Damn, I squeaked back as a form of protest and she squeaked back again and then turned around and smiled at me! Had no inkling that I thought she was rude.
There’s probably more, but I’m running out of steam. Will try to get my first full night of sleep…