Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Another safe landing...

I have returned. Tired, fighting a cold, but still in awe of the experience of visiting China. Was picked up by my little lady at the train station, it was sooooo nice to see her again. Didn't do too too much yesterday and today, just lounged around some. Two firsts today, tried some tacoyaki which is quite yummy, and also had some Oden for the first time, also fabulous. Now I've got some unpacking and sorting of stuff to do. Here is what I wrote on the plane ride over yesterday... no more pictures of the trip unfortunately, just the random ramblings of a tired mind... lol

After 9 long days of travelling, I am finally returning home. On the plane with some time (and battery life) to spare, I figured I'd take stock of this fantastic trip of mine and simple copy\paste to the old blog when I get home. Apparently my strategy of having a fairly leisurely schedule in order to stay relatively relaxed and refreshed didn't quite work out, I am in fact tired. I am thus quite pleased that I left myself a few days before having to go back to work on Thursday, I will fully take advantage of these few days of rest, and likely not go skiing on Wednesday as I had originally thought of doing.

I do think however that my voice is certainly well rested. Not being able to communicate with people means that my daily social interactions were limited to asking the hotel staff to write down an address for me in Chinese, thanking the taxi drivers when they dropped me off, bargaining for goods and interacting with the ticket booth people or the odd foreigner I struck up a conversation with. This is quite the change from my usual talk-heavy day at work, so it's nice to have had a break.

Sitting here reflecting about this trip, I find China even more fascinating and mysterious than it was before I came here. I was able to learn quite a bit about China's rich history and the current political and social climate, but how the whole thing still works without crumbling in on itself is unknown to me.

The gap between classes here is so pronounced as to be staggering. Across the street from a Ferrari dealership, lies an entire neighbourhood of people living in crude stone dwellings dating back hundreds of years. A large segment of the Chinese population is being left behind in China's drive to develop and advance beyond their recent third-class status as a nation. All this in a Socialist\Communist nation? This drives home a point that I remember from High School history class. Communism, a system based on the equality of all people, cannot function if some people are more equal than others. It will be interesting to see what comes of China's multi-class system in the future as they integrate further with the West and their HUGE population gets even more of a taste of the way the rest of the world has been living.

This of course brings up some rather disturbing problems for the future, environmentally speaking. If over one billion people suddenly decide they want to live the consumer lifestyle we have in the West, the damage to the environment will be cataclysmic. Already car usage in China is growing at a phenomenal rate, and the air in China's cities is a testament to that fact. Beijing's streets are gridlocked pretty much from sun-up to sun-down with a haze of exhaust fumes permeating the atmosphere, and only a relatively small portion of the city's population is driving at the moment. What will happen in the future? What will China's ever growing demand for oil do to the global market and commodity prices? I think I am quite lucky to be in Asia at a time when the region seems to be at a pivotal point in time. With emerging economies like China, Vietnam and Thailand, Asia is THE place to be right now.

As for the democratic movement, I think it is something which China will have to face up to at some point. As more and more people gain access to the World Wide Web and interact with free people all over the world, the Chinese population will develop a taste for true democracy as well. The People's Liberation Army will only go so far to keep the people oppressed and subservient to a government which builds mega condo complexes for it's "important" officials, while leaving most of the people out in the cold. Luckily, they seem to be smoothing out their approach a bit in order to placate the West. Of course most of the moves are purely superficial, but they are there nonetheless. I was talking with a lady from Hong Kong about the turnover from Britain to China and she says things went quite well. Initially, people were very frightened of the transition of rule to the Chinese government but China was very smart in leaving most of Hong Kong to run as it has for a long time. Their "If it ain't broke don't fix it" approach has so far not led to any major changes in the day to day lives of Hong Kong Chinese. I was also interested to hear on the news this week that the Chinese president has been discussing democratic reforms with the Hong Kong government. It will be interesting to see where this "One China – Two systems" thing goes.

The Chinese people I've spoken with opened up enough to allow me a glimpse into their hopes and aspirations for the future, and they are lofty ones to say the least. Ben, my guide to the Great Wall on Tuesday was disappointed when comparing himself to one of China's top business people, who at the age of 30 has already accumulated billions of Yuan in wealth. Joy, my guide to and from the train station for my trip to Xian, wishes to study abroad for a few years and visit South Africa. I sincerely believe this to be a healthy thing for China since such ambition from within the Chinese population can only bring about further change and further openness. Another thing which I've found about the Chinese is that they are very proud of their English language skills. People went out of their way to help me, addressing me first in English when I looked lost or confused. For example when I first boarded the overnight train to Xian, 3 different passengers helped my find my way to my compartment and the correct bunk. In contrast with the experiences I've had with Japanese people, the Chinese are much less shy about their English abilities. Japanese people I've interacted with have been quite happy to use English, and you can see that they are proud of their abilities, but it's sometimes like pulling teeth to get them to talk.

Culturally speaking, I can only hope that China's destructive past is to be left in the past. It seems that in every period of significant social change in this country, countless cultural relics have been destroyed or damaged in the people's need to "move on". This process was recently embodied in the 70's with Mao's infamous "Red Guard" attacking anything and everything related to China's past with such fervour that only the future need for tourist dollars stopped them from leaving me nothing to see during my time in Beijing. Funny story here about the Cultural Revolution and how it was brought about. Chairman Mao thought it would be nice to see just how happy people were in China. He sent out a questionnaire of sorts to the elite academics of the nation asking for their opinions of the current situation in China. His famous quote was something along the lines of "Let the flowers of their love for China blossom", obviously expecting glowing praise. Unfortunately, many academics chose to be truthful about things and wrote their actual opinion of the status of Chinese society, sending Mao into a fury. He then opted to strike down anything remotely related to China's history and culture and formed the Red Guard. I've seen the damage done to priceless artifacts first-hand such as the large stone tablet at the first Ming Emperor's tomb which was painted red by the fanatics; I guess we should be thankful they didn't destroy it completely.

Certainly an interesting trip, will be glad to hit the ground in Japan, though I have a few trains to take before I can get home. Oddly enough, my bags are somewhat heavier than they were on the way to China, darn those markets. The only thing which stopped me from buying any clothes for myself was the space restriction of my bag… I certainly didn't want to have to buy another one and have to drag it around airports and train stations all afternoon. Anywho, think I'll throw on the old game of Risk and conquer the world while we fly over the Japan sea… it's a hard life…

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Anonymous S'mee said...

"How can we compete with BIG Chinese corporation, when our....Oh.....wait....forget what I was saying."

Excellent synopsis, and summary! What a trip! You will have to find yourself an exceptional editor to get all this in a book, without sacrificing any of the thoughts, observations, and personal insights.

6:56 PM  

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