A Travellerspoint blog

China Rising

A Small Essay about a big country

overcast 15 °C

It has been said that visitors who spend a week in China write a book, those who spend a month write an essay, and those who spend a year write nothing at all. We could say whatever we wanted about China and it would probably be true, but after a month here it is impossible to know where to begin or end...
China is a fascinating country but it is a land of stark contrasts and many contradictions. Soaring skyscrapers tower over crumbling hutongs and ritzy shopping malls back onto grubby local markets that haven’t changed for decades...
On the outskirts of Beijing a six lane super highway was restricted to just two lanes because the local farmers had spread their corn to dry on the other four – as they have done for centuries. Drivers in the cities have total disregard for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians – road markings and pedestrian crossings are a complete waste of paint – while the impressive rail system is operated with almost obsessive concern for the safety of travelers. The modern, impeccably clean, stations and trains, are operated with the same degree of control as the equally impressive airports – nobody gets through the gates without passing several security controls and no one is allowed on the platform until the train is due.
As a young child, James often visited his grandfather whose garden was bounded by a soaring stone wall. He would stare at the wall and imagine all kinds of interesting, or perhaps scary, things lay on the other side. Years later he returned and discovered that it wasn’t such a high wall after all, and on the other side was just a field; just like all the other fields. The Great Wall of China has for millennia been a similarly insurmountable barrier that symbolizes China’s xenophobic attitude to the world. China’s fear of the rest of us is hardly irrational, after all, in the past, China has been more sinned against than sinned in terms of international hegemony. However, with growing globalization, and Chinese obsession with western luxury goods, it is only a matter of time before the walls come down...
Today’s China has out-capitalized the western capitalists, and the Chinese nouveau-riche are out-consuming western consumers. The wealthy buy chateaux in Bordeaux, apartments by the handful, and BMWs by the dozen, while on the other side of China’s high-speed train tracks hundreds of millions still live in Dickensian squalor. But China is rising fast. More than five hundred million people have cellphones and almost all have access to electricity and television. However, we were very conscious of censorship. For instance: we couldn’t access Facebook or YouTube and, for some strange reason, the map on our blog wouldn’t appear on our computer. And whenever we were lucky enough to get BBC or CNN television, the screen would go blank whenever anything remotely critical of China was being reported. But these actions don’t represent the views of the wonderful people we met throughout our travels.
However, xenophobia cuts both ways. We want the Chinese to provide us with affordable shoes, clothes, furniture, tools, IPads and Pods and absolutely everything on the shelves of WalMart and the Dollar Stores, yet we don’t want them to take our jobs or own our companies. We want them to make everything for us at unrealistically low prices and complain when the production causes pollution. We need them to buy our natural resources and then demonstrate against them when they do.
We could write a book about China – but we won’t. What we will do is to come back to visit the friends we made and to visit so many places that we missed on this trip. We will also come back for the food - especially the delicious Portuguese custard tarts, (the favourite of our friend Christine who joined us on our travels from Beijing to Shanghai). And we encourage you to visit this incredible country to see it for yourself and to meet the many wonderful people who made our visit so memorable…

Goodbye China. Thank you for your generous hospitality.

Posted by Hawkson 05:36 Archived in China

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I love your tour of China and this photo of you and your friends captures the good spirit of wonderful people everywhere. Every time we look at our direct experience, we see that kindness is rampant in the world. Thank you Sheila and Jim for sharing your amazing journeys with all of us. xxoo Trudy

by Taboyle

You guys are looking great - Sheila you are shrinking!!! Thank you for sharing China - we will put it on our bucket list!

by Maxine Stewart

Once again, you have combined poetry, travelogue and insightful commentary. You are such open minded and open hearted travellers. I can't thank you enough for sharing all of this..

by Sharron

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