China the enigma. From an old lady chomping on boiled chicken feet on the train while picking her nose, to the refined nightlife of Shanghai or Hong Kong, with Armani suited businessmen eating dinner overlooking the skyline. You’ll find every possible fashion faux pas from the west here and at the same time you can find all your high end dreams at prices you just might be able to afford. Billboards with familiar Hollywood stars selling ugly handbags to the endless array of watch advertisements. Nick Cage, you’re really not that good looking, and that fancy watch on your wrist is somehow out of place. Or maybe it’s you. How dare you take that million dollars to have your face plastered all over every major city in China. Clooney is here too. Of course. White people selling a billion plus Chinese, shit they don’t need. I never would have imagined. I somehow thought it wasn’t allowed. But China surprised me so many times. The young couple helping without us asking when we got off the bus in Changsha, to the ancient walled city of Feng Huang and its bustling night market. My programming from watching the news all my life made me think it was going to be a sea of sweat shops making Nike shoes and dollar stores filled with all the same crap. You know what? They don’t sell any of that junk here; all those little trinkets are for our shopping bags only.
We’ve spent most of our time in China in the four major cities, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. With a small stint into Hunan province for a piece of the countryside and mountains. Hunan reminded me of northern Quebec mixed with the prairies of Alberta. We passed through some rural communities along the way amidst the never-ending rice patties and small farms. Young and old out under the beating sun tending to their crops, and yes, most still wearing that little round cone hat that you see in the photos. Tradition steeped in a tea of constant construction and continual advancement in this powerhouse of a developing nation. Cranes are everywhere, road construction and bridges are being built as fast as the concrete can be poured. China is on fire, gaining momentum each day racing to what finish line I am not sure. I can say however with some confidence, that China in its entirety has a long way to go, but their major cities are miles ahead of any city I have been to in North America. Once the rest of the country catches up they will steamroll over everybody and everything that stands in their way. The disparity between wealthy and poor is enormous, with the majority of the billion plus population falling into the poor side of things. The Chinese are very resilient, and now that a more capitalistic lifestyle is opening up under the guise of the old communist rule, China’s doors are wide open and the people here are taking full advantage. I don’t know what the future holds but many have said that China could be the next superpower, and now that I’ve been here to see a small part of it with my own eyes, I would have to agree. We in the west need to start focusing on the things that we say really matter because if we don’t our world is going to change dramatically if this country takes the lead. Maybe that’s a good thing; we have a lot to gain by Chinese ideals. Family is so important here, respect for the elders which we have none of at home, education, health care (western or traditional), public transport which is inexpensive and efficient. All of the capitalist corporations are here but they don’t rule their world as they do at home. There is still this ever present sense of community, although the little girl getting run over and nobody helping her might make you think otherwise. There are fruit and vegetable stands on every corner, mom and pop shops down every street. People everywhere trying to make a living not corporations hiring people to make them money. I wish we had more of this at home, I was too young to understand what that meant before Walmart started to change our urban landscape forever. I can only hope that as time passes they too don’t lose their humanity to the ever-pressing corporate dollar sign.
We are going to have to cut our China trip short due to some red tape around obtaining our visa extensions so we will be forced to flee to Vietnam faster than we thought. I am glad that we came to China, it has made me realise “again” that we have it all wrong at home. We work way too hard, we don’t get enough time off, we always live beyond our means, with credit cards destroying any way of coming to terms with that. Processed foods are killing us one burger at a time, with obesity running rampant. They pour oil onto every fresh dish that is made here, yet I have only seen a handful of overweight people. Our junk food nation, and TV filled existence doesn’t work. I don’t think the North American lifestyle is for me anymore, it might just be time to get out.