Jacenta Barel – As I sat in the Air China business lounge, the aroma of my jasmine tea wafted around me, and I stared out of the windows over the tarmac watching planes land and take off. Only a couple of weeks prior, I had landed in this amazing country, and now I found myself reminiscing over my adventures as they were about to come to an end.
I entered into this trip wanting to be the ultimate tourist with plans to experience as much as I could in my few short weeks, not just the tourist sites, but also immersing myself in the culture that sounded me. My trip began in Beijing – where I climbed the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square… To Xian where I came face to face with the Terracotta Warriors protecting the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China… Then on to Chengdu – where I visited the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding and went through the Keeper Experience Program. This was one of my all-time favorite days because I met and hugged a nine month old giant panda baby girl. She was so cute. She liked having her belly and head rubbed, and you could even squeeze her legs. Next we headed to Chongqing by train where we boarded our river cruise down the Yangtze River for several relaxing days, stopping at ports along the way to visit temples and pagodas… We then flew to Shanghai – where dignitaries of state from countries across Asia were having a huge political and economic conference. We had the Vice President of Vietnam (who is a woman by the way), and a rep from Palestine and Jordan also staying at our hotel. Can you say crazy security?! Well, that would be an understatement! But what an amazing city! So ultra modern and sleek… From there, we flew to Hong Kong, where we spent our last few days in China… and again, another amazing city with its contrast of Chinese culture, international flavors, and fast-paced modern city that meets old school tradition.
I thought about all the things I had seen, and I thought about my perceptions going into this trip. I noticed something obvious that I wasn’t planning on… and that being, for a communist country, it’s awfully modern and capitalistic, with its McDonald’s, KFC’s, and Starbucks on every corner. Not to mention, the overwhelming signage for consumer goods and international companies advertising electronics, automobiles, and clothing and lifestyle brands. In addition, I found in China some of the most glamorous and high-end shopping found in city after city, and on such a large-scale, that I had never seen anywhere else in the world… Was I missing something?!
Now don’t get me wrong, there are definitely some areas of discussion that are maybe what you will only see in a communist country, but not quite the way I had anticipated or expected. First of all, yes, I have travelled to communist countries before so I am not exactly naïve, but having worked in the field of product development, and having worked closely with manufacturers in China, I knew the level of work ethic and turnaround they are capable of. And let’s face it, that level is not found in North America (or any place in the world, for that matter) because of the sheer size of China, as it has a talent pool of 1.3 billion. This country can work around the clock with shifts that never end, and crank out goods shipped the world over without a blink of an eye. They are a superpower like no other.
What I wasn’t expecting was the level of efficiency that is found in all areas of day-to-day life, not just manufacturing… but such as road repair and infrastructure. While driving back to Beijing after visiting the Great Wall, along one of the major highways, I was blown away to see the Chinese government had five road crews working simultaneously on each side of the highway. Each road crew was divided into sections, each section further down the road from the previous. They were evenly spaced, with roadway in between. But each section was a continuation of a different stage of roadwork all being worked on at the same time. For example, five sections were in the torn up stage with massive equipment laying out new roads, flattened by rollers, and smoothed out. The alternating sections in between had already been laid out and cooled, and were actually being painted by a single worker as he rolled out the stripes. The equipment was enormous and pricey – say $300-500 an hour to rent, and they had 5 of each of these machines. And the speed at which they worked was beyond anything I had ever seen before. The most fascinating part was half the crew was on a lunch break at the side of the road, so I can only imagine what a full road crew would accomplish. An educated guess would be a completely new road on the highway in one day. Something at home here in North America, that would take weeks to finish, was being accomplished in mere hours. Crazy!
Another thing that I noticed at the beginning of the trip was how clean everything was, especially around tourist sites. Even in the pouring rain of my first day in Beijing, there was a cleaner on a little motorized vehicle picking up any tiny bit of scrap in Tiananmen Square. This was a huge surprise when you think 1.3 billion people live in this country, and the country is known for having some of the worst air pollution in the world. This cleanliness continued from city to city, and these cities have on average 30 plus million people. Part way through my trip I realized something blatantly obvious… no graffiti… anywhere. In fact, it wasn’t until we reached Hong Kong, at the end of the trip, and on the very last day, that I saw the very first and only graffiti.
Now why is that so surprising to me? Well, because China is a country with an insane amount of people. And a lot of those people are without the luxuries that we, in North America, take for granted. Communal bathrooms, communal kitchens, and limited living space are common place here. Plus, I noticed most people don’t have access to health care and dental care the way we do. And those forced to beg on the street are at a level of poverty not imagined even in the largest American cities. Many people in China live very hard lives, and die younger than what we see at home in North America, and look decades older than they actually are.
And yet… despite a definite hardship, there is a strange pride that resonates here. I asked myself… How is this a communist country with all it’s glamorous shopping and overwhelming international commercial marketing, and endless dessert shops (in Hong Kong)? How is it that I, after watching so much television and seeing how hard-handed this country is ruled, that there are people who have what appears to be a lot of ‘freedom’ and tremendous wealth unimaginable for what is to be seen as such a repressive government ruled country? I am confused.
Confused that this country, after thousands of years, in one swoop destroyed a glorious and magnificent history in what is known as the Cultural Revolution. Yes, that is a complete oxymoron!
Confused that they have such excessive control over their people that they ban social media in the form of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogging, and so on… Yet, somehow, the strange and annoying trend of ‘selfies’ has somehow invaded it’s people. Why constantly take selfies if you can’t post them on Facebook? I don’t understand… But, my point goes beyond just the selfie. It asks the question as to why so many people appear to be happy, in such a repressive environment. Now that, is what confused me.
Now after everything I have just mentioned, I have one very clear question for you… If this communist country is so terrible (as expressed through the media), why would I not hesitate to move to Shanghai if the right opportunity presented itself?
Yes, a very perplexing question. But it’s true. I would move to Shanghai in a heartbeat. I loved that city. In fact, I really had an amazing time in China everywhere I went. The country was fabulous. My biggest sadness came from knowing that I could spend so many more weeks exploring this amazing country because it is so vast, and there is so much to see, but I had to return home because life and work were calling my name.
So would I recommend China for your next vacation? Absolutely yes! Would I go back? Definitely.