Our trip was a bit slower than our previous trips. We allowed an extra day in each area - partly to avoid unexpected travel problems, which never materialized, but mostly to give us more time to see this completely different lifestyle. A year ago I knew nothing about China. During this trip I have read six books on China, each one opening my eyes and awareness a bit more, but still I feel uninformed about much of this foreign society.
We have some regret that our stops did not include any tiny villages and only a few small country areas, as most of the cities we visited were all major developed tourist stops. In our five weeks here, we have merely scratched the surface of what we now realize to be an incredibly complicated and emerging country.
We have been amazed throughout the trip at the class disparity that exists intertwined and reliant upon each other. The peasant class which lead the country into The Economic Reform Era, and represents two-thirds of the population of over 1.3 billion, is now quickly being forgotten and left behind. The archaic Agriculture methods can no longer compete with foods being brought in from abroad, and China now faces a huge challenge of converting millions of rural uneducated workers into productive non-rural employees. Then there is the "middle class" which probably has as many electronic gadgets, and name brand clothes as we have in the USA. We have yet to figure out how they afford it, as we have compared prices on clothing, shoes & electronics and it runs close to US prices, and most of the stores in the affluent areas are busy. Fancy business type cell phones, DVDs, I-Pods, and big name shoes are everywhere in the cities.
The need to improve public health, reduce pollution and provide basic education is evident everywhere. However, even with these major problems, China is moving relentlessly forward in its' drive to become a world economic power.
Their attitude was possibly best described as we were boarding a plane in Beijing. Two foreigners were trying to negotiate past a flight stewardess with their luggage which was already proving to be too big to fit down the aisle. The first one said "It's impossible, it won't fit." to which his companion replied "Have you forgotten where you are? This is China, can't fit doesn't exist."
In China there is always room for one more, and anything too big will always fit into a smaller space. This is proven every minute of every day on every road, in every store, line, and elevator in China. "Not moving" is not an option - even when the movement maybe in reverse.
At the same time, "sacrificing for the good of the country" is practiced without hesitation. During Mao's Great Leap Forward (1958-62), the people were asked to build blast furnaces in every village to increase China's' steel production. The lands were stripped of trees to fuel the furnaces, while farmers melted down everything from farm equipment to tools, door knobs to kitchen utensils. Now as the winds from Mongolia blow across the north, they pick up tons of sand from the land previously stripped of trees, and then it literally sandblasts the NE cities like Beijing, for several weeks a year. The tons of steel produced proved to be of such poor quality it is useless. Now the country has undertaken an enormous project to plant billions of trees. It has been amazing to see forests of young trees mile after mile while traveling around China.
When 300 million people were asked to give up their lands, homes and cities, to make way for the rising water of the Yangtze River, they did it. Most all have been moved to higher ground, which was only partly paid for by the government. Lets hope this project doesn't become the "worlds largest cesspool" as has been predicted by many.
Traveling in China has been a challenge, but worthwhile. We feel very fortunate to have been here before the inevitable changes which will occur with next years Olympics. If we stand in one place for very long, we can actually see the changes taking place before our very eyes. This is a country on the move, but in it's haste, it may trample over millions of its' own people.
While we may not totally accept their lifestyle and culture, we leave with a bit of understanding and respect for the people that have and are still enduring so much hardship. They may eat strange food and draw pictures to write. They smoke, spit, squat, and crowd everywhere. They may be overbearing, rude, loud and intrusive. At the same time they can be polite, helpful, caring and welcoming. This is a different country with a different culture. May we forever see our country through different eyes than we did before we started this journey.