Vast changes in Chinese society occurred between December 2014 and December 2023. So much so I felt I was visiting an entirely different country because nearly none of my memories or recollections from 2014 matched my experiences in 2023. I had a very positive experience in China and would love to go back; this is basically the opposite of my feelings in 2014.
I spent time in Shanghai, Suzhou, and, Beijing for work, about a week total across all three. What I found was remarkable: what was once a very dirty, gross, crowded, loud, rude, and, overly difficult place to travel in 2014 became a clean, polite, appropriately-loud, and, mostly easy place to travel. Of all the big changes it was good to know KFC was just as delicious as before and I cherished the opportunity to eat KFC three times – which is about three more times than what I’ve had KFC in the USA for the last nine years.
The most remarkable differences between 2014 and 2023:
- I didn’t see physical currency the entire time I was in China. Alipay and WeChat was used to pay for everything.
- I saw blue sky in Shanghai for the first time! It was beautiful! The pollution smell was mostly the same but the amount of air pollution was profoundly less.
- On-the-fly translation devices like Google and whatever is used in China makes communication a breeze.
- There are fewer young people and ever fewer kids.
- I saw more “American / white people-esque” activities like lot’s of Chinese people running for exercise outdoors.
- China was just a gross place in 2014. Lots of bodily sounds like coughing, spitting, and, throat clearing and lots of very loud voices. That all seems to have gone away, at least in the urban areas.
- Far fewer taxis, way more electric vehicles, zero honking. It looks like ride hailing like Uber is now the defacto way of getting around instead of taxis and there are a massive amount of electric vehicles on the road.
- I did not encounter any other foreigner engineers the entire trip, and, there were few foreigners in general.
- My cellphone worked the same in China as the USA, except Apple News, but facebook, snapchat, and, all the other sites worked just fine.
So I don’t know what happened in China to make China what it is in 2023. The shear scale of change is absolutely staggering to a point where it was a bit discombobulating. It greatly enjoyed my experiences this visit, certainly compared to the prior visits.
The entire journey actually started in November when I needed to get a passport and a Chinese visa. I didn’t have either and needed to expedite both – what an incredible learning experience. All I know is I am lucky to have a passport office in Minneapolis and that was the lynch pin of getting everything sorted so quickly.
The trip over went well. My plane left Minnesota at sunrise and I landed in Shanghai right around sunset. Overall, I had about 22hrs of sunlight since I was flying the same direction as the rotation of the earth. Pretty neat for winter in the northern hemisphere!
Traveling around China for work the first couple of days was shocking. No honking. None. Plus, everyone was going exactly the speed limit, no one too slow and no one too fast. I asked about this and I learned honking was banned and there are so many cameras around that speeders get caught immediately. What a huge difference from Minnesota where speed cameras are constitutionally banned!
At some point China stopped using physical currency – like no bills and no coins, everything through Alipay. I read as much before I left so I didn’t exchange any dollars into RMB. This is the very first time I’ve traveled to a country and NEVER used local currency. It was WILD! Using Alipay was surprisingly easy and easier than Applepay. Scanning QR codes to buy things turned out to be absolutely fabulous and is now my preferred way to spend money!
The air pollution was wayyyyy better in Shanghai, Suzhou, and Beijing. I actually saw blue sky multiple times in Shanghai! It was surprisingly beautiful and only added to Shanghai’s stunning urban scenery. The air still had a pollution smell but the air taste was gone entirely. I can distinctly remember tasting the air on the 200+ AQI days but I never experienced anything like that this time!
It was super easy to communicate in China – I could use google translate and they used whatever program they used. It was amazing to speak to my phone and it translated on the fly. Last time, it was a bit tougher to communicate which made traveling harder. No so much this time!
I saw more Chinese doing activities common in the USA – like going for a run to exercise. I also encountered a person who gets gout – a diet related aliment typically relegated to the western world. Last time in China I definitely felt “othered” but there were far more similarities than differences this time.
Another of the biggest shocks was the fact I didn’t encounter many foreigners and encountered zero foreign engineers. Even Nanjing Street and the Bund were overwhelmingly locals / Chinese. Even the stores in Nanjing Street turned over to appeal to the change in demographic – what once was a shopping district littered with shops selling memorabilia like chopsticks, tea sets, scarves, and, other wares have been replaced by high end clothing shops, jewelry shops, and, such. Afterall, what Chinese person needs chopsticks, tea sets, scarves, and other memorabilia since all that stuff is made in China and available across the country anyway?
Overall, 10/10. Great trip.
Enjoy the photos!