So, where to begin with China? To start, China is a huge country with huge everything. China is the ‘Texas’ of the world. China: has the world’s largest population, has five of the top 10 tallest buildings, used more concrete in 2011-2013 than the US did in all of the 20th century, uses the second largest rail network, contains seven of the top 10 busiest shipping ports, and, every year, has the world’s largest human migration, about 200million, for Lunar New Year. A national park we visited has 30million visitors a year which is about the same as the top seven national parks in the US. Prior to the Great Recession, about a quarter of all construction cranes in the world were in Shanghai. I think it’s one of the few places in the world where a person can see new infrastructure and buildings every visit. With each of my four trips to Shanghai over the last four years, the skyline looked appreciably different each time!
Unlike my last visits, which were always for work and about work, we wandered around the country and saw quite a bit. We visited big cities like Beijing and Shanghai while also spending a good deal of time out in the mountains away from the terrible air pollution. We had the chance to do “homestays” where we lived with local Chinese and even celebrated New Years with our hosts’s friends and family. They were amazing experiences. We had very open discussions with many different individuals about far ranging subjects from: voting, shooting guns, the Cultural Revolution, economic outlook, cultural norms, one child policy and political corruption. I’m not sure why guns came up so often but pretty much everyone wanted to talk about guns. Some would ask if I had used a gun and then their eyes would grow large when I told them I had shot many guns at many different things. One gentleman kindly taught Jacquelyn and I Chinese calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting. Jacquelyn’s a good artist but my creations would embarrass any parents if put on their refrigerator.
China was incredibly easy to travel through. We had next to no language issues even though it’s the least English speaking country we’ve visited and found many ‘allies’ for help along the way. Here’s a great example: we were in a rather touristy area that was off season so there were no other foreigners, let alone English signs, around. We needed to get from X to Y and took a bus. Someone showed us the correct bus to take but we soon realized we had no idea where to get off. Luckily, the bus driver remembered where most foreigners go, stopped the bus, opened the doors and muttered some Chinese while pointing back and forth to us and the bus door. Turns out, that’s where we needed to get off! Overwhelming, our experiences were like this in China. We were met with kindness, gratitude, and openness all along the way. Only a few times did people try to scam us. One that stands out as being particularly funny was when we took a tuk-tuk in Beijing and the driver refused to give me about $2 in change I was due. At this point in our travels, Jacquelyn and I work really well as a team; I stood in front of the tuk-tuk, so he couldn’t drive away, and started to yell at him. Right away, Jacquelyn joined the fray and was in his face yelling too. I’m pretty sure the guy was used to rolling westerners and westerners not getting upset about losing $2 because he was extremely surprised and quickly acquiesced. Many people have tried to scam us in our journey but we’ve become pretty good at dealing with scammers.
The Cultural Revolution destroyed most cool things in China so pretty much everything, including huge portions of the Forbidden City, are rebuilds or replacements. Other than some of the really big cities in China like Shanghai and Beijing, the cities are pretty void of a cultural heart like would be found in most western cities. We stayed overnight in Guilin while transiting across China, which had a population of about six million people, and is not a lot different in population than Chicago & suburbs. Most of the buildings were done up in the Soviet Style awesomeness; there was a nice lake to walk around and that was about it. To fix this issue, China is rapidly building old looking new buildings to attract tourists. It’s cheesy but also pretty hilarious in a sad sort of way.
So now the two bad things about China. First: the air pollution is really, really, really bad. Like, taste-it-in-your-mouth and feel-it-on-the-back-of-your-throat bad. Interestingly, each major city has different smelling / tasting air pollution. Shanghai (burning brakes), Beijing (plastic-ish + burning brakes), Xi’An (dryness+mining+dust+metals), and Shenzhen (metal working + sweet ocean breeze). Some of the cities in China are very beautiful, I look forward to the time where we don’t have to wait for a specific wind direction to get good, pollution free, views. Second: the Chinese people can be incredibly rude and gross. Cutting, shouting, bubble-invading is all very common along with spitting, blowing their nose on inanimate objects, coughing on people, and sneezing on people. I became pretty good at pushing people out of my way, it helps I’m a lot larger than most Chinese and I would generally just plow my way through willy-nilly. I’m sure those folks didn’t mind being pushed out of the way but I can’t be sure because I never looked back. Amazingly, the Manners Police are out in full force. I first saw the Manners Police in my last visit to Shanghai back in early 2013. They ran around and yelled at people doing gross things. Spitting openly is down significantly, tissues are used by most for blowing a nose, I only saw a couple people urinating in public, every person I saw was dressed, and I didn’t see anyone defecating in public anywhere. That’s progress!
We loved our time in China. We were lucky enough to celebrate 10yrs of being together, Christmas and New Years there. We very much look forward to going back!
Enjoy the photos!