Monday, December 28, 2015

China Reflections

China - #11

It is important to spend time thinking about the places we've been, especially when they take us far from home. There are always things we like more or less about the spots we visit, in contrast to home. And there are ways for us to nudge ourselves into altering our lives, depending on our experiences or observations.  If one returns from a trip to China, for example, without a serious addiction to Chinese tea, they simply weren't paying attention.  

Many small shops serve tea.

My thoughts about China are conflicted.  Getting to know our new family and experiencing their amazing generosity has been a link with China and Yessi's childhood home for us to cherish and nurture.  And Xiamen is a city to love!  World class by any measure.   The city is thriving economically;  offers unlimited dining, sightseeing and shopping; plus provides numerous life experience opportunities, including a large university. 

Xiamen University Campus

One of my favorite features of Xiamen is the landscaping, especially the wide  pathways  for walking and biking.

Elin and Brad

A waterfront path circles the island.

The boulevards are well landscaped too.  Xiamen is one of the top ten busiest port cities in China and is visibly prosperous.  Admittedly Xiamen is one of China's finer cities, but we saw evidence of modern infrastructure on our travels to other parts of China as well.

Dedicated bus lanes.
Photo by Karl Fjellstrom
Landscaped boulevards.

The bullet train, coming and going from ultra modern and architecturally distinct stations, is a juxtaposition jolt along side the congestion on the streets, including the presence of hundreds of bicycles and scooters .   One minute we're boarding a 200 mph train...

And next we've seeing families piled onto one bike; riders without helmets or night lighting; and others carrying  impossibly huge loads.  


The driving custom in China is to honk to let other drivers know you are approaching with  the expectation that the other drivers will permit you to merge.  There is none of the angry honking, yelling or finger shaking of American drivers, simply a single honk to announce one's presence and an adjustment by other drivers.  Our perspective is that the drivers crowd but it is done respectfully and responded to cordially.  One outstanding driving rule in China is their zero tolerance policy regarding alcohol.  

Crowding seems to be the rule for pedestrians as well.  Boarding buses, planes or trains was crazy.  There is definitely no grasp of queuing up and even when others do so, many will boldly squeeze in at the turnstile.  The confusion and delay from this crowding doesn't seem to stop it from happening and getting off a plane in China is painfully slow with the untangling of gridlocked bodies.  Amiably?  Not always.

On the flip side, Ed and I were always offered seats on crowded buses as the elderly are honored in this way.

It seemed to be an unspoken fact that becoming involved with the Chinese police was not pleasant, yet the police appearance on the streets was scarce.  Most of the policing was done with surveillance cameras and no matter where we went we were photographed and our passports were copied over and over again. There was no question that our presence was noted and recorded. Changing itineraries was not easy, and came with penalties, which is one of the reasons we abandoned our original plan of bullet train travel from Xiamen to Beijing.   To miss that leg of our round trip air flight would have resulted in a huge extra cost.   That's when we regrouped and headed for Thailand…and the beach!  

It was interesting to ask, when we found an English-speaking person, what they knew about Chinese politics.  It turns out very little.  The Cultural Revolution wasn't of much interest nor is the operation of  today's government.  Without a way to participate, combined with active government censorship, the  manner  in which the government functions was of  little interest.  I returned home with an increased gratitude  for having a voice here in the U.S. -- voting, writing letters, signing petitions, attending meetings, speaking my mind.  My patriotic spirit was awakened.

China Flag

U.S. Flag

My patriotism aside,  American citizens often believe voting is of little importance and writing a letter of concern is not seen as a privileged freedom.  We are lackadaisical about our rights and neglectful of our responsibilities.  It is good to be reminded of this as we prepare to elect a new president. How grateful I am to be able to voice my displeasure with a number of candidates and to know, even if one of them wins, it will not be with my vote.  I will be able to publicly voice my dissatisfaction and in four years I will vote to banish the evil doer.

Many of my observations are cultural, but they are also about change -- political, environmental, economic.    I was left with several questions about America's position in the world.  How do we revitalize our American dream?  Are we hanging onto the past with complacency and fear?  The Chinese are not.  They are striding into a new world -- a world of advancement for them personally and for their country.  There are side effects, of course, environmental consequences and lack of participation in their country's decision-making readily come to mind, but the excitement of change is in the air.  It feels to me like the Chinese are trying to move into the future while we are trying to hang onto the past.


"Our country, right or wrong."
 When right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right." 

 ~ Carl Schurz


  1. "It feels to me like the Chinese are trying to move into the future while we are trying to hang onto the past." Nailed it. Diane