China: A Retrospective

Colorful Dragon Ferry on Lake Kunming at the Summer Palace, Beijing.

Colorful Dragon Ferry on Lake Kunming at the Summer Palace, Beijing.

We left China a week ago for a brief visit to NYC before returning home. It’s been time enough to recover from some jet lag and a bit of a cold that hit the last day of the trip. And time for a little reflection about our incredible experience.

China is an amazing country – it’s huge, with so many people, and there are so many contrasts it’s hard to reconcile them all.

There are two distinct, and very unequal, lifestyles in China: the urban and the rural. We didn’t get to see much of the rural on this trip because even small “towns” have millions and “villages” have a hundred thousand residents. What little we did see in rural areas offered a glimpse into a China that seems to be quickly evaporating.

The new buildings and obvious excessive capitalism are pervasive and hard to fathom in a communist country. But then, of course, they don’t let human rights, labor issues, historic preservation, OSHA or zoning stand in their way . . . .
Car licenses are restricted and by lottery, and millions of rural migrant workers venture into the cities to provide manual labor. People live in small apartments (think NY studio-size) in massive multi-story, vertical neighborhoods; single family homes don’t really exist in the cities. Air quality is awful and air pollution is rampant in the cities; it’s a rare day with blue sky, can you imagine day in and day out living that way?

But in the cities, people are beginning to find their voice. They are stepping up to try and preserve what’s left of ancient neighborhoods, standing up to the one-child rule, and calling on the government to solve environmental issues such as thousands of dead pigs in Shanghai’s Huangpu River. There are more and more news stories about air quality. Education is of utmost importance, and high school kids are in school from 7 am til 10:30 pm – home for sleep and back; so, today families can alter their destiny through education. Your family doesn’t have to be peasants for generations, although for millions that is still reality.

For me, the most significant difference in China and our Western world was the lack of freedom of information. From my perspective, the right to free, uncensored speech is our most important right in the U.S. and the root of everything we are (good and bad). China does have internal social media and there is a news media, but there is no access to outside social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn or WordPress, and media they are not happy with, such as the New York Times, are blocked. Don’t get me wrong – you do get news, and lots of it, but it is what you can’t access, including individual opinion, that concerns me.

China thrives on a history of corruption (hmmmm, maybe not just China), and their new leader has vowed to reduce government corruption. So far he is cutting back on the use of expensive German luxury cars, five-star hotels and lavish meals. The result at the moment is it is now possible to get into any really great top restaurant in China; they are hurting for business.

Like any large country, the feeling and spirit of the regions we visited were quite different, but one thing never varied – the hospitality of the Chinese people. The only time we weren’t welcomed was when I tried to observe a Mah Jongg parlor – but other than that, we were greeted with smiles and courtesy everywhere we went.

Even when we stopped to take pictures of their darling babies with their split-back clothes (sans diapers) they were delightful. But, as unusual as we find their system, their kids are toilet trained by 1! We may find their toilet’s primitive (and, BTW some of their floor toilets now have the automatic flush feature), but they find our sit-down versions unsanitary. Embracing and understanding the differences is part of the fun of exploring another culture.

If you want to know more about China – read the Wall Street Journal as an increasing portion of their excellent coverage is devoted to the politics, business, culture, housing and travel of the region.

To sum it up for us: we absorbed as much as possible about a fascinating culture, experienced great adventures and met new friends. My husband ate with chopsticks, enjoyed noodles for breakfast, showed promise at Taiji Bailong Ball, and in the country where watermelon seems to be the most popular fruit and ice cream was invented, we found all the (New Jersey-based) Haagen Daz ice cream shops. It was a fabulous trip.


PS: Together we took about 5,000 pictures; and as soon as I sort and select I will eventually post a few to the Exotic Locales page on this site as well as my flicker account, which can be accessed by the link on the right.

5 Comments on “China: A Retrospective

  1. So glad to see your retrospective thoughts. Even though you caught a nasty cold, I’m glad you had the energy to share this last part of your adventure. Had you not, it would have been like reading a book that had no ending! Thanks for sharing this trip with us. I really look forward to the pictures.
    Many thanks from your neighbors in 704!

  2. Wonderful summation of the trip, Karen. Glad you are back safe and sound. Bette

  3. Hi Karen, thanks for all the wonderful info of your trip. It does sounds great but I will have problems convincing my husband to go there. Hope you will recover quickly from that cold and looking forward to seeing you an the 17th. Besos, Ursula

  4. We are happy you and Fred are home safe and sound, evne though you both are a little under the weather. Thank you so much for taking us all along on your marvelous trip and for your personal perspective and summation of your memorable experiences. Can’t wait to see the photos and to see you and Fred in LR in a few more weeks!


  5. Dear Karen,

    What a delightful Blog! Thank you so much for making the effort to publish this document. It is very illuminating and revealing of this continued-rising country. I agree with you regarding your thoughts on the WSJ; to me, it is publishing as many – if not more – articles on Europe as it is on China. You are correct, the paper’s coverage is superb. But I digress . . . Your Blog was superb and I am grateful for all you have done to provide us with this magnificent picture of China. I wish I could join you in Spanish Class to see your presentation, I’m sure it will be – as usual – ¡Espectacular! Pablo

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