Sunday, June 7, 2015

First Impressions of China

They said it would be the trip of my life.  I guess you could say, yes, it was that.  From the time I first discovered China thru the eyes of Pearl S. Buck ("The Good Earth", "Pavillon of Women", "Letters from Peking") and after meeting Gladys Aylward (a British evangelical Christian missionary to China) I dreamed of going to China to see it for myself.  I envisioned the rice paddies, the rickshaws, the Forbidden City, the rural lifestyle....  It all seemed glamorous and romantic in my mind's eye.  I had a rather rude awakening when I woke up in Shanghai!!!

Our direct flight from Toronto International Airport to Shanghai was 14 hours and 15 minutes. We chased the sun the whole way...there was no night.  Time Travel!!  We landed a day and a half in the future.

Our bus ride from the Pudong/Shanghai airport to the heart of Shanghai took one and a half hours.   The number of people in China today was what hit me first. The population of the city of Shanghai is 24 million living souls!  The population of ChongQuin mega city is 30 Million.  The country has a population of 1.35 BILLION.  (Compare that with 316.5 million in the USA and 35.16 million in Canada. ) It will be 2030 before the population stops growing in China, due to the one child policy.  By then, the population of China will be 1.45 Billion.  

As our bus made its way from the outskirts, to the centre of the city, we passed row upon row, after row, after row, ad infinitum of apartment buildings, those already standing, and thousands more under construction for mile after mile, after mile, after mile.

In each city we visited, the horizon was punctured with cranes.  Building is ongoing everywhere.

The next thing to make a big impression on me was the traffic.  My eyes popped out of my head when I saw four traffic lanes clearly marked on the road and eight streams of cars, trucks, taxis, bicycles, mopeds and buses surging ahead!  Our tour guide told us that in America, traffic lights are the law.  In other countries, traffic lights are a suggestion.  He said that in China, traffic lights are a decoration.

To make an attempt at traffic control, the country has made it very difficult to get a license for a car.  There is now a lottery for the limited license plates issued every year.  The going rate to "buy" a licence plate is $15,000.00 (on top of the cost of buying the car).  Then, depending on the number on the plate, there are two days a week that your car is not allowed on the road.  That being said, there are other means of transport available...bicycles (mopeds that will sneak up on you and run you down in an instant,)"illegal" taxis and public subways.

I photographed this shot from a brochure in our hotel room.  My attempts from a moving bus couldn't come close to capturing these interchanges.  It seems China as a whole has chosen one template for every bridge, every city, every highway, every interchange.  We saw the same things over and over again.

I guess everyone has heard of the air pollution in China.  Yes, it's real.  We NEVER saw a blue sky the whole time we were there, even when the sun was shining.   And they say it gets WORSE in the winter.  People go to great lengths to ameliorate the effects...masks for instance.  Umbrellas and gloves protect from the sun.

In the city of Xian, population 8 million ( a small city by Chinese standards ) there are four coal power stations alone.  Add that to the national habit of smoking cigarets, and you have the leading cause of death in China:  lung cancer!!!!!  A pack of cigarets costs about 1 US dollar.

So much for the negatives.  Why did I start with them?  These are the things that first assaulted me and the things that come immediately to mind when I think back on my trip.  There are tons of wonderful things to tell you about, and I will, in subsequent posts.  To give you a foretaste....

Ni hao (hello) is pronounced in Mandarin like this:  Knee How.  We were told to think:  how is your knee, to remember this greeting used uniformly across the country.  If you know me, you know I love to learn at least enough local lingo to interact with people.  I had such fun using my limited phrases and eliciting smiles.

Have you been to China?  Do your memories marry with mine?  

I am back in America now, and doing the Maine thing.  Stay tuned for memories of China and fun in the sun in the USA.

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