First Impressions Of China

Park in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, China. (I took the photo with my iPod Touch, no filters)

Park in the Chaoyang District of Beijing, China. (I took the photo with my iPod Touch, no filters)

It’s been more than six whole months since I’ve been in China, and as long since I’ve said anything here about all that has happened – all that is happening – in my new life in this ancient land of so many wonders.

Confession: I haven’t exactly completely been absent. I have been posting about my time in China on other social media platforms where I maintain a strong loyal following, such as Facebook, Twitter, and the latest hottest app around, Periscope, where I live stream. You can see my live broadcasts from China and the rest of Asia if you follow me on Periscope @mtendstotravel (same user name as on Twitter).

Neglecting this blog, and neglecting you all, here, not cool. I know. But here I am with tons more insight about China,ย a very complex, very contradictory, at once peaceful and chaotic, amazing and vexing, puzzling and endearing, open and closed.

Night falls on Hong Kong Harbor

Night falls on Hong Kong Harbor

To be sure, the Middle Kingdom is centuries of history and culture now undergoing another revolution – an economic revolution that once it fully awakes will turn the world upside down. China, the world’s most populous nation with more than 1.5 billion people, breaks records on an almost weekly basis for its sheer size. In Beijing alone, the capital, there are 21 million people, with a massive newly emerged middle class with a spending power unheard of anywhere else in the world. Where as recently as the 1990s millions of bicycles dominated the streets, now luxury cars rule, to the detriment of the air we breathe. Factories operating pretty much around the clock belch thick smoke. People in Beijing and other cities in China are forced to wear masks to protect their lungs and keep from getting cancer.

Chinese food at its very best

Chinese food at its very best

But already the negative effects have hit China, in the air pollution and growing number of people stricken with pulmonary ailments. Yet, thanks to the proximity of the Gobi Desert which kicks up strong winds, and government intervention, there are days when the sky is blue and the air is clean and China is pure beauty.

I came to China to work as a “foreign expert” at an English-language newspaper. I edit stories largely written by a Chinese staff. English is of course not their first language and it is my job to “polish” those stories and make them sound like they were written by a native speaker. I enjoy the work. And in the course of doing it, I enjoy learning about China and Chinese culture. I don’t get mixed up in Chinese politics, though I observe and learn and marvel at it all. This, after all, is still a country hanging on to its communist roots but make no mistake capitalism is present in all its forms. The Chinese live to buy and sell.

There is much to love about China. I’ve stood on remote stretches of the Great Wall, with no tourists, just locals around, looking at the undulating structure wend across mountains, looking like a giant brown serpent. What an amazing fete. I’ve walked – twice – from one end of the Forbidden City to the next, through gardens and palaces from which emperors ruled this land for centuries. I’ve stood in Tiananmen Square, which gained worldwide notoriety for the democracy protests and violent crackdown. And I live day in and day out what the Chinese experience day in and day out: crowded subways with thousands of humans pressed against each other like sardines; the constant spitting;

Reunion with friends in Hong Kong

Reunion with friends in Hong Kong

the rudeness and generally uncivil behavior and the “me first” selfishness that happens wherever there’s a crowd. But I’ve also experienced friendly faces and wide smiles and people so welcoming and helpful beyond anything. I’m often asked if the people are friendly in China and to that I say yes, but of course there are bad apples all over the world. More often than not, I enjoy China. There are days I just wish I would have stayed in bed. And there are days when I’m grinning from ear to ear because I am so happy to be living in China, experiencing what relatively few in the world will ever experience, such as my recent trip from Beijing to Hong Kong by high-speed train. China has built itself an amazing network of high-speed rails, which has cut travel from one city to the next. A trip that may have taken several days now takes relatively few hours. And the scenery, wow, the scenery.

I will be in China at least until October. I will bring you here more about my experiences and more often. For now, I say, if you can swing it and travel to China, do it. Your biggest expense will likely be the flight. You can score reasonably priced hotels and food is cheap if you know where to look. China is open to the world as it hasn’t been before. Now is the time to see it, live it, be a part of it.

 

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