March 27 Beijing Day 1

Trip Start Mar 15, 2007
Trip End Mar 31, 2007

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Today we left Xi_an and flew to Beijing. The population density increased as we approached Beijing. The airport was pretty much like any airport in the world. The freeways were pretty much like anywhere else in the world. But that's where it ends. Beijing is not like your typical western city, in spite of its new and improved trappings.

Our last four days in China were spent in Beijing. The city was a beehive of activity for the coming Olympic Games - freeways, subways, venues, etc. all being built. Of course, the whole country is under construction due to an extremely hot economy, but in Beijing it is obvious the country wants its capital to look clean and modern for the olympics. People are supposed to quit spitting in public, cabbies are supposed to know English, and the English translations of signs are supposed to be in real English and not Chinglish.... or is it Englese?

In Beijing we did everything from shopping to walking/climbing the great wall. The roads there carried the burden of the heaviest traffic we ran into on the trip. Our cabbie on the way to the Silk Market struck up a smoke in the taxi - we opened windows and gasped, but he either didn't know how we were reacting, or he was prending to be blissfully ignorant. The driver who took us back to the hotel didn't seem to know what a tip is - I offered him more than the fare, but he kept refusing it, saying I was paying him too much.

Our first day was spent landing, collecting luggage, then visiting the Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace.

I have thought a lot about my reaction to China. I often find myself brooding over my reaction to the country, trying to identify what I feel. I try to test out my thoughts on people, but I am not sure what I say is really it.

I am abivalent. I liked the people. The masses/individuals struggling to keep going amidst ferocious competition for resources. The people who climb down a mountain to paddle some tourists around, take their share of a few measly tips then climb back up the mountain to their home. The persistent but cheerful vendor who struggles to sell a few hats or watches a day to support himself and his family. The vendor who chases you down to return an overpayment. The cabbie who doesn't want a tip.... The competition is fierce in China. And there is no safety net as we like to think there is here.

The sharp contrasts fascinated me. The old and the new, the rich and the poor, the large and the small, the ostentatious and the delicate all exist together.

The system bothers me. There is no political competition. The so-called "Communist" country is the least socialist of all the countries I have visited. It has wide open, rampant, unfettered free enterprise, at least for party members. In reality, there are few personal rights. In the days of the Emporer, the country and everything and everyone in it belonged to the Emporer. It has not changed much. China is more important that it's people. In it's haste to build a more wealthy and powerful China, the rights and prosperity of individuals don't matter much. The small get stomped on where they become obstacles to growth, or in the way of a real estate tycoon who wants to put up a new apartment building. Tax money is pumped into things that aggrandise China, dams that flood cities, freeways that end nowhere, and displays for the world.

I heard of corruption. Lack of political voice. It is a DICTATORSHIP that has no regard for individual rights. It has an agenda that we are feeding with our unquenched thirst for its products. Why do we continue to use it as the world's factory when it spews forth mountains of defective goods and copious amounts of pollution - especially since it is obvious that the wealth being generated in China will soon be turned against us? It's a country that sees nothing wrong with theft of intellectual property - selling knock-offs of everything with pride. The government pretends it is attempting to stop the copyright infringement - but the sellers of pirate DVDs and other knock-off products are open and notorious, and the police watch them selling this stuff daily, protecting them from theives rather than arresting them for theft.

I loved China, the people, the ruins, the contrasts, the beauty, the art and crafts and culture. I disliked China for it's system, for the way our western countries all scramble to appease it, hoping to cash in on its markets, all the while we loudly criticize other authoritarian regimes.

I still haven't resolved my ambivalence toward China. I still don't know how I really feel. But I know I don't want to go back there any time soon. In spite of the fact that I didn't feel threatened in any way while I was there, and every single individual I met was friendly, courteous and helpful, I feel threatened by the country. Perhaps the Shanghai guide said it best: "It is not IF China will become wealthier than America, it is WHEN it becomes wealthier." And more Powerful. There is a confidence of a team on a roll, with the momentum, knowing they will win in the end. I am not sure what result I want, but I do not the authoritarian China being the world's superpower.
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