I found China amazing in every way! Absolutely loved everything about it! The culture, the people, the food, and the cities (especially Shanghai, more on that later!). Once you immerse yourself in the country and forget everything about where you come from, you are at home. I see China as everything the West is not. The comparison is like night and day. China has one culture, while in the U.S., many cultures exist simultaneously. There is no distinct culture here. As Cat stated in a prior post, there is no anger. I spent nearly 2 weeks in China and not once did I see an individual show anger. Just happiness. The Chinese are very placid and happy at the same time. What I found very interesting is that the Chinese people wanted to be photographed with us everywhere we went. When photographed with us, they always showed a peace sign. Not sure if that comes from the Nixon era or they just want to show they adore you. While at the Olympic site, a group of young children ran up to me and held me, laughed and just wanted to be in my presence. It was an incredible feeling!
What is truly amazing is that you are able to visit many sites that are older than our own country. When you consider the craftmanship of these sites built centuries ago, you cannot help but be in awe. We visited the Temple of Heaven on one of our free days. The structure was built with no nails, just interlocking post and beam. I was told that many US architects have tried to replicate this technique without success. Of course, the great wall is remarkable. Built to protect China from the enemy. When looking at the landscape surrounding the great wall, you cannot imagine that an enemy would attempt to conquer the country. Everywhere we went, the architecture was unique and differs from anything I have ever seen at home.
I found the food to be remarkable. The variety, the quantity, the presentation, and the difference in preparation were all absolutely wonderful. I'm not sure what I ate all the time, but I found little that I did not enjoy. I was especially fond of the hot pot lunch. I sampled everything I could, from jellyfish to frogs, and enjoyed it all...even the turtle. No ovens in China meant no baked goods..no breads, cakes, pies, cookies, etc. The diet is more healthy because of more fruits, lean meats, vegetables, and fish; all without flavor enhancements or corn starch. The diet fits my own personal preferences well. When I got home, my first meal of American food did not sit very well.
The cities are crowded beyond anything I have ever experienced in the U.S. or Europe. The air in Beijing was so dirty, we could not even see the sun, but the city streets were clean. There were many workers who continuously swept and cleaned the streets with hand brooms. I never saw any bags of garbage anywhere, unlike NYC where garbage is an ever present part of the landscape. In Beijing I saw few flowers and no birds, probably because of the terrible air quality.
Following the group trip to Beijing, I went on to Shanghai for several days. The cityscape was completely different than the grey concrete that dominates Beijing. Shanghai has an international flavor, and is a city with character, and sunshine! Gardens, trees, flowers, birds, and the cleanest subway that you will ever see, and air conditioned too. (Most of the days on this trip were close to 100 degrees) I felt safe and comfortable in the city, and wandered throughout without fear. I walked miles and miles, my feet did not fail me! People were helpful and friendly. The city had so many interesting things to see and experience, the only regret I have is that I did not stay far longer.
Change is the theme in Chinese cities. Temples, traditional residences (hutongs), and other historic buildings are surrounded and being replaced by modernistic skyscrapers to accomodate the country's rapid urbanization. The contrast between old and new highlights the rapid growth and evolution of China's culture. Several of the speakers we heard on company visits commented on the fact that the upcoming twenty-something generation is the first generation of Chinese to have grown up in the open economy that is modern China. They predict that this new generation will drive future change in the country, and will be responsible for even faster and more expansive future changes to the culture and economy.
My trip to China will be a part of my thoughts and memories forever. It changed many of my ideas and opinions of people, attitudes and the quality of life in US. I will try to be a better person because of my exposure to this fantastic culture and its people. China is a country to be aware of in the future of the world economy as well. We cannot ignore Chinese perseverence, hard working attitude, and lifestyle.