Published: June 3rd 2012June 3rd 2012
The school year here is winding down and students are beginning to take final exams. I have been able to travel a fair amount this year but I feel like I haven’t talked much about the city I live in, Zhengzhou, and some other nuances about the middle kingdom I have noticed along the way.
Zhengzhou is a city in eastern-central China with approximately 7 to 8 million people. The large variance is due to the population growth. The city is growing so fast they aren’t exactly sure how many people live in the city because the time it would take to do a census; the numbers would not be accurate. This is a trend happening all over China right now. I would compare to 1890s-1900s when the industrial revolution in America encouraged people to give up farming and flee to the cities for a steady factory job. In Zhengzhou and throughout the country, almost everyone in the cities live in high-rise apartments. This is primarily because Chinese citizens cannot own land. Only the government and real estate developers can own the ground. This is the sole explanation of extreme population density of Chinese
cities. Imagine if 7 million people lived in Columbus, Ohio, people would be tripping over one another. Last week I was eating dinner at a McDonalds over looking a busy intersection at rush hour and I am certain there were more people at the intersection at that moment than live in my hometown of Cross Lanes, WV (around 10,000). You can see how this environment breeds certain behavior traits. The concept of personal space is non-existent, one trip on public transportation will fortify this, and things we consider common courtesy like holding a door for someone or letting women go first does not happen here. Having so many people in a small area can turn everyday things into a competition for resources. Worse than this is, the absence of selflessness. You would hard pressed to find any acts of “Good Samaritan.” Last semester a few of my coworkers witnessed a man on a scooter get hit by a car and no one stopped to help him. My colleagues drug the man out of the street and called 119 (911). It’s not to say they are bad people at all but certain things just are not ingrained into their brains. In my opinion I blame this ideology on the lack of a moral compass. Religion is not overly common in China and the virtues of Confucius seem to go in one ear and out the other. Money seems to be the biggest religion.
I know you may find what I just said hard to believe. Aren’t Americans supposed to be the most egocentric? The most concerned with status? The single biggest surprise to me was how materialistic Chinese people are. It seems so many things here revolve around money and so not like the traditional lifestyle we picture the Chinese having. From the way people act I honestly believe the majority of people think money can buy happiness. My theory for this is 1) the population; money makes one stick out of the crowd and 2) for the first time in history Chinese people are gaining disposable income. I suppose its human nature when you have satisfied basic needs like food and shelter you can shift your attention to wants like clothes and iphones. Don’t let these things I have noticed create any stereotypes or paint a negative picture of all Chinese people because that would be far from the truth and even farther from how I regard them. These are just things I noticed; cultural differences and a different way of life.
Even though I did not choose it, I am glad I ended up in Zhengzhou. Its nice to feel…..I’ll use the word “accepted” by the locals I encounter on a regular basis. The street vendors, bar owners, gym employees, McDonalds staff, etc, treat me like every other person. Don’t get me wrong we still get strange stares and special treatment on occasion but for the most part, in our neighborhood we are the same. I like this feeling. After traveling to many tourists destinations and many people just look at white skin and see dollar signs. I also think this feeling would be harder to come by in Shanghai or Beijing where foreigners are everywhere and less adaptation is needed. I feel like Zhengzhou is home away from home.
I have not had as many days off to travel this semester but I plan on visiting Beijing after school ends. My flight home leaves from Shanghai so I’ll be making my fifth trip there this year, and as of now I have a long layover in Tokyo so my traveling for this year is not over yet.