Some heavy thoughts on a year living in China


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Asia » China » Guizhou » Guiyang
January 29th 2009
Published: January 29th 2009
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Hey Guys,

First of all, a belated merry Christmas and happy New Year! I hope all of you are taking good care of yourselves!

So, guys, it's been a while...... what to talk about this time?????

I think I'll start by just saying my patience for living in China is starting to wear thin, and hence when my contract finishes at the end of February I'll be happy to leave this country and start travelling again!
Over the last 4 months or so, we've been living in Guiyang in the south of China and I have to say it's been a completely different experience to living in Baoji (the ass end of nowhere!) for many reasons. Guiyang is a much larger and more affluent city than Baoji, it has a much larger expat community (though still small I suppose) and the surrounding area is much more interesting. Coupled with that, we've been studying Chinese language at university full time which has made the experience much more enjoyable, although there are still so many of the mind boggling annoyances which no matter how much I attempt to ignore them or view through rose tinted glasses, they still enrage me on a daily basis, and actually - the more I seem to gain insight in to the cause and history behind the problems within China, the less I find I have sympathy with them, though I'll talk more about that later!


Studying and Chinese Language in General

One of the good things to arise from living here in Guiyang is just how much my Chinese has improved! Needless to say, studying at university made a huge difference and although the standard of the lectures left a lot to be desired, I now often find myself able to hold 5 minute conversations in Chinese with strangers. I'm not saying I'm fluent by any stretch of imagination as realistically I think that would take years to achieve, but certainly the level of Chinese I can speak now far far far outweighs the level of German or French I ever achieved at school. Though I often have to use incredibly retarded ways of explaining my meaning because my vocabulary isn’t big enough, there isn’t really much that I couldn’t communicate now if I had to, and it's made living here an easier and more enjoyable experience for sure.

As much as it might seem tempting to stay here and carry on studying, I guess the reality is I just don’t like China enough to do that. It's also an incredibly illogical language and whilst my speaking has improved so much, I actually gave up studying writing a good while ago. There really isn’t any point in learning to speak a language if you can’t write it, and I just don’t have the patience for learning such an illogical system of writing. I'll try and explain: If you want to learn to write in English, first you must learn the alphabet which if you're an adult would perhaps take a day (assuming no prior knowledge), then learn what sounds the letters make phonetically, and finally learn how the letters change sound in the presence of other letters around them. Taken collectively this might take about a week of learning to learn how to read and write almost any English word, I.e. it's logical, phonetic and has rules.

Chinese is not like that. Instead, they just have 10,000 individual 'picture characters' None of them bear any visible relation to each other regardless of meaning, or spoken sound. If you want to learn to write in Chinese fluently, you just have to remember 5,000 individual picture characters, some of which have as many as 20 component pieces (strokes) to them. Hardly logical in my eyes! For example, our lecturer at university Professor Yan Mao Si couldn’t remember how to write the character 'zong se' which in English means 'brown' the other day and had to look in a dictionary. This is not the first time he's ever had to do it either, it happens commonly for lots of words that any 6 year old in the UK could write in English, or at least make a good attempt at writing. The reason he can’t remember is because realistically, how often do you write the word 'brown'?.... Not very often, and so because there is no logic to the written language, it's only based on memory of the individual character, it's easy to forget words infrequently used and have no option but to look in a dictionary... I just can't bring myself to spend/waste my time learning such a ridiculous system! In my opinion this mentality of just memorizing everything without either wanting to or needing to understand transpires into every aspect of Chinese life and culture, but I'll come to that in a while.


Life in Guiyang

Even though we are actually surrounded by some of the nicest and most famous landscapes in all of China, we actually haven't really ventured more than about 10km from Guiyang in the last 4 months because we've been so busy. We study from Monday to Thursday, and we work on Friday, Saturday and Sunday which means it's pretty difficult to escape. Now that university has almost finished, we still won't get much of a rest because we want to save up as much money as possible before we leave, and hence have agreed to teach 40 class hours a week over all 7 days for the next 6 weeks. We will be working for more than 40 consecutive days without a break before we leave here but on the plus side, hopefully it means our dream of being able to travel for the next 6 months without working is possible so I don't mind.

Guiyang is a pleasant enough place I suppose and in my opinion is one of the nicest cities in China. Not only has it managed to maintain some of it's history and culture, it also has some modern amenities available if you want them. The city has quite an impressive skyline and it's also surrounded by lot's of nice parks. Please bear in mind though that this is China, not Europe. Saying a city is nice in China means it's just not as bad as the others. It's still horrifically dirty, ugly and industrial by European standards!
Almost as soon as we arrived in Guiyang from Baoji we noticed it had a different feel about it. Baoji was old, conservative China and Guiyang was much more the modern emerging China with more modern amenities and shops selling Waterford crystal brandy glasses, Ralph Lauren jeans, occasionally seeing people driving around in Maserati's, Bentley's and Hummers, it has the Sheraton Hotel and Jewellery shops selling 10,000 pound rings. Something unimaginable in Baoji.

It's also the archetypal new China in a sense that despite there being so much new wealth, it also has more of the other extreme - people in desperate poverty. Guiyang has a very large homeless community, and a small army of people known as the 'bei dou', called this because of the woven baskets they carry everywhere on their backs. They are almost exclusively people who are NOT the 'han' Chinese majority, but mostly Miao, Bu Yi, Dong or Yi tribe people who come into the city from the poverty of the countryside to find whatever work they can. They really are human mules and work for pitiful wages of around 2 pounds a day (assuming they get work). They hang around on street corners waiting for the local people to come along and pick a few of them for work. Sometimes it might be painting a wall, sometimes building work of some description, but mostly they are just used as cart horses to carry things from one place to another, for example when someone moves house. They will just employ maybe 5 'bei dou', load them up with various things and they will carry it across the city for you, probably for cheaper than you could have taken it in a taxi. I've also seen them on building sites literally standing while someone loads their basket using a shovel with sand and cement, and then they go off trekking up to the 14th floor to delivery their cargo where it's needed up high. The human wheelbarrow - crazy reality in a country where human labour is cheaper than any mechanised way of doing something, and the labour market quite simply inexhaustible.

What makes Guiyang quite an experience right now is that you can see in one city China's progress, attempts at progress, and all the problems and failures along the way. Guiyang is not a normal Chinese city, it's far too wealthy on average but the way you can see the full spectrum of economic status, mixed with old and new surroundings, and how modernity and tradition are colliding like a head on train crash - together making it a city quite worth visiting. I'm happy to be here as I don't think my experience of China would have been the same if I'd only lived in Baoji.

One thing I feel I must say is although my time living here may have been punishing in some ways - the wage I earn, small number of hours I work and the fact that my accommodation is paid for affords a lifestyle which I'm sure I'll reminisce in future years. I never worry about not having enough money, I can do everything and anything I want and although I eat in restaurants every day I never have to look at how much the place costs - quite simply it's an irrelevance. Would I swap this for my lifestyle in the UK... golden handcuffs and all......... almost certainly not, although I have to say I would be disappointed if either here or the UK was my destiny!


Running out of patience

When I look at the last email I sent you guys I can see I was trying very hard to maintain a balanced view, but the reality of China is that it's no place for balanced views and I certainly don't hold a balanced view of the place. I don't mean to say that I purposefully make hasty remarks or hold negative views about the place for the sake of being unbalanced or critical, what I mean is that quite simply, through my eyes there are more things to be negative about than to be positive about. Recently this has been taking it's toll on me and my enjoyment of the place, and hence come the end of February I'll be happy to be leaving and realistically I don't think I'll ever come back.

Actually, I know what I was thinking when I wrote the last email; China gets a pretty hard wrap from the west and often unnecessarily so. This view I still hold to be true, but more so than sticking up for the government of China, really I guess I was sticking up for the people because it's not their fault that they've become victims of recent history. There are so many things about Chinese culture and society which as a westerner are incredibly annoying and hard to adjust to, like the long list of annoyances and observations in my previous email, and yet I was holding back from trying to be too negative because I know there are reasons for these things. Queue jumping for many during the cultural revolution would have been the difference between eating or starving - who am I to be critical of queue jumping when they have a history of there not being enough food to eat! This was my rationale a while back at least, but the brainwashed ignorance of so many people I've come to know has made my sympathies slowly ebb away. Again I know it's not their fault, but that doesn't mean I have to like it or defend it and my patience for defending and trying to rationalise some of the observations here is running out fast. Put plain and simple, someone who is rude, is still rude, regardless of their reasoning. A driver who will happily run you over, will still happily run you over, regardless of the reasoning. People who have no respect for each other, still have no respect for each other, regardless of their reasoning. I'm just a bit tired of trying to view things through rose coloured glasses which, in the reality of (my) China and as I've been discovering, their China, is a necessity to enjoy the place.


Political indoctrination/ Brainwashing

I'll attempt to explain a bit about what I mean by brainwashing - I don't mean the people walk around like crazed maniacs on a mission, in fact it's subtleties take a fair while to tune into, but eventually you seem to notice that when talking about certain issues everyone has exactly the same opinion, and no matter how long you debate for, they all have the same justifications and reasons for a given belief, as if they knew the questions you were likely to ask and had been taught THE answer, and this answer can't be changed or debated because it's THE answer. I also find it very convenient how all of these issues they talk about create an enormous sense of unity amongst the population. How convenient in a single party dictatorship!

Here are some examples; 'China is united, they have collective will and care deeply about each others welfare'. What the people don't seem to notice is that in terms of 'unity', Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang provinces clearly don't seem to agree with this notion - they would quite like to be free countries. In terms of 'collective will', I agree...... they do what they are told! and you can also see 'collective will' when queuing to buy something - everyone has a collective will - be the first - even if you have to kick, punch and push to get there first, but I don't see how this is really a helpful thing! And in terms of caring about each other’s welfare, I guess this is demonstrated by the way they push each other around, never looking where they're going when walking on the street, and the way cars would happily just run you over if you didn't jump out of the way when crossing the road. Basically, if they don't know you, or you're not part of their family you may as well not exist. It's the most 'every man for himself' country I've ever seen. In fact there are so many reasons I could give you for how uncaring they are about each other I could write forever about it - so I'll stop there! Try and have this debate with a Chinese person though - impossible!

They also firmly believe that the west in unfair and has brutal class systems which can't be broken, and more laughable that China doesn't have a class system! Try explaining how in the west your boss probably earns 3x as much as you, yet in China your boss earns 40x as much as you. Try explaining how opportunity to education and health care in the west is the same for everyone (within reason) regardless of wealth, compared to how in China there are different services for every economic bracket. Try explaining how in the west we don’t have ‘guanxi’ (relationship) which in China basically decides everything you can get in your life - again, impossible! China doesn't have class system, that's a western thing - the book said so!

Another one of the reasons China is so united is its 56 different ethnic minorities which 'live in harmony together'. What they all fail to understand is how almost all of those 56 minorities live in poverty, whilst the entire economic wealth of China and almost every job or role of importance within the land is taken by the 'Han' Chinese majority. Once living here for a while, you also start to see how China uses the traditions and dress of its ethnic minorities to advertise the country. What it doesn't tell you is how practically every person in these adverts is Han Chinese dressed in another minority’s traditional dress. Like at the Beijing Olympic Games opening ceremony, they proudly paraded each of these minorities wearing their traditional clothes and headdresses as one harmonious land - What they didn't tell you is how every one of these people were Han Chinese. Don't forget though, China is united, fair, and doesn't have a class system!

This final one I'll mention is always the most ridiculous to me, and it's their love of the 'Chairman' Mao ZeDong. For those of you who don't know, he's the man whom there are so many statues of around China, the man printed on their money, the man who brought communist revolution to China and 'liberated' China from oppression. True, I guess there are some things he did which could be construed as positive, namely that he and his army gave China back a sense of dignity and national identity after the humiliation of second world war occupation by Japan, women became relatively equal with men under his leadership, he ordered the simplification of their written language in an effort to improve literacy (which worked), and for the first time in a long time he actually brought China under the rule of one powerful leader. For me though (and unlike most Chinese people, I've had the benefit of reading both accounts of this history) that's about as far as his merits go. True, he disposed of individual warlords governing small areas of China to themselves, but then they were replaced by him - which is worse?
He encouraged a system of governance where political persuasion was more important than knowledge, e.g. letting a farmer who knows nothing about building become an architect because the real architect doesn't believe in Mao's ideology - this kind of idiocy multiplied on the scale of a nation of 500 million people meant that practically everything which China attempted to do during his reign failed. He had the wise idea that China would benefit from making steel, and so poured the entire economic strength of the country into this idea putting its manufacturer, again, in the hands of politicians not steel workers, so everything they ever produced was useless. This huge drive also pulled people out of the countryside away from farming, and consequently there was a huge famine in which an estimated 20,000,000 - 40,000,000 people died because there wasn't enough food, and yet at the same time he was preaching 'have as many children as you can!' Sensible!
During this time anyone who didn't agree with his ideology was branded a 'capitalist roader' or 'counter revolutionary' and sent off to hard labour camps, or worse, executed at the cost of god knows how many millions more lives. Also, anyone intelligent was persecuted, anyone with an opinion was persecuted, universities and schools were closed down, and for 11 years there was no education system past primary in China, lest the minions become educated enough to form their own ideas and revolt against him.
In many ways, he must have been more intelligent and more evil than Hitler. Not only was Mao responsible for the deaths of so many people (almost as many as in all of WW2), they were HIS OWN people - and they revere him like a god for it! The thing which makes me sick when debating about Mao with Chinese people is how they are actually taught, and believe, that ~40,000,000 lives was an acceptable cost - a necessary sacrifice (and sacrifice for what?). I've actually never met a Chinese person who doesn't hold this view. Not one. Madness!

Actually, just one more! - the most important piece of brainwashing I'll mention is the force that keeps China 'safe' from foreign influence, and that is; 'foreigners don't understand China'. I myself fell for this piece of propaganda for a little while until I realised that actually, if a Chinese person went to live in the UK or France etc, they wouldn't completely understand our culture and traditions either. And beside the point, what the hell does 'you don't understand China' mean anyway??? I don't understand what exactly?? This piece of information which they all firmly believe gives adequate justification to the educated elite, and the only people who matter in China to simply ignore anything a foreigner says to them as foreign propaganda or lies. Convenient in a single party dictatorship!

I'll only conclude by saying in fairness this is not unique to China. Brainwashing happens in every society though perhaps not to this extent. Americans really, genuinely, honestly believe they come from the greatest country in the world even though many of them have never left its borders. Parents in all countries brainwash their children into believing whatever religion at the age of 3 or 4. In the UK I guess our government has been using techniques of fear and media manipulation to help justify ridiculous measures against supposed 'terrorists'??


Chinese New Year in the Countryside

Very recently our Chinese manager at work invited us to stay with his family at his family home in the countryside village of DaFang for the Chinese New Year. This is the most important Chinese festival, like our Christmas I suppose and it's an honour to be invited so of course we couldn't and didn't want to refuse. It would also be an opportunity to experience the rare occasion of a Chinese family all together at the same time and get a taste of what real Chinese countryside life is like, as I knew he didn't come from a wealthy family. After a trip of 3 hours from Guiyang we ended up in a small town which I can only describe as impoverished, and dirty to the extreme - all the streets were covered in inch thick wet mud, the roads had all fallen to pieces meaning they were like driving down farm tracks, every building was the typical disgusting Chinese white tiled monstrosity (anyone who’s been here will know exactly what I mean!), it was freezing and the fog was so thick you couldn't see more than 50m ahead of you. In fact if it hadn't been so damn cold, I swear we could have been in Gaza. Thankfully we didn't end up staying as this was just the nearest town and we would have to take another bus from here.

Eventually we ended up in a small village about 20 minutes outside the town and at his parents’ home where we would be spending the New Year. It was a big, but typical style Chinese building with a shop underneath which they operated and which sold very basic corner shop type things. Inside, every wall and floor was just solid grey concrete, and open coal stoves burned inside the building without chimneys. They just had the windows open to vent the smoke. There was practically no furniture, just some wooden benches and beds in each room. The temperature inside the building must have been about 3 degrees warmer than outside, so perhaps 2 or 3 degrees hence I quickly realised I wasn't wearing enough clothes and decided to put on another 2 t-shirts, another jumper, another pair of socks and some long johns. Even so, after sitting around for a while it still seemed damn cold. Everyone huddled around the coal stoves for warmth. I was beginning to think it might be a hard couple of days!

His entire family are dialect speakers, I.e. they don't speak mandarin Chinese (which meant that I couldn't really understand what they said) though I quickly got the sense that his family were very proud of him for getting himself a good education, learning to speak Mandarin and other foreign languages, and also for getting away from the countryside. Over the few days they were incredibly hospitable to us as they spent their time enjoying each other’s company and mostly playing Ma Jiang (a Chinese board game) with each other. We ate good food, and generally just did nothing. It was interesting to see how they interacted with each other, often having heated little debates about things but never anything too serious. The woman of the house spent practically all of her time preparing food or working in the shop whilst the men played Ma Jiang, occasionally we saw some happenings which would be frowned upon in the west, such as spitting on the house floor, eating and chucking the bits of food you don't want on the floor, frequently holding a baby with a cigarette in your mouth, and drinking BaiJiu (strong alcohol - like vodka) at 9 o'clock in the morning (only for good health of course!) - but as I've learnt since living here in China this is just part of their culture and they don't frown upon it or even notice it, so I also try not to. One thing I did appreciate is how the children from the age of being able to walk upwards are seemingly treated as equals and adults. They are not sheltered from any aspect of adult life, they live a life of relative freedom to go and do whatever they please, yet also cook, stoke the fires, get coal from outside, work in the shop and at the same time do everything a child at home would do. They're never really shouted at or hit because that's not the Chinese way.

Eventually we left the house and went for a walk to the local river dam, which was quite an impressive site. The countryside, as so many times in China, would have been spectacular had it not been for the human scars on the place - but it was still very nice. It was a countryside of huge gorges, rivers and mountains and yet the obvious signs of poverty were startling. The other foreign friend who I travelled to the place with said it reminded him of some parts of Africa he'd visited, but for me all I kept thinking about was something I read in a book a while back about something Mao ZeDong said in a speech when he first came to power in the 1950's. He said “today's Russia is tomorrow's China”. Looking at China today in the countryside some 50 years after that speech, I'm honestly not sure if it's achieved yesterday's Russia yet.
I guess they're a people without a great deal of needs, but they were also a people without any realistic chance of betterment and to whom aspirations would have been detrimental because they have practically no chance of achieving whatever dreams they may have. This brings me though to something else I also read in a book, a quote from a Chinese philosopher 70 years ago; “the most outstanding characteristic of eastern civilisation is to know contentment, whereas the most outstanding characteristic of western civilisation is to not know contentment”. This completely fits the China I see and why I often don't like it because all I see everywhere I go is something which could have been done better, and idea which could have been though through more, but it also fits their China and their happiness and contentment in a world of few opportunities.
The 3 days we spent in the countryside were an experience, but to be honest I wouldn't have wanted to stay any longer and was happy to be leaving the cold, thankful though for the experience and the family's great hospitality.


China going into the future

I'm pretty sure that most of you back home have been hearing much recently about the rapid ascent of China in world importance. True, the last few years have been fantastic for them, have seen their rise to become the world’s third richest economy, and yet they still manage to maintain an annual economic rate of growth which out stands the west and shows no sign of slowing any time soon. Their market reforms which started around 30 years ago are now starting to reap benefits for some, and I guess it's only a matter of time before China becomes the world’s richest economy, overtaking the US and Japan. This will of course mean they are to become a true heavyweight in world economics and politics like every other country in history which has occupied this position, but what I keep wondering about is what kind of world would we be living in with China as its dominant force?

I think first and foremost it must be stated that China is different to previous world leading countries in that its population is quite simply enormous at 1,400,000,000 and growing (i.e. 23x the population of the UK, and 5x the population of the US). This in itself must account for most of the reason it's grown so fast - in fact in many ways we should be amazed at why it wasn't always the world’s leading economic power! It's also the world's fourth biggest country and so isn't exactly short of natural resources which helps.

When walking around China going about my daily life this is something which I think about frequently. What I see when I look around me isn't a country I would consider ready for this role and the prospect of what the future might hold worries me a little. I suppose the main crux of my problem is that they're arrived at this position in a manner like no country ever has before. If you look at the world superpowers of the past, the Romans ruled by military might, unity, science and education; the Mongolians ruled by military superiority, the Spanish, British and US ruled by military strength, trading, economic superiority, technology, innovation, education but importantly they all came upon this position through being among the best of the day in science and technology - and therefore education and intelligence, by driving the world forward and striving for excellence. China doesn't seeming have these qualities to offer in any abundance; it's education system is certainly not the best, and China has contributed practically nothing to the world of science and continues to do so - in terms of innovation the only inventions or discoveries I've ever heard Chinese people talk about are things like gunpowder and paper which they invented over 1000 years ago! In short it's seems to have arrived at this position through nothing more than brutal market reforms without regulation, and helped by having huge natural resources and huge population. I guess I just don't like the idea of the world’s biggest superpower being a country who hasn't arrived at its position through intelligence - intelligence over the ages, for good or bad, is what's driven the world forward, so what will happen when we're suddenly dominated by a country which rules only by force of sheer numbers!?

This idea of striving for excellence, or the apparent lack of it in China scares me as I envisage a future with them leading the way. There is a distinctive difference of mentality between the west and China in that when we assess something, we view it from the perspective of perfect down often leading to the disapproval of something and hence future adjustments for betterment ever striving towards perfection. China only ever sees things through the eyes of the past and any improvement is fantastic, no change at all just as acceptable. Perfection is irrelevant, but it's more than that - this is just one of the faces upon a many sided issue. It's the way their brainwashed into believing China is something it's not, a country which the rest of the world can learn so much from. The reality is that the western powers came to China a long time ago, learnt what their was to be learnt, took it home and used it to the fullest or bettered and improved it. China hasn't advanced from this point many years ago, so what exactly can we learn from them? It's also the way they're more cut off from the reality of the world than any other powers before them. The way they politically indoctrinate their people and expect the rest of the world to follow this brainwashed nonsense - like when the Dali Lama recently visited France and the Chinese Premier responded by cutting France out of his European tour saying he wouldn't engage in talks with France again until they had 'corrected their great error' - how out of touch with reality are these people? The government might be able to brainwash its people into believing whatever political inclinations it pleases, but to expect a foreign democracy to bow to its whims speaks volumes of their detachment. It's the way the general population of China is becoming rather arrogant about their rise to economic superpower status, yet the people benefiting willingly ignore the fact that a huge percentage of the population live in poverty, and the way they're cut off from happenings around the world and have a lack of awareness of the fact that actually, some people have different views to the Chinese government and just because somebody doesn't agree with the Chinese governments version of history it doesn't make them a liar.

Arrogance is a problem in China, not on a personal level (actually it's practically non-existent there I think) but on a national scale it's unprecedented and I believe the cause of so many of the social difficulties China has faced over the last 200 years or so. They are so proud of their '5000 years of history' and to be honest I'm getting bored of hearing about it now. They seemingly believe this gives them right to be considered the supreme civilisation on earth and that leading it is their natural position. Believing this creates the problem that no matter what the issue they always believe the Chinese way of doing something is the best way, and that nothing can be learned from the west or anyone else for that matter. I'm not saying their way is never the right way, but I am saying they perhaps should consider others advice more. I firmly believe the true mark of all great civilisations and empires in history is their ability to learn and acquire the wisdom of those whom they seek to guide, and also to learn from past mistakes to try and ensure they don't happen again. China wouldn't lightly entertain this idea; the people have practically no interest in learning about foreign cultures and they aren’t interested in learning anyone else’s view of history.

On the positive side though, China has been progressively opening up for a while now, and in the 10-20 years it’s going to take for them to catch the US as the world’s leading economy I just hope a lot of changes in attitude transpire first.

Some positive things!

Having just re-read what I've written above, that sounds pretty damn negative and sounds like I hate the place (which isn't true), so in the interests of balance I have to say it's not been a bad experience living here in general, despite what it might sound like!

Living here has been an absolutely unforgettable experience and I have no doubt I'll still be telling stories about it when I'm old. The people, once you build a relationship with them are actually incredibly hospitable and I've made some good friends here, and I have to also say Chinese people on the whole are very nice to foreign people and often treat us better than their own.
The landscape here in China is of course world famous for not only for it's quality but also it's diversity, and some of the sights we've seen here, from the deserts of Gansu and Xinjiang provinces, to the biggest mountains ranges in the world have been fantastic and really are a sight to behold.
I guess one important thing which I've also forgotten to mention is just how safe a country China is. It really is a place where you can walk anywhere at any time of night and have complete confidence in your safety. That has a lot to be said for it! It is most definitely a safer place than the UK to live!

Final thoughts

Wow wow wow! I’m sorry this has ended up being such a long email (in fact so long I’ve decided to post it as a blog!), and so heavily politically charged too, but from my point of view it’s been an amazing challenge to put all my thoughts about such an intense experience into words and cathartic too. I guess I must say these are just MY opinions based around MY experiences, MY interpretation of history and other people almost certainly share different feelings about the place. I’ve tried my hardest to be objective, but bias is of course inevitable as would be anyone’s broad account of an entire society. This is China through MY eyes and I won’t pretend it’s anything else!

I now realise I've completely judged China by western standards and there will be those amongst you who think I'm some sort of Nazi, uncultured devil man on a mission to tar the name of China (not true!) ..... but then I am a western person, so am I wrong to judge China by western standards? Perhaps.... probably......... most likely.......... you tell me!


What next?

Come the end of February, we’ll be hitting the road again and I can’t wait! A year working has been too long and I think we’ll only stick to 6 month stints from now on.
Our current plan is pretty much set in stone now. From here we’ll travel to western Sichuan province to experience Tibetan culture and landscape without having to go into Tibet. From there we’ll head into Mongolia for about a month, then back into China to XinJiang province which I love so much and explore around the TianShan Mountains and Borohoro Shan on the border with Kazakhstan. From there we’ll head into Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and finally into Kazakhstan from which we’ll fly into India and spend the remainder of our 6 months (We’ve knocked Pakistan on the head in light of recent events). After India, our plan is to fly to Vietnam or Indonesia where we’ll live and work for 6 months teaching English again. This part of our trip has been a long time in the planning and I only hope we’ve saved enough money to last the duration! Whatever we end up doing, it’s going to be the experience of a lifetime and the anticipation of getting on the go is killing me!

Thanks to those of you who’ve made it to the end!

Take care guys

Lee


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30th January 2009

bit harsh!!
Hi, I came across this blog entry when I was sifting thru Travelblog site randomly. Title for this entry and the pictures made me give this more attention and subsequently I read thru this blog entry with great interest. From the pictures you have enclosed, China looks beautiful and reasonably clean and not all that deserving of being called "dirty" so many times in your post. I am afraid that you are looking at China and still comparing it against Western countries and not against other developing nations that are/were in the same league. Considering the size of its population and complexity of its land mass (Not to mention the cockamamie programs it endured during Mao era), I feel that the spectacular rise of China to where it is today in a span of 3 decades is nothing short of miracle. So, I feel you come across a bit harsh at times. May be you are just being truthful and really don't feel the need to sugarcoat or be politically correct. However, statements like "its students are not the most intelligent" are offensive and hateful no matter what. Leaving that, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed your writing. BTW, I am an Indian national and going by the way you have criticised China, I can only imagine that your blog about your travels thru India will be nothing short of brutal. Can’t wait to read it!! :) Regards
31st January 2009

thank you!
Hi Mr Senthil, Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog, and for taking the time to write some constructive notes about my writing! It's appreciated! I concede you are actually completely right in everything you've said in your note, and hence I've taken some time to adjust some of it's content to not come across so harsh, and deleted the particular phrase of offence you highlighted, though I guess the thrust of it is still the same. It wasn't my intention to come across as a China hater if that's what I've done, that's just the way the words came out of my mind when writing! In terms of not wanting to 'sugarcoat or be politically correct' about my experiences, I guess you are right. The politically correct thing to do would have been to sugarcoat it, but firstly that's not my style, and secondly I feel like I've only ever read 'sugarcoated' experiences of China so far - perhaps this will be a different read for people (for better or worse). As for judging through the eyes of a westerner, again, you are absolutely right, but then I am a westerner - so am I wrong to do that? I didn’t always view China that way - I tried my best to immerse myself in their culture, learn their language and understand their customs - that's just the way my thoughts have evolved over time. The first email I sent home about China 6 months ago (not on travelblog) was very much presenting the rose coloured view of China which seemed like the right thing to do given the unfair press China often receives, but as explained, my patience for that has just run out recently. Living here has been a test of my soul and my patience, and I'm a better man for it - but sadly on balance, thus far China has won! Thanks again for your comments - they really are appreciated and helpful best regards Lee
12th August 2009

Do your Chinese friends know you have posted pics of them?
13th August 2009

fully aware
Hi there, Yes, they are all fully aware as all photographed are subscribed to the blog. The "Hummm..." title of your message suggests you have a problem with that for some reason. I'll take a guess and answer your concerns: 1. You think having their faces on a blog critical of the PRC is dangerous for them? No way - imagining China as a dangerous place to express your opinion is a fallacy in my experience - just something we are politically indoctrinated to believe in the west. 2. You think they wouldn't want their faces on a blog critical of the PRC? - Well I am their friends and if they had a problem with it then they only had to ask for them to be removed (and yes they are aware of this since I asked the prior to publishing) and I would have done it. No such request was received. Concerns abated?

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