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Published: November 25th 2010
Stone and Reality
So at last -after four months- I have left China and I am now writing this whilst perusing my facebook messages that I have been without for so long. I was requested to write something about China which is a bit more straight than my literary satire, ahem, bad spoof. Describing China as a whole is like trying to paint a rainbow using only one colour. I have chosen Red, mainly because of the political persuasion and the flag but also it goes well with the Tibetan Monks and matches the sunrise I saw in the Gobi.
In the words of a famous pop group ‘Every Silver Lining has a Cloud’ and China is no exception. Here are a few points I mull over when considering my time in China.
Its landscapes are beautiful and diverse, from the vast expanses of the Taklamakan and Gobi Deserts, to its Siberian forests of the North-East and the undulating karst landforms that make up its South and of course the South Western Plateau! To explore all this would be an epic tale to rival Odysseus but to taste is quite a different matter as the Chinese have been always very good at
A steep way to find a living
building long strong infrastructure from walls to highways. One can cross the country in a couple of days and be within the heart of a new geography before you even wake up.
Hua Shan is a set of about ten limestone peaks linked by thin ridges up near vertical terrain with stunning views over the sheer topography. One might think that such to summit it is reserved for the experienced climbers of the world where on arriving at the summit, there is a swift photo, a relieved burst of laughter and maybe a quick mars bar to celebrate before beginning the descent. However, in China this is not the case, there is a highway to the base and carved steps all the way to the top, and for those that prefer there is a cable car to ensure that after your gruelling climb you would be greeted with at least 10000 Chinese faces taking photos of you! Walking up such a mountain is more like waiting in line at the tax office from the sheer quantity of people each with a different ring tone. On top one finds vendors, pagodas, hotels and sometimes activities. Not quite the serene day
The Modern Side
in the countryside one would expect from the wild outdoors.
The Tibetans have a long and turbulent history, much of which could be described as bad or nasty leadership. Seen by the west as some sort of mystical spiritual people, they do have a something of a far flung corner look and feel to them. Separated by epic terrain these people attract alot of attention. But in my experience these are not the on-the-way-to-enlightenment kind of people that Europe has in their mode de nos jours
but a rough harsh mountain tribe that fights and spits and barges and scrums with themselves as well as the surrounding ethnicities. This can be seen as a liberating free spirit if one wishes to see the positive or conversely a barbarous aggression. Whatever it is, the wild end of this vast country is full of colour and passion and greatly exciting to visit and the people are great to meet if they are on your side.
As well as the Tibetan Holy city of Xiahe, I also visited Xi’an, an ancient capital, Beijing, Kashgar, Pingyao and a smattering of other ancient cities. Many have influences from different cultures and have great
Limestine Formation over terraces
examples of Temples, Mosques, Churches, even a few Synagogues have made it to Chinese soil. The architecture is full of flying eaves, carved animals, dragons and ornate engravings. But, the same tour buses that were at Hua Shan also stop here and thus so do the tourists in vast numbers. The commercial expansion of China is most obvious when considering these ‘towns’, for a town may contain maybe 3 million people. Minor cities or provincial capitals that the world knows nothing of count registered residents to 20 million. These metropolises are anything but pretty. They are clean but ugly with little architectural regulation and 20 million exhausts. These places can crowd the old town or even tower over it ominously.
So, Where did all these people come from? Swarming up the mountains and around the tourist sights in greater numbers than one would see at the Coliseum in Rome or the Empire State Building in New York.
The answer of course is China, internal tourism is a key to the industry, with little regards given to the foreign tourist. Maybe a more interesting question is How Come?
Well the answer to that question comes out of the
Haerbin in the North
great debate: Capitalist or Communist? China has long been regarded as Communist, I mean it has a red flag and is friends with Cuba but this country has long ago relieved itself of its social burden. If you need healthcare you pay, if you need to take transport you pay, if you want to go to higher education you pay. But this makes it sound un-Communist whereas the reality is that it is the most capitalist country I have been to. Everywhere has an entrance ticket, from the Forbidden City and Terracotta Warriors to a stone village or a rice field. All in the name of economics, their ticket prices set to capacity and supply and demand trends not to content! And it doesn’t stop at the tourist industry, as everyone knows if you want something made you go to China, simply because if someone will work for a farthing, you pay him a farthing. If you want to make shoes called Addidas from poor materials and sell them for cheap that’s business. A completely deregulated market and what does it lead to? The rich, the poor and the strongest contender on the economic and political world stage!
Climbing the dunes of the Gobi
could type for a long time on this, but I will allow your mind and your travels to fill in the gaps, one final point on China and that is of its people. They are a friendly, unaggressive bunch who know very little about cheating and scamming, just the odd misguided art student. I always felt welcome and even without a word in common I felt relaxed and quite safe. Not known for their charisma or openness, they are some of the most liberal minded people especially when it comes to bodily functions and dress sense. My advice for when in China: watch out for the spit and be prepared to smile.
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