China

China Syndrome

7 Comments 22 November 2007

A lonely path

A lonely path

I’m neutral on China. Some of it was better than expected and some worse. Then there were some things that met my expectations exactly such as the amount of people and the smog. Don’t let my neutrality fool you though, I am happy that I spent 4 weeks there, observing the largest populated country in the world, and an emerging economic power. China seemed vastly different than its Asian neighbors – and I can sum that up with the term ‘impersonal’. As I traveled throughout the rest of Asia – I felt a warmth and a connection from the people and the customs. Yet in China – I never really hit that groove. Granted – it had its moments (most of the occurring when I was in Yunnan), but overall – I never really felt that I connected with the people and I think that also comes through in my photography of China.

Photo: Take this path, and don’t wander off of it!
tree lined pathI felt like I was always playing the role of the ‘western tourist’. Being taken to the tourist sites, the tourist shopping, the tourist part of town. It was as if the Chinese people/government were trying to contain the tourists to a certain path else they would have a China Syndrome on their hands. The few times I was able to break away from the tourist track and explore on my own within the local areas, it was rewarding. I felt accomplished for getting out of the normal path that everyone wanted us to see, and to finally see on my own. Maybe this was a product disciplined tour choreography was simply preparing them for their influx of visitors for the Olympics, maybe it was a form of control, or maybe it was a product of the tour companies that I decided to travel with – I’m not really sure.

After having the opportunity to spend 4 weeks in China in various regions, I have put together a few of my observations that seemed to stand out to me. These are the strange things that I will remember about China long after I’ve left.

A Hard Day’s Night
After touring and hiking around all day, all you wanted was a good night’s sleep. I’d get into my hotel room, take off my backpack, and flop on the bed in exhaustion…yet as I flopped down, my ass was greeted to a bed as hard as bricks. Granted, I was traveling on a budget, so my hotel expectations weren’t very high, however sleeping in China was like sleeping on a bed of plywood. The mattresses were HARD. Add that to the fact that the rooms weren’t heated and many of the areas I visited had frost filled mornings. If it weren’t for the electric blankets on the planks they called beds, I probably would have been covered in frost myself!

So you Think you Can Dance?
dancingThe Chinese love to dance….who knew? Every time I came upon a town square, a wide open space, or a simple highway underpass, there were groups of people dancing. No, not like a rave…there were no glow sticks or pacifiers. Instead it was adults and elderly doing what looked like country line dancing. It was organized groups, dancing slowly in unison. While in Shangri-la, the Tibetans loved to dance. Every night they would gather out in the town square and show off their moves. Or maybe they were simply dancing to stay warm. Not a bad idea considering their homes had no heat besides a bucket of burning coal.

Bank Statements
Considering that small cities in China are big cities to most people in the world, there were always plenty of tall buildings around, even in the smallest of cities. I came to realize that most of the large buildings were banks. In fact, I started to amuse myself by counting the number of different banks I saw – each one slightly different than the other – some of my favorites:
Agricultural Bank of China
Agricultural Development Bank of China
Bank of China
Bank of Communications
Central Bank of China
China Construction Bank
China Development Bank
China Merchants Bank
Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
Industrial Bank Co.
The Export-Import Bank of China
The People’s Bank of China
I think there is a type of bank for each type of person. I kept searching for my bank, ‘The Unemployed Bank of China’, but I could never find a branch office when I needed one. Truly though, after seeing the myriad of bank names and large buildings, I decided that maybe all of the banking mergers in the US weren’t so bad after all!

Lending a helping Hand
Lijiang marketWhere-ever you go in China, you will always have someone around to assist you. A restaurant, train, bus, or crossing the street. Everyone seems to be employed. From my perspective, there was always an army of workers around whether it called for it or not. The street crossing had 5 to 6 officers directing traffic, pedestrians and bikes. Restaurants had an army of staff to assist your every need. Hotels had 5 people behind the front desk…when clearly 1 to 2 people could have done an efficient job. But then again, efficiency never seemed to be a concern. Keeping people employed seemed to be more of the concern. And maybe that’s a good thing when you have a population of 1.3 billion people. But to my Western eye, it seemed inefficient and pointless. Working on a corner all day be a crossing guard for bikers – didn’t really seem that necessary – especially when there were 3 other people there doing the exact same thing.

What is China known for? Fakes
treeConsidering China seems to be the manufacturing plant for the world – it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see a bunch of brand name items in markets with prices too good to be true. China is the land of fakes – purses, coats, DVD’s, jewelry, watches, pens, clothing…if it is manufactured in China…then it can also be copied and sold in China. I constantly came across some of the nicest looking Northface jackets and backpacks that you could imagine…for bargain basement prices…all fakes – but damn good ones. I couldn’t tell the real vs. the fake stuff apart unless of course it was a Coach purse as I’ve been trained to spot fake Coach…I think they taught us that on our first day of work there. If you want a bargain on a name brand – go to China and be prepared to negotiate. I honestly think many of the items were high-jacked on the way to the shipyard. The strange thing is that I never could figure out if the government condoned it or fought it. If they fought it – it was a passive fight, and they were definitely losing.

Even though these themes remain in my head when I think of China – I also have visions of the amazing landscape of the country (when it’s not engulfed in smog). The Great Wall and the Southwest mountain ranges were completely stunning, but changing fast. It’s worth a visit to see for yourself. Just make sure that you bring some warm clothes, a good pillow, and your dancin’ shoes!

Your Comments

7 Comments so far

  1. Stacey Baldwin says:

    Hi Sherry – I just wanted to drop you a note and say how much I enjoyed your website. I am currently in the process of planning the same type of trip (all contingent on me selling my house) and am always looking for new websites to give me inspriation when I came across yours. I too am single, 35 years old, and in need of a break from corporate America. As I was reading your description of your life and what made you want to take this trip I found I related to everything you said. Even your itinerary is similar to what I am planning. It was so nice to see a woman who did this solo as this is my biggest fear, but reading about your journey only reinforced to me that it can be done. Thanks so much for taking the time to write about your trip, you have only reinforced to me that it is the right decision for me and that it is ok to have fears. Good luck on the rest of your travels and keep posting. I am curious to hear about what it was like coming home.

    Stacey in Minneapolis

  2. Sherry says:

    Stacey – Pack those bags and have the time of your life! Thanks for reading, and yes coming home (even if it is for a short time) will be a shock for me! If you have any questions about solo travel, long term travel, what to bring (or not to bring), or whatever – just ask – I’m happy to help!
    Sherry

  3. Amanda says:

    Hi Sherry,

    I just came across your blog and I’ve been reading for hours! You’ve done an exceptional job of describing the places you’ve been with thoughtful, honest words and wonderful photography. You have surely inspired thousands of souls who dream of doing exactly what you’ve done. You’re a hero!

    Whew… so now re-entry! I actually think re-entry is kinda exciting. It magnifies just how much you’ve grown mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I can even tell how much more confident and wordly you are now than you were in your first entries… Idon’t even know you and I’m so proud of you!

    Thanks for all of the hours you’ve spent blogging to share the world with us!

    Amanda

    P.S. Be sure to try okonomiyaki in Japan… it’s one of my favorite foods of all time!

  4. Adria D says:

    Brilliant post thanks, all the best. I really like reading this blog, it has a great position on my favourites bar! Adria D

  5. Jane says:

    I’m trying to not to get overwhelmed by the many memories of my year teaching in China that reading this post has brought back. There were some days when I literally cried with frustration but thankfully they were outweighed by the good.

    I’d agree with recommending escaping some of the major tourist haunts, and definitely avoiding organised tours. Parks where one of my favourite places – full of life and fascinating goings-on that most tourists miss.

    I spent most of my time in a provincial city far from the tourist trail and I’m so grateful for getting to see something so different. In northern China at least, it generally seemed that people were very helpful, but it would take a while for them to risk being friendly with you.

  6. Howard says:

    This was an awesome post that really resonated with me.

    I haven’t been to China yet, but I live in its illegitimate love child, Taiwan, and I’ve met my fair share of mainlanders. From what I’ve seen, everything here is absolutely true. Even in Taiwan there are a lot of similarities: tons of banks, old people dancing, and a deep cultural love of tours. I also own several top-notch products that my girl called “fakes” but I’m not so sure… They seem totally legit and of the best quality. Still pretty expensive, too!

    Thanks so much for the post and safe travels!


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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Where am I and Where am I going?

British Columbia CA -> Ireland

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