I spent six weeks in China. I was studying ceramics. one month was spent in the city of Jingdezhen, the city “where porcelain was born”. The last two weeks I toured Xian, Beijing and Shanghai.
People ask what China was like. I arrived at Pudong Airport in Shanghai. It was totally modern and organized. Determined to jump right into my “travel mode,” I decided to take the subway into the city.
As you know (if you like to use subways as I do) when you go to any strange city there are always issues with ticket vending machines, maps and routes, figuring out how the subway map correlates to a street map, and walking distances above and below ground. Now factor in a population where very few speak English. My first obstacle was getting a ticket. Someone who spoke English asked where I wanted to go and then attempted to buy a ticket for me but the only bills I had were too large a denomination. He kindly bought me at ticked using his own money. Surprisingly, I was able to get to my destination, including one transfer, successfully. The subway was clean and the riders polite. When I arrived in downtown Shanghai, the skyline was magnificently stunning. More so than I expected. By all outside appearances, much of Shanghai looks like any other modern western city, except more modern. The cars were large and new. There were no bicycles. Forget about rickshaws. Everyone wears western clothing. I suspect Hong Kong, Dubai, Abudabi are similarly modern. Of course, Paris and Rome don’t want to look modern.
The point is, China has a very modern side. And that is because much of the construction is new. Case in point is their high-speed railway system. I loved it. I just did some research on it. China has the fastest trains in the world, more miles of track, trains run on time, the cost of construction is two-thirds of that in Europe, tickets are one fourth the price, and it is easier and cheaper to take a train than a plane if you are going 1000 miles or less. And at 220 miles an hour… wow!
All this train construction happened in the last 18 years, and China now has more high-speed track and trains than the rest of the world combined. China has the money to spend and the will to modernize, and it is happening at incredible speed. Plus, construction is continuing. It is a vast country, and they are going to have four or five times the number of trains in a few more years. China is absolutely on steroids! If the government wants something to happen, it gets done. Bam!
Government control is a double-edged sword because with it comes censorship. China wants all its citizens on the same page. Leave your newspaper on the plane when you arrive. Don’t wrap your pots in newspaper when you leave the country either. Google refused to comply with China’s request to censor some sites, so China blocked Google. You can’t access Google or anything else they don’t want you to see. That made my life difficult. In China, every one carries a national ID card. Everyone uses WeChat to message, and it is monitored. Say the wrong thing and you get blocked. BIG BROTHER IS DEFINITELY WATCHING AND LISTENING.
So are the Chinese people miserable? No. Despite the West’s concern about human rights violations, the Chinese all seemed happy. The economy is booming and people never had it better. They love western styles, movies, music, and fashion. Everyone was very kind. Families seem loving. The kids all have lots of freedom and play happily. It’s like the 1950s in the USA when parents let their kids run all around the neighborhood without worrying about psychopaths and scary clowns, etc.
I never worried about walking alone on dark streets late at night, and in Jingdezhen street lights were scarce.
China is the most homogeneous country I have been to. Even in Shanghai, I saw very few westerners unless I was at a tourist site or a hotel. I don’t think Americans know much about China and their stereotypes are probably wrong. I know mine were. I was expecting hoards of bicycles and people in traditional garb. The bicycle has been replaced by electric motor scooters. They are everywhere. You can buy a brand new mid quality scooter for $450. By the way, electric scooters have arrived in Pittsburgh. Check out Scoobi.co.
Check out this view from the train of urban planning. How many brand new housing units do you think there are? Note they are all facing north/south. All these new buildings are 20 to 30 stories tall. Each one house about 500 families. In the USA this is what failed low-income housing projects looked like. See wiki in housing.