A Nation of Contrasts (Final Thoughts)

I didn’t really know what to expect before I took off for China. Having been raised during the Cold War, communism has always held a horrible place in my thoughts. But this is not the China of old.

One thing is the same, no matter where you go. People. Just like all the other places we have visited, people have been a joy. The guides, the residents, the workers. Friendly, inviting and genuine. But there are differences. Many of the Chinese people we met have a very pragmatic approach to life. When they have change thrust upon them, they just deal with it. When we would object or refuse, they just do it. I suppose years of knowing their protests won’t make a difference causes people to just accept rather than fight.

Industrious. I would describe the Chinese people that way. They work hard. Everyone works. The students study hard and long, with great pressure to do well. And the population, over a billion! It makes me wonder if they are not going to walk right over us in a few years.

And building! Everywhere we went there were new high rises and roads and bridges and infrastructure going up. Even in Tibet the building was incredible.

But for all the new and fancy, so many people still live in what we would consider third world conditions. No one can drink the tap water. Community bathrooms are not uncommon. Sanitary conditions are lacking. The air quality, especially in areas like Beijing is horrible.

And Communism. Well, it’s not the days of Mao. In true communism everyone is supposed to be equal. Everyone should collectively own everything and the wealth should be distributed among all. It is a classless society.  Well, that is not China. There is a lot of private industry in China. Private schools, too. And very wealthy people.

The government is run by the Central Party and the average person in China has little to say about governing.  (But sometimes I feel like that too.) But the government still rules. Take the one-child policy. This policy enacted in the 70s brought great hardship to families. Fines for second children and second children who were unrecognized by the government which means they do not qualify for education or health care. This policy has recently changed and the government is encouraging the birth of second children. Probably a good thing when you look at the number of old people each young person is going to have to support.

I could not access my email in China because it is gmail. The Chinese government blocks Google of all types. Web searching is very limited. But I think many people find ways around that. It will be interesting to see what will happen when young people who have been influenced by western culture grow in numbers. But one thing is for sure, China is a force to be reckoned with. But will the young people want a different form of government? Time will tell.





Shanghai goodies

The Shanghai Acrobatic Show was one of the highlights of our visit to the city. Incredible feats of balance and gymnastics.

The Metro is a gem of transportation. Clean, efficient and inexpensive. We rode it once during rush hour on a day it was raining. Never have I ever been as squished. Other times, it was quite a pleasant ride.

We also really enjoyed our dumpling and spring roll class in the old French Concession area. Now, to try them at home!

Fengjing, Venice of the East

The ancient town of Fengjing is about 35 miles outside of Shanghai. It is a water town, kind of like Venice but with pagodas. The day we visited was a little dreary. Maybe that was why there were few visitors. I also think it is not one of the well-known water towns. This made for a pleasant stroll through the town with our guide, Lily.

This town was also a former site of the People’s Commune and there are old offices and memorabilia from the days of Mao Tse-tung.


Local specialties: frogs and sticky rice with pork wrapped in bamboo leaves.

The town is known for its paintings. Many paintings can be seen on the walls of buildings.

Jinshan Peasants’ Painting originated and flourished in this town. We visited the nearby Jinshan Peasant Painting Academy. Not all the artists workshops were open, but we enjoyed walking through the area and visiting some of the local artists.



Yu Garden

Yu Garden, built during the Ming Dynasty, was a private garden for the Pan family. It was the largest garden of its time. The carvings and woodwork are exquisite. It is a breath of fresh air in busy Shanghai.
The Yuyuan Bazaar, right next to the garden, is not quiet. The day we were there hundreds of people shopping.  Fun.

Spin little silkworm, spinning, spinning….

We visited a silk factory. Checked out the life cycle of the little buggers first.

Then an interview led but working silk spooling machine (my description, not theirs.)

This woman works on rugs all day long, sometimes one rug for several months. She follows the pattern pinned above the loom.


Did you know that when you turn a silk rug 180 degrees, the color looks totally different!


To market, to market…

Sandouping is the small town near the Three Gorges Dam. Our guide took us to the local market there. He said it reminded him of the market in his town when he was a boy. He told us about the time he went to the market with his mother to buy a chicken. It was a special treat because he had done so very well in his studies. He was first in his class! The market was quite interesting, with lots of things we don’t normally see.

My favorite photo:


Well, dam!

It’s humongous! The hydroelectric dam that spans the Yangtze is the largest power station in the world. It is five times larger than the Hoover Dam. The dam is supposed to help the lower Yangtze from flooding and increase shipping. It has been controversial because the installation of the dam displaced over one million people and flooded cultural sites. There has also been an increase in landslides due to erosion. Lower water levels have caused salt water to come farther up the Yangtze, threatening fish populations.

A dam cross the Yangtze was first envisioned by Sun Yat-sen. The first plans were begun during the time of  Chiang Kai-shek. In the 1980s the National People’s Congress approved the plans. The dam building began in 1994 and was completed in 2012. In addition to two sets of locks, there is also a ship lift, an elevator that can lift ships up to 3,000 pounds.

Once again, our group attracts attention. Especially, the white-haired guys are asked to pose for photos.