First Impressions of China
I just got back from a trip to China. When I say trip it was not a two month travel of discovery but just a two city visit to Beijing and Xi An. Lasting over a week, this was my first trip to the Middle Kingdom. These are my first impressions of the world’s second power.
Please bear in mind that these are very subjective impressions gathered during a vacation. I did not go anywhere except the tourist areas and met nobody but the tourist industry people. I could not communicate with anybody else because of the language barrier. Thus the impressions are obviously biased. So here goes:
a) There is an obsession with bigness. The airport is huge, unnecessarily so, because so many of the gates are vacant and unused. The Tiananmen Square is the largest in the world, the National Centre for the Performing Arts must be one of the biggest in the world. And nor is this obsession recent. The Great Wall is a huge structure. The Forbidden City , the Summer Place and many of the old imperial buildings are full of huge buildings which were difficult to build, uncomfortable , but were intimidating. That is one of the departures of China: it is meant to be intimidating.
b) There has been rapid development, far beyond what we have seen in India. The people are all reasonably well dressed, prosperous looking and apparently happy and contented. The buildings are well maintained, and there are many of them, the roads are clean , the verges are green, there are (literally) roses roses everywhere in Beijing and there are trees in profusion. The subway (in Beijing) is huge and well maintained. There are lots of cars in the streets and public transport seems to be easily available. Beijing, at least is a developed country.
c) The people are used to Europeans and Americans, but not to South Asians, we were subjected to curious glances wherever we went. It was obvious that many would have liked to talk to us, but for the barrier of language.
d) There is distinct lack of manners. It betrays the fact that development has been very recent. There is much shoving and pushing in queues, sly attempts to get in front of the queue, a disinclination to wait for the next person. Another unendearing trait, which they share with Indians, though, thankfully, not Malaysians, is the tendency to hawk an spit everywhere, even on the pavements. In this it is Hindi Chini Bhai Bahi all right!
e) The traffic is dangerous. There is no concept of waiting or the pedestrian. The drivers cheerfully come at full speed towards the pedestrian walking on the zebra crossing and it is incumbent for the pedestrian to get out of harm’s way. Again very reminiscent of the country of my birth.
f) The pollution is horrific. From the plane you can see a cloud like polluted blanket all over the city. There is a distant haze everywhere and not a star is seen in the urban sky. Again, it is not more than it is in Indian cities, but distinctly not first world!
g) The urban development has been unlike Indian cities, the cities are very livable. There are parks and wide pavements, the parks are full of joggers and older people practicing Tai Chi and what not in the mornings. There appears to be communities in most areas, as the people gather together in parks and in local restaurants.
h) There is no sense of a brooding authoritarianism, contrary to most beliefs. The people seem to be lighthearted and happy. The people we got to talk to , mainly guides and hotel employees had no hesitation in criticizing certain aspects of the government and all freely admitted that Beijing ( or Xi An) could not be said to be representative of China. But there is a tendency to be awed with the West, I got the impression that given the chance, the vast majority of those we talked to would like to at least sample the West, or more particularly America.