First of all it needs saying that I have loved the country, the kids have loved it too. So much so that Charlie has decide he is moving to China when he is older. But it’s hard to find the words to describe a country like China.
The Chinese authorities have created an elaborate show where anyone visiting Beijing and Shanghai will be treated to a new modern China. I’ll start with Beijing, since the Olympics China has tried hard to show Beijing to be a modern city set around impeccable historical places. And it tries hard and on the surface does well, very well in fact. On the surface Beijing is thriving international city worthy of a place in the World’s top 5 cities – I personally would place it on a pedestal high at number 1. I loved Beijing, from the ease of the subway to the madness of the streets to the amazing people. But delve a little deeper and what you find is a show. Behind the Forbidden City, the endless tours to the Great Wall and the uber-modern Olympic park you have people starving. People living in shanty houses and begging for life. You have people so controlled by their government that freedom of speech is nonexistent, web sites are blocked and the news is never unbiased. The sanitary system is nothing more than a hole in the floor.
It’s worth a mention that in 2005 the Chinese government executed 10,000 people or 27 people daily.
Shanghai is the ultra modern city. The skyscrapers tower above the Shanghai skyline looking out of place in such a historical country – Then again it’s easy to forget Shanghai is in China. The pearl TV Tower looks completely out of place amongst the modern Western buildings and as beautiful as the skyline is it is arguably the only thing that sings tunes remotely Chinese. It is intimidating by nature and could easily be any international city on earth. That said, when the lights go down it is inherently Chinese. Although while many people call Shanghai modern China I felt it was not the same or as good as Beijing. Beijing had warmth which Shanghai lacked, Shanghai was fiddly and too much like an attempt to be something it is not. Sure, the huge skyscrapers look great and the Nanjing Rd has to be seen to be believed, but in striving to be an amazing Chinese city through the billions thrown at it by international investors Shanghai lost its personality and were it not for the Pearl Tower it really could be any city on earth – Which is a shame.
That said both Shanghai and Beijing are the China show. It’s a show which is pulled off extremely well and one which masks the human rights issues and the actual suffering of millions of people. The people I met appeared happy and friendly, the people I saw appeared hungry and sad.
China truly is an amazing country which has no doubt progressed a hundred years in the last 2 decades. Sadly, and despite what you see, it’s still at least 50 years behind the rest of the modern world.
Loads, from hawkers who would sell you their left testicle for 2 yen, to the fact that not a single driver pays attention to any form of road traffic measure, the green man – The most pointless thing in China, the smells – some absolute hyperventilating stenches that are like nothing in the Western World, The fact that every Chinese person who knows full well you don’t speak Chinese just continues to talk to you in Chinese, the endless tours, the blatant over pricing (although generally this is not common, there is always the odd shop keeper who will try and tell you the price doesn’t say 2 yen it says 10….hmmmm) food hygiene – Which is a real shame, we were hoping to really explore Chinese food but when you see a man who clearly hasn’t bathed this century scratch his arse and then touch the food… Well it’s a bit off putting, almost as off putting as the rust on the pan, or the dirt on the cooker which is so old it’s been registered by the Chinese historical artifact registration society. Beer, get a nice cold pint of Stella Artois, water it down 100:1 – That’s a hundred parts water to one part Stella, stick it in the oven and heat it up to about 60 degrees and then pass it off as Chinese beer – No one would tell the difference. In fact if you pissed in it too I doubt anyone would question it. Taxi drivers, come on mate, it says 2yen per Km, and I’m going 3km….. Now I know math’s is not my strong point but I just cannot get 3 x 2 to equal 200? The 15% hotel tax, I like to know what I’m paying up front not get stung at check out and the toilets – A hole in the floor, with no toilet roll – I don’t even want to think anymore about those disgusting places.
The weather, at first it was too much but we soon got used the permanent steam room, history – There were things we did and saw which gave me goose pimples, we have experienced things I grew up reading about, things I saw in books and looked at in awe, The attention – Well Abi did, not a day went by when we weren’t the object of everyone’s attention, I forget how many times I have been told how beautiful my children are or that they’ve had their photos taken, or gifts given to them – From teddies to a hair brush (was they trying to tell me something?) the prices, generally things were bloody cheap. A huge bottle of rats piss (beer) for 4 yen, dinner including drinks for 100 yen (9 quid) in a water front restaurant set amongst the most beautiful Chinese gardens imaginable, a feeling of belonging – this might sound weird since we clearly didn’t belong in China, but not a single time did I feel intimidated or threatened – Even holed up for 30 hours on a train, whilst the kids slept I was sat on a lower bunk trying in vain to have a conversation with about 10 Chinese people, the people – The Chinese people are amongst the friendliest, happiest and most welcoming people I have ever known, the experience – Not really much I can say other than China was everything we hoped it would be and more. It was 2 weeks I know I’ll never forget and I’m sure the kids won’t either.