March 2, 2007

Day 35 :: China: Expect The Unexpected

Day 35 - Hanoi, Vietnam
[Disclaimer: We spent a total of 34 days in China. That's barely a month and only a fraction of a year. If Chinese history is a 4-year degree, we've learned about a weeks worth. I say that to say this: our opinion of China is barely credible. Read with a thick lense...]

China was not what I expected.

Of course, what I expected, was some version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon so I shouldn't be surprised that my portrayal was skewed. (Though I'm not the first person to let a movie influence their opinion of a place. Remember this?) So, here's to a top 7 list of stuff I didn't expect:

7. I didn't expect two weeks of limping (poor Kari), two cases of food poisoning (Kari again), or one week of miserable diahrea (yep, Kari again).

6. I didn't expect Chinese tourists. The people of China total 1.3 billion and I would guess we saw around 900,000 of them posing for photos. Whole cities and villages have been turned into modern day, disneyland-esque reconstructions of old China, and the Chinese go wild for the chance to put on a Tibetan costume and take their picture on a horse.

5. I didn't expect the Chinese countryside to be so spectacular. Our last bus trip, from Kunming to the Vietnam border, had the most breathtaking beauty I've ever seen. It's like the US, Norway, Switzerland and Australia wrapped into one country.

4. I didn't the expect Chinese countryside to be so bland. Much of the East and Central parts of China looked more like communist Russia than the China of my imagination. It often seemed, aesthetically speaking, that China just didn't care - which seems like a far cry from the days of the Forbidden City.

3. I didn't expect the communist government to seem so "good". Every time we watched CCTV9 (China's english news channel) we were left with a peaceful little feeling in our hearts about the Chinese governement.

2. I didn't expect to see a country that seemed so far away from becoming a "superpower". It's hard to think about China being a superpower anytime soon when millions of villagers are barely surviving on yearly wage less than $230. It seems if they do become a superpower, the power will be in the hands of a few.

1. I didn't expect the dramatic collision of East and West in every corner of the country. This is perhaps what perplexed me most about China. Apparantly, it seems that communism (via the Cultural Revolution and other means) has wiped out much of the Chinese culture and heritage, and the west has been rushing in to fill in the holes. The westernization of China is happening at a shocking rate, and China is embracing it with open arms.

Only 70 years ago, a Senator from Nebraska named Kenneth Wherry proclaimed, "With God's help, we will lift Shanghai up and up, ever up, until it is just like Kansas City." Sadly, maybe in 20 years, Kenneth and the rest of the West will finally have it's way.

In the end, we loved China, it's people, it's places, and it's suprises. Here's where we ventured:


Mark said...

I love reflective posts like this from travelers! I've fallen a few posts behind on keeping up with you guys. But, thanks for the great relections on Expectations.

I remember a few years back ready articles on Nike "cracking the China code." And opening floodgates for Western influence. It's interesting to hear your experience of it all.

Thanks for keeping with the posting.

Anonymous said...

Any idea of where you'll be going next? If you can check out's absolutely amazing!

pk said...

I'm a map guy. Thanks for taking the time to do the updated maps.

I'm currently reading a chapter in "The End of Poverty" that is all about China and thier return to economic prominence. It's interesting for me, I bet you'd love it.

David Drury said...

Good to get the recap. And I agree with Paul--the map is helpful.


PS = I e-mailed you too but don't knowo if you're getting them these days. Maybe when you're back :-)

Keith Drury said...

like these lists---neat!

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