|Barbara on New Year Eve in Pu Dong China|
My husband and I have been here in the Far East for a month now. We have driven up and down country roads, used the subway, ridden on small planes and marginal trains to remote areas in Vietnam. I have shopped in Hanoi, Saigon and Shanghai. What I see leaves me wondering what is really going on.
Vietnam is at the place where China was when we were here 5 years ago. Shopping is fun and goods are affordable for tourists. The people in the cities live much like they did in the villages they came from. Vendors show up on the street very early in the morning as businesses begin to open and disappear as quickly as they appeared.
When we visited Chinese in 2007, the Chinese people were doing fine but the evidence of extreme wealth was not evident. Expats hung out at classy hotels and in the upscale alleys that dot downtown Shanghai. Shops filled with beautiful good were not expensive and a dollar went a long way. Pashmina cashmere scarves could be purchased for a few dollars and antiques were easily found at a price that made shopping fun. In all cases the market for the luxury goods was aimed at foreigners.
Flash forward to 2012. We visited Taikang Lu yesterday to grab a bite to eat and do a little shopping in a labyrinth of alleys that connect main thoroughfares. This time, beautifully dressed Chinese citizens filled shops and restaurants. It is the New Years holiday here so this neighborhood was very busy. Good were so expensive that I could not even consider bargaining for a Pashmina...$100+ each was just so much I wondered about wrapping it around my middle class neck. Young people were dressed fashionably and very much in the public eye. Young men wore funky hair cuts and swaggered better than any rock star. Times are changing at the speed of light.
It seems that the more the people know the less they are allowed to communicate with the world on the Internet. Here in Shanghai I am writing online with the use of a computer equipped with a VPN service. I am not a revolutionary nor do I see a need for political changes. The Chinese people will work things out in their own way. Yet the firewall around this country has gotten to thick and high it is almost impenetrable. While they are keeping the bad out they are also keeping all that is wonderful about the world out too. It is very sad.
I asked my son about the Chinese people that I have been seeing everywhere we go. Were they first generation educated rich? Where were they 5 years ago? His thinking was that they are repatriated Chinese working in the country after living in Canada or even the US. Maybe. I did not ask questions on the street.
On the other hand when we drive down the elevated Outer Ring Rd from Pu Dong to reach the west side of Shanghai we can see every piece of land that is not built on planted with winter vegetables. People are stilling hanging on to small ponds and shacks where they dwell so they can grow vegetables and stay alive. Small villages have street lined with shops that hold not only what the people are selling but also the mattress they sleep on. They are going about living life out in China where the "real" citizens live.
I could only wonder which of these two worlds is the real China? It is the Lego block city that clings to the massive core of this city or is it the rural world that lives so near and yet so far away?
What is the point here? The ancient culture of people is slipping away, at least in Shanghai! We still see evidence that the citizenry views the land as theirs. They dry rice and repair fishing nets on busy streets. I can only thing that it will be all gone before we return next time. Prosperity has come to The People Republic of China but the price they are paying is huge in terms of the loss of their culture and it's tapestry. At least in their cities. It will be increasingly difficult for westerners to find what we found only 5 years ago.
Just an added thought...when we look at our world now we are finding it to be flatter than ever. Our comfort is a perfect barometer of the loss of diversity we are finding and we are very much at home here in China! It is really sad!