Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Back From China

At 8:30 in the morning local time (or 8:30 PM EDT yesterday), I boarded a shuttle bus from a hotel in Xian, China to start heading home. About 24 hours later, I was eating a bacon hamburger in Sterling, Virginia. For the past twelve days, most of my food has been eaten with chopsticks.

While I will be blogging about this trip for months (more on the logistics of that later), I have some big pictures lessons I took back with me.

China is more modern than I expected. The level of industrialization and overall complexity of life was much higher than I realized. Beijing in particular is a big modern city with all the entailing problems.

The Chinese are much more fashionable than I expected. There was not a Mao jacket to be seen anywhere, even ironically. Golf shirts and slacks where the primary oufit of men. Women wore tasteful but attractive clothes that wouldn't be out of place in any American mall. Heck, a lot of it is the stuff that ends up in American malls or at least reasonable facsimiles. Polo, Diesel, and Levi's were particularly common.

China is cleaner than I expected. I spent a lot of mornings wandering the city, including areas that would be considered slums in our country, and everywhere trash was being swept up and disposed of. The mechanics of that are very different than in the U.S., but the job gets done nevertheless.

The air in China is breathable, barely. Here expections and reality came closest. China's smog is infamous and not entirely exagerated. While it doesn't induce immediate respritory attacks, if you like sunshine, China is not for you. Once you got used to the concept that you didn't really need to see things more than three blocks away, the perpetual gray haze background became just another fact of life.

The Chinese have taken to capitalism with a vengeance. From bargaining in the markets to huge malls to ubiquitous advertising, commerce is everywhere.

Parts of China are breathtakingly old and beautiful. The temples and historical places are both awe-inspiringly huge and gorgeous.

China is hell-bent on making a good impression at the Olympics in 2008. Construction and refurbishment was everywhere as the entire city of Beijing gets a makeover for its moment on the world stage. From the sidewalks to the monuments to the malls, everything was getting a facelift or at least a fresh coat of paint. Now if only the cameras can capture all the vibrant colors through the smog.

I came back with over a thousand pictures and more than three hours of video footage. I hope to share both big picture impressions and small telling observations. In the meantime I promise not to make this blog the cyberspace version of your relative's yawn-inducing vacation slideshow.

All-in-all, I had a great time but I'm glad to be back. And I'm not touching chopsticks for at least a month.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What about China would you like to know (as if my week and a half visit makes me an expert)?


Sue T. said...

Welcome back! I was actually just mentioning you in blog, in which I once again discuss my discomfort with flying, which is part phobia/part boredom in being stuck in an enclosed space for so long. How did you cope with the long flight? And as a foodie, I would LOVE to hear about what you ate, and how it compares to the Chinese restaurants in the US -- I always suspect that the Chinese food here must be totally Americanized, though we do have a few places here in the Bay Area where the menus are printed in Chinese and you rarely see a non-Asian diner.

yellojkt said...

Many dishes had recognizable American counterparts such as kung pao chicken and sweet and sour. Other American Chinese staples such as egg rolls and General Tso's chicken were nowhere to be seen, at least in the regions we ate in.

Contrariwise, American food has been
China-ized there. Quarter pounders have a very spicy sauce and have cucumbers instead of pickles.

Dave2 said...

Where in China did you go?

TBG said...

I asked these questions on the boodle, but...

Did your son have a good time? How did he like staying with a family? How different was it from living in your house?

yellojkt said...

We spent seven days in Beijing and two days in Xian.

My son was part of a school exchange program and stayed with the family of one of the students, whose dad was also one of the school's teachers. Their apartment was a small two bedroom condo. He was given the master bedroom while the parents stayed in another apartment.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!

Right on top of Independence Day is a great time to return to the U. S. of A., although I hope that didn't make the Customs end of things any tougher for you and your family.

I have great envy; China is very high on my list of places to see before I bite the Big One. I may have to drag you out to another BBQ so we can chitchat about it. (-:

Needles said...

Welcome back Yelljkt. I can't wait to see your China.


Elizabeth said...

I can't wait to read about your trip!! I was also wondering about the flight. Did you go buisness class? How was the food on the plane? Oh, and did you have to drink bottled water everywhere?? I probably have a ton more questions, but this is all I can think of for now!
Welcome back!!

Mooselet said...

Glad you're back in one piece!

I want to know why they built the Great Wall of China. ;-)

OK, really... How was it trying to communicate? How did you go speaking Chinese and how many locals spoke English?

yellojkt said...

I did pretty well with just nee-hah (hello) and shay-shay (thank you). We had English speaking guides for most of the tours, but the quality was not great. When we were on our own, we were usually able to find one person able to speak enough English to help us.

The people with the best command of the language were the store clerks in the markets.

Anonymous said...

Welcome home. Glad you had a great trip. We are looking forward to seeing y'all next week.

flasshe said...

Welcome back! Glad you had a good time and I look forward to reading more about it. Sue beat me to the food question. Expanded blog entries on eating (with pix if possible) would be fun. And observations about cultural differences are always interesting to me.

So what percentage of the Starbucks and McDonalds out there have free WiFi?