Saturday, November 14, 2009
CHINA:October, 2009 - Beijing, Xian, Kunming, Shangri-La, Lijiang, Shanghai
The Chinese reliance on a booming economy is concerning. What happens when it slows down? The Communist Party government is so corrupt especially at the lower levels, and so overly concerned with holding onto power, that the country remains a house of cards. My friends in China cannot read this blog, as information is carefully controlled. What keeps people pacified seems to be the tremendous velocity of growth and uplifting of their lifestyles: our tour operator described as a child, believing that to be rich would mean being able to have two eggs with a meal. He described a life sharing a bathroom with other families, no running water, cooking on the porch with charcoal, patches on his clothes, and baths only once every 2-3 months. He now owns a car, a three bedroom/2 bath condo, a washer/dryer and a large, flat screen TV. But the same cannot be said for those still in the countryside, plowing with oxen and heating with wood fires. Rural people would say their lives have also improved, but they are only at the level of our tour guide's childhood experience. This disparity cannot be sustained indefinetely without the risk of civil unrest. Of course that has already occurred among the Tibetans and Uyghurs, and the Chinese response has been brutal suppression; and overwhelming these ethnic cultures with an invasion of Han Chinese. For more information on that I recommend The China Road by former NPR correspondent in China, Rob Gifford. If, however, you haven't visited China, it continues to hold a great facination with the Great Wall, and the Terracotta Warriors. Almost any tour of China will include these two highlights. They remain highlights, although other stops like the Summer Palace in Beijing I found a yawn with tour groups so large the guides carrie flags and megaphones. The old China can still be found, although the 55 ethnic minorities in China have literally become theme parks as in the Kunming Ethnic Village; and Old Town, Lijiang. The latter is one of my favorites places, but since I was last there the traditional Naxi people have vacated their houses, due to high taxes, and Han Chinese have turned the neighborhood completely into shops, restaurants and hotels. I haven't been to Lhasa, Tibet since 2005; but with the new high speed train from Beijing, I anticipate its the same there. They remain facinating places for the tourist, if not remants of a proud and vanishing past. For myself, I think there are more interesting parts of Asia to visit: Cambodia probably being next, or my all time favorite: Vietnam. I don't believe we will return to China unless it is to help the Deptartment of Mental Health in Kunming, who treated us like visiting royalty and could use our American experience.