This is the final day of my visit to China and I muse about what I have seen and learned about this fascinating country.
7 June 2016
My departure day from China starts early: Mary-Ellen has to leave at 6.30am. I have a bit more time for a leisurely shower and breakfast before getting a taxi to the airport. I am very pleased with my packing skills and am able to get my bulky purchases and the substantial briefcase that I got from the conference to fit inside my backpack. I did have a backup plan of using the briefcase as my carry on luggage but I didn’t fancy the thought of carrying that by hand around the large airports.
There was torrential rain with thunder and lightning overnight, so I decide to leave for the airport in plenty of time in case there were any accidents or flooding on the way. As it turned out, there was no problem at all and I got to the airport in the expected hour (125 yuan). Although the flight and check in counter was showing on the departures board, the counter hadn’t opened when I got there and I joined a few others in the line whilst we watched the Air China being given a briefing and clearly some staff were being recognised for special service. The couple before me were checked in but then I had to wait while a technician was called to fix some sort of computer glitch.
Passport control and security is a rather drawn out affair involving lots of queuing, walking and transfer to another building by train. Again I am required to remove most of my carry on contents for inspection and this time they decide that my battery pack doesn’t meet some size requirement and must be confiscated.
Finally through the other side, I browse the shops for a while and then find a seat to write my journal and while away the time until the flight home (via Hong Kong). I muse about my experiences in China and how unexpected some of them were. China is developing extremely rapidly and, in the main cities of Beijing and Shanghai at least, the sophistication and technology surpasses many western cities. The infrastructure is spectacular with very usable subway and bus systems; roads, bridges and tunnels deal phenomenally well with the volumes of traffic; the sheer quantity of high rise buildings is astounding, and although some of the apartment complexes are terrifyingly identical and vast, there are many buildings of architectural merit that combine modern style with traditional Chinese character. The sewerage system is to my mind the thing that still marks this as a developing nation: not so much the squat toilets as that is a cultural choice but the need to always put the toilet paper in a bin beside the toilet lets down an otherwise surprisingly clean system (at least in the main tourist areas). I was also surprised at how clean and tidy the streets were, with regular sweeping and washing. Smoking is less and less common, rubbish bins are regularly provided. Spitting in the streets is supposedly prohibited now in the main cities but still fairly common.
The people we encountered in the main cities were primarily young, professional, sophisticated and helpful (many with good standards of English that put my miserable few words of Chinese to shame – although I did get complemented on my pronunciation several times). However, when we travelled to more touristy areas and encountered Chinese tourists it seemed to be a different story: these were primarily older people who were less willing or able to engage with westerners, and much more inclined to rudely push you out of the way rather than stand in a queue and with seemingly lower standards of hygiene. Younger local tourists had a greater interest in interacting with us and often wanted to photograph us or be photographed with us.
We have had just a glimpse at this fascinating country with centuries of tradition and turmoil yet racing towards the future with outstanding speed. The experiences we have had and information we have gleaned have helped to understand a little of what underpins this exciting country.
Bikes and other modes of transport
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