I asked my mom and Matt to share about their China experience on my blog. Here is what my mom had to say and some of her photos.
Jodi’s China Blog
China! Wow . It is another world. It was better and worse than I had expected.
I have to say, in moving to Eugene, Oregon a year ago after about 18 years in the Rogue Valley, I was overwhelmed with the BIG city of Eugene and its 156,185 people. Let’s just say my perspective has changed a bit. Shanghai has about 23 million people, the most populous city in the world. The number is too big for my little brain to wrap around. That’s New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio and maybe San Diego all put together. (Disclaimer – finding reliable, recent statistics online that specify the cities proper versus the metro areas is a bit of a challenge, so don’t quote me on this!)
From Shanghai we went to Beijing with a mere 12 million, though arriving in Beijing and going to tourist sites on a Chinese holiday, I wasn’t aware of the massive drop in population. But what was amazing to me in all this massive humanity is just that – the humanity of the people. Julia has mentioned the pushiness of people when it comes to lines and subways. Sure, we saw that. But we also saw people laughing, smiling, eating, humming, sleeping, cleaning, going to work, taking children to school. The same activities we all do. People living their everyday lives.
Impressively, with so many people everywhere, we were actually amazed at how civil everyone was. Sure, there were people cutting blatantly into lines at the train station. But as cars, cyclists, bus drivers, pedestrians, taxis and scooters all vied to get into the same lane at the same time, no one seemed to get upset. I didn’t see anyone yelling or swearing or flipping anyone off at being cut off. Being cut off is just part of the fabric of society. Just keep nosing into the vaguest hint of a gap, and you’ll get there. What’s to get upset about? It was actually rather refreshing.
In this millennium, Westerners are quite common in the big cities of Beijing and especially the very commercial Shanghai. We saw other westerners everywhere we went. We definitely are not a novelty in China any more. So it was quite a surprise as we were out at the touristy places to find Chinese clandestinely (or not) taking pictures of us. I suppose it serves us right as we were snapping photos of cute little kids, the food vendors, the bricklayer and cyclists pedaling down the streets.
Julia has gotten a bit used to Chinese taking her picture. But then she’s a good-looking blond young women. Our very first day out, numerous Chinese would pull their cameras out from across the pagoda or out on the walkway to get a picture of Matt or me – the old people! Near Tiananmen Square, a middle-aged gentleman in a worn suit (perhaps a man from out in the countryside, first trip to the Big City, a tourist himself), sidled right up to Matt and indicated that he wanted a picture with Matt, which of course turned into me, the man and his whole entourage in the picture.
The award for best tourist attraction has to be Matt. In Beijing’s Summer Palace, as Matt and Julia were sitting on a rock wall waiting for me to come back from the toilets (better left un-described!), a man came up to Matt, indicating interest in the camera (mine) Matt was holding. (Wouldn’t want to lose a lens cap in those toilets, for sure.) After a little incomprehensible small talk, the man started poking Matt’s knee. It being a warm day, Matt was in shorts. The man giggled a bit and then reached down to Matt’s calf, delighted to feel the hair on Matt’s legs. While Matt thought people had been looking at his Keen sandals, they were apparently just impressed with nice, hairy western (male) legs!
The street scene: Matt has described the traffic, both on the roads and the sidewalks. But there is so much more than traffic on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are where life is lived. Yes, there are the vendors vending their food or flowers or trinkets, but this is where services are also rendered. The bicycle repair guy has his “shop” set up on the sidewalk just around the corner from Julia’s apartment. His shop consists of a rickety plywood box with old worn tires and rags underneath it. Need your car detailed? Just drive it up on the sidewalk in the middle of the busy block at the detailing guy’s place and he’ll do it there for you.
For many of these businesses, people seem to just set up shop outside their home. Open the front door and set up shop on the step. Closing hours don’t really exist. If it’s a hot summer evening, what else is there to do but sit on your front step and talk to the neighbors? If you’re just sitting out on your front step, might as well keep the business open. 10:30 at night and you could still buy mangoes, cabbage, squash and quail eggs or have about anything repaired.
Definitely another world.