Thursday, April 7, 2011

China--The Tourist Side


A great family at the Great Wall.
First, another shout out to our hosts, the Bessler/Baum’s who have taken amazing care of us in China.   Besides arranging everything for us from meals to trains to hotels to translation, having three friends for Micah and Jonah to interact with has been a godsend.  They have been craving interaction and friendship with people other than themselves, and for at least this one week, they got it.  Micah even went to the international school for a day in Shanghai with Eli (their 11 year old), and he had a marvelous time.  He even got to meet a kid from Iceland there, something I certainly have never done.

If you were to ask us to describe our tourist view of China in two words, they would undoubtedly be big and crowded.  The scale of cities, buildings, public squares, and crowds is overwhelming.  This was true in all three places we visited:  Shahghai, Kaifeng, and Beijing.

In Shanghai we were amazed at the many skyscrapers and loved the crowded feel of what was happening on the ground, in particular the markets, especially the bird and animal market.  In stall after stall you get to see birds, crickets, scorpions, rabbits, turtles, and more everywhere.  

We also enjoyed the “fake” market, where we had hoped to replace broken suitcases and MP3 players.  Bargaining starts at a quarter of the asking price.   Max Baum, the middle son, and Joanie did most of the bargaining for us.   We were successful on the suitcase front (two pretty decent suitcases for the equivalent of about $25 each), but not as successful on the MP3 players.  Even though all the ones we buy in the U.S. from Coby or Sandisk or any of the other non iPod manufacturers are made in China, but apparently, you can’t actually buy them in China.  All you can buy are fake iPods, which say iPod on them, and we bought a couple that weren’t compatible with our computers.  They were very cheap so we didn’t mind taking the risk.  Still, I thought they would just be very cheap and not last for long, but instead, they didn’t work for us at all.

In Kaifeng we loved the authentic Chinese feel of the city.  Our hotel was also terrific, which helped, and this was the place where we got more smiles and stares than anywhere else in China.  Traveling with our two boys and the three Baum boys makes many Chinese stop and stare.  They really prize boys here, and to see five at once (which they assume are from one family) is a site for them to behold.   Since Casey is not traveling with us, it seems that some of the families think all five are mine, and maybe in their imagination about foreigners they think I have two wives.   Listening to Eli, Max, and Sam translate the whole ensuing conversation made me laugh every single time.

Beijing had all the touristy things.  We saw the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and much more.    

The scale of all these things is massive.   We enjoyed the hike up and down the hills and stairs at the Wall.  We were all quite proud of how high we climbed, and it provided the opportunity of some badly needed exercise.  We barely saw Tiananmen Square, since we raced through it in order to find a bathroom.  We happened to be there on a public holiday (the day where Chinese visit their ancestral graves), so being able to even move through the crowds was a challenge.  Speaking of crowds, the driving is worse than in any city I have ever observed.   Cars share the road with bicycles, motorcycles, and pedestrians.  The spaces are so narrow and everyone so aggressive that we were shocked we didn’t witness any accidents.
The city of Shanghai is sprawling in ways that makes Houston or Charlotte look sleepy.  Manhattan sized skylines have been popping up everywhere in the last 10 years in Shanghai.  The architecture is often interesting and beautiful, but seems to be done with no planning or forethought or consideration for preservation.  
                             Yesterday is giving way to today all too quickly in Shanghai.

Historic neighborhoods and sites are often demolished without a second thought, and with no clear planning, who knows what this city and this country will look like in the future? 

And...the slide show.

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