20 April 2009

The China Adventure

Angel Martinez

On Friday night, April 17th, my family and I returned from China. For our younger readers, this may not seem so surprising but for those of us born before Nixon, Westerners (especially Americans) going to mainland China still has a hint of unreality to it. Times have changed, of course, and enmity has transformed into an inextricable financial and economic partnership.

But this isn’t about politics or how economic crises are global now instead of local. This is about the people, (as opposed to Ren Min, ‘The People’) specifically the people of Chengdu in Sichuan. Although a large city, about the population of San Francisco and Cincinnati combined, the coastal cities like Beijing and Shanghai still regard Chengdu as something of a backwater, full of ‘country’ folk.

Fair enough, they do have some catching up to do, as most of the country does. It does create some interesting dichotomies, especially where technology is concerned – the bicycle cart loaded with melons competing for space on the street with the brand new Audi, the internet connection in the hotel room with no clock or working air conditioning, the monks visiting from Lhasa with their prayer beads and cell phones. Startling, perhaps, to Western eyes, but you might be surprised how quickly it all becomes part of the scenery.

Laowai (literally ‘round eyes’) or foreigners get lots of stares, though mostly curious. At the Giant Buddha in Leshan, my son, who is about 6’ 2”, held several people’s attention. Here we stood in front of this three hundred foot sandstone sculpture and a little woman stood with her back to the Buddha so she could stare up, open-mouthed, at him.

Communication problems? Yes, there were some but fewer than you might imagine. The Beijing Olympics encouraged the country to become more visitor friendly, especially in tourist and public areas. Most signs on highways and in parks and airports have Chinese characters as well as English translations.

But some of the translations are charming at the very least and often hilarious. A few examples:

A sign at the Panda Research Base: “Wildlife is not food.” (we could only assume this meant ‘please don’t feed the animals’)

The name of an establishment: Teahouse Takes a Bath (probably while Wine Shop Makes Dinner)

An advertisement for a new high-rise: “New Condominiums, more luxury than your money can buy!”

And, my favorite, on the box of a remote control toy helicopter: “Fun yourself!”

Awkward turns of phrase aside, with a taxi book, the ability to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ and the wonderful, universal language of numbers, fluency in Mandarin is not required. We were an oddity, certainly, but the people were friendly in their curiosity, the food was amazing and this country, full of history and culture ten thousand years older than anywhere else on the planet, continually astonishes.

It’s a big world, folks; go out and explore.
Angel Martinez
Finn - Coming Soon from Red Rose Publishing

1 comment:

Catherine Bybee said...

Wow... Angel, it sounds perfectly wonderful. I can't wait to see more from your trip to China. I think I'd be to scared to travel there... truth be told.
Thanks you so much for sharing your trip.