Travel offers a learning experience that no text book or news report can equal. I am thankful to our three tour guides who provided us with eye-opening insights into Chinese society and life on a recent trip.
Informative tours of Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Wuxi and Beijing not only revealed the wonders of an ancient civilization, many of which were previously unknown to us, but also some remarkable aspects of a country that has invested deeply in modernization.
Most of us know little about China except for what we have read in history books or media reports. And we have some misconceptions fuelled both by the news that is fed to us and the country’s closed-door policy that has only changed in last 20 years or so.
“Oh, you went to the dollar store of the world,” a friend remarked on my return, exemplifying our lack of knowledge about a nation that is determined to become the world’s largest economy. And its people are not shy to tout its progress. “We will do it by 2020,” one of our guides proclaimed and it seems like they are on track to achieving their goal.
China is currently handicapped by its poor English-speaking skills but determined to get over it. Our local guide in Wuxi issued several invitations to current and prospective Canadian retirees to spend six months every year here helping the youth with English conversation. Few people we encountered were fluent in the language even in metropolitan Shanghai and the international airports here and in Beijing.
Friends who visited earlier did not offer much information about China’s incredible progress. “It’s so much like India” was the only comment I got. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Our former homeland doesn’t come anywhere close and would do well to learn from China’s discipline, dedication and commitment to becoming ‘the’ superpower.
While a few apartment buildings were reminiscent of Mumbai, the cleanliness and modern infrastructure were distinctive. The elevated highways and overpasses built in the last 15 years, dedicated bike lanes (separated by a well demarcated median), electric two wheelers, numerous vehicle charging stations and solar-powered street lights could serve as blueprint both for India as well as Canada.
Our 40-minute Hangpu river cruise offer a panoramic view of the Shanghai skyline at night and was breathtaking to say the least. While we all love New York, it paled in comparison.
Unfortunately, the world only sees China as a cheap knock-off manufacturer and many people who travel from Toronto do so only to purchase brand replicas. They fail to notice how the government has protected Chinese industry by imposing a tax on foreign brands and cemented their dominance in the world market with their growing manufacturing capabilities. Our Wuxi guide proudly informed us that many of the top electronic manufacturers had helped put this little city on the world map by setting up their factories here.
She also warned us about buying any brands we could find in Canada because of the foreign tax. While a cup of coffee is expensive in China (they are mainly tea drinkers), Starbucks could cost you almost $8.
Having said that, Chinese family life is very similar to India with grandparents raising the little ones while their parents work. (They also have squatty potties like in India!) The one-child policy contributed significantly to their progress as parents devoted their financial resources to educating their kids and helping them set up home.
Many families aspire to send their kids abroad to study while the government offers great incentives for Chinese educated and living abroad to return home, we were informed.
The food we were offered was vastly different to the Chinese menu we are accustomed to here in GTA, but we were able to find some similar fare in one of the malls we visited. KFC and Burger King are also available in metropolitan areas and those who indulged said it was better than here.
The visit to the Great Wall was one more thing off my bucket list and an incredible experience. The Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City was like a walk through my history text book in university.
It was an incredible experience that encouraged me to travel more. – CINEWS