Friday, 30 July 2010

The Land Where Everything Is Made

The stamps in my passport (along with my flight tickets, free hotel slippers, and other various momentoes) declare that I have officially entered and left the country of the People's Republic of China. And true enough, I have.

I was initially going to write about what I did, and what I saw, and blah blah blah, but my reasoning is that if you are truly interested, you can see my photo diary on facebook, and read the captions to gain more information.

So, instead, here are some little things I've thought about on my return from China.

The Size of the Place! Population Desity, Traffic, and Bicycles.
China, the fourth biggest country in the world after Russia, Canada, and the USA, could fit the UK into it 37 times. It's absolutely huge. Beijing and Shanghai, the two cities I visited (the capital followed by China's largest city) echo this hugeness. They're busy, preoccupied cities, with many, many people. Even at night, everywhere you look, there are people. People driving, people walking, people riding bicycles (more about that shortly), people sitting on the pavements lighting small fires and playing cards with each other. There are huge skyscrapers - particularly in Shanghai, where there are apparently 3000 of them, all having been built in the past 10 years - housing people, but also more poverty-stricken homes on ground level.

The traffic is horrendous in most areas of these cities, in that there are simply so many people on the roads. And they're all Chinese, too - we only saw one other western tourist group whilst out there. But the roads are extremely dangerous. If there are any laws about driving, or allowing people to cross the road for that matter, they certainly aren't upheld very well! Crossing the street is a nightmare - bicycles fly at you, cars beep at you, and then you get laughed at when you try to run out of the way! Very interesting.

When in Beijing, I tried to count the number of bicycles I saw, to see if Katie Melua's song 'Nine Million Bicycles' was anywhere near accurate. After seeing and counting 850 after a mere hour or so, I decided that yes, it most probably was... And rather sensibly gave up counting.

Pride! Tourism, Contrasts, and Hidden Sights.
It is a fairly well-known fact that in many rural parts of China, the living conditions are extremely poor, and many people are in poverty. It is less commonly known that there are also areas of poverty right under the noses of those in the touristic areas - especially Beijing. It is easy to see the wonderful structures, buildings and tourist attractions, most of which towered into the sky and headed towards the sun. But when one looks closely at the ground level, behind walls and billboards to see the homes behind, the sights are not pretty. It gave me a taster for what rural China must surely be like.

It was interesting to see, though, how the Chinese try to hide these things away. As said before, the homes were often hidden behind walls and such in order to appear a 'better' city. In Shanghai, this was even more apparent. Even the main roads are above tree level, and the hundreds and thousands of skyscrapers mean that your eyes are attracted to the sky rather than to the ground, for the sights that the sky offered are a lot more impressive than those of the ground conditions.

Price! Cheapness, Haggling, and Total Westerners.
Everything in China was cheap. It was something which amazed all of us for our entire stay there. We bought large bottles of water for the equivelant of 10p, and bottles of coke for 40p. We had whole - huge - meals for about £2.50. Shop prices were very low, and money was no problem whatsoever - everybody had plenty left over by the end!

As Westerners, however, we had to haggle a lot, particularly when in markets and / or souvenir shops at the tourist attractions. Because of our white skin, tall bodies, fair hair, and light eyes, many vendors attempted to 'rip us off' by charging much more than they expected, in the hope that we would, in our ignorence, give them more money. That failed. We haggled and bargained, getting items and gifts for very little money - much less than we would in England.

Because of our 'Westerner' status, we were seen almost like tourist attractions ourselves for the Chinese. Whenever we had a group photo taken, lots of Chinese people would take it too. We were approached by many people in the street, asking to have their photo taken with us. And we were also photographed by people who didn't ask! I suppose, for people in Aisa, it is a rarity to see someone with white skin and fair hair, even in places like Beijing (where many there are visitors anyway).

Food! Meals, Fish, and Chicken Heads.
The food was interesting. Each restaurant meal was served on a circular table, and large (very large) plates of very many dishes were placed in the middle, for us to help ourselves. There was so much food! We could never eat it all. We never even attempted to finish it. As for what there was to it, rice was everywhere. Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Meats were varied and generally tasty in spicy sauces, but goodness only knows what they were. I'm not aware that I ate any dog, but I have no idea.

However, I did eat some fish which arrived on our table(s) with their heads, bones, skin, tails, etc, still attached. A chicken was presented in a very similar way at one particular restuarant, although the head wasn't cooked. As well as this, there was some soup which looked more like raw eggs and some other disgusting ingredients (see one of my facebook videos) and some other strange concoctions. We were intending to go to a scorpion restaurant, but too many of us wanted to go - the restaurant wasn't big enough for us all.

Would I Go Back?
Yes. Without a single doubt in the world. I have every intention of going back. In fact, I'm not convinced that I won't end up living there for at least a while. Despite only having stayed in the country for 10 days, it now has an extremely big place in my heart, and being there felt like it was actually my home, and coming back to England felt more like leaving to go somewhere new, which was a strange thing to discover. As well as this, China is a very godless nation, and to share Jesus' amazing love with people out there would be incredible... But I shall say no more of this now, but simply wait to see what God has in store for my future. If I end up living in China, I certainly shall not complain. My trip there with the Worcestershire Youth Orchestra was the best experience of my life... so far.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Adventure Time!

It's July the 17th, a cloudy but mild Saturday in Summer, and in but 2 days' time I shall be on a plane, heading towards Asia.

I shall be with my orchestra, the Worcestershire Youth Orchestra, and we'll be touring around Beijing and Shanghai, for a total trip of 10 days. We'll be doing concerts but also sightseeing. I shall see for myself one of the seven wonders of the world.

I cannot express my excitement.

However, adventures are never pure excitement. There's always an element of thrill to them - they usually have anticipation or apprehension of the unknown lurking. And sure enough, I'm slightly wary. I have never been outside of Europe (the furthest away from home I have ever been is only Germany), and Asia is going to be a totally new experience - completely different from anything I've ever known. With being in China come all the worries about health and safety, and although these threats are present in England, they are but tiny in comparison with China. And the language is another thing entirely. Most languages in Europe are fairly comprehensable if you have a general grasp of European languages in general. However, Chinese... If you don't know the language, you don't have a chance. Thank goodness for translators.

However, the general feeling is complete and utter excitement, as adventures often are. I can't wait to be flying above the clouds (although I'm sure the novelty will wear off after about 17 hours...), walking the great wall of China, eating proper Chinese food, and playing music to an audience who aren't English!

Prayers and thoughts for safety and health over the 10 days I'm out there would be much appreciated... I shall see you all soon, with many, many, MANY, pictures!!! :)