Some final thoughts as I reflect on this fascinating trip to China.
First — I will never understand the rules of the road in China. I have to say, it was a little scary just being a passenger. Actually, I am not certain there really are any rules of traffic. Left turn from the far right lane? Right turn from the left lane? U-turn in the middle of a 5 point intersection? — Who designed this model of ground surface transport? Additionally, pedestrians beware! It is the best advice I can offer to foreign travelers. Even if you see a little green sign at the crosswalk venturing across is a treacherous task! In many other countries green is a symbol to indicate safe crossing. After careful observations I am convinced that green in China actually means, Run For Your Life!…and watch out for those motor-scooters and bicycles. They seem to just do their own thing regardless of the “rules” for any other vehicles. To my astonishment I did not witness any fatality accidents. Neither was I harmed by any road warriors. I did learn that some people can actually “buy their license”. It is true. No test. No training classes required. Just pay and go!….interesting. Funny! I actually know a couple people in the U.S. that would find that option very useful.
Next — The country is really quite filthy with respect to air quality and general tidiness. Basic sanitation is lacking in most places and caution is advised when eating or drinking anything. Potable tap water is not common. Bottled or boiled water is the safety rule. There are so many (nearly a billion and a half) people in China and, of course, where there are a lot of people there is always a lot of shit and garbage to contend with. How to dispose of waste, rubbish and sewage is a challenge for any society and in this respect, China is substantially behind most developed countries. The number of cars on the road are a major factor related to the poor air quality. I am not sure what the answer is but I am certain that China will need to address the issue of environmental degradation in a substantive way soon. In future visits I plan to wear the protective face masks, especially if I’m there in winter months.
Something else — Public spitting. When I was a teen I acquired the ugly habit of spitting. On the farm or around the countryside it is not so terrible, but in cities with high population density, spitting is cause for some concern related to public health. It is a vector for disease and just generally not polite in the eyes of most Westerners. Not that one Westerner pointing this out would be cause for a sudden paradigm shift in the common practices of a nation with nearly 1.5 billion people.
All joking aside, China is rich in her historical and cultural legacy. As I anticipated, this trip would be merely an investigation that has sparked an even greater interest to learn more about this deeply complex and mysterious culture. I have to say that I enjoyed the smaller cities of Jinan and Xi’an. They were just more comfortable for me. I can not imagine being in a city like Beijing in the heat of summer! Ugh.
In future adventures into China I want to see more of the countryside and rural life. I also need to go to the more detailed areas of The Forbidden City as well as some other museums. You might be surprised what I get myself into!
In closing, I have to say that everyone I met was warm and friendly. Well, everyone with the exception of a couple cranky waitresses in Shanghai. My students were all welcoming and gracious. The experience of meeting so many of the people with whom I regularly speak online was heartwarming! Chinese society is generally polite though the driving is a bit aggressive and some of the accepted norms of public behavior turn off many outsiders — see comments on spitting ^^^ above….and that pushing thing on the subway was another cultural mannerism that I am quite certain would not go over well in Manhattan!
I will be going back as time allows. There is so much more to see! I feel good about the wonderful bridge of friendship I’ve established with people far away. Thank you all.
Here are the links for my articles about planning the China trip, and preparing for the trip along with the fun visa application process. Then, go read these articles about my first few days in Beijing, taking the train to Jinan, and another train to Shanghai and a flight to Xi’an.