Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An American in China

Our family recently spent five days in China touring Beijing and Xi'an. I'd like to reflect on that experience through stories. Pictures can be found on my previous post.

Several times while there, I had to pinch myself. Was I really in China? Was I really ON the Great Wall? Was I really at Tieneman Square and the Fobidden Palace? Was I really viewing the Terra Cotta Warriors in person? I kept thinking, "No one I know from back home has had this opportunity. What a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experience." I kept reminding our children, one of whom asked if we could go to London next, that they may never be back here again.

You can easily search for pictures and history on any of the landmarks in Beijing and Xi'an, so I won't go into much detail about that here. But I do want to share things that I don't think I'd find elsewhere. For example, our first tour guide Wendy has a husband and a two year old daughter. She talked a bit about the 1 child limit in China and how it affects families. She grew up with siblings so she could identify how this rule plays out. While it is true that families that can afford to pay the government to have a second chld, most families (like Wendy's) have just one. Boys are still preferable. Her daughter is two years old. The culture is consisting of only children. No siblings. No cousins. Each child is the apple of the parents and the grandparents eye! And they are getting spoiled. Imagine - almost all children are only children; that means if mom won't give "it" to me, dad might. If dad won't, grandma might. If gramdma won't, grandpa probably will. In the end, even her two year old already knows how to play the game and is getting spoiled. I can only imagine what this looks like in the classrooms.

There is also the matter of "keeping up with the Joneses." As her daughter grows she will be expected to play piano, dance, learn languages, and a myriad of other things. "There's no time for play. Competition is fierce," Wendy lamented.

Also, families don't move around much. Generally, the parents of the new husband are to provide means for a house. Once a house is owned, no one is moving. Others would question why you would move - financial problems? Why are you selling? Also, couples don't generally marry until a home is secured.

This brings me to the next tidbit of longevity in housing. We had the opportunity to tour the Beijing city center, a 700 year old community. Many of the families living there have lived in their homes for generations. As a part of our rickshaw tour, we were able to enter a home and talk to the woman of the house (with translator handy). The home we visited was quite small, containing stone walls and exposed concrete floor, and decorated nicely with traditional Chinese items. The family living there was sixth generation! Their kitchen area contained a small refrigerator, stove, and a few appliances - no counters. Their dining area was adjacent; the hostess had a small table and a few stools to sit on. There was also a bureau that was generations old. Everything felt cramped! But they managed to have a bird that greeted us with "Nee-how!", fish, and a turtle. We didn't get to see the bedroom, but it was next door. One needed to exit the kitchen and enter the courtyard to get to the bedroom. Apparently there are also shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen for the residents there who consider themselves family after living in community for so many generations. This part of town is coveted by some because of its wonderful location. The cost of living there, therefore, is rather expensive.

Here's another little tidbit. Our tour guide in Xi'an, Linda (who is about my age), told us that when she was a little girl her parents would talk about the poor kids in America who didn't have much to eat. This was to motivate her to clean her plate. (Sound familiar?) She also told us that she and her classmates would imagine that if they dug far enough they could dig all the way to America! (Also, familiar!) Guess what? She hadn't known that we said the same things as kids!

Lastly, I have to say something about all the construction going on! Both in Xi'an Beijing (and Shanghai for that matter) we saw SO MUCH construction happening. I'd never seen anything like it! Driving in just one area of the city we could easily see 5 buildings being worked on with all the cranes sitting there. At one point I counted 12 cranes all in one area.

So, China had much to offer. And I have to say, I LOVED having private tour guides!

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