Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

China 1999 - Part Seven

My First Stay Coming to an End

The most important events about my first stay in China now have come to an end. Yes, I did do many more things, like visiting Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius; Shanghai, where I saw the Bund and Pudong area symbolizing the old and new China; Jinan, the capital city of the Shandong province in full flowering in April; and Beijing in early May, when I was about to return to the Netherlands. You really should visit China, when the opportunity presents itself. It is really worth while (although I know I am biassed). Spring and autumn (fall) are the best periods to visit the country. It then has nice temperatures between the 20 and 30 degrees Centigrade (69-85 Fahrenheit).

Worth while telling you is the one day I went with Tom to visit his parents in Wubu. Tom's parents live in a typical small village in the country side. On one beautiful day in April we left Dongping by bus to get out in another county-town. I thought we had arrived in Wubu, but it turned out we had to go by lended bike for another few kilometers. Maybe you know, but both the Netherlands and China are the two countries with the highest density of bikes. Biking in the Netherlands is common and widely used (this is why Mark, the Portugese-American that lives in Amsterdam, that I mentioned before, calls himself bicycle Mark). In cities such as Amsterdam it can be the fastest means of conveance because you avoid traffic jams. However, they don't know that in China. If they see a foreigner riding a bike, they will laugh and shout 'hello!'. Every foreigner speaks English according to them, but the pronunciation is more Dutch (which is 'hallo') then English. Sometimes I stopped and told them in the few Mandarin words which I knew: 'you speak Dutch very well!'. It always provoked laughter and surprise. This, by the way, didn't just happen on the beautiful April day but many times before.

Tom and his parents in Wubu 

The road to Wubu wasn't paved but a sandy one. The village of Wubu I entered probably didn't change much over the centuries and it was a unique opportunity to visit such an ancient village. Alongside the roads piles of corn and other crops dried in the sun. Goats, chickens and cows were there to be found as well, but virtually no people. Tom told me they were working on the land. As Tom and I entered the courtyard of the farmhouse of his family more animals were inside, varying from chickens to rabbits. The house was not only the living place of his parents but also of a pair of swallows taking care of their offspring. As I love nature, I was in exhaltation. This is nowhere to be found in the Netherlands. The silence and peace was the absense of any machine, whether it be a car or plane. No globalization, no computers, no Internet. It seemed very romantic to me, but it was the tourist's image of a reality that is a harsh life. The signs of a harsh life were written in the faces of Tom's parents. They looked much older then my parents, though they are roughly the same age. Fortunately, it were friendly and peacefull faces. The parents turned out to be one of the most hospitable and friendly people I have ever met. First I met Tom's mother, who, after welcoming me into their house, changed clothes and began to cook lunch. Tom's father came in later, returning from his land. It is difficult to describe how it was like, but that I liked it is for sure. It's the different side of China, one that most tourists never will see. Directly after lunch we left. This happens a lot in China, visits usually are short, which surprised me. But... when in Wubu, act like the Wubu-Chinese...

During my subsequent visits, Tom and I many times discussed the difference between a romantic perspective on the countryside, which is widely held in the West, and the harsh reality that lies beneath that romantic surface. Tom, of course, stressing the hardships. However, he never quite pursuaded me. Why? Not that I deny that the farmers in China have a hard time, especially now, but because of the many things they have to miss, they have retained some important characteristics, which are humaneness, hospitality and friendlyness. These aspects so often are lacking in Western societies and only to be found in intimate circles, such as close friends and family. Of course, I belonged to that inner circle because it was after all their only son that introduced me, but in China it is of a more general nature. I already told you I visited Shanghai. A marvellous city, radiant and self-aware. The new China, indeed. However, the people were much more distant than in the country side. Modernity changes societies, it changes people. It's is a reality that can be lived well. I, as well as many of you, do quite well and wouldn't like to miss tv, newspapers, the Internet etcetera and to a high extent depend on it. And intimacy I get from my family and friends. Outside that group, which I would like to call organic, however, is a mechanic or systemized reality. Durkheim, Weber and other classic modernity scholars already wrote about this phenomenon. Therefore, visiting China is like a warm bath. And then I am not talking about political systems, human rights, freedom or the lack of it. I am talking about ordinary human beings living their lives regardless of political system or ideology.

Within a few weeks I will be heading towards China again. Probably my next posting will be in China, telling you about current events. I will be studying Mandarin at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) for 4.5 months. At the same time I will do some professional projects for my company DuoArts Consultancy, which I will tell you more about later.

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