Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Our First Trip to China Oct '03-Part I

I am about to post travelogues of all our trips taken together to China beginning with the first one in Oct 2003. We had been to China separately in the mid 80's long before we met.

When I worked and lived briefly in Hong Kong in 1986 (before HK was part of China again), a group of us from our company flew into Beijing to present our proposal to partner with China to build color picture tube facilities. We landed in the early evening at the old airport were met by some minor officials and driven to the Peiking Hotel. At that time cars drove only with their parking lights and the car heaters were not used in order to save gasoline. There were very few cars on the road, most bicycles, and the air was heavy with coal dust and fumes. We traveled once again to Beijing where we celebrated what we thought was an acceptance of our proposed agreement and dined at the Great Hall of the People then visited the Great Wall and Ming Tombs. But that is another story.

So 17 years later, the changes that had been made in Beijing were really remarkable. At the time we came back in Oct. '03 were didn't know that we would be back several times, so we planned to see and do a lot. This is Part I of the journey.

We fly to Changchun from Beijing in Jilin Province (on the big map look in the upper right, blue colored) and arrive in the middle of the afternoon. No one is there to pick us up. We have a name and a phone number and no Chinese coins. It is a very small run down airport and no one seems to speak English. There is pay phone but no coins. We sit outside and wait for about 40 minutes and then decide to try to phone. We find a non-pay phone but the lady wants money anyway. She dials the number for us after some significant hand signals and talk to the man. He arrives about 30 mins. later.

Turns out he has the wrong information, or got the wrong information because we arrived day before he was expecting us. We stay the night in Changchun and head off to Jilin City via van on a new super highway with hardly any traffic.

Jilin City, the 30th largest city in China, is in Jilin Province as sits along the Songhua River. It has a population of 4.25 million. It is being developed as a tourist area, especially for winter sports. There are several skiing areas and an ice skating faculty up to international standards we are told. But I doubt the transportation and lodging facilities would make it an attraction for foreigners. This area (north of North Korea) is part of what was once Manchuria, and was occupied by the Japanese from 1931 to 1945. The Japanese built a huge dam in the 30’s along the Songhua River and the hydro-electric system associated with it supplies 83% of the power in the region.

Being so close to Korea, the area has many tourists from Korea and Korean influences can be seen in many places. During the Korean War, China and the Soviet Union were close allies and the Soviet style of architecture can also be seen. Indeed, if you look at a map, you will see that Vladivostok, Russia is very near.

Koreans consider dog meat a treat and this influence is strong in Jilin Province. We dined every meal with the officials of the AIDS conference and were treated to a wide variety of regional food. As I explained to our hosts, 20 years ago to Americans, Chinese food was only associated with Chop Suey (which does not exist in China and never did) and only recently have we understood there are many regional food favors in this large country. A typical Chinese meal is displayed on a large lazy-susan in the center of round table which is intermittently, slowly moved along as people reach with chop sticks to take what they want. Having traveled briefly in China (1986) I then tried to sample everything that was put before me, so the various food consistencies were not a total surprise to me. So, now, when I looked a plate of what looked like fried beetles, I politely let it go pass as I reached ahead for something else. I saw something unknown, but more associated with what I consider to be normal food, like roast pigeon, braised fish head in hot and sour gravy, or deep fired pig’s ear. Turns out I was correct that they were beetles, elegantly displayed I might add, but a bug is a bug. I did eat dog meat however. I didn’t think it was so grrreat though and I certainly didn’t “woof” it down.

There are some very striking things I have noticed so far. First, we at a HIV/AIDS conference in China and the last time I was in China, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s) were almost non-existent. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping drastically accelerated economic reforms and economic growth has been staggering since then. I found the growth amazing. Gone is the welfare state, which fostered laziness and carelessness, as well as the omnipresent revolutionary slogans which appealed for social solidarity. Now, its every man for himself and everyone is encouraged to make money and get rich. Advertising slogans have taken over and everything is for sale including women and children. Prostitution flourishes and drugs are a significant problem. As a result AIDS and other STD’s has risen to the point the government can no longer ignore the potential economic impact. The outbreak of SARS, which scared a lot of people but killed relatively few, caused significant economic impact for all of SW Asia as well as Toronto, Canada. The potential damage from AIDS will be staggering before prevention education and behavior modification take place to bring this pandemic disease within an acceptable level of deaths, as it has in the U.S.

Here’s the thing. Chinese are heavy smokers (it appears they raise a lot of tobacco also) and they have no regard for wearing seat belts in their cars. I ask myself why. These are also serious health issues. Is it because they haven’t felt the consequences of ignoring these issues severely enough? I look to the how these issues became issues in the U.S. and the governmental quasi-government groups and private pressure groups that raised the consciousness of our citizens. Least you believe that our National Government is free of ideas and actions are our detrimental to our country’s health issues, I can supply many examples to the contrary. Supplying condoms and clean needles to some segments of our society not only would be cost effective but would save lives and stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Indeed, it is quietly being done is some communities, without fanfare so as to not raise the hackles of some self interest groups. I will avoid naming these groups in order to maintain my tranquil composure, so I won’t mention the religious conservatives.

China also has organized crime and is heavily polluting the environment, by the way, just to present a more complete picture of the conditions here. People dress better, eat better, look better, own cars and (creating huge traffic jams). All the benefits and afflictions of western life are present mixed in with a huge amount of organized crime and officials’ corruption.

We see many farmers in the fields harvesting their corn and rice crops my hand and many examples of the new China and old China living side my side. Once their farms become modernized, their will be hundreds of thousands of people will be looking for work.

The Chinese have been very gracious hosts to us and their kindness is genuine. We arrived here the day they sent their first astronaut successfully into space. There economic expansion is now at a tremendous rate. Some enterprising people are becoming rich. There is no doubt in my mind that China will be the next superpower. Along the way, I predict the democratic reforms will take place, although probably slowly and not to the degree we enjoy in the U.S. Also a factor is that India is now building its infrastructure and U.S. jobs are moving there, where democracy exists. The Chinese have freedom to travel and to consume, but there is no freedom of expression.

We visited the house of a man who has AIDS and he contracted it by giving blood for money. The blood takers took the plasma and put the reminder into a community pool and injected the blood back into the donors so they would be able to give blood again more quickly. So one person with AIDS infected many. This was not an uncommon practice. The man to Judith's right is Professor Xu, a man we will see many times in our China travels.

We visited the Beishan Park behind us, home of the Temple of the War God and the Pavilion of the Jade Emperor. It rises 650 feet and the view at the top allows a great view of the city. And yes, we walked up and down.

This group of teenagers wanted to have their picture taken with us.

We were taken to visit a very nice high school and we had a camera stuck in our face as we walked through the grounds like we were some VIPs The students were outside during their group exercises.

Then we were taken to a group of students studying English and they asked us questions in English and we in turn asked them questions about themselves. I got the email address of their teacher so I could sent this picture to her, but the Chinese government blocked it. We really enjoyed the exchange. They were so excited and not at all like the picture below. I suppose they thought they should look like serious students.

We were put up in a hotel formerly used to house government officials. The twin beds were very hard and the heating system would automatically turn off after an unknown length of time. We were anxious to leave.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

I talk to people that have recently visited Hong Kong and I can't believe the differences from when we were there. I can't imagine an airport on Lantau, that was so remote back then!