Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Even in winter, China was at times a vibrant place. I spent three weeks this November in China, during the coldest winter since 1949, the year of Mao's Long March. In general, I have to say that China was gray and sometimes grim because of the weather–no sun, considerable cold, dampness, and eventually lots of snow. It surprised the natives, but as a New Englander, we were prepared. The Peking Opera was a nice surprise. Not only was there an interesting and socially significant libretto, but the visuals were often stunning. The opera was a welcome contrast to the out of doors in several ways. For one, the warmth and colors were lovely and delightful. But the contrast with the outdoor vendors, most of whom were hard working and serious about their business, but who were also desperate and obviously poor, was considerable. China is amazing in many ways, and one of the most remarkable is in the contrasts one sees all around the major cities.
Of course, the size of the cities is overwhelming for most of us. These days almost every city is marked by a plethora of cranes high in the skyline, building condos and business landmarks everywhere. Rarely is there fewer than three to seven visible cranes in cities like Beijing and Shanghai. In the region of the Three Gorges on the Yangtze, one sees cities built for the displaced people whose homes are now below almost 300 meters of water.
People are mixed in their reactions to this gigantic project. Some naturally lament the loss of their ancestral homes, but others revel in the fact that they now have their own condo with indoor plumbing and separate bedrooms. What impresses me as an outsider is the fact that China is rebuilding itself while we are waging war and resisting serious investment in our own infrastructure.

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