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So around a week ago I visited China. The country is definitely too big to capture in words, so I'll try to be brief.|
I went with a tour group to most of the popular destinations in Beijing and Shanghai regions.
I regarded this trip very positively, and I plan to return to visit other places as well.
I will start off with the downside of pollution. Always a brown haze. In the five days of my stay I never really saw a clear blue sky. Sometimes you could smell the soot in the air. And I thought Los Angeles was polluted. Taihu Lake is in a miserable condition - there are bands and clusters of bright green algae on the surface of the lake almost everywhere. China has made great strides in economy, but certain aspects of the environment are in shambles. I hope this will change for the better in the future.
Now for the upsides. What I was very impressed with was how well the cities like Beijing and Hangzhou are lined up with trees along nearly every major avenue, with ample space for the bicyclists' lane. I think my tour guide said that in Hangzhou the ratio is something like 60 trees to 1 person (as you can probably guess, that was my favorite city). In fact, I would say Beijing has the best city green-emphasis planning that I have seen out of any city I've been to. So despite the pollution, there's a lot of good emphasis on green-ness of cities.
China is built to impress. Great Wall, Yongle, Forbidden City, etc. - these are all things that dwarf any other similary built complexes or monuments in Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The only exception is probably the Nara temple in Japan, but not a lot of things come even close. There are Chinatowns and Buddhist temples throughout the world that dazzle Western visitors with their Chinese architecture, but this too is dwarfed by what is found in Beijing. Note: I did NOT see the Temple of Heaven, but I can imagine that to be very impressive.
Chinese people's manners are better than what I expected. You find just about the same diversity of personalities as here in the United States, no more, no less. However the roads are a different story. Some people drive in the middle of the lane, and there is a distinct honking culture that is very, er, liberal, to say the least.
I was satisfied with the amount of big trees. Nothing could be more important to me than this. A lot of plaques on cedars in Beijing have A-tags, meaning they are 300-500+ years old, or B-tags, indicating 100-300 years. Very impressive. Also, there is an 800-year-old ginkgo (ying xing) in Hanshan temple in Jiangsu Province, as a transplanted donation from Guanxi Province - I'm sure there are lots of big trees there too. I saw numerous 500+ year-old trees in the Lingyin Buddhist temple in Hangzhou, including one that was 1000+ years old. Excellent! Too bad I didn't go to the Tian Mu Shan forest park, which I mentioned previously in another thread.
Didn't get too much of a glimpse on the modern culture setting. Except that there may be semi-traditional music that may be popular there. I heard a CD compilation of flute songs (I think the actual instrument is called the dizi) that seems pretty popular at some point right now or in the past, at least around the tourist attractions. But I do not know the name of the CD - if anyone can suggest the name of this CD then I would greatly appreciate it.
And the food is excellent. I recognized most of the dishes, but there were a few novel things that I encountered - it is too hard to describe, and even if I could identify it, I would never be able to make it. And even if I knew how to make it, it is highly unlikely I would find the right ingredients here in So Cal.
One of the other great impressions to me was how rich some people could get in Zhejiang province. It appears that most of the families in Zhejiang own their own 2-3 story house, with the farm as their yard. Who could ask for more than this? There are million-dollar homes in Wuxi and Hangzhou. Very strange, though, that there were two styles of houses : one that resembled modern Chinese style, and another that had a pin-pointy roof and more of a European look. There were no other styles. I wonder why.
A lot of tourist stops focus on attractive and tempting goods to buy. Silk, tea, pearls, jade... it was just very hard to resist all of the good products China has to offer. These tend to be traditional products. I'm sure as more time passes, China will have affordable and enviable technology for outsiders as well.
What makes me happy is that the clear majority of tourists that I saw in and around China were not foreign, but domestic. It is good that more and more ordinary Chinese get to travel and see more of their own country; otherwise I would just feel too guilty as a foreigner trampling on someone else's country.