Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Will The Real China Please Stand Up

 I am packed and ready to return back home for the summer after four months in my new life in China. I have volumes to say about what I have experienced so far, but time is short and that flight leaves soon and so I will give it to you today in a nutshell and lots of revisiting and detailing will come later.

What I have learned about China so far is that everything I thought I knew before coming here was a half truth at best. China is evolving, growing, shifting and the complexity of life and society here is mind boggling. China's history is rich and deep and its people have had to be resilient throughout the ages. They have traditions that put family and community first and above the individual aspiration. The cities here are booming and Shanghai is the largest city in the world by population. This city is cutting edge and modern, full of seas of skyscrapers and luxury shopping, but it is also home to many rural migrants who have come to the city to work and improve life for their family. So the city is full of intersections between old and new, glamour and grit, luxury and poverty.

I have not even made it out of the city and into the country yet. Future adventures.    

 My family and I moved into an area of Shanghai called Jinqiao, but we tend to refer to it as "the bubble". The bubble is safe, familiar in many ways, it is full of expats from all different places, and it is in China, but it is not China. It has hints and flavours of China to be sure but it is a watered down and highly westernized version.

In my first months here I began to explore both inside and outside the bubble and I sensed the different personas and intricacies of the city and the people. I became keenly aware that in my neighborhood I was not seeing the "real" China, only catching short glimpses or subtle hints. These hints come in the forms of rickshaws pulling any variety of items, the corner turtle vendor I pass most days on my runs, noticing that someone is actually living in the animal stalls behind the fence down the street from my cushy gated villa community and touring the migrant village just a few miles away from my house but hidden down the alley ways and out of sight.

   Futuristic skyscrapers in Pudong Shanghai
Vegetable vendor in the migrant village 

The city is rich and luxurious and that is not a status reserved just for the foreigners, there are many Chinese from the city who are prospering and very wealthy, but the masses, the working poor and the migrant population are the sweat and tears of this blossoming abundance and modern flair.

I don't think I am anywhere near really understanding this city much less this country. Everyday I see something new or astounding. I know so much more is waiting to be revealed. The real China is many faces, millions of stories, it is ancestors and history, family and future. The real China is full of people just like us trying to make the best life possible for themselves and their children.             

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