Monday, January 23, 2006

China: the end and thoughts

I left Xishuangbanna just before the Chinese National Day on October 1st. This time of year is supposed to be hell for any travels within the country and so I decided not to go to Beijing, some 5,000km from where I was, as I had originally planned. I went back to Kunming, bid farewell to the people who had helped me get all the contacts for geranium, citronella and eucalyptus oil and hopped on another 26hour train journey to Guangzhou. In Kunming, I did take the time to explore the surrounding hills, but everywhere was packed with tourists coming from other parts of China. In the hostel, I celebrated the Jewish New Year with the many Israelis that were in Kunming for the 3rd of October. Eventhough I am not Jewish, a few of them insisted that I celebrate the dinner of Rosh Hashannah with them and be “Jewish for a day”. And so, in a relaxed, friendly and spiritual atmosphere, I learned about the symbolism of the pomegrenate, the apple with honey, the sweet bread, the dates…

Rosh Hashannah celebrated in the hostel in Kunming.

And then, I was back in Hong Kong, this city that I thought was daunting and overwhelming two months earlier now revealed its secrets and I very much enjoyed the week I spent there while waiting for my Indian visa to be issued. I explored the more laid-back atmosphere of the New Territories, the cafes filled with expats working in business, finance or consulting in Central, the magic of the lanterns in Kowloon Park while taking a dive at the public pool…

A Buddhist temple in the New Territories.

And to anyone going to Hong Kong, I highly recommend spending a few hours at the Hong Kong Museum of History, which presents a complete history of the area, from the evolution of the geological features, the invasion of the British, the culture of the indigeneous fishermen, to the handing-over back to China and the completion of the new airport in Chep Lak Kok a few years ago.

So now is the time to share my impressions on China. Earlier, I described Hong Kong as a city of contrasts- the meeting point of two cultures. Well, I think this description can be extended to the whole of China (well to the small glimpse I had of the country, in the three provinces of Guangdong, Guanxi and Yunnan). The difference is maybe that in Hong Kong the westerners who have lived there for many generations are “sinofied”, where as in mainland China, the Chinese are westernized and long for this Western culture. All the cities, big and small, Zhuhai, Guilin, Kunming, Jinghong, look like any newly-built western city. Unfortunately in cities like Kunming, the charming old houses have been replaced by square, impersonal, concrete buildings. And then, in the countryside, while the teenagers in the city look for the new Nokia model, the laborers in the rice field still plow the land with their cows. Throughout my stay, I was always feeling that the society is trying to catch up with the very rapid economic boost. In the villages, the people have ditched thair traditional clothing for the western-style clothing- such a shame!! they take out their traditional dresses only to please the tourists- it used to annoy me so much! But then, completely out of the blue, I would run into a few retired men and women, who, to spend their time on sundays would meet in the neighborhood's park and put on a Chinese opera show. The following picture was taken in a small park in Kunming- a few people gathered and spend one hour putting their make up on before starting to perform!!!

Chinese Opera in a park in Kunming

This first trip to China left me with a mixed impression. The country houses some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen in my life, but unfortunately, it still bears the marks of the Cultural Revolution as many heritage sites have been destroyed. Sometimes I felt that the people also beared these marks as they are trying to escape from their culture by adopting more of the Western culture. I may be wrong, though, because in fact it was quite difficult to really interact with the local population- language being the biggest barrier! One thing is sure, I will definitely go back to explore the more autonomous provinces of Tibet and Xinjiang.


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