Active on the Great Wall…China and the beauty of contradictions
It does not come as a surprise that China will not appear as one of the top vacation destinations for most of the people I know. The Chinese is merely viewed as a giant market, a place to do business, invest, open up factories and hire cheap labour. Well, a trip to China can change all the perceptions that you may have and prove that not everything costs $1 in the Dragon country. Also, guess what! It is no longer strange to ask people in China if they have a brother/sister.
Upon arrival to Beijing, you can instantly feel the great discipline among the officers under the ruling Communist party. Their attention to detail when you are checking in is alarming and you can almost feel you are crossing from one world order to another. A ruling party in this country of more than 1.3 billion population cannot afford to lose control. Instead, the state closely monitors everything and everyone. The Chinese secret services are known to be one the most active worldwide. Keeping secessionist movements such as in the Xinjiang region is a top priority for this state (P.S. Xinjiang cuisine is one of the best). It is said that there is one informer on average for each officer. I witnessed one informant blowing his cover and calling out the military on a salesman in one of Beijing’s narrow streets. Funny enough, Chinese universities are among the few in the world where North Korean students may attend outside their country. Red flags and signs celebrating allegiance to Chairman Mao constantly rally the Chinese public behind the precepts of the communist party and the victory over centuries of imperial rules and a number of dynasties.
However, China is also a country of many contradictions that re-define the very meaning of the term contradiction. On one hand, it is a communist country since 1949 when Chairman Mao stood in Tiananmen Square and declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. On the other hand, China does capitalism better than the U.S. Actually, it is expected that with current market behaviour, China will exceed by far US’ GDP growth this year. Also, for these under communist rule, they are dream consumers for luxury brands especially fashion items. Most of luxury brands would confirm that their most valuable customers come from that side. As my Chinese friend explained to me, the middle class is expanding rapidly while the numbers of millionaires is just soaring. As for the employment policy, the country is putting more restrictions on work permits for expats to secure jobs for the youth population. Although investments are highly rewarded, you would not land a job in PR or start a lucrative PR business without deep understanding of the Chinese politics simply because media is owned and controlled by the state and because of language barriers. However, the new Communist party seems to be relaxing the grip and things may be changing in the coming years.
Another capitalist aspect is the presence of KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and other international food chains literally everywhere and in the most remote areas such as the Water Town which is 2 hours away from the centre of Shanghai. I am indebted to all these places for saving my life in times from severe hunger. As one can imagine, Chinese food is not at all what you can order in P.F. Chang’s. However, if you dare to try out street food, you can try what is known as the Baodze and the Dondze. People actually line up in queues in famous street kiosks.
The various cities are not only different in nature and geography but also in their demography. Northern Chinese especially in Beijing are accused of not being friendly enough and one can definitely feel that around hotels, restaurants, etc. Shanghainese are used to foreigners as expats form a large share of the population. Germans and French are the biggest investors in the country and have the highest numbers of workers. Nevertheless, one cannot avoid being stared at in complete wonder and photographed in public places.
The places not to be missed when you are in China are namely, 1) in Beijing, the Great Wall which different sections were united in 221 B.C. – highly recommend the Mutyaniu section, the Forbidden City which was literally a prison for the last Chinese emperor (see the movie the Last Emperor), the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the Silk Market, 2) In Xian, the Terracotta Warriors and the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, 3) In Shanghai, the Bund, Xin Tian Di, Nanjing Road, Yuyuan Garden, and Hangzhou for a romantic Chinese touch on the West Lake.
When touring in China, you would notice that the number local Chinese tourists is the highest among the total number of tourists in China. In fact, domestic tourism contributed to 4% to the overall GDP growth and to some of the crowds you may encounter on the streets. For example, being in Shanghai on Labour Day is a totally different experience having a city of 26 million residents roaming the streets and lining up outside stores.
The Great Wall is indeed one the marvels of human history. So, would you really want to miss out on that?