China is a good example of how cultures change and how our desire to discover the “old,” isn’t necessarily what we should aspire. In other words, we may be blind to see the reality if we chase the dreams of the past. So I didn’t find the China that I was looking for – I’m not saying I didn’t admire the nature and old buildings, of which most were either renovated or rebuilt, and I greatly enjoyed photographing the gardens as well. Yet, this undeniably clean and well organised place that looked like China gave me a feeling of a dream at times, like it wasn’t quite real. The same way, tourism often offers us what we want to see and surprisingly studies suggest that this is actually our preference over the truth. A good example is that sightseeing and even nature attractions become something luxurious and uninteresting to locals.
When I overcame my personal disappointment, including a wish to see and hold baby pandas, I discovered a new China. This was quite opposite to what I had studied from my history books as an adolescent; instead China turned out to be a modern and curious child with a lot of excitement towards future. Mostly found in bigger cities, the young population pointed out where China really was, as well as, where it was going. On the other hand, the discovery also included some of my own fears about the future where we hardly live in the present world; the strange people remarked as odd ones out where the ones not looking at their mobile phones. The metros and infrastructure were noticeably more evolved and cleaner than in many European cities, for example, yet there was a clear intent from the government to teach how to behave through animation series and announcements of the new social credit in the public transport.
The change in China has been fast, and this is something that we in Europe cannot fully comprehend. Looking at the recent history, China’s government has succeeded to pull around 700 million people (almost equaling the population of whole Europe) over the poverty line since 1980’s. The one word that comes to mind is admirable, yet the change has left a big gap between generations. The young population feels increasingly that they have a choice and money can buy a comfortable life for most. However, not many felt that they had yet a right to dream or demand work and working conditions that are enjoyable. I’m surely not saying that the rest of the world is a terrific example either, but cultural change is a process and I hope to see improvements in this sector as well. In overall, China’s future makes me intrigued – the change continues to be fast – on one side there is the new social credit system evolving in the hands of the government and WeChat inspecting people’s personal lives, on the other side there are major environmental promises which will likely have a positive global impact – who knows where China will be in 10 years already!
Finally after my curious pondering about cultures and differences, I return to the human level where I find what truly matters – the connection. For a traveler, it’s easy to observe, compare and stay in your own little bubble. However, the most meaningful and important parts of my travels, also in China, have been with the people. What was most authentic and memorable, were the hugs, smiles and stories shared – many thanks to those who were part of this journey 🙂