China, from my perspective.

Well, we’re back from China.  Before I go back to Green, let me give at least a quick impression of my experiences in the most populous country on earth.

My long-held impression of modern China came from an old twelve-part PBS documentary of the 1980s called Heart of the Dragon, one of the first extended views into post-Mao China afforded westerners. It certainly captured my attention and shaped the experience I expected. Won’t say I was disappointed, but I will say I found something very out of my ordinary.

What I found was a country thoroughly commercialized, albeit in a different form than the American version of drive-up windows, franchises, and corporate empires.  There are millions of street-level small businesses tucked into every building, some only a few feet deep or wide.  The cities are full of Western brands and particularly luxury goods.  Since this is an automotive blog I could not miss photographing the one mechanic’s place I saw.  Even fueling stations were rather uncommon.

Truthfully, I expected to see reproductions of the old American vehicles copied for decades by Chinese factories.  They had done that for decades, but nope–not a one.  Mercedes, Buick, Hyundai, Russian, and Chinese knock-offs were everywhere.  Every street and intersection was filled bumper to bumper.  Traffic was a much more intimate experience than I am used to. The streets are filled with sedans.  SUVs are popular, but I saw not a single pickup truck during our 10 days in the country.  I expected to see streets full of cyclists.  There were lots, but many were riding rentals.  I saw not a single Mao Jacket, though I looked constantly.

China 2

The first billboard we saw leaving the airport–was for the Green Truck’s distant cousin from the Chevrolet family.

Shanghai (our first stop) is a city of 25 million people, better than twice the population, area, and density of the Chicago metro area, and China is modernizing quickly–very quickly.  Shanghai is filled with 30-story apartment blocks everywhere and many, many more going up.  In a single development by the Hangzhou airport (second stop) I counted no fewer than 36 gantry cranes, and it was one of dozens being built.  This is why concrete and diesel prices are skyrocketing in the US–the real market is China.  In most cities there are still pockets of old neighborhoods, warrens of narrow alleys and walkways (two were visible from our hotel room) capped with terra cotta tiles of that distinct, ribbed Oriental look, but they are being replaced as quickly as construction can manage. From what I hear, the old buildings are not mourned:  they have neither kitchen nor restroom facilities–they are the Chinese equivalent of tenements.

Of course I have to say something about food, which was terrific. We did not get an opportunity to eat as often on the street as I would have liked (and we were strongly advised against doing so, anyway).  I did try chunks of jackfruit, hawked off the back of a motorbike, and we had noodles for lunch one day in the walk-up place outside our hotel in Xi’an (third stop).  As a rule, we didn’t get much of a chance. We were feted afternoon and evening.  It was a wonder I did not gain 30 pounds.

This image was taken at about the middle of the meal. By the time we were done I counted nineteen different dishes on the table.  I am grateful I took time to learn to eat effectively with chopsticks as a teen.  They expected it from Dear–she had lived in Taiwan; how well I was did was noticed more than once–even with noodles.

A few more pix than the ones shown here appear on my Facebook page, and the return flight is a tale in itself.  I have hundreds more photos and could have taken millions without really documenting China.  Dear and I had a very good time, but China is changing so rapidly that if we ever have a chance to go back, China will already be different.




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