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As Long as We Remember...

June 2, 2010

Surprising China

Tom McLaughlin

Chengdu, China – Many of our overseas Chinese friends had warned us. The people in China were rude, crude and totally unlikable, they said. They will cheat and rob. Crime is high. Bargaining is a nightmare and they are a dirty people. They were wrong.


The residents, warm and friendly, went out of their way to help us. Although my wife and I could only speak a few words of Chinese, we selected the most important. Smiling, we always said Nee How Mah (how are you) and answered their greetings with How! (Great) They could have been telling us our shoes were on fire and we would have replied How! (great!).


And we selected the magic of words of all languages, thank you, shay shay. We shay shayed every one for everything, with a wide, sometimes stupid, grin. And, following oriental tradition, we paid attention to the kids and elderly.


Armed with a guidebook written in both English and Chinese characters, we simply pointed to places we wanted go and asked the taxi driver to take us there. Looking for a specific item, we had our dictionary. All of these actions combined made out trip a dream.


Another surprise was what wasn’t there. There were no teeming masses shoulder to shoulder jostling each other. The few motor bikes were powered by batteries, hence, very little noise except an occasional whirrrr. Traffic, though heavy, moved freely. Beggars, panhandlers and women prostitutes yelling out what they had to sell were not visible as we explored most of the city.


And, it was clean. Very clean. No litter or gutters filled with sewerage and run down homes. The rivers, flowing through the city, lacked the smell that sometimes brought one to their knees in other Asian cities. Clear with bottom visible, one almost wanted to scoop a drink.


Most of the westerners we met were Americans. Recent college graduates taught English. The sons and daughters of those working for Intel, a huge employer, all seemed to enjoy living in this vibrant city. Peace Corps Volunteers were arriving and training. They were surprised I had been a volunteer 35 years ago


Others, around my age, made Chengdu their home. One had married a local Chinese lady and made money by day trading. Some opened western restaurants. I was unnerved to hear a Texas accent as he drew caricatures of people on a tourist street.


The city was large and ultra modern, another surprise. Cranes dotted the sky, lifting new buildings higher and higher. Condos and office buildings with Starbucks and other American fast food places tucked under them, dominated the street scene. Squeezed in small cubbys, local restaurants served up soups, wok cooked meals and rice.


Weather was cool and misty, a delightful change from the tropics. Very little sunshine but that was okay for us with rain at night and sometimes spritzer showers. There was some air pollution but nothing we couldn’t handle or complain about after Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok.


We stayed for seven days in a business hotel that was a bit expensive by our standards, $70/night; but we were tired of the run down hovels we were forced to reside in while exploring the interiors of other countries. We splurged.


I also visited my first BMW showroom which held 14 autos, way out of my affordability. Many new, modern and expensive cars traveled the roads next to very few bicycles and trishaws, an example of the rapid upward mobility of the Chinese people.


Next week: Wandering Chengdu


…life is good.


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