So did my year in China have me looking back with appreciation for its history and spirit? Or were the pollution and big government detractors of my enjoyment?
Days before I left to go to China a liberal-minded friend said he was interested to see if my political views might change upon being in China. His angle was, “yeah, they’re communist, but look at their impressive education and transportation projects. We could learn from them.” The New York Times was/is fond of saying the same things, touting initiatives the country efficiently institutes that it considers “forward thinking”. China should be imitated.
Then there were the detractors.
Other folks told me to watch out because the government could, and does, arrest and imprison people for small, unpredictable reasons. “Don’t do or say anything they might not like,” they’d tell me. A friend of mine who taught in China spoke with displeasure about her experience, her mail being opened and People magazines confiscated.
People at home seemed to have their idea of China shunted into an anti or pro camp. Myself not settled into either side, I went with an open mind. What I found was justification for both sides; but either was only half right. When it comes to China (and many other topics, actually) people tend to see what they’re looking for.
Throughout the year, I didn’t completely escape the either/or trap myself, however. I found myself shifting between dependent on circumstances. My first month there I was impressed with a pro-China vibe. I was surprised at how peaceful and content everyone there seemed. I always felt safe in the city. I never saw a car getting pulled over by zealous police. I immediately saw signs of freedom not present back in America: kids regularly out by themselves having fun in the streets, no one giving a guy a hard time for lighting up a cigarette in public; drinking a beer on the sidewalk wasn’t against the law.
I saw a country of people living their lives as they saw fit. Meanwhile, I’d read headlines from American news about the U.S. getting on China’s case about human rights, environment, economic reasons. And the crazy part was that the U.S. just had the oil spill, had the banks all fail in ’08, and was/is guilty of its own human rights issues. I couldn’t blame China for what they’ve come to believe over the years: that they’re always being targeted and picked on by the West.
Then a few months went by.
My blog was censored. I went to perform a transaction at the bank, and it took all day and cost me unanticipated fees. My mail was opened, and I couldn’t send things home that I wanted. I saw a people complicit with government policy. I saw an unkempt population who thoughtlessly threw plastic, styrofoam, and glass into the ocean creating floating rows of litter. I encountered a protest and was pushed away by police and plain-clothed men. These examples, of course, spurred on the dislike.
So when people ask my feelings toward China, I like to say I was impressed. The good parts were impressed on me; so were the bad. The truth was deepened. In a controversial land like China, people look for the drama of “terrible” or “great”, but traveling and living there wasn’t about defining a position. It was about getting to know China, and my world, better.
The lesson here is that there’s a pull toward falling into an allegiance on issues. In the end, one does have to make a choice on the issues we face in life, but before you do, take the time consideration to see all the truth. Chances are, there’s merit to the other side. The expense of missing out on a hemisphere of truth can be very costly.
’til next time,
p.s. And there is only going to be one more next time. Next Saturday’s post will be the story of my unusual introduction to life back home and a farewell to this blog.
Since I’ve been back in Minnesota, though, the story-telling has just begun! Over the past year, I’ve taken all my stories and reformed them into a picture-rich eBook complemented with video I took all through my year. I’m very excited to complete this work within the next few months and just as excited to show it to you who followed my journey through China each week.
So we can stay in touch, please leave a comment below indicating your desire to do so. I will then let you know when the book is released as well as direct you to my new blog when I travel to my next destination: East Africa.