Thursday, January 29, 2015

China Today: A transitional country

After these first few days in China, what I’ve noticed most is that this country seems to be in the transition between a third world to a modernized country. Driving from Kun Ming to He Kou, I saw countless high-rise apartment complexes under construction, but very few looked completed. It as if they were all started at once, and have yet to be completed. It was strange to see rural farming villages, with stone houses that seemed at least a century old, being dominated by these skyscrapers. I know there are 1.3 billion people in this country, but it’s hard to imagine that there will be enough people to fill all of this new housing.

Seeing first-hand the relation between the Vietnamese and Chinese at the border and in the markets is another testament to the growing economy here. The Chinese must have a significant disposable income if they Vietnamese can sell the cheap goods they had and make a living. I can assume that this is the result of there being a lot of construction going on in China so many people are employed.

Being in this mountainous region in which terrace farming is so prevalent has forced me to think a lot about the terraces. I realized that I become more aware of the hills—their slopes and curves—when I see how the people have had to work with them. It’s an example of nature providing this framework of the landscape, and man squaring it off to make it usable.

This occurs essentially wherever people live, but the terraces made me hyper-aware of it. The terrace farming also speaks to the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the people here, which brings me to the way that the people here recycle trash for practical purposes. My favorite example of this was seeing a large toy truck being reused as a flowerbed. Vera and I were talking about this on the bus and agreed that the amount of litter here is almost excusable, as they really seem to use everything they can, unlike Americans who tend to throw away everything that isn’t perfect. I will also note that Americans wouldn’t dream of farming anywhere that isn’t mostly flat land, let alone on mountain slopes.

I am constantly taken aback by the vibrant colors everywhere here in Yunnan. Before coming, I assumed in my naivety it wouldn’t be the case and everyone would dress more like a communist. I packed accordingly in hopes of fitting in and not drawing too much attention to myself. I was quickly proven wrong to my pleasure as a photographer. The traditional dresses worn by Ha Ni women are obvious examples, but also contemporary clothing, storefronts, advertising, and packaging burst with color. Seeing the fruits at the farmers markets gave me an idea of their source material. I had fun taking pictures of people whose clothing matched the color of the fruit they happened to be standing next to.

Seeing the French railway station in Menzi reminded me of hearing the story of how it came to be in the museum in He Kou. I have trouble believing that the French could be so naïve to think that they could control China with one railroad spanning half of Yunnan. I kept hearing about the many Chinese lives lost in its construction and driving through the area in which it is built made me see how. Yunnan seems like the last place I would want to try to build a railroad. I was amazed to see how much infrastructure was required to put a modern highway there, and couldn’t imagine being a Chinese worker a century ago attempting a similar undertaking. There was a picture in the museum in Menzi of a bridge that connected tunnels coming out of solid cliffs. I can only imagine what a toll the Chinese payed in building it. It was funny to see the clocks at the station, which aside from the railroad’s design seemed to be the only French contribution.

It is also interesting that the Chinese barely use it anymore and it seems that it is kept in use for the sake of Vietnam. In this trip I learned a lot about French influence in this part of the world, which aside from the basic fact that they controlled Vietnam, I knew very little about.

Class discussion was very interesting this morning. I am glad to hear that China is working on establishing social welfare and anti-corruption programs in attempt to close the income gap, I am starting to get a better idea of what is currently going on in this country. I get the impression that the embrace of capitalism and communism working simultaneously was to improve the standard of living for all the people. The income gap is in theory a temporary side effect of this, and I suppose the plan is that everyone will come out more equal but with a higher standard of living than in Mao’s time. It is an ambitious plan but the ideology is in the right place in my opinion. In the United States, many of our politicians have a hard time even admitting that our own income gap a problem and we are seeing movements to unravel many of the social welfare programs initiated by Roosevelt and Johnson that many rely upon.

Today, I took a walk around Kun Ming after seeing the birds in the park. First of all, I noticed many people singing and dancing in groups at the park. They didn’t seem to be street performers but instead just engaging in community activities. Before I was out of earshot of one group of dancers, I was already being bombarded by the sounds of musicians playing traditional instruments. Seeing something like this is fairly uncommon in America unless those involved are trying to make money, and I think it reflects the communal nature of Asian culture.

After leaving that I walked back the way we came and fell across some bookstores. Most were in Chinese but I found a few English books, mostly on Buddhism and Tibet. I also noticed copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm as well as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I was surprised to see these books as China seems to try to control information and media, and these stories all directly conflict with the ideology of the CPC, by displaying the evils of socialism and totalitarianism. In the same neighborhood I saw coffee shops where there were college-aged girls smoking cigarettes and one was playing the guitar—both things I understand to be rather taboo here. It was interesting to find a counter-cultural side of this city.

— Hugh Hopkins, non-degree visiting student, #HuskyAbroad

Led by Vera Viditz-Ward, professor of art and art history, and Jing Luo, Ph.D., professor of languages and cultures, a group of Bloomsburg University students spent three weeks in China studying language, culture and photography. The group, hosted by Yunnan Normal University, traveled to Kunming, Hekou, Yuanyuang, Mengzi, Dali, and Lijiang, where they had close contact with a variety of ethnic groups and learned about their lives and cultures.

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