China was always going to be exciting – a visit to a new country means everything is different and exciting. Food, scenery, road signs, clouds, everything. As as “Westerner”, we are always told that the East will be so different and alien to us. So what did I see? Now the initial post-holiday glow has dimmed a little, I think that this is both correct and incorrect. I don’t believe the “West” and the “East” are particularly helpful distinctions, and aside from the fact that I am only 50% genetically British anyway, I hate the generic term “Westerner”. We do not all think or act the same! (Rant over)
What I saw in China were the following differences:
- Firstly, that the differences are not as big as everyone would have you believe – we are all people, and the common aspects of humanity shine out above everything else. All else is cultural habit.
- Culture-wise, the attitudes of the Chinese people are different to the UK – my instinct is to suggest this is due to China’s unrivalled position as the only civilisation state which has existed in the world. Short of a few periods of internal strife and rare invasions, China as a unified state has existed for thousands of years, with unbroken WRITTEN history, in language which can be traced all the way back. This must give you a certain way of thinking. The UK has been invaded so many times and had so many different cultural influences, we have no single definitive view of what our country culture is.
- China is big. Very big. Having such big landscapes and vast expanses of land also make you think differently – about the use of resources and use of space. I saw this attitude in the US as well. Perhaps it is just so stark compared to our little, overcrowded island.
- Back to culture again, another thing I noticed, relevant to my own MA study, was the ease in which ancient traditions and rituals sit alongside modern life. There is no embarrassment about religious / spiritual beliefs in the way our country seems to have. People respect their beliefs and their ancestors, and will make offerings in a time-honoured way openly. I also saw a Monk break their meditation in a temple to answer a mobile phone. No issues! I would like to follow this angle up more in my proposal which I have slowly been mulling over during the holidays (more to come on this soon).
- And finally, I really like real Chinese food!! Still obsessed by the Gong Bao chicken and spicy aubergine dishes we had – once you get addicted to Sichuan flower pepper there is no going back.
It is hard to sum up such an epic trip, but I thought I would try to capture my reflection in one key photograph. This one is what I picked: a picture of a waste bin from the Wudang mountain, showing how beauty and poetry in thought is so shamelessly and honestly portrayed in everyday life – some thing I saw as prevalent in China. I don’t know how much is in language translation, but I will take this as I see it – beautiful.
Looking forward to visiting again 🙂