Verfasst von: rbontour | April 14, 2011

China – Unstoppable Growth & Power Appetite

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Photos China

We finally start to comprehend China’s unstoppable growth and power appetite as we can now see things with our own eyes. Yes, China is booming! The Middle Kingdom is striving for power, for growth, for international prominence, for economic domination and for more prosperity … and to us it seems as if the communist government would do everything to pursue growth, regardless of the consequences.

We are not traveling for a very long time in China. Most likely our impressions are not fully matured. Actually, we didn’t plan to travel across the western part of the country at all, but it’s nice that we can still be flexible. Our next (and long anticipated) destination is Tibet, the roof of the world, and a couple of years ago they launched a costly railway track from Golmud to Lhasa. Hence, we decided to hop on the highest railroad of the world to get to Lhasa as this option also allowed us to spend a week in China beforehand. Well, and on a 2x 24 hours train journey (no joke!) you have a lot of time to look out of the window and see what’s going on in this country.

The First 24-Hrs.-Leg: Bulldozers & Cranes
We wouldn’t consider the things we saw during the last week as an attractive highlight of our trip. Especially in regards of the train rides, we expected some pristine landscapes or the possibility to spot a traditional Chinese temple in the distance. Somehow we thought that China’s west is less populated and remote. Not really! In fact, we were shocked what we saw on the first leg of our train journey. Still, we don’t regret it, as the ride was definitely interesting.

China is a construction site! No matter in which direction you look, you can see cranes and bulldozers literally everywhere. New roads, huge skyscrapers, giant bridges, long tunnels, new train tracks, industrial areas … concrete all over the place. The blind quest for growth seems to have no limits. Really, the landscape could be quite pretty, but everything is knocked down and destroyed. Absolutely, Chinese do not build on a small scale!

One would think that they place importance on traditional Chinese architecture, but we had the feeling that originality and traditions lost value. These things have become unimportant! Instead, they are constructing mighty highway bridges, extremely large and ugly stadiums, huge dams, shopping and entertainment centers and nasty-looking apartment complexes. There is no height restriction and one building is uglier than the other.

Even during the nights, they worked relentlessly on building sites. From our train window we could see the big floodlights. Every movement seems to be accurately calculated and things have to progress quickly – of course with maximum efficiency. Time is money!

The Cities – Often A Thick Soup Of Smog
We spent a few days in Chengdu (population: 10.5 million) and Xining (2.5 million) and we were really impressed. Opposed to what we have seen in Southeast Asia (SEA), the two cities were so clean, so tidy and well-maintained. When we traveled through Chinese communities or city districts in SEA, we always noticed how dirty and trashy it was there. Nevertheless, the cities here in China looked so gray, just colorless, pale and unattractive. Although it may sound weird, but there is no feeling of coziness around here! There is no color, no joy, we can hardly see any trees or flowers and, thus, we feel the lack of fresh, natural air. Smog is obviously a problem in China. You can’t see the sky you very often and living here seems to be sad and almost depressing (if you are not used to this environment).

China’s Luxury Market
Going shopping in Chinese cities feels a bit… European. The difference: everything appears more powerful, bigger and more extreme. Although they have gigantic shopping malls like in the US, we could also meander through typical pedestrian zones. However, these were built on two levels with even more luxury boutiques and Western brands in the underground pedestrian zone. From Armani, over H&M to Zara… you can find literally everything. Luxury brands (non- fake stuff) are becoming more and more important in Chinese society; people strive for status and designer fashion is increasingly popular. If everything is real, who knows, but the quality in the stores felt good and quite decent.

Especially Chinese women appeared to be very conscious about their appearance. According to Robert, the Middle Kingdom has really pretty girls… (unfortunately, Brigitte couldn’t claim the same thing for the guys). We noticed that the women even dressed up for 24 hours train journeys. No matter if they are traveling first or economy class – the shortest miniskirts, the sexiest hot pants and high heels can’t be missing, of course.

Food – What A Challenge!
Everyone had Chinese food before in the Western world… delicious, huh?! Crispy spring rolls, wok noodles sweet & sour or fried duck! Well, but forget the wok men around the corner – food is so incredibly different when you are in China.

As most of you know, Brigitte is vegetarian and in China we faced our first challenges with this fact. On our entire journey, it was never a problem, but China was even a bit challenging for Robert. Nobody speaks English and forget English menus. In case they have translated menus, they only show “half-truths”. Example: You read “Squid with assorted” and think about delicious squid with rice and tasty veggies in sweet and sour sauce. Not really, actually! What you get is “squid with assorted meats” – but it doesn’t look inviting at all. It rather looks like a meat massacre and who knows what kind of animals you get on your plate…rabbits, frogs, dogs, cats, pigs, beef?!

In addition, the portions are tremendously large. One starter can be shared by 4 people. We have seen mega-portions in the US, but the plate sizes over here are unbelievable! They make more food than required. It’s quite lavishly… too many leftovers. Well, currently we may also be a bit wasteful with food as we often order 3 dishes and hope to find something edible. Well, but we need to eat and it means: yay, three times a day pure adventures!

Chinglish … New World Language?
The fact that hardly any locals speak English is tough. If they speak English it more sounds like “Chinglish”. You basically don’t understand a freaking word. Sometimes you really feel awkward and helpless as not even your hands and feet speed up your desire to communicate. When it’s about money, one would think that using fingers may turn out to be helpful. Not in China! Locals are clapping and flicking their fingers in a crazy way and you just don’t get what they want to tell you J.

In any event, we finally understand my dear friend Bianca much better. She and her husband lived in China for a while and they mentioned whenever they left their apartment, they carried some kind of a “dog tag” with them. This means, you should always carry an identification tag including the hotel address in Mandarin with you as otherwise you may never find your way back.

It’s just interesting how the world-language seems to be unheard of in China, although they finally started to teach English in public schools (not for a long time, though!). Well, if you look at these gigantic development projects and the tremendous growth in this country, who knows what our future world-language will be?! At some point students in Europe may no longer be taught English, but Mandarin…

The Second 24-Hrs.-Leg: The World’s Highest Railway
The second leg of our train journey was just fabulous – the ride to the roof of the world. There were fewer cranes, for sure. Instead we could gaze at seemingly endless vastness. On the one side we saw the snow-covered mountains of the Tibetan high plateau and on the other side we were fascinated by the peaceful views over the Tibetan high altitude deserts.

The expensive railway tracks devoured more than 3.5 billion Euros. It’s 1140 km long and the tracks are partly laid on frozen permafrost ground, because more than 86% of the route runs on an altitude of more than 4000m (highest point of the journey was above 5000m). There is a special oxygen delivery system on the train, which ensured that we feel comfortable and have an easier time acclimatizing.
What is quite sad though is that although the new infrastructure brings progress and economic growth to the region, Tibetans themselves are not enthusiastic when it comes to the super-train. They see it as another means of oppression by the Chinese. The train brings unpopular Han Chinese immigrants, which have a devastating effect on Tibetan culture.

Arrival in Lhasa
Wow, we finally arrived in Lhasa this evening… another dream comes true! It’s already dark and we can’t wait for daylight! Our headache – due to the high altitude (over 3500m) – is still bearable, but the air is thin. Climbing up the few stairs in our guesthouse made us pretty breathless. Our technical equipment only works sometimes as displays just don’t like high altitudes. In any event, we are really excited about exploring this region. Will we feel the Tibetans’ quest for independence? Will we still be able to find unique Tibetan traditions? Or has the Chinese government started to exert their power-hungry appetite upon this region…?

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Responses

  1. Dear Brigitte & Robert!
    We are just amazed by your BLOG. Your pictures are very interesting and impressive. After we saw it, we see the world from the different view.
    We think you feel it as well.

    Wishing you a very pleasant trip!
    Kati and Peter from Moscow

    • Dear Kati & Peter,

      Thanks so much for your nice words and comments on our blog; we are happy to hear you liked all the pictures and stories.
      Yes, you are definitely right – our world views and personal thinking changed on this trip. In no school or University we have learned so much than in the previous 8 months of our lives :-).

      All the best to you and your families!
      We hope you are healthy and well.

      Take care,
      Robert & Brigitte (in Lhasa)

  2. Hi Brigitte & Robert,
    China ist ein riesen Reich und alles was Ihr da geschrieben habt, trifft zu, nur das Thema Wohlfuehlkultur ist natuerlich aus der eigenen Sicht geschrieben, vielleicht fuehren sich ja manche Chinesen dort wohl J. Es ist wirklich so die Chinesen wollen was erreichen, Wachstum hat dort keine Grenzen, da habt ihr ja soooooo recht! Essen und China ist eine eigene Sache, aber man nimmt einfach alles in dem Mund und was nicht passt oder stoert spuckt man aus, so einfach ist das, hat mir Brian gesagt, also rein mit dem Fischkopf. Uebrigens, habt Ihr richtig erkannt, die Weltsprache ist eigentlich oder “natuerlich” nicht English sondern chinesisch oder mandarin, warum sollte ein Chinese English lernen?, in 10 Jahren spricht die halbe Welt Chinesisch, also lets speak Chinese :-). ….Eure Feststellung ist da wirklich gut erkannt. Die Eisenbahnstrecke ist schon eine gigantische Sache, Permafrostboden habe ich noch nie gehoert :-). Das Bild von Lhasa / tibetisches Hochplateau schaut aus wie auf dem Mond – phantastisch!! Nun, ich muss sagen, ich merke wie es oft eine wirkliche Herausforderung ist, eine andere Kultur kennenzulernen und wie schwierig es ist, Dinge in anderen Laendern richtig einzuschaetzen. China ist eine grosse Heraeusforderung, aber mit Tibet eine Perle… wie ihr beschrieben habt.
    Super story, machts Gut, Dad/Karl

    • Hey Dad/Karl,
      vielen Dank dem treuen Kommentator – freuen uns immer wieder über Deine gut überlegten Zeilen und dass Du Dir noch immer Zeit nimmst, unsere Geschichten von Anfang bis Ende durchzulesen… jetzt ist’s ja nimmer lang und mei, Deine Tochter schreibt halt gerne lange Geschichten und lange E-Mails .
      Ja, China ist / war schon wirklich eine Herausforderung, aber die Mentalität bzw. die Freundlichkeit der Menschen war sehr angenehm, außer dass sie manchmal zurückschrecken, wenn man kein Englisch spricht :-). Ansonsten aber alles sehr freundlich, obwohl wir eine Kultur ähnlich wie Vietnam erwarteten… war aber gar nicht der Fall.

      Also mach’s gut und bis bald,
      Robert & Brigitte


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