When I was last in China 28 years ago, mobile phones would have been a figment of science fiction writers’ imagination, and most people rode a pedal bike, with hardly a car to be seen.
All that’s changed now, of course. Consumerism rules in modern-day China and the first things you need are fashionable clothes and the latest mobile device. This street sculpture in Chengdu reflects the new reality
Chengdu’s shopping streets are filled with high-end stores. Hey, even the local residents can’t wait to get themselves to Prada
But China somehow manages to marry old and new, and this lad’s pose told that story perfectly
Having said that, one thing has definitely not changed in 28 years. Everybody, but everybody, spits – even the most middle-class looking elegantly-dressed middle-aged lady will clear her throat and launch a missile to the ground, the more genteel folk aiming perhaps for a tree branch or side alleyway to clear their phlegm.
In other words, posters like this are useless (and what’s extraordinary now that we are in Vietnam is that nobody in Vietnam does it – and that switch took place the moment we crossed the border, so a river divides the spitting habits of two nations)
A rather delightful merging of old and new can be seen in lots of public spaces, where (mainly older) folk will practise line dancing, often to western music, but moving in a way that has an awful lot to do with tai chi.
And we saw all sorts of buskers in the big cities. There were Chinese opera singers in Chengdu’s People’s Park and then more outside our reataurant that night
And these guys sang such beautiful ballads (Chinese with a hint of western tones) that we bought their CD on the spot.
Those pedal bikes on every city street 28 years ago have been replaced by scooters, thousands of them, and mostly electric as China slowly begins to reduce emissions, but their silence makes them all the more dangerous since people seem to drive on both sides of the road in all directions. Oh, and of course no sign of helmets…
Some things have not changed in 28 years and many more before that. I didn’t realise until I saw this place in Kunming that TCM stood for Traditional Chinese Medicine, and this of courses is the TCM Hospital; can’t imagine an NHS Trust going for this look, somehow…
And our favourite bit of daily life in China was the market place. Xi’an is a busy, polluted city, but the Muslim Quarter was a fantastic area to get lost in and just immerse yourself in sounds, smells, sights which reminded me of Hull Fair in my home town, but this is every day of the year in China.
And finally, a British connection: On our last day in Chengdu, we came across this so-called advert for British business in China. What a disappointment. With hardly any effort gone into presentation, and very little to make it relevant to passers-by, I can’t imagine even the boring corporate chains that took part being very happy with how it looked (yes, there was B&Q, Range Rover, Holland & Barrett, Diageo and then one face-saver from our point of view: Taylors of Harrogate…)