I’ve just returned from a trip to Asia. I visited Seoul, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala-Lumpur, Jakarta, Tokyo and Shanghai. I had never been to Asia before. If you’ve been to the above cities you might find these posts hopelessly naive. If you haven’t, you might find at least 3% of the following absolutely fascinating…
Some things I learned: China used more cement in the last three years than America used in the last 100, and it opens a new Starbucks every day. Clearly it’s growing fast, and that causes some pretty awful pollution, but did you know that the younger generation of Chinese are almost all only children thanks to the one child rule? Twenty five years, hundreds of millions of people, none of them having their lives affected by a sibling. How might that alter the personality of the country? Well, that younger generation in particular are the most go-getting, progressive, creative people China has produced since before Mao.
I don’t know what you currently think of China, especially if you’ve never been there, but I think you might be surprised by how normal it is (well, Shanghai at least; apparently it’s the most ‘westernised’ of all the cities). Far more of the people you might bump into each day (Starbucks guy, concierge, train station ticket collector etc.) speak English than their equivalents in Japan or Bangkok. There are lots of convenience stores to make day-to-day shopping a piece of piss, and someone kindly decided to make sure all the road signs are in English, but not all sides of a can of Diet Coke: It took me a while to realise that the internet in my hotel wasn’t shit; it was just banned. No Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Google etc. You can get it on your phone and route around the ban with VPN, but it’s kind of odd being in a country that doesn’t have access to pretty much all the sites I use most (they have Chinese equivalents and many of them are, for obvious reasons, much bigger than the western versions). It makes you very aware of the whole ‘lack of democracy’ thing (the people have no say who governs them), but then it’s difficult to get your head around a country of over a billion people being organised by a central body. One thing that did occur, though: in the US and UK we believe we have a democracy, but the lack of real choice in terms of the people you can vote for makes that something of a sham. And both Western governments would frown at the bribery in China, yet have lobbying systems in place where the rich have a pathway to controlling the government through money. Is it better to have no choice and lots of corruption up front, or very little real choice and corruption hidden away under a veil of pretence? (I’m oversimplifying to make a point, but it’s a very, very good point, I think you’ll agree.)
The architecture is a bit of a mix. It seems to be a mixture of oldish tower blocks with loads of washing hanging off the balconies, and very modern skyscrapers, with the odd Batman-esque effort thrown in:
One interesting thing is their attitude to privacy when it comes to drying their clothes. They literally just hang them up all over the streets, including pants:
My favourite thing was spotting odd signs. I have pictures of odd images and questionable English from all over the region:
Have you been to China?
How did you find it?