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Thread: Perspectives following my vacation to China

  1. #1
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
    Jun 2003
    at the neighboring pub

    Perspectives following my vacation to China

    Well, I survived my trip to China with only one run-in with a Chinese soldier for taking a picture I wasn't supposed to. I had a great time, but jetlag is really messing with me. Ate a lot of great food, but if I see another bowl of rice I swear I'll vomit. I feel like I could write a novel about my experience over there, but we'll just go with the Cliff's Notes version. I plan to add pictures to this thread, but I have 260 pictures to filter through.

    The people of China are amazingly friendly and trusting. I wandered off for a bit and managed to get myself lost (a map written in Chinese is useless). I had a card for the hotel and asked a Chinese guy if he could help me get back there. He let me borrow his mobile phone so I could call a taxi and hung out with me until it arrived.

    I also have a new understanding of why APA is so interested in China. The soviet planning mindset really ****ed up a lot of stuff in China. I'd try to describe it, but its one of those things you just have to experience. Our tour was coordinated through the Chamber of Commerce, so it included an opportunity for us to meet with businesspeople from China in a field we are interested in. I requested a business meeting with someone involved in land development. I went to a business meeting with a Chinese planner, who recommended a book called The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World by Campanella. A lot of the dirty industrial stuff is located in the core of the cities, because they wanted to focus it as a display of industrial strength during the 70s and 80s. There is also still a ton of shockingly bad soviet-style housing.

    Shanghai is an amazing city. I would call its style "optimistic architecture" because the style of its new construction just gives a vibe that the Chinese believe they can do anything and nothing is out of reach--like the US when Kennedy gave the moon speech. I also rode the MAGLEV train in Shanghai and have to say that 431 km/h is frightening on a train. It is amazing how smooth it is. Shanghai is also doing a ton of beautification in preparation for the 2010 World Expo. Actually, as a general comment about China their public spaces, including streets, are amazing in how well they accomodate non-automotive transportation. All of the Chinese getting cars now is really screwing traffic up though.

    Beijing was of course wonderful. I don't know how far I walked on the Great Wall, but that thing is absolutely amazing in person. Tiannemen Square wasn't as big as I had envisioned, but it was still a lot to take in. I ate lunch with a family in the old part of Beijing who was surprisingly honest about what their lives were like. They weren't negative, but they weren't all flowers and rainbows either. Its amazing how much like us they are despite the cultural differences--the matriarch loved showing off pictures of her grandson.

    Suzhou was the city I could see myself living in. It is a canal city a little like Venice, except larger with more streets and real people living there. I went for a walk during the evening while here and came across a street arcade where you could shoot balloons. Being a Texan, I could not resist displaying my crack shot skills and got a pretty good crowd.

    There are amazing gardens in every city, with the Lingering Gardens being my personal favorite. The temples are great. The whole country is great. I could honestly see myself living in Suzhou.

    Polution wasn't bad--we got some good weather. Most of the smog was due to construction dust, based on the color, though I can tell that the pollution probably is far worse during summer months when there is less wind movement. The number of cranes active is astonishing.

    By the way, a 6'3" curly-haired American gets a lot of attention. I can't tell you how many pictures I took with Chinese tourists. As proof of how westernized China is becoming, one of the younger Chinese guys said I looked like Papa John (I was wearing a bright green sweatshirt).

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  2. #2
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
    Feb 2004
    on my 15 minute break
    Ate a lot of great food, but if I see another bowl of rice I swear I'll vomit
    A word about rice. Did you encounter much variety in the grains of rice? You hear so much about how brown rice and all its fiber is supposed to be good for you - did you see much of that consumed by locals?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
    Aug 2002
    Quote Originally posted by Suburb Repairman View post
    By the way, a 6'3" curly-haired American gets a lot of attention. I can't tell you how many pictures I took with Chinese tourists.
    Evidently, American tourists with blond hair also get a lot of attention. My blond-haired sister-in-law was there with a group of high school students a few years ago and many Chinese people wanted to have photos taken with them too!

    I'm very interested to read more about your trip and see your photos. I have to admit, I have a somewhat negative perspective after reading the book Lost on Planet China, but I am open to others' views and experiences.

  4. #4
    Jul 2006
    Great post and insight, SubRepairman. Thanks for taking the time to write about your trip!

    My fair city hosted a group of four provincial officials from Guangzhou in August to study how economic development is conducted in an American City. I ended up being their host - even though I'm the planning director. They had been in the U.S. for two months by the time they got to our Village, so they knew a lot more than I expected. Their English was nearly perfect.

    We had a great time - they were also very honest about China and, although not openly critical, they talked a lot about the politics and pressure of their jobs. They were very concerned about pollution and how to design cities to be livable. I'm not sure suburban Chicago was the best example for them given the density of Guangzhou, but we did show them some clean industrial areas nearby.

    I'm hoping to visit them in a year or two. After their visit, I've been reading a lot about Chinese politics and history. My favorite books, so far, are by Jan Wong - a Canadian journalist who was one of the first exchange students in China and she studied at Beijing University during the cultural revolution. Red China Blues by J. Wong is probably the best book on modern history I've found.

    Are you going to post pictures? I'd love to see pictures of Suzhou.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    Thanks for posting this! I went to China for 5 weeks just after graduating high school in 1986. A friend had been there in 1984 and comparing our notes showed a lot of difference. I expect today many things would be unrecognizable to me.

    My impression at the time was that Shanghai was a much more cosmopolitan city than Beijing, where I spent more of my time. When I was there, you could only buy western sodas in Shanghai, for example.

    I also was blown away by the Great Wall. Like other sublime places such as the Grand Canyon, the scale and immensity is very hard to communicate in pictures. But standing on that structure and seeing it march on endlessly, disappearing behind a ridge only to pop up again a few miles beyond that was quite something to see.

    I actually did find Tienanmen square to be pretty huge. I walked it a few times visiting museums and other sites, though, so that really made it more visceral. Even saw Mao in his tomb (he was a bit green - very creepy). Seeing people flying kites there in droves was very cool and the Forbidden City (which flanks one side) is just a remarkable gem of architecture and planning. I could spend months exploring in there.

    When I was there, we also had a lot of freedom of movement, but I eventually found out we were also being surreptitiously watched. It was fairly common to be walking along, be approached by someone who appeared to be an interested local asking questions like where we were from, what we were doing, etc. It seemed innocent enough until others came up and asked the same questions in other parts of the city. I later learned that this is a citizen policing method. These folks report to higher authorities and compare notes on our responses to try and identify spies and such. Kinda creepy.

    I agree that walking the back streets and getting a little lost was an interesting way to get another perspective of peoples' lives. I saw a lot of people living in very old back alley like settings with very little room and poor sanitation. I have read that in Beijing, these older traditional alleyway neighborhoods are slowly going away to make way for larger developments.

    I also found the Chinese people to be incredibly gracious and open to visitors. It was really a life changing moment for me and, even though it happened 23 years ago, a lot of it is crystal clear in my memory.

    Lastly, that's interesting about taking the high speed rail. When we traveled from Beijing to Shanghai, we took the s-l-o-w train and it took us two days (we stopped off in a city whose name a cannot recall for one day in between). And we killed an old man that had evidently laid down on the tracks to commit suicide. It was the middle of the night and there was quite the commotion after the train came to a lurching halt. All in all an exciting train ride! We rode in the hard seat section during the height of July. Very humid, very crowded, but very very fun. Lots of chickens, two goats, and old men staying up late drinking and playing various gambling games. Quite the education.

    Would love to see photos!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  6. #6
    Nov 2008
    Boston, Massachusetts
    I last went to China in '02 to visit family and I must say that the whole place is changed since the 1980's. More cars, more motorbikes, more traffic, more everything actually. Our ancestral village is no longer a village, it has become a mini-city! I really am concerned with the sprawl that is going on though. I am not aware of any strict zoning laws in Chinese municipalities and even if there are, corruption is so great in China, especially at the local level, that I am sure developers will bribe or extort city officials to get at the land. In my opinion, China still has a way to go to become sustainable (as does the US).

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