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).