Thursday, April 10, 2008

There are more questions than answers....

I’m writing this from the 19th floor of a riverside hotel in Guangzhou but may not get to read it for a while as my blog seems to be blocked.

That said, it seems to be about the only site to date that I can’t access, either here or in public cafes. Even in the McDonalds across the road, the kids munched their Big Macs whilst surfing, gratis, on the bank of computers provided. And the local channels seemed to cover the Paris flame fracas in some detail.

Tonight I watched a movie, well, a bit of it, which had Snoop Dog dubbed into guttural Korean. It was funny. Now another channel is offering an indepth, quite horrifying, documentary on gang violence in US prisons….the sort of thing we get pointed back at China. That was bleak.

Earlier we’d returned to a large restaurant along the Pearl River, wanting to experience again the chili chicken and such we’d had the night before. These things had not only disappeared from the printed menu, but the staff vehemently denied that any such menu had ever existed.

We have proof it did…



I don’t know, quite what to make of this country yet, I doubt I will from the tiny corner (albeit a city with some twelve million) I’m in for a week or so, but it certainly adds more questions than answers.

Yesterday we went a few Metro stops south we wandered through fabric warehouses that went for kilometre after kilometre. My friend, who is half Chinese told me not to talk to the Buddhist monks offering to read ones fortune as they can steal your good luck if they find it.

I then spent an hour or so in the magnificent Sun Yat Sen Memorial, where the Japanese surrendered in 1945 and I stood on the plinth that Mao stood on in 1966 apparently and gave a speech on the eve of the cultural revolution. And then I talked for an hour with a young man, who, in absolutely perfect English, talked of China past and present, of the way the world perceives the country and the way it perceives itself. He was remarkably frank, far more than we are led to be believed is allowed in this country. And when I asked about that he said he was surprised that anyone could question the debate at the every level. We Chinese like to talk a lot said he. We talk and argue about everything, we are not a compliant people. We are also a people who existed as a society for a thousand years before the west and will be here for thousand years after the decline of the west. We don’t understand why the west thinks that it has a right to tell us that we need to be like it and yet for the hundred years before the revolution the west caused great pain and damage to us. It was Mao that took us from that place to where we are now as one of the world’s great nations. That journey was not without pain but was necessary.

But you'd have to ask if the necessity would have been quite as obvious to those on the receiving end. That question went unanswered.


Later I walked into a park where groups of old folks were sitting around stridently discussing and arguing about something, whilst others played chess.

What impresses too is the way everything seems to work, and the smiles and charm so many seem to exude. And the infrastructure here dwarfs that found in both Australia, New Zealand and much of the Europe & the US. Coupled with free healthcare and education. I may sound hopelessly naïve but I don’t quite think everything is as black and white as we’re told. These people don’t, as we are led to believe in the west, look and feel oppressed and despite everything, yes I know the other side, like Indonesia I often find myself thinking that the west has a way of trying to quite arrogantly apply it’s values to parts of the world that don’t always want them. There is an immense pride in who and what they are, and what they’ve achieved, and it’s hard not to see the substance in that.

And I’ve not seen anywhere the disenfranchisement, poverty, homelessness and despair here that you see daily everywhere in New York or London in places like the dilapidated subway systems or the parks.

Maybe those who have fallen through the cracks here have been moved on in some unspeakable way…or maybe not..I don’t know. Or maybe the revolution simply has found a way to take care of these people in the same way every factory and school has a free hospital. I’m simply not seeing the level of urban misery of Manhattan or Kings Cross, and I'm taking trains to random stations and simply walking.

I find myself finding more questions than answers here and perhaps I'm just seeing a small corner of China that is out of step and unrepresentative of the rest of the nation but I'm scratching my head.

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Russell Brown said...

Thanks for this, Simon.

The official censorship and security practices seem fairly awful, but I get the feeling that China has become a quick and easy scapegoat for the Western world at the moment -- it's a game everyone can play. The comparisons to apartheid South Africa really do my head in.

Unknown said...

thing with china is, nobody really knows what's happening. it's a problem of scale and censorship.

i am sure it was the same with the new order, silent (or buried) evidence is hard to find, but doesn't make it less important.

hu jia, a recently jailed human rights activist, said something to that affect about china. and it's an important thing to keep in mind.

blogroll said...

"coupled with free healthcare" - wasn't clear if you meant China, or the western countries, but to clarify. Healthcare isn't free. It's pay in advance.

Simon said...

Hi Chris, My comment about free healthcare came after talking to the young guy at the Sun Yat Sen Centre who said that, in Guangzhao at least, such is available, or a least a token payment is made. From what I understand thing vary greatly from province to province.

blogroll said...

Token payment towards what?

Simon said...

I don't know exactly what or how much, he wasn't specific

blogroll said...

Damn, I was kind of hoping you'd answer 'free health care';).Main thing that has concerned me, is the pay in advance system, which isn't so conducive to receiving medical attention if you're lying unconscious on the pavement....