Leaving behind the topsy turvy world of China…

We are now in Hong Kong having made our way here by train. Once again, the whole process was easy peasy apart from the fact that we ‘forgot’ we were actually leaving China and had to go through customs before we got on the train. We were only there about 25 minutes before the train left and had to rush through security, filling out departure forms as quick as possible before getting to our carriage. Luckily, as we were pretty much the last ones on the train there weren’t any queues at all – but I wouldn’t recommend the getting there late strategy – too stressful!

Now that we’re here, we can tell that we are in a completely different world from China, Hong Kong, whilst being the furthest away is the most Western place we have been to since we left London and you’d never really guess that it has such a close connection to the mainland.

Having left China behind we’ve both got mixed feelings about the country and it’s people. It was one of the countries that we’d both been looking forward to the most during our trip and we had all sorts of visions about what it would look like, what the people would be like and what the food would taste like! Being such a big country we’ve had a taste of the different way of life in all of the cities we have visited – they are so incredibly varied that each one of them could be a different country in themselves.

China is a hugely diverse mix of ancient v.s modern, with beautifully preserved pieces of history like the Forbidden City, Terracotta Army and the Great Wall standing out beside some of the world’s tallest skycrapers and high-tech electronics innovations.

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This country has given us some of the best and the worst experiences of our trip so far. The worst being having to cope with poor conditions, rude or ignorant locals and crazy customs and the best being our visit to the Great Wall, amazing Kung Fu lesson and even more amazing scenery pretty much everywhere we have travelled!

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When I think back to our time in Tibet, it really was world’s apart from the uber-modern Shanghai we have just left. We arrived there to find that people lived well within their means, often without much at all and that the living standards were so basic. Even in our ‘tourist’ accommodation, we would often have to cope without electricity or even mattresses in one case. Yet in Shanghai, money is oozing from every corner and the people are driven by materialistic needs rather than what they need to simply survive.

This is the main thing we have noticed in China – that the standards of living are so inconsistent – there really are huge numbers of people living in poverty but you then have the extreme wealth that is apparent in cities like Shanghai and Beijing. We always hear on the news that China is in the midst of huge growth and there is a lot of excitement about it there. We mentioned before in one of our Shanghai blogs that the flashy shops and skyscrapers are cropping up at an astonishing rate. This city, like many others, is developing so quickly that it makes us wonder whether this is really sustainable. It seems difficult to imagine at the moment that the whole country can continue to develop like this so long as there are still these huge differences in living standards.

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It sometimes looks like China is trying to show the rest of the world how rich it is and how fast it is growing. Shanghai especially is a definite show of wealth but look around and you wonder just how much substance is actually there behind the bright lights and tall buildings. For such a massive country with such a huge population it is still very poor. For example, Japan’s economy is as big as China’s but the county is tiny in comparison.

There is an obvious difference between the people who are reaping the benefits of China’s growth and the people who are simply being left behind. We get the feeling that this current trend will probably come back to bite them and that this ‘boom’ will inevitably turn to ‘bust’ as the bubble bursts in a big way. Developing a county is not just about making a tiny percentage of the population very rich and growing the economy it’s about making a better life for everyone and this is where China may come unstuck.

Our experiences with the Chinese people themselves have been quite mixed too – before we came here we thought we knew what they were like, based on our experiences from living in the UK. There, our universities are chock full of studious, extremely polite Chinese students and our streets full of delicious Chinese restaurants and this is sort of what we expected to find in China itself.

Unfortunately, we have found that this type of person is in the minority here. Tibet was sort of a law unto itself as they don’t really engage with foreigners that often, so we expected to get some stares etc, but in Tibet, even the people who stared were friendly. When we got to the big cities, this changed – people still stared at us, but were unhelpful, bordering on rude sometimes. This really surprised us and we found ourselves becoming a bit resentful of the way we were treated – particularly by taxi-drivers who continuously tried to rip us off and hostel staff who were either completely clueless or deliberately unhelpful, resorting to laughing at us when we asked the simpliest of questions.

At these times we’d find ourselves wanting to leave China as soon as we could and wishing that we hadn’t scheduled so long here. But just as we were thoroughly fed up, we would meet someone or do something that completely turned our mood on it’s head. We’ve met some extremely kind people, who will literally go half an hour out of their way to show you how to get somewhere or grab other people walking past to draw you a map. Then we’d take a trip out to some breathtaking part of the country and feel so lucky to be able to experience everything we’ve experienced.

I said in our last post that it’s a topsy, turvy world, and as far as we’re concerned China is the place that has exemplified this the most!

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Category Asia

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