On my first trip to northern China I stayed in the provincial capital of Shenyang for a short time. Shenyang isn’t on the tourist map for most people and neither is the other “middle” city I visited, Anshan. Both cities were very plesant and quite eye opening just to walk around and observe. From these cities I ventured out into the small towns and villages to see a variety of real lifestyles in China away from the normal tourist routes.
One housing development I passed at random in Shenyang was building what I guessed were 35 story apartment buildings as part of China’s huge efforts at urbanizaton. Thirty five stories is quite a respectable sized building for most western cities, but in China it would be considered unremarkable. What was remarkable for me that day was the fact that there were 100 buildings being built simultaneously, at 35 stories each. 100!
The development was 10 towers wide by 10 towers deep – which makes 100 towers at 35 stories each… 3500 stories of accomodation. All full of new concrete, windows, aircons, flooring, appliances and electronics as all homes now need. In just ONE development in just ONE “second tier” Chinese city. Even after seeing developments like this in China, and then reflecting on my time there, it is still difficult to get your head around the scope of all that is happening there. People who have never travelled to China have zero chance of even starting to comprehend what is happening there. Our media and our China watchers in the west aren’t going to explain it to you that is for sure.
A stark example of how asian thinking differs from western thinking happened one night after getting back to my hotel room which was on a major city road.
The city road was being widened and resealed at the time I was staying there, which is nothing remarkable. I went out siteseeing for the day and after a great days activities, when I got back, the roading upgrade was still in progress. My room faced this city road so I was able to get a good view of proceedings.
After dinner and another walk, I settled into my bed for sleeping. It was maybe 10pm and the noise from the continuing road upgrade was a bit annoying what with all the heavy machinery operating. But I figured that it would end soon and carried on trying to sleep.
Hour after hour went by and when it was well past midnight and the road was still lit up like a Christmas tree to enable work to continue, I started to figure that maybe there was at least a late shift working tonight and it might still be an hour or two before they stopped working.
By 2:30am I concluded that there was going to be no end to the noise and I asked to get another quieter room, which was done and I had a good sleep after that. As it turned out, the roading work continued all night without a break and into the next day until it was completed sometime the following evening.
At the time, I was a bit annoyed by all this hotel noise and the inconvience it caused to me personally but dismissed it as just one of those things.
It wasn’t until I arrived back in New Zealand some time later that it dawned on me what was actually happening in Shenyang that night.
My annoyance sprang from the fact that I was thinking as a westerner in a country that thinks collectively.
Westerners, particularly in the United States are taught to think in terms of the individual. Using pronouns such as “I”, “me”, and “mine.”
Asians tend to think collectively and use pronounds like “our”, “we” and “ours.” Or in other words, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” This isn’t some dastardly communist plot, it is simply how their ancient culture has developed, different to ours in the west, long before the very recent advent of Communism.
That was what was happening during the road works beside my Shenyang hotel room. The roading project was going to benefit thousands of drivers and pedestrians every day so the quicker it was finished the better it was overall – for the community – even if a small number of individuals like me were disturbed by the noise.
I was able to get a quieter room and continue my sleep and, looking back, I learnt a valuable life lesson on my travels.
People not only look different, they think and act differently as well. I’m not sure whether this is really understood by some travellers who take package tours around the world. It certainly is much less effort for the individual to take a package tour but they miss out on being “with the locals” as I prefer to be.
This night’s roading improvements in China were just one small part of a huge amount I learnt from my visit. It is such a shame that even though China is one of the largest tourist destinations in the world now, most westerners have really no idea about their real culture.
This is not accidental. It results from ongoing efforts by western media and institutions to paint China in a negative light.
China is not a perfect nation, culture or system. No nation is. However, some nations, the United States being the foremost example, honestly believe they are the greatest nation, not just in today’s world, but in all of history. That is obviously absurd.
That idea of “American exceptionalism” is slowly disintergrating now as more and more westerners look upon America as a fading and failed superpower, and as the cause of so much suffering in the world.
Sadly “American exceptionalism” is still the pervading view amongst many older westerners who have never been to China and have spent their whole lives being quietly indoctrinated by their own – invisible – propaganda.
Travel far and wide in the world and see it for what it actually is. If you see road improvements going on, make sure you get a room away from the noise. It won’t stop just for you.