In Pursuit of the Real China
Backpackers – it seem – love to hate people who merely go on vacation. Tourists. Holiday makers. Whatever. The kind of people who go to Rome and see the Colosseum, who see the Pantheon, who eat gelato and pizza in expensive restaurants and take an excessive amount of photographs to upload to Facebook, and then go home and return to the grind of real life, ultimately avoiding an experience of ‘the real country.’
But what does this even mean? What, or even who, defines the ‘real’ country? Lonely Planet? That obscure blog you stumbled across a year ago? The locals? The locals seems the most logical, of course… but this is problematic to say the least.
I have been in China for the past two and a half weeks. Everything has been organised by SPAR China – our train tickets, our five star hotels, our amazing lunches, dinners, sightseeing. Everything. This experience for me has been a brilliant, yet overwhelming one. I have repeatedly cursed my luck of being in this incredible country and not seeing the real China. The real China doesn’t consist of shopping trips and excessive lunches, right?
Well, wrong. For many in China, this is real life. My business lunches and meetings have all been with those all important locals… directors and associates of international companies but locals nonetheless. This has shown a part of Chinese culture that many backpackers will never experience, but which is an increasingly integral part of life in China. Chinese hospitality has been incomparable to anything I’ve personally ever experienced anywhere in the world, and an experience I will never forget.
Shanghai, Beijing, Taiyuan and Dongguan. Each of the destinations I’ve visited have been built up areas, and most of the people we have been in contact with have been of the successful business type – probably quite different to the Western idealisation of the ‘real’ China… something along the lines of the rural poor slogging away 16 hours a day in paddy fields a few hundred kilometers away from the nearest McDonalds. But China is a developing country. Clearly many aspects of the Western image of China is underestimated, flawed and stuck firmly in the past. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the present, and start enjoying China – and the rest of the world, for that matter – for it’s reality, not the picture painted in Western travelers expectations.