David and Lili's World Tour

CHINA

February 2013 - Shanghai, Lanzhou, and a Tiki Tour

Ni Hao. We travelled to the People's Republic for Floyd and Vivi's Wedding in Lanzhou, but we also visited China's most modern city (Shanghai), "China number-one water city" (Zhouzhuang), and the Gobi Desert, where the Great Wall ends as dust in the wind.

We flew into Shanghai, gigantic and smoggy, but also organized, welcoming, and easy to explore with a phrase book and an attitude. From there Zhouzhuang can be visited as a day trip, but the fabulous old town merits staying overnight. The Main Event, the wedding, was in Lanzhou, so this became our base. The ceremony was fabulous, and so was hanging out with fun New Zealanders in a place where foreigners are rare. We dove deep into Lanzhou culture, and following Vivi's lead, this meant hitting the dance clubs until the wee hours. All those curious stares made us feel like celebrities. By the way, the food is awesome. Nobody does spicy vegetables better.

For our Tiki Tour, we explored Gansu Province, travelling by train, mini-van, and camel. We walked upon the Gobi Desert and played footbag (Hacky Sack) over the final remnants of the Great Wall, located at the furthest gateway into China along the ancient Silk Road near Dunhuang. Great fun was had by all :-) Did I mention the food is awesome (especially the spicy veggies)?

I visited China nine years ago and much has changed. China is the world's new super-power, so to understand geo-politics and economics, one must understand China. It has gotten easier to travel as a backpacker (English is on the rise), so go see for yourself!

In the last nine years, China has discovered the automobile. Gone are streets packed with bicycles; now it's rush hour baby, with air quality so bad in Beijing that it makes international news. That's the most obvious sign of the newly minted consumer class, but it's not just cars, it's everywhere. Glitzy shopping malls abound. Most young women wear fashionable clothes. City streets are lined with dizzying arrays of flashing lights, and we went inside. Those night clubs in Lanzhou gave us access to China's optimistic youth.

Maybe money does buy happiness. Compared to nine years ago, the Chinese people seem happier (noticeably more welcoming to foreigners, and less rude). Note that over this same period the Communist / Capitalist Party modernized a gajillion public toilets, and this contributes to happiness too. Also, people keep more dogs as pets, and dogs are awesome. But money has something to do with it.

China's ever-vigilant controls and draconian punishments seem to be effective in keeping down most crime, and we saw no obvious signs of strife. In other words, the society seemed harmonious, and this includes a lack of road rage during traffic jams. While many in the West bemoan the lack of freedom, there is something to be said for social stability, and a government that gets things done. While China consumes vast quantities of coal, they have been promoting wind, solar, hydro and nuclear too. Yes, China is the new super-power. And just to be clear: the game is rigged: The People's Currency does not convert on any open market, but everyone plays along; China is a member of the World Trade Organization.

Facebook and YouTube are blocked. A google search for "Dalai Lama" brings back Google results, but none of the links work. Google's own Eric Schmidt just called China the most dangerous superpower on Earth. China nevertheless promotes "freedom of speech on the Internet" with the only caveat being that a citizen's freedoms should be limited to prevent harming the collective. We know somebody who fled to New Zealand as a political refugee after her sister was put in prison for sending an email about democracy. I sense however that most citizens don't care much; they seem happy inside their information bubbles, living their lives as people do while casually witnessing their prosperous and harmonious society find its way to world domination.

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