(Note: As I write this in a Starbucks at Beijing Airport I am distracted by the man next to me who has picked his nose with seven different fingers and wiped at least three boogers on his shirt.)
During our time in Kunming we've discussed our impressions of China, a country which really is so different to the image we'd drawn up in our minds.
We expected factories upon factories, but found small villages built into the side of beautiful mountains. We anticipated forests and were surprised by many dry dusty plains. And yet in the South we also found dense monsoonal lakes and swamps.
We found a country with advanced sport stadiums and primitive hospitals; people who went out of their way to help us, some who treated us as family and others who ignored our pleas for help or tried to swindle us.
China is definitely different to what we're used to back home, and our experiences have been an eclectic collection of polar extremes.
One day we’d been waiting on a corner for a taxi for an hour (after being at the hospital on a day when Sam felt particularly bad), and just when we flagged one down a Chinese girl jumped in. When we tried to explain to her that we were there first she just gave us a knowing look and laughed.
When pedestrian lights go green cars still drive through. On the footpath I was nearly hit by a police car! Silly me for not expecting it. And every time we walked or rode in China we had close encounters with motorcyclists who sped around us, sometimes brushing against us, yet always calm and confident of where they were going (usually talking on a phone at the same time).
We've finally learnt the Chinese system of queuing. Push as hard as everyone else and when someone pushes in front of you, yell at them. Now that we understand this system we wonder why we initially struggled against it.
I admit that sanitation is not what we expected... The standard of public toilets in China has been the worst of our trip, far worse than even remote Indonesia. Often the water has been turned off to the amenities, and the smell and sight of the waste is overpowering. How can they be allowed to disconnect water to public toilets?!
At the hospital, the floor outside the blood-testing room was littered with the cotton buds used to stop the bleeding. And the toilets were a mess of stinking proportions! Yet this was the place where six thousand (I kid you not) people go every day to recover from medical problems?
As a media junky I have been intrigued and entertained by the English news service on TV. All the news stories expound how China is the new world leader and the whole world is watching them. And people accept that. Those quoted on the news always praise the government for a job well done; there is never a critical word. China must look pretty good through the perpetual eyes of rose-coloured glasses.
And when life is not rosy it seems easier for people to turn a blind eye. Severine and Francois one day saw a man handcuffed to a pole being beaten by another man. None of the other passers-by seemed to care, and the only other people watching the scene were a sobbing 9 year old boy (likely the man’s son) and an amused police officer. And this was on a busy street in a big city.
But the spitting is what I remember most about this country. The grating sound of people hocking up phlegm as they spit often leaves me fearing some of it will land on me – like it did for Sam four times through a bus window. At least the footpaths are mopped every morning and the streets are clean again.
But what we've found in China, when we've paused long enough to take off our own rose colored glasses is a country filled with it's own version of beauty.
You can start with the strong familial ties branching through CHinese communities. Whilst this is the side to China which may not be so apparent to the Westerner it is no less real. And when you do see it, sense it, it will have you wondering if all of your previous ideas were simply misconceptions.
On my morning runs and in the evening we saw in Kunming and Beijing hundreds of people doing exercises in parks together. A healthy body is very important to many Chinese (excepting the effects of smoking of course). And it was nice to see people playing cards/dominoes in public spaces. People thrive on being together.
And finally, we want to thank the many Chinese young people (late 20s is young, right?) who have befriended us and chatted to us in their best English. You'll hear more about them in coming posts!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia