Thursday, November 08, 2012

What China Communicates: Part 1

For three weeks recently, my wife and I were traveling in China — observing, tasting, reading, listening, interacting with the people and places we visited.  Every engagement communicated, as we experienced Beijing, the Yangtze River, Chong Qing, Guilin, the Li River, Yang Shuo, Xi’an, Shanghai and Hong Kong.  We saw many of the sights for which China is famous, among them:  the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Army, Shanghai and Hong Kong harbors and much more. 

While the aforementioned sights certainly contributed to the comments I make in this blog, my learnings (cited below, just a sampling from our trip) are mainly attributable to the people I met — not government officials, but rather guides and ordinary people — and the feelings I derived  based on what I read, heard and saw.  No fact-checking this time, as these were my subjective takeaways … and they’re listed below in no particular order of importance.

·         American Holidays.  Young people in China, and in many cases their parents,  celebrate the American holidays of Halloween and Thanksgiving (with turkey and all the trimmings—but no days off from work)!  I was in a restaurant in Shanghai decorated for Halloween with witches, spiders and pumpkins all over the place.  And there were Chinese kids dressed in costumes. 

·         The” West” Is Where It’s At.  I was most surprised by how Westernized China is in its major cities in terms of buildings, dress, cars, etc.  You have to pinch yourself to remember that you are not in the U.S.  The big cities have a buzz, and they are not 2-3 million but rather 20-30 million people each.  Obviously,  the traffic is challenging.  Beijing has the widest buildings and widest avenues I have ever seen.  According to the Chinese, wide is a symbol for stability.  The width would traditionally be 2-3 times a typical NY skyscraper, and lately some of the newer wide buildings are growing as tall as those in NYC.  The effect?  Massive!  If typical luxury apartment buildings in NY are 30 floors, my observation is they are 60-70 in China.

·         Big.  One Chinese guy I met told me that “big” is important in China, and the external appearance is more important than whether there is substance. He was serious.

·         Tall.  Most people are slender, appear to be in good shape and are attractive.  None of the obesity we see here.  And there are a number of men who are six feet tall – and taller, just in case you thought, as I had, that Chinese were small.

·         “Vinegar Joe.”  There is an entire museum dedicated to General Joseph W. Stilwell of the U.S. Army, who traveled to China to help the country pull through the Japanese invasion during World War II.  He is a Chinese hero.

·         The Grooms Parents Pay.  It is traditional that when two people get married, the grooms parents pay for an apartment for the young people. 

Stay tuned.  WHAT CHINA COMMUNICATES will offer more observations along these lines in next Monday’s blog.

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