My young friend and interpreter, Li Jiang who speaks good English, makes the extra effort to converse and communicate in the universal language. In her family, she is the only one who speaks English which is appreciated by her family and friends. Usually in China, English is taught for professional use and that too at the university level. However, Li was one of the lucky ones as she had the opportunity to learn from the high school level, thereby giving her a good command over spoken English.
In China, it is impossible to establish any form of communication at any level without a translator. It is not possible for any foreigner to travel in a local cab, do their own shopping in a small retail store or a mall or visit a tourist hub without with the help of a translator. Traveling on your own is a nightmare as none of the local populace be it bus drivers, cab drivers, conductors, or railway booking clerks or even the policemen speak or understand a word of English. It is impossible to make anybody understand even the basic communication signs.
One can imagine the confusion of a tourist or a traveler from Asia, Africa and Europe as every place be it a hotel, hospital or school have two different set of names; one for the Chinese and one for the unsuspecting foreigner. So, next time, if you land up in this country, be sure to carry a card giving both the Chinese and the English version otherwise you may end up going in circles.
One more aspect which struck me was the dress styles and fashion statement of both the sexes in this country. It is more of an uni-sexual dressing format, leaning towards comfort and uniformity. An evening stroll near the Tienanmen Square or the Mao’s memorial, one can see couples walking along with their children dressed in their best clothes.
The Chinese are now so westernised that if one wants to see a person dressed in the traditional wear, they have to travel to the hinterland. Unlike other Asian countries say Indonesia or Sri Lanka, one can hardly see people dressed in their traditional wear specially in the urban areas. Once so famous for silk tunics and woven silk skirts, people hardly wear these apparel, preferring western dresses. Otherwise, most of the tourist spots display traditional wear for the benefit of the tourists. Even at the Great Wall, a tourist can dress up in colorful, Chinese dresses and get photographed in front of the historical monument.
If you are planning a trip to China, one thing you have to keep in mind is, the Chinese frown on drinking habits and do not tolerate people in inebriated condition. Therefore, do keep away from alcoholic drinks although it is available over the counter in wine shops, bars and five-star-hotels. One rarely sees men or women in a drunken stupor in public places which is so common in our country.
To my surprise, I found that they were a “nation of smokers”. At every street corner, bus shelter, railway station, shopping mall, or any commercial hub, you can see people of all ages immaterial of their sex, puffing away unconcernedly. It is estimated that there are more than 300 million smokers in this country and it is a national problem just like alcoholism in Russia.
The ascent of China’s economy in the last three decades is one of the most important happenings in world history.
Even now people are unable to understand the reasons for this turn around. Unless and until one visits China and interacts with the natives, one does not know the real China. A nation of people which is very ancient is now hurtling towards an uncertain future.
After decades of subordination under a strict regime, the ‘opening up and economic reforms’ in the last three decades has had far reaching consequences on the Chinese society. The country has witnessed development of special economic zones modeled on the lines of capitalistic economic structure of Hong Kong, abandoning the centralized system, development of rural economy, introduction of household responsibility system and of course, opening China to foreign trade.
Wu Xiabo, a journalist says, “In global economics, China’s emergence has been a remarkable phenomenon. After the era of ‘planned development’ and cultural revolution, China saw momentous changes in 1978. A country which was on the verge of collapse saw the emergence of Deng Xioping who opened the doors to the world. He guided China’s reconstruction and steered the nation towards a new era of opening up and reforms.”
The last 35 years has witnessed convulsive upheavals, remarkable achievements, emergence of a new, urban society, uneven tumultuous happenings in the ancient capital city of Beijing and other massive changes in the purely agrarian society of 1.3 billion people.