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Martin Bates
Martin Bates

By Martin Bates

RECENTLY I took my first trip outside of Australia which was a real eye opener as you can imagine. I have some friends that I went to visit who live in Shanghai, Kunming and Guangzhou – three major cities in China so it eased some of my anxiety but naturally, being in a foreign country still held some fears for me. Knowing what I know now, it was more than fine.

China is a really friendly country and whilst there are police everywhere watching your every move they are very also helpful. I even saw a very minor car crash where there must have only been a few hundred dollars damage and the police assisted.

The first thing that struck me was the sheer wealth of the place. Gone is the image that China is a poor country with people on the street starving. The extravagance in the heart of the cities would take your breath away. Incredible skyscrapers that left me breathless, some that seem to defy the laws of physics and take engineering to another level. The money they have to turn a rice field into a mega city like something out of a space age movie in no time is mind blowing. But as you can see from the photo they still use bamboo scaffolding to build these buildings.

Much of the old traditional buildings and temples still survive and are flocking grounds for tourists all over the world. It is a country where old and new sit side by side harmoniously together. One side of the street could be an ultra-modern street sweeper and the other side could be a bloke wielding a broom doing the same job. There is a lot of civic pride where people tend to public gardens in their own time mainly because they are traditionally a nation of gardeners but also to quell the pollution problem.

It is such a culture shock coming from Australia which is sparsely populated to go to a place that is so densely populated. One could stand in a high point in the city and look at all four points of the compass and just see multi story apartment blocks as far as the eye can see.

The subway trains which are always packed have a few seats for the elderly and disabled to the side of the train and everyone else has to stand along the middle, so they can squash more people on. Trains will run as frequently as one a minute in peak hour. And whilst car ownership is commonplace there must be millions of bicycles, scooters, motorbikes and mopeds buzzing all through the cities. It is not uncommon to see a husband, wife and little baby all on a moped. Road rules and safety are totally different over there. You don’t have to wear helmets or have your lights on or give way to pedestrians. Pedestrians just have to wait for a break in the traffic even at the crossings. To change lanes you put your blinker on, honk your horn and push in. And yet somehow it still seems to work, fortunately we didnt see a road accident while we were there.

One of the highlights of the trip would have to be the food. It was to die for! And so cheap! Six of us dined at a restaurant and all up it cost 100 Yuan which is $20 Australian. We even went to a green tea restaurant where they served just green tea in over 100 different varieties. They are a nation that love their food with restaurants everywhere as it is their culture to dine out regularly with friends.

I managed to learn a bit of the language over there which is totally different to English. They use characters instead of words. So the character looks vaguely similar to what it is describing. For instance the word for fire; “hoi” is drawn as a character that looks like a fire. Mandarin is the official language that everybody speaks. Also too despite being bigger than Australia in size there is only one time zone right across the country, I guess so that people can do more business and make more money.

“Being communist everyone has a job but because there is also a large degree of capitalism too there are huge incentives for business owners to employ people with a disability such as subsidies and tax cuts. This gives China one of the highest percentage rates of disability employment in the world. Australia by contrast rates very poorly in this regard.”

The photo of the restaurant is at Kunming which is in the mountainous region near the Himalayas. Kunming is considered a smaller city because it only has 7 million people!  When a meal is served the waiter brings the food on a table carried in his teeth escorted by the lady dancer who dances to music played in the background. This is quite a common tradition in this part of China.

So overall I had an awesome two weeks which is definitely too short a time to appreciate the fullness of the country. I hope to go there again for sure.