China is one crazy country. Even before we left Australia, air china gave us a taste of the break neck speed 'efficiency' some of the Chinese like to operate on.
On air china there seems little regard for people or their requirements, rather getting food service out the way as soon as possible when you board and then (for longer flights) as late as possible before you disembark. The Staff are curt and treat any requests more like invonvenieces to their schedule than opportunities for customer service. Our outbound flight had on demand entertainment, but no instructions as to how to operate it, with most people giving up and a program guide that seemed to lack a foothold in reality. On our outbound flight, entertainment was preprogrammed onto shared screens with an odd mix of tv shows and films. Perhaps the worst thing about the flights, was the god awful turbulence. Australian and Chinese airspace can be a little rough, but Jesus, I have never felt so sick and/or nervous on a flight in my life and through all this, the crew insist on still attempting to serve food and don't seem to care wether the 'fasten seat belts' sign is on or not, allowing passengers to amble around the cabin even in high turbulence. Personally I think it may have been because for a long haul flight the plane was incredibly small and thus more susceptible to turbulence, but who knows why. Food was passable, bland, but not horrible and sadly crew seemed reluctant to dish out too many free drinks, vanished the back of the plane as much as possible. Still it was cheap!
Personally I far preferred Beijing to Shanghai, for a variety of reasons I guess. It is far more interesting and appealing for tourists. Whilst there are many people hassling you on the streets, they tended to only be in several places, not everywhere you went and those that did were generally less in your face and hassled everyone, Chinese and foreigner. We got to catch up with my old friend, which was awesome in it's own right, but also helped guide us around and explain things a little more.
With three days we only managed to get round to a few sights including the 789 arts zone, an old electronics factory chock full of contemporary arts practices that shows chinas so far generally untapped potential for cutting edge arts. We visited the police museum which was an intriguing insight into the enforcery wing of chinas political attitudes as well as the slightly odd (to western sensibilities) overly positive and unquestioning attitude to their activities and execution. We visited Tiananmen square, our first exposure to the stupendous scale that china does things, past and present. It is the wordls largest public square, and whilst it's a little drab and concrete saturated (Beijing has many green spaces, but most seem to be out of bounds and just for decoration), flanked by several large modern buildings and dynasty era gates, it's impressive.
We also made it to the frankly indescribable forbidden city, well at least some of it. The forbidden city was the emperors residence for centuries and stands testament to the shear opulence, greed and disparateness from their people that many of the emperors subscribed to. It is exactly what the name suggests, an entire city, perhaps comparable (maybe slightly smaller) to the Vatican. I find it hard to judge the age of ancient Chinese buildings and relics and the fact that they seem to constantly touch up and repair older edifices with modern materials doesn't help. The forbidden city is gardens, museums, squares, streets, buildings and more besides, its size boggling the mind of most westerners, even our largest cities are really nothing on some Asian cities.
Food was quite variable and inconsistent, but we struggled to find anything particular similar to dishes you would find back home. From an extremely tasty and cheap street side restaurant to a bland food court eatery, to a Chinese muslim restaurant with dishes you would never expect to see on Chinese menus such as bread and chickpeas to restaurant with a strange tasting selection of dishes with a setting that felt like we had wander onto a secluded Mediterranean rooftop.
I find china, I guess specifically Beijing (and bear in mind that our exposure to the Chinese populace has generally been limited to relatively wealthy city dwellers) an extremely intriguing and increasingly appealing place. I can understand why many are drawn to attitudes of the country and people. It feels like a country where things are happening and moving forwards, a place of positive change and increasingly positive attitudes. It feels like people are generally proud of their country, it's achievements and their parts in it. An attractive and seductive attitude after many years spent in western cities that are becoming increasingly complacent, negative and fractured.
However china also scares me. The massive amount of people and their increasing levels of consumption freaks me out no end, the population strive towards a certain style of lifestyle they have witnessed from afar for decades and frankly who can blame them, but to meet that increasing desire will be a challenge for them, everyone else on the planet and the planet itself. On a small scale the Chinese population have a hotchpotch of contradictory environmental practices from flinging a ridiculous amount of litter left, right and centre, to slowly being encouraged to recycle and bring their own chopsticks to restaurants, to having a culture of over ordering food to cooking with just about every part of many creatures and plants. On a larger scale the Chinese government are big investors in many behavioral and infrastructure programs, but I still couldn't help almost agreeing with tony abbots statement along the lines that "anything Australia does in reducing carbon emissions is eclipsed by whatever china does or doesn't do", but if everyone, everywhere in the world adopted that attitude we would never get anywhere of achieve anything.
A fascinating visit to a fascinating place that just I was starting to get into the swing of it's rhythms and pulse, it was time to leave. Intimidating at times, overwhelming, hard to handle and understand, but highly recommended if you're up for a challenge.