I‘ve been in Nanjing for a week now, and the weather has been quite cold – much more to my liking. It’s just after 春节 (Spring festival, aka Chinese New Year) – today is Lantern Festival (元宵节）I continue my tour of the local area with visits to temples, museums, and more. At the same time, I am people watching – listening, observing – language, culture, and behaviour. I want to look for the differences and similarities. After all. Culture and language won’t overshadow the human spirit, but they can shape it.
Nanjing is where I have so spent most of my time in China. It is a city full of contrasts. I gave little thought about visiting China two years ago (but was very open and curious about). Now it fascinates me and leads a lot of the purpose in my life as an ever curious person.
Here we have progressed far beyond the west, and aspects still grounded strongly in an agrarian feudal society. The culture is rebounding after two centuries of constant trauma – mostly in the last 100 years, and it’s visible everywhere. The young people see it less, but they parrot what their parents and government tell them about five thousand years of continuous history. Yet I don’t know if they understand it, any more than children these days in my home country of Canada understand how he experiences the Second World War shaped everything after it.
Societies are a product of their history – and this is still so vibrantly visible in China, despite attempts during the culture revolution to erase that history (always a bad idea). Surrounded here by nearly a millennia of culture. Relics and ruins relegated to museums, and a large number of places still maintained as historical sites to be explored. A tremendous source of pride for the people here.
A Foreigner in China – not a Traveller
I am perceived very differently as a foreigner. Welcome one moment and eyed suspiciously (and with extreme curiosity) the next. Not despised, but special. There is no overt racism toward me. A case of white privilege perhaps?
Nanjing is beautiful. This city rivals Vancouver for greenery. There are so many beautiful and mature trees along the roadsides. All painted white at the base to keep caterpillars from climbing up and eating the leaves. The parks are fantastic, and the city core is well maintained. Other areas of the city have a more limited appeal to foreigners. It’s highly interesting nonetheless.
I can barely make my way around the city currently. It helps to learn some bus and subway routes, and I have a great guide in Jade. I refuse to simply stay in a hotel, and view the city exclusively as a tourist. How can you get to know a culture by only visiting what is meant to be experienced by foreigners? No – I need to get to know people. Interact. Break bread – or drink some baijiu in this case. Most of all, try to learn some of the languages. It makes a huge difference, even though I can only currently express myself quite poorly – the bare minimum.
More to come – Stay tuned.
I will continue to post, but while I am here the internet connection is, of course, difficult due to the great firewall.