During the past weeks, I have been travelling through parts of Asia once again. I might add it has been my favorite continent traveling so far. I started off in Sri Lanka, had some amazing days in Bangkok (best restaurant experience of my life with one of the worlds‘ best chefs Gaggan Anand), and then I got into China. First Hongkong, as a special administrative region somewhat more westernized and easier getting used to – a nice entry port for the „real China experience“. And then I got myself into the mysterious global power house called China:
Probably my biggest motivation was to actually get some inside knowledge and experience on how Chinese culture and people work and what’s it really like to live there (as far as you can learn that in 3 weeks, of course): Although I have been to 15 countries in the region, China was my biggest cultural clash so far. First of all, simply because it is big in every sense of the word – countless people everywhere, huge cities that nobody outside has even heard of, it sounds weird but it is just loud everywhere, a somewhat dystopian atmosphere especially travelling by train through this mesmerizing country. It’s an overwhelming place. The biggest barrier is the fact, that almost nobody speaks any english. It’s Mandarin (or down in Hongkong area Cantonese) only. And if you think about it, it totally makes sense to them.
They are big enough! Almost three times bigger than Europe population-wise and even bigger land-wise. They are self-sufficient on technology – Amazon is Alibaba, WhatsApp is WeChat (with even more great functionalities such as payment options), Google is Baidoo, Uber is Didi… the list goes on. The only way to use all the technology you’re used to is with a VPN, and even this does not work properly for most of the time. As an outsider in the West, I didn’t know these things. I didn’t know that in mega cities such as Shanghai or Beijing, they are relying only on E-mobility: all scooters and bikes are E-, so are most cars (at least hybrid). Our understanding of distance and respect does not apply – people are louder, care less of those sitting next to them, many appear to be very lonely. The system seems ruthless, within a communist coat many individuals are left behind in a post-capitalist way.
You don’t really know CCTV is everywhere. You enter a park, cameras everywhere – you enter the subway, 5 people checking your belongings and yes, of course, cameras everywhere. Distant machine voices telling you how to use the escalator, „good behavior“ short movies tell you how to behave properly on the streets. Privacy is simply no issue of interest. People take photos without asking, filming everything and everywhere. And, of course, they are being filmed constantly by their „great brother“.
It is consistent with the picture we are receiving if every once in a while German media covers stories such as their newly introduced social credit score system (oh, you haven’t heard?) – starting not in some remote city in the hinterland, but in Beijing Capital herself! China has incredibly complex internal social problems: for example, due to the 1 child policy there is a huge lack of woman all over the country, which is why there are „wedding markets“ where parents and grandparents are desperately trying to marry their sons off!
So was it all bad to me? No, not at all. I learned a lot, this time „inside the box“ and not from our media. I saw amazing culture, I ate incredibly good food. The country is not expensive at all. Trains run on time (you know how amazing that sounds as a regular victim of Deutsche Bahn?), transport in general is perfectly planned. And then there is situations, when they are performing overwhelmingly useless tasks – a lady standing next to traffic lights (which are working!), explaining the people when to go; same situation if you want to step on escalators. For our understanding work procurement measures by the party. To them normal, obviously. You get a smile once in a while, but it’s no comparison to more southern states of Asia such as Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and so on.
But ironically, the most positive notion of my trip to China was – the love to Europe! I realized, how amazing it is, to live in the heart of Europe. We enjoy so much freedom and cultural diversity in such a small area, so much rights and so less trouble. We have to be strong and stand together, get over our petty little problems in European politics – otherwise, in the next couple decades, we will be overrun by a culture’s habits and perspective, that is so far away from ours, I am quite frankly very tense how those worlds will clash.