Source: Sherman Publications

Jim's Jottings
China, 1992: Thriving, smelling, bikes, hiddens

by Jim Sherman, Sr.

July 28, 2010

China, 1992: Thriving, smelling, bikes, hiddens

Last week Jottings took you to China following (VJ Day) Victory in Japan, 1945. We’ll now spin the hands of time forward to observations of China from my 1992 visit and some from friends who visited in 2000.

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In 1992, the first thing that hit me in China was the smell. Street-side charcoal cooking, incense burners and debris. People just dropped wrappers, etc. on the street. Installing a sanitation system took a long time, but Shanghai’s was completed about the year 2000. It helped the smell a lot, our friend said.

Basket makers are busy. Barges of coal, straw, stones and soil are moved by Chinese carrying baskets on their yokes.

A lasting sight in Shanghai, both in 1992 and 2000, is the large number of cranes erecting tall buildings. That city had more than 50 percent of the cranes used in the world.

They changed diapers in an orphanage on schedule -- no deviations and volunteers weren’t allowed to change them. After six months, the kids would wear pants with slits in the back so they could hold them over curbs to go to the bathroom. The boys have slits in the front, too, so there was no doubt which gender was which. Caretakers in the orphanages don’t like babies crying and it doesn’t take long for babies to learn not to.

Volunteers at orphanages were only allowed to work about two hours a week. They got to play a little with the children and feed them lunch -- stuff that looked like hot cereal. There was little time, no time to blow on a spoonful to cool it down, as we do here.

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The Chinese were the main tourists in China. The signs were all in Chinese at the attractions (no English). Some places would have guides. Only Chinese were allowed to take pictures at certain attractions -- perhaps foreigners took too many pictures.

Bicycles are everywhere delivering furniture or skinned cats. Most of the homes are more like shacks.

People are very friendly, curious and helpful. Curious Chinese wanted pictures taken of those with blond or grey hair.

My friend compared open-air shopping districts in China to our craft shows -- booths on each side of the street and people jammed in the middle. A lot of the time you couldn’t stop to look at something, the crowd kept you moving.

Chinese people do not have much regard for personal space and aren’t known for waiting in line. It was always push and shove, even in airports.

Streets are busy with dental care chairs, leather repair shops, Buddah-worshipping sites and performers.

On one of our cruise ships we were asked to put our used toilet paper in a plastic bag rather than flushing because of the ship’s treatment system and, “You Americans use too much.”

In 2000, public toilets were still holes in the floor. You would have a stall most of the time, but you needed to squat over holes. Most didn’t have paper, some would sell toilet paper, but you would only get one or two sheets.

Homosexuality was accepted in Hong Kong, but not in China.

The terra-cotta warriors are still an extremely popular tourist attraction. Emperor Qin Sho Huang, in 200 B.C., had 6,000 warriors and many horses cast and put out to protect his tomb, which had a secret entrance.

After Emperor Qin died his son had all the people who worked on the tomb killed so the entrance would remain a secret. A farmer discovered it in 1974 while digging a well.

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Whereas in 1992 we were on tours, feeling somewhat limited in movement, our friends eight years later, felt comfortable in moving about Shanghai. That said, they still got the impression that China had a tendency to hide a lot. Showing “new” and “impressive” things to visitors seemed emphasized.

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I know this recount of our visit to China jumps around a lot. But that’s the way my thoughts come back. Like window washing the old-fashioned way.

The Chinese still use bamboo scaffolding and window cleaners would hang from a single rope with a bucket and squeegee to clean windows.

How do they get by without the EPA, OSHA and DEQ?