This morning I had an epiphany: China intrigues us because we don’t understand how it works. When I travel, I seek out the the old and the new: the disappearing traditions and the new trends. China has both, but its real attraction is its insane growth and the impossibility of such open business in a country with such limited personal freedom. Dad’s fascination doesn’t stem from temples and tea; China’s ability to grow like this seems impossible. How do you inspire people to achieve while blocking social media and freedom of speech? How does one enjoy financial freedom when protesting can get you quietly arrested for god knows how long? And yet, here’s Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and streets full of classy sedans.
I love the temples, the gardens, the food, the Kung fu movies and glittering skyscapes. And yet during our time here a party-selected leader was introduced not elected, a man was imprisoned for sharing his beliefs, a politician’s massive corruption was exposed and all sites we visited have been approved by the government as being appropriate for tourists.
I have conflicting feelings about this country, but this trip showed me how little I knew about China before I came. I still feel like I only have the first glimmers of understanding. Still, even the polluted sky feels heavy and oppressive. My need to return here is muted. I am fascinated by China, but have not fallen in love with the country, despite the delightful people, food and culture. I am thrilled I had a chance to experience it for myself. Not everyone gets to see other places in person and make up their own minds about foreign policy issues. My mind is actually less made up, which is sometimes an even bigger adjustment. Learning more about a culture, any culture, while refraining from judgement, leads us to respect and understanding that is impossible to achieve otherwise.
It’s time to go home. We’re boarding a plane in a few hours, and I feel inspired, educated and homesick. I was hurting for exploration and a challenge; China surpassed my expectations. I also learned just how dramatically my priorities have shifted. My need to travel, to wander and to seek the unknown has given way to the exquisite delights of kissing my husband good morning, Tess’ warm face snuggled into my neck and the sound of the lake on stormy days. Travel will always inspire me, and will always figure in my life. But for now, my greatest joy resides at home – and so will I. Homeward ho!