I’ve always been somewhat fascinated that the world keeps on spinning. By that, I mean that while I’m consumed with my day to day – wherever that day might be unfolding – people, things, a practical universe is spinning outside of my knowledge. I know this sounds a little bit self absorbed.
As I type this, I’m sitting on the 18th floor of a hotel in Xi’an, China. The sun has set and so the glow of the enormous buildings illuminates the choked street below me, giving shape to the tiny cars that beep and swerve their way through the city, reminding me that the hustle here is inescapable. I’ve been in China for a week, and every day with the sights, sounds, realities of China swirling around me, I feel that my world is getting simultaneously larger, and more distant with each hour.
When I first visited China in 2007, you couldn’t access Google, which was inconvenient. These days, the worldwide web and all of its connectivities touch every place in the world but this one; Google, Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, YouTube — they’re all casualties of communism, blocked by the eye in the sky. On the treadmill yesterday morning, a segment of CNN coverage singled out a story on the Hong Kong riots – only – then returned to regular broadcasting. Hierarchy in Beijing would prefer that the Chinese people don’t see the demonstrations for free elections in fear that protests would spread, and they would prefer that people within China don’t have access to a worldwide outlet to share their sentiments or the scenes from the ground. And so, my various means of communicating with my own world, thousands of miles away, have been limited.
In the meantime, we’ve been doing what we came here to do – seeing modern China. It’s a cleaner place than I remember it; the streets are less abused, the spitting seems to have lessened. It feels like a more environmentally respectful place than when I was here last. It’s also a more populated, more polluted place. The air quality index has been well into the hundreds the past several days in Beijing. Marathon runners wore maks to complete the course on Sunday, and children were forced home from school. The World Health Organization standard for hazardous air is over 100, but this measure is surpassed weekly here, especially in the winter when the millions and millions of people that live in the major cities start burning coal and wood to warm their houses. I worry about a lot of things in “my world.” But whether I can breathe clean air is not one of them.
All of this aside, the sights here are still inspiring, the art still striking, the mystery of the orient is still awfully mysterious and the food still fantastic. The people are still determined and welcoming, and I still feel awfully lucky to be here. I’m collecting lots of notes, recipes, photographs and little bits along the way so I figured that is was as good a time as any to share a few.
More soon, from China.