“If you keep digging, we’ll hit China.” That’s what they used to say when we piled sand upon sand, digging holes, building castles and no one worried about how tan we got. Well, we’ve just returned from China and in the sites and cities we visited, China isn’t at the bottom of a hole. China is very much in this world and China looks like the future. And it isn’t all panda bears and pagodas, forbidden cities and clay warriors.
It is smog and pollution; it is unbelievable traffic; it is concrete apartment buildings to house millions of people in cities the size of counties; it is sensory overload with neon signs in red Chinese characters and sky scrapers illuminated in colors and designs, flashing against the dark, proclaiming we are here: notice us; pay attention.
It is a proud people with good reason to be proud. It is a heritage of great beauty and symmetry with a wall that was built to keep the invaders out and the “cultured” in. It is rice and noodles and soy sauce; it is tea and Chinese beer that is one of the few things that taste good without ice. It is the “chutzpah” of the Three Gorges Dam, creating the largest hydro power station in the world, dislocating in the process 1.2 million people and submerging well over 100 towns and villages.
Don’t get me wrong. It is beautiful; it is exciting; it was a privilege to feel its enormous energy and see the delicate harmony ancient Chinese artisans created in the way they designed their palaces and gardens, their tombs and their temples. I loved it and if it weren’t for the flight would go back in a minute (ok, not a minute) because I know there is so much more to see, experience and learn.
Like: If we do not figure out how we create energy and keep polluting the air, then I invite you to taste the smog in the back of your throat and walk around with itchy eyes and wonder what is happening to your lungs. We were lucky. We had just a few days of pollution. But it was enough to make me yearn for the clear blue skies of a beautiful sunny day.
Like: If we do not figure out how to move people around efficiently and keep building rings and rings of roads and elevated highways decked two and three times above the streets, then I invite you to sit in traffic jams that rob you of your day and precious hours with family and friends. It was enough to make me fear for the future because this isn’t about China; it is about all of our 21st century cities.
Like: The Terra Cotta Soldiers have guarded the Chinese Emperor’s tomb for centuries. They have stood in a dark still silence, buried from sight and blind to the present. They are only clay, and yet, you look at them and feel their steadfast power. It makes me wonder: Who will guard our future? Who will vision a cleaner, clearer, brighter tomorrow for us and for our children? Or do all our politicians care only about the emperor and the trappings of power? Some of them talk about building a wall. To protect who from whom?