Note – photo gallery at the bottom of this post.
Finishing our long European honeymoon with a quick stopover in China to see the maternal side of my family only helped to emphasise how ridiculously lucky we were to take the trip and to have the opportunities that we had. It’s not just that a trip of this magnitude would be entirely unaffordable for most of my Chinese family members. It’s also the education and the worldliness that we had growing up in Australia that has contributed to us wanting to go overseas to explore different places.
My family members are all entirely content living where they live in China, and never venturing outside of the country. “You don’t have this ingredient in Australia do you,” is a frequent sentence uttered at my grandmother’s dining table as they take delight in serving up strange sea creatures up for dinner. The idea of having to travel overseas and only eating hamburgers and steaks is horrifying, because they simply don’t know that there’s anything else available.
They’ve never been taught about the nuanced differences between different “Western” countries, and so French, Polish, Greek and English cuisines all meld together as a homogeneous cuisine of hamburgers and steaks. Why go overseas for that when you can have fresh fish and clams for dinner every night? After all they believe that it’s not like there’s any other historical or cultural things of interest to be found in other countries, because China is the greatest country in the world with the best culture and history.
This insular world view is made all the more ironic by the fact that the village where my family live is now more developed than ever with a greater exposure to the Western world. I even saw Westerners on local business in the hotel we stayed in! I spent a lot of time reminiscing to K about how things used to be whenever I visited as a child, and how different it now is.
Where we once had to do our business in a chamberpot, now there’s indoor plumbing. Where my grandfather once toiled in the fields, now the fields have been turned into factories and tiny one-room homes for the migrant workers flocking to the area for factory work. Where we once had to take an overnight ferry to the area from Shanghai, now there’s a new bridge that cuts the travel time to two hours on a public bus.
Just the fact that there are now restaurants and street food stalls in the area highlight how things have changed. They never used to exist because everyone cooked at home – what was the point of going out to eat? It’s only with the growth of the migrant worker population (now outnumbering the ‘locals’) that cheap restaurants and street food stalls have opened up to cater to those who don’t have full kitchen facilities in their tiny one-room residences.
I guess it just goes to show that even as the country develops at a breakneck pace and the standard of living is raised in China, it will take much longer for people’s mentalities and worldviews change. It certainly doesn’t help when the local CCTV news station reports on news the way that they do. My relatives remarked to me at one point, “Oh, isn’t it lucky that China doesn’t have shootings the way America does? We’re so safe here.” Yes, if you ignore all the corruption, human trafficking, drugs and domestic violence statistics…
I love China, the food, and my family of course. But I can’t help but wish for them to have greater exposure to the world and different ways of thinking that aren’t dictated to them by the Communist Party.