Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Reflections on our Trip

We packed a lot of activity into four and a half weeks, and I expect that we will have many thoughts come to us as over the coming weeks and months as we digest all that we have seen and done. The thing that had the greatest impact on me was getting just a small taste of what it is like to be in a communist country. While I found it annoying to be unable to access my blog, I was surprised to realize that most of the citizens are restricted to information that we take for granted. I am not a big Facebook fan, but I do love YouTube and use it for all kinds of things, from learning how to knit and do Zumba to posting our birthday bungee jumping. I also enjoy reading other people’s blogs and have learned a great deal from them. It makes me quite angry to think that government has the right to block the individual’s access to information. The ramifications of this are quite staggering when you really think about it; control the information and you control or shape the civilization! I also started to get a little paranoid thinking about all the government agents who are paid to screen other people’s email, and wrote my blog entries with the feeling that someone was looking over my shoulder. 

The privilege of being able to have as many children as we want was another significant difference in both China and Vietnam. It was touching to see the devotion that parents in these countries have for their children. Being limited to only one child, it was common to see mom and dad, grandpa and grandma doting over a single child. We only saw one example of a child being ignored in the market; I commented on how the young mother was walking in front of the child and the child appeared to be a bit panicky trying to keep up. Bryce pointed out how young the “mother” was, and suggested that perhaps she was an older cousin or someone taking care of the child. Every other family was very child centered, and the adults seemed to take an “isn’t he/she precious” attitude. The children seemed to be very aware of this attitude, often posing and putting on airs for all who would pay attention. The children were also very adult oriented, and we saw few examples of children interacting with other children. Although I understand the need for family planning in these overcrowded countries, it is hard to imagine having our freedom curtailed in this very personal and private area of our lives. On the other hand, seeing how much children are appreciated and well cared for was admirable. Yet again, I read the book “Silent Tears” by Kay Bratt on the trip about an American woman who spent four years in a city outside of Beijing, volunteering in an orphanage. It was a heartbreaking book, because the children that were abandoned to the orphanage were often physically or mentally challenged. The parents had abandoned their children so that they could have a chance to have another child who would not have these “defects”. A young mother might want to keep her child, but the pressure put on her by the rest of her clan is often insurmountable, as she might be shunned by the others in her community, or be beaten or abandoned by her in-laws and her husband if she resists giving up the child. I can’t imagine the heartbreak that would come from feeling forced to make such a terrible decision. 

Mao Tse Tung is revered throughout China, and most big cities have a gigantic statue of him somewhere in a central location. It is hard to understand how he is so highly regarded when his system of communism destroyed so many lives. However, most of the people that we encountered see him as the saviour who freed them from Imperialism. I guess that the lesser of two evils makes him the good guy for the Chinese people. Ho Chi Minh is seen in the same way in Vietnam; both of these leaders have their bodies on display in a mausoleum, and people come from all over the country to view them; I can’t even imagine this happening in Canada! In Cambodia, although they have what is called a democracy, the last time they had an election, the Khmer Rouge didn’t care for the outcome, and they ousted the democratically elected person and put their own leader into power. Our tour guide said that yes, they have a monarchy and a democratic vote for the government, but only if the people agree with the terribly corrupt upper class! 

While there are many shortcomings to our system of government, I appreciate the freedom that we have in Canada more than ever after coming face to face with just a few examples of government interference in the private life of the individual. Many, many times during our trip, Bryce and I commented to each other how fortunate we feel to have been born in Canada. Being back home we will never again take for granted the ability to drink clean water right out of the tap, look up anything we want on Google, and read uncensored news.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Days 30 and 31 Beijing: Hello and Good-bye

Days 30 and 31: Beijing: Hello and Good-bye

The view from our hotel room
Coming back to Beijing was like coming home. After the madness of Vietnam, Beijing felt calm, orderly and safe. We came back to the Swissotel, such a beautiful place in a great spot right on the subway, with several terrific restaurants and our favourite massage joint right across the street! 

We spent our first day back at the Old Pearl Market picking up last minute purchases and our second day accomplishing another one of our lifelong dreams, walking on the Great Wall. We hired Yung, a man from Beijing, to drive us there and back so that we could have the flexibility of going and coming home when we wanted. It was a lovely drive into the mountains, just over an hour outside of the city. We had gotten up bright and early so that we could be there at 8:00 am when they opened in order to beat the crowds. We took the gondola up, which was perfect, because it was well below freezing with a light layer of snow on the ground so we felt like we were going skiing! Bryce just kept saying that he sure is glad he isn’t a brass monkey! 

The Great Wall is another testament to the grit and determination of the Chinese people. It is built in rough, mountainous country, and it is estimated to stretch between 5500 and 6200 miles. It dates back over 2000 years in some sections, and is every bit as amazing as the pictures that we have all seen over the years. We kept looking at each other and saying, “We are actually walking on the Great Wall!” By the time the crowds started to appear, we were chilled right through and were ready to start making our way back to the cable car for our trip back down the mountain. 

Bryce in front of the mauseleam
We had Yung drop us off at Tiananmen Square, another amazing sight. We had a look around, then a stroll past all the monuments. Bryce wanted to see The Chairman, who lies in state and I was willing to go along even though I am no fan of Mao, and really have no desire to see a dead person of any sort.  However, they wouldn't let me in because I had a backpack and they just looked at me and said, “No bags!” I’ve never been called a bag before, at least to my face, but being the good sport that I am, I stayed outside in the freezing cold and let Bryce to take a gander at the corpse.  Here’s what he had to say about it:

“What a show!  I received better treatment than in Disneyland, because of my round eyes and the cane.  Special row, special aisle!  There were hundreds of Chinese people on the other side of Chairman Mao, and little ole me all by myself on the VIP side.  So I paid my respects to a guy that let 35 million of his country folk starve to death so that he could put all the country’s resources into trying to defeat the Americans in the Korean War!  Nice going, Tse Tung!  He looks a bit like Elvis, if you ask me!”

We spent the afternoon packing, which turned out to be quite a big job since we needed to match up all our receipts with our merchandise. We never thought when we were doing all our shopping that the receipts are in Chinese, so we had to make our best guess as to what went with what! Even though he really wanted one, there just wasn’t room in our luggage for Bryce to get the Starbuck’s mug!

We are tired but happy, so completely satisfied with all that we have seen and done. We are looking forward to coming home and seeing our friends and family and our little dog Ricky. After that, the thing that I am most looking forward to is eating a hot dog, Bryce is looking forward to sleeping in our nice soft bed. 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Day 29: Hanoi Highlights

Day 29: Hanoi Highlights

fruit lady
Our two nights in Hanoi bookended our trip to Halong Bay, so we missed out on exploring the city the way we wished. Both nights were spent exploring the old quarter, which reminded me of New Orleans with the second floor balconies looking over the street. The only difference is that there is some semblance of order to New Orleans unless it’s Mardi Gras, and Hanoi is utter chaos. 

sidewalk restaurant
Trying to figure our way around the city was a nightmare because just about everything except walking is taking place on the sidewalk, from motorcycle parking to clothing vendors, small time restaurants and people having small barbecues right in the middle of the sidewalk! It seems that if you live in the city and have no yard or balcony, you just set up your barbecue on the sidewalk and cook away! As in Ho Chi Minh City, this meant that we had to walk in the street, which made it hard to enjoy ourselves because we were continually dodging motorcycles, bicycles and cars. Not knowing if we might be wiped out any moment interfered with our ability to relax and appreciate the city! 
flower lady

hat lady

bread lady
Yet, there is a charm to Hanoi that is all its own! As in other parts of the country, we found the people to be delightful, and by the time we left our hotel, we felt like we were leaving old friends. As we headed off to Beijing and the last leg of our trip, three staff members came out to say good-bye and help us load all our stuff into our taxi. With such gracious treatment, it is easy to see why so many expats that we met love Hanoi and never want to leave!