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.