Words without borders

It was on the 13th August I stepped my foot on Beijing’s soil as a first timer. I know my merely 2.5-month’s observation and stay in Beijing will not justify my whatsoever opinion I have for this city. As superficial as it might sound, as an ‘outsider’, my instinct urges me spit it out before my intangible time here vanishes.

Oh boy, my very first impression for city was: this place seems to have undergone an extreme makeover. It is nothing new to mention that the economic development that has taken place here is simply jaw dropping and deservingly admirable – modern high rise buildings, shopping malls, and more skyscrapers mushrooming like hotcakes. Almost all families own electric bicycles, motorcycles or even cars; walking seems to have become a lost art. People are inseparable from their latest electronic and mobile devices.

Children and teenagers are losing their competency of mingling with people as a result of the implemented “one child” policy. Growing up in an environment where absolutely no one knows who their neighbors are and people are busy minding their own business shuts them off from the social institutions completely. Kids’ best friends are television, brand new toys and I-pads. Going outdoor seems alien to them.

It would terrify parents today if their kids start playing mud and throwing stones, as kids these days are destined to get themselves ready for good scores in the upcoming test or an interview for a kindergarten’s enrollment. While internet and technological devices are booming, there’s also no need for local or public libraries. As kids and adults in other big cities are privileged to borrow books on a wide range of subjects, local bookstores are equipped with textbooks, college entrance exam preparation guides, or various electronic handheld devices called ‘study machines’.

And as the kids’ main purpose of life is studying, the adults now have more free time on their hands. Most seem to fill this time eating and drinking. Food is unhealthy and rather expensive, yet restaurants are always crowded. Karaoke clubs, pubs or “Mahjong” is in the next agenda and often till the following morning.

Though some people confide that they find such dinner parties unwholesome and meaningless, but they go anyway, as they do not want to stick out or become a social outcast.
Adults no longer can identify what are the activities available to spend quality time with their kids apart from shopping malls, since their kids are the happiest when are showered with brand new toys and gadgets.

I found a great difference in the use of spare time between the place I grew up, Hamburg and Beijing. People might think that life would be more monotonous in the west, where people live further apart from each other.

Activities in the evenings, where people mow their lawns, wash their cars, jogging, go fishing, baking, gardening, play sports, read books, or develop various personal hobbies such as in music or art. Things that I take for granted, such as hiking in the wild, visiting local museums or libraries or going to the park, are rare excursions in Beijing apart from the local tourists or senior citizens. Even the China’s literary culture such as calligraphy and ink painting are losing its ground amongst the youngsters.
The cultural landscape here, especially in emerging economic areas, is a wasteland that cannot be concealed even by the glare of red-hot economic development.

I couldn’t escape the feeling that its newfound economic prosperity seems to be defeating the purpose of improving standards of living.

Can this constant fear that people have of not securing enough wealth and possessions which is the sole driving force to this economic development and prosperity in material life be called progress?

If people’s hard-earned money is spent on wasteful eating, artificially engineered food, unhealthy drinking and ear deafening Karaoke clubs, can this development actually be called progress?

If a society can allow a 2-year child bleeding in road after being run over by two different vehicles and then ignored by 18 passersby and later found dead, can this development be called progress?

If human beings are denied from the very basic of nature’s essential, namely clean fresh air and water, can this development be called progress?

We are what we do and eat.

Twenty years from now, what will we be doing?

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