I spent a month in Shijiazhuang (About 2 hours by train south of Beijing). I went to study Mandarin at KCE (for fun) and to experience unglamorous industrial China. I reckon it’s sort of like coming to America to experience Detroit and study English.
It was hot, dusty and smoggy most of the time. China is still burning coal as fuel and the air quality reflected it. I only saw two days with blue skies (it was after a rain).
I had an opportunity to stay with a middle-class Chinese family who spoke some English. The family had one daughter who was 10 years old. She would be starting the next level in education which would require cutting off her long hair. The mother worked for a cellular phone company while father worked in an engineering company. Mother had a work schedule that consisted of 3 days, 1 all-night 12 hour shift, followed by two days off. She said that all the employees had to work an all-night shift.
The family owned a couple of apartments that they rented out, a car, and a motorbike. They were very pleasant, took me out to dinner several times, and even paid for me to go to calligraphy classes with their daughter. Mother gifted me a “chop” with my Chinese name in archaic script.
The city still has many people who ride bicycles everywhere although many are switching to motorized bikes. I rode a bike sometimes but most of the time the family drove me to where I had to go. I had my teeth cleaned for $12 and also experienced the easy medical care that China provides — one goes to the local clinic to be treated immediately (no waiting) and can buy the medicine right there. It might cost all of $3. I had to have a full physical before I could stay with the family and that was done swiftly and efficiently. One aspect of going from having no medical facilities to full modernization is that all the equipment is the latest.
Mother took me for a traditional Chinese medicine massage by a vision impaired physician. Blind people are often trained in this art due their natural sensitivity. It was an interesting procedure as they focus on the spots that hurt when pressured.
One night we went to the community indoor swimming pool. There was a long waiting line, quite a crowd, and the pool was very very cold. Father had a week long trip to Japan and came back with the insight that the Japanese were an old culture and knew how to live in cities. Because China has so many country folk constantly moving into the cities, they have to deal with culture shock. The country folk don’t necessarily know how behave in a city.
I went with Mother and Daughter out to see the local sites and we planned on spending the night in the countryside. Unfortunately, I ran up against the “no foreigner allowed in the inn” policy. We were forced to have to return that evening to Shijiazhuang. It was the first time that I had been denied lodging in China.
I would have liked to have done more side trips, but the train schedules were tough and I had classes. Well, pundits say “Always save something for next time”.
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