China trip enlightens, intrigues

China’s national bird is the crane. Not the feathered kind. The industrial kind.

It is said that 80 percent of the world’s cranes are working in China, and having just returned from there, I believe it. One can stand on a street corner in Shanghai, Xi’an or Beijing and lose count of the cranes busily erecting office buildings and residential high rises.

The rate of development is astonishing, as is the traffic and the massive population.

“You have to see it to believe it,” said one man in our tour group, which consisted primarily of farmers.

What did we expect? Pigtails and “pajamas,” as in old Bonanza episodes? Well, no.

But the level of industry proves the many reports, including those in the Western Producer, that speak of China’s growth and population migration to cities. The country is a powerhouse, an economic engine churning out massive amounts of goods and the need for goods.

Canadian farmers eye increased trade with China, so a word about the food is appropriate. As our group sat down to one of many dinners with unidentifiable dishes on a lazy susan, there was relatively little meat.

Bits of beef, chicken, pork and other things are prepared in sauces, along with vegetables, soups and fish.

Beef producers expecting to favour the country with big AAA steaks should rethink their strategy.

One suspects the average Chinese diner would pale at the sight of a large T-bone, just as we looked askance at various fungal and bean curd dishes.

On another note, the government is a palpable presence in China. Buildings shout it and guides make constant reference to it.

The Three Gorges Dam has im-proved lives for everyone, we were told, with jobs and development. Such is the official story. Though beneficial in many ways, there was scant mention of the dam’s effect on 1.3 million people who were displaced.

Similarly, a query about 1989 events in Tiananmen Square yielded a simple “we are not supposed to talk about that” from tour guides.

It’s China’s contrasts that impress: ancient culture, modern development; big food production, small farms; the glitz of five-star hotels next to laundered underwear waving on clotheslines. If you have a chance to see China, take it.

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