I approached my visit to Guangzhou with some skepticism. You and I have both read about the human rights issues within China. We all remember Tiananmen Square. On my first visit, I wanted to let China speak for itself as I looked at the Guangzhou and the people from within their borders.
After we pulled up into the gate, we made our way to immigration. There was a bit more apprehension as we gave up our passports and submitted to their paperwork validation. In the back of your mind, you realize your saying to yourself, “I really hope I haven’t made any mistakes because I really don’t feel like spending the night in a Chinese jail.” Paperwork complete, we made our way to the curb and located our transportation to the hotel. The drive from the airport begins down this very well lit but lonely road. It’s a divided highway with yellow lights that shine over it. The lights are far enough apart that there is a little shadowed area between each light post. The misty sky made it seem a little more dreary than it might have appeared on another day. We pass a few bicyclists on the road. Mind you, it’s around 2 AM. By American standards, you ask yourself, why is this guy on his bike at this time of the morning? It seemed a little odd as my mind refocused on the drive ahead. The car was now beginning to snake through a few townships. It was easy to notice that there is but one “class” of people in the Guangzhou area. The living conditions all seemed to be very similar in appearance. Our drive didn’t take us through any neighborhood that appeared to be better or worse than the other. That said, I didn’t see a place that was deplorable but I didn’t see one where I could feel like settling down either. We made our way to the hotel and checked in for the night.
The following day, I meandered around Guangzhou a bit. I took my camera but didn’t really feel inspired to take that many photos. I’m a people person who is rather addicted to coffee shops and starting conversations with complete strangers. I love exploring a new area and learning more from its people. Whether this be in the States or traveling abroad, I can usually be found in the thick of it. Guangzhou wasn’t like this at all. I didn’t see any coffee shops. The people weren’t as “approachable” as they had been in Japan. They almost seemed leery to talk. It makes one wonder if it is a crime to speak with someone from another country. As I would approach others, I nodded with respect and smiled to others that were passing. I can’t say that I saw this returned very often. It was one of the craziest feelings to be surrounded by this many people and to be as alone as you can feel. I never felt as if I was in danger. I was just a stranger in an fascinating culture. Like being in a roomful of doors without a single key, I wanted to explore so much but didn’t have a way to unlock the trust that was going to be required. The last thing I wanted to do was to put the people in harms way. If there was a rule about talking to foreigners, I certainly didn’t want to push the issue. The people seem okay with their lives but I didn’t see anyone overjoyed or acting playful. We saw this often in Japan.
After a brief walk around the city, I decided to return to the hotel. It wasn’t a bad day to walk around but it certainly wasn’t an experience that I’d like to repeat often. This experience helped me further appreciate the freedoms that so many of us take for granted. For instance, on BBC today, I heard a Chinese dissident was just released after having served prison time for writing an article that was critical of the Chinese government. We are truly blessed in the States. We have a lot of things we take for granted. We must do everything within our power to make sure that our government never strips us of our freedoms. We must never waiver on our Constitutional rights because we certainly don’t want to become what I was witness to this week.