Wow, it sure is nice to be back in Kyoto. It’s strange, but I’ve never quite realized until now how much of a second home this city has become. Even though I no longer live at the Rits dorm, even though most of the people I knew have gone back to their home countries or gone elsewhere to study abroad, it somehow feels like…I don’t know, like it just “fits.” That isn’t to say that Kyoto could ever replace LA or San Diego as my true home, but I suppose this is just what happens when you spend a long enough time living in one place.
And while I obviously really love traveling, it’s nice to at last be back where I know where everything is, and where I can communicate with the people around me. I feel like my Japanese got a lot rustier during the time that I was in China, but I’m sure it’ll come back quickly enough. I hope.
In fact, it was interesting to “feel” the language start coming back to me as early as the airport terminal in Shanghai. I’d become so accustomed to not understanding anything in China that even the Japanese boarding announcements felt somewhat soothing to hear. And then on the plane, being able to understand the Japanese subtitles for the Chinese safety announcements.
Still, I know that I’ll never get tired of traveling for as long as I live. I’ve been to a lot of places, some nicer than others, although China was without a doubt the most different from my pre-trip expectations. I thought it might be something like traveling from the US to Europe – clearly a different culture, but not as strikingly different as, say, Japan is from the United States. Man was I ever wrong. And while I did have a wonderful time, and fully intend on going back at some point to see both Hong Kong and Tibet, I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the state of things.
Everywhere I went it seemed like people were out to relentlessly hassle everyone with white skin and a digital camera. “HELLO, YOU BUY SHIRT! HELLO! YOU BUY POST CARD! HELLO! HELLO!” they shout at you, following you around while tugging at your clothes and grabbing your arm. “No thanks” you respond, but they always seem to interpret “no” to mean “shout louder and closer to my face.” At times we could barely take even five steps from one homeless person when another another would approach us and begin their familiar chant of “moneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoneymoney” while holding out an empty palm. I’d love it if I could’ve given money to every little old lady who approached me, but even with the low value of the Chinese yuan their numbers were just far too great.
So I chose to save my small change for the burn victims, people with no legs, no arms, or a piece of their skull missing. There were far more of them than you might expect; it was really a difficult thing to see. According to a Chinese friend of mine, it’s a result of the government’s lack of appreciation for human life – labor is so cheap and abundant that they’ll do things like mine mines until they collapse, leaving all of the workers to be crushed, killed, or maimed. Labor is replacable. It made me really angry to realize how many people were suffering under a government that dares to call itself “The People’s Republic of China.”
People are taught from a young age to have great national pride, to respect their government and their nation because it’s their nation. The People’s Nation. The reality is that the government neglects their people, using all of its tremendous wealth to sponsor magnificent skyscrapers and maglev trains, polishing the streets for the world to see when they come to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics. “Look what a magnificent country we’ve become,” they’re trying to say. And it really does look magnificent. But all the while, the people are left with nothing. They are reduced to sleeping on towels in the streets, to cheating and lying to the tourists in hopes of feeding their families for just one more day.
I have no doubt that if the government treated their people fairly things would be different – but instead they’d rather censor the internet and hide the reality from their own people, throwing anyone in jail who dares to doubt The System. I can only hope that a time will come when things change and it really does start treating the people as if it’s “The People’s Republic of China.”
But again, I really don’t mean to leave a bad impression – I’m just relaying what I saw, and to be honest, it wasn’t all that different from many of the other countries I’ve been to. In fact, it was far better than many. One of the most distinct memories I have of Bali was a street vendor who followed my dad and I over ten blocks trying to sell us first a watch, and then an entire case of watches. People do whatever they have to in order to survive. I think China just really got to me because of the “People’s Republic” name. It’s such BS.
Anyways, this post was supposed to be about my returning back to Kyoto but somehow I’ve managed to rant much longer than I’d intended. Oops 🙂 So in favor of keeping the posts shorter and more frequent I’ll cut it here and save the Kyoto entry for later. I guess I just felt that after such an extensive trip I should share some of my opinions with everyone out there. Thus is the point of a blog 🙂
Plus there’ll be a bonus next time: a video I put together from the absolutely amazing Awa Odori festival back at the beginning of my trip (this post). So hang tight!