Wednesday, September 28, 2011

signs, signs and more signs

My first visit to China was in 1979 (or thereabouts) when the freedom for the populace to dress as they wished was still some way off. Heating in stores was rare to non-existent and I remember being intrigued by doorway draught stoppers - they appeared to be entire skins from a bull or ox. They stopped the bitter wind blasting in to the Friendship Stores, (the main places for tourists to shop) but did nothing to keep out the cold.

This photo was taken in Yangshuo where Colonel Sanders is dwarfed by the karst mountains. In the centre foreground,  a neatly dressed lady is meandering along on her bicycle with a sturdily attached umbrella. 

On the whole, vehicles of all types including those with motors and human powered ones appear to share the road and show tolerance towards each other.

Chinese music was the only type allowable, and propaganda announcements in trains were strident and intrusive. Neon lights were also rare, and Europeans were such a novelty that crowds gathered around to stare. To some extent, that still happens, but not so much in the major cities, although my husband was stopped frequently, even in Shanghai, for people to ask if they could have their photo taken with him - perhaps a taste of what it's like to be a celebrity! Amusingly, on the subway, people - young, older, men or women - would attempt to surreptitiously take his photo on the latest generation phone, which I found highly entertaining. I figured if ever I 'lost' him I'd just look for turning heads and whispered comments and follow the stares - I'd be sure to find him!

Why? Beards are hard for Asian men to grow, and my husband has a full beard, gone grey over the years which is seen by some to be a sure sign of wisdom.

A number of familiar western products are in the picture above. Others might have a familiar shape and colour, but be a uniquely local brand.
Sometimes as I trailed along behind my husband, taking photos, peering into laneways or daydreaming, an older man or woman would catch my eye and gesture as if they were stroking a beard, smile widely and give the thumbs up. I'd wink and smile - feeling very much like I was basking in reflected glory.

Of course back in the 70's and early 80's when China began opening up for tourism again after many years closed off, there was no advertising for Western products - in fact there was little obvious advertising at all, few neon lights in Beijing, and not overwhelming in Shanghai - the pace of change is something that really intrigues me. The things which were shunned so vehemently and seen as a corrupting influence have been embraced in the cities, and are commonplace and desirable.

Some logos are so well known, no words are needed at all.

Even if they're down a tiny alley, they'll be popular.
I think this is my favourite shot. The young lady, beautifully made up, wearing ultra short skirt and vicious stilettos, is checking via mobile phone where to meet her friend before she heads into KFC - the ultimate in fine dining?
Neon lights encourage shoppers till late in the evening.

Change ... How do you view it? A blessing, a curse, somewhere in between, or something entirely different?


Manzanita said...

I had just said Yay for Apple in my last comment and there they are, all over China. I'm curious about your shopping when you visit China. What do you bring home? Are there electronics that are hard to resist?

"The Long Walk" (the book Hilary recommended) is in my kindle. I don't want to put it down but there is so much outdoor work to be done before the snowballs hit us.

It's difficult to imagine how any human can endure such intense physical torture. Or even more perplexing to wonder what kind of a human could inflict such insane torture. And all this going on while I sat in the US, my biggest worry, probably matching the lipstick to my dress.

Thank you for another fascinating post on China. It looks like you can shop till you drop or max out all your credit cards. :)

sue said...

Hi Manzanita, Apple is there big time. I have an old iPhone and felt very dated sitting surrounded by locals using their iPhone4. Did you see my post on Shanghai? The flagship Apple store there is stunning. Security won't allow you to photograph inside, but outside is all shiny chrome and reflecting glass. Swish! Inside you could barely move for the people buying the latest products.

I haven't downloaded the book yet, I have so many piled up (both paper and electronic) that another would probably sink the house!

It's sobering to think back to what seemed important when dramas where happening in other countries. I find when I'm in China I wonder what people's situation was during the Mao years, how they were affected. I wonder what they knew about the Tiananmen massacre, and how has that affected them.

Years ago I saw a petite elderly lady who'se feet had been bound. She was tottering along and I figured she'd seen some extraordinary sights over her lifetime.

re shopping: ...sigh...we travel with only carry on luggage. The advantage is it's easy to get around, climb stairs, get on and off trains and no lost luggage etc the disadvantage is NO SHOPPING :(

A tiny phone dangly thing doesn't count as shopping does it...sigh

It would be really easy to max out the credit card though - there were some really funky designers in Shanghai using lovely fabrics too. That would have been fun...sigh

I don't look at electronics, I buy local so if there's a problem they can be returned.

Enjoy your gardening and walking before the weather turns. We're enjoying Spring and a confusion of cold, wet and sunny days!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sue and Manzanita .. glad the book and film have caught your attention - the film was extraordinary.

I used to work with East Europeans and went to Czechoslovakia back in the days when .... and like you it was not helpful to feel watched all the time - probably more paranoic in EE .. occasionally when we had EE visitors over .. I'd try and ask them things - they never opened up - or released their feelings ..

Freedom is a wonderful thing .. though at times the West can throw up its wobblies .. I've had that experience with my mother and a situation ..

You've had some fantastic trips to a beguiling country .. thanks for sharing with us.

Cheers - Hilary

Spadoman said...

I love your latest posts about visits to China. (And I love your description of "vicious stilettos" about the woman's high heels!)
I went to Hong Kong, twice, when I had a break during the American war in Vietnam. I did some of the usual tourist and soldier things, but I also met a young girl, (I was young too, just 19), who was studying at University. She was my guide and took me into the New Territories on the Kowloon Peninsula and Victoria Island. It was the first time she had traveled upper class, (main deck), on the fairy. Until I paid the first class fare, she had always ridden in steerage, (below the water line).
I can't stand the corporate world here or there. I find it sad that Mac and Don's and KFC and the like have a foothold. Capitalism, Communism, Socialism are all about money, just a different label.
Sorry about the political comment, but these signs seem so out of place there. But that's my perspective.

Good stuff all the way.


sue said...

Hilary and Spadoman, thanks for your comments, I'll reply properly when I get home. I've been camping in the desert country with very little internet and no power to charge my laptop fully.

Hilary, I know exactly what you mean, you never know what is being listened in to and reported. I must share a story of a Chinese student I had a couple of years ago - paranoid covers it completely - even when we were working together privately she wouldn't comment even thought it would have been relevant to her course.

Spadoman, the signs are really jarring, and look so out of place. It's almost people fawn over them - someone wrote a song I think, about bowing to capitalism?

Love your visits and comments, thankyou.