R. Ann Siracusa’s Travel Blog: Shanghai
Guest blog by R. Ann Siracusa:
Two of my favorite activities are traveling the world and writing fiction. I’ve always liked reading and writing fiction, and as an architect, I developed an interest in ancient cultures and the way a culture manifests itself through its architecture.
After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I worked in Italy and married an Italian. That started the “travel juices” flowing but I had no idea that my travel experiences would someday provide inspiration and background for writing novels. But the two just came together, and here I am.
My current humorous romantic suspense series features a young tour director, Harriet Ruby, and a handsome Europol spy, Will Talbot, with a dark and troubled past. And what do you know? Every adventure takes them to a different part of the world. The third book, being released this fall, takes place in China.
To set the stage, let’s talk about China. For most Americans, the 2008 Olympics in China opened a new window of awareness. All of us knew a little about China―it has always fascinated Westerners because of the great differences in cultures. We’d heard in the news about lead-based paint and humanitarian issues, but I don’t believe most of us realized the sheer magnitude of change that’s occurred in China over the past thirty years.
I don’t want to bore you with a history lesson, but here are four interesting facts about The People’s Republic of China (PRC).
First, the written history of China goes back at least to 2,100 B.C. and some contend even further. The Chinese were civilized long before most other parts of the world. The culture is very old.
Second, China is the fourth largest country in the world in area (3.705 million square miles as compared to the 3.794 million square miles in the United States). Size-wise, there’s not that much difference. But it’s big.
Third, China has the largest population of any country in the world with an estimated 1.3 billion in July of 2009 (as compared to 307 million in the United States). If you were to spread the populations of China and of the U.S. evenly across the land area (which is so-oo not the case), China would have 361 persons per square mile while the U.S. would have 0.97 (about one) person per square mile. It’s densely populated.
Fourth, the PRC recognizes fifty-six distinct ethnic groups. Close to 92% are Han Chinese (descendents of the Chinese Dynasties from the Beijing area), and the other 8% are in one of the other fifty-five ethnic minorities, including Mongols, Tibetans, and Koreans. That’s probably not a concern to most of you, but I’m going to touch on it later when I mention China’s One-Child Policy.
When I traveled to China in 2001, I knew China had a huge population and that Shanghai was the largest city and the premier port on China’s Pacific coast. I don’t know what I expected to find there, but the reality blew off my socks.
Shanghai was far more modern than I anticipated, with a plethora of high-rise glass and steel buildings. And such a variety of architecture, much of it very futuristic. The Chinese are incredible engineers.
The super highways and freeways employed the latest technology. The surface streets were wide, and there were lots of cars―mostly Japanese makes, although there were many American, European and Chinese cars as well. And the driving was crazy there. Rude and everyone for themselves.
Shanghai’s public transportation system is extensive and uses an access card for buses, subways, trams, etc. which is scanned with radio frequencies so the card doesn’t have to touch the scanner. However, plenty of the residents rode bicycles and still do. When I was there, every morning I saw large numbers of people, both men and women, riding their bicycles to work (many dressed in business suits), and the main streets had exclusive bicycle lanes that were wider than automobile lanes. The bicyclists lined up at stop signals, ten or fifteen abreast, waiting for the lights to change. And, of couse, you can always get around by rickshaw.
In 2001, the city a population of about 12 million plus in the metropolitan area. Now the population is close to estimated at 20 million for the same area (13.8 million people reside in the core districts and inner suburbs).
Housing in Shanghai
If there are any single family homes, or even low-rise condos in Shanghai, I didn’t see any. There must be some, but they would be mansions reserved for the very rich. Everyone else lives in high-rise apartments.
Driving on the superhighway into the City from the airport, I noticed miles and miles of modern high-rise apartment buildings under construction. I learned later that a large percentage of the people being relocated because of the construction of Three Gorges Dam were being moved to southweatern China. I assume, although I’m not sure, that many of these new housing units were intended for those displaced people choosing to relocate into Shanghai. In the building that were occupied, and others close to finished, each unit had a window air conditioner. No central air in China. Many had glassed-in balconies, and we could see laundry hanging inside most of them.
And speaking of high-rise apartments, I didn’t see a single fat person in China. In addition to their penchant for tai-chi and exercise, elevators are not required below the tenth floor of an apartment building (and most apartment buildings were well over ten floors). If you live on floors two through ten, you take the stairs. Apartments on lower floors are reserved for seniors and handicapped.
Most of the streets are tree-lined with very wide sidewalks for large numbers of people. Often we’d see exercise equipment permanently installed in the wide sidewalks to provide places for the public to exercise. Also, we saw the entire staff of a McDonalds exercising as a group in the plaza during a mandatory exercise break.
It seemed that many Chinese families like to take outings and spend time in the parks, restaurants and outdoors. In Shanghai, the sidewalks were busy and the people looked well dressed and prosperous. Many older folks (presumably grandparents) were out and about with pre-school grandchildren because a large percentage of the women in cities are part of the work force.
China’s One-Child Policy
I was impressed with the way the Chinese government has handled change. Thirty years ago China faced a huge population problem. They could not house, feed, or educate the growing population or provide adequate jobs. Overpopulation and a high birth rate created enormous economic, social, and educational problems. In 1978, the Chinese government bit the bullet and adopted a population control policy.
The law restricts the number of children of married urban couples to one child, although it allows exemptions for rural couples, ethnic minorities (of which there are some fifty-five) and parents without siblings. About 36% of the population is subject to the control.
The policy was described to me by a number of Chinese in this way. The law doesn’t punish anyone for having more children, but those “additional” children are not entitled to any of the benefits afforded the first child, like free education, health care, etc. I’ve heard other versions in the U.S. from people who claim to know or have relatives in China. It’s hard to know exactly what the real story is.
The people I talked to in China seemed in favor of the policy. Some of those were tour guides, who work for the government and definitely recite the party line―so anything they tell you has to be taken with a large grain of salt―but some of the folks were guests at the hotels and people we meet on the street (in particular some grandparents caring for their grandchildren) and other folks who seemed the average denizens of Shanghai. But I’ve seen many articles on the Internet that characterize the policy as widely-hated and claim that, at its peak, the policy resulted in forced abortions, sterilizations, and even infanticide. The culture still seems to value the male child over the female.
Nonetheless, a 2008 survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center showed that over 76% of the Chinese population supports the policy, presumably for economic reasons.
But now the PRC is considering recinding the policy because demographers are predicting a turn around: Not enough children. And eventually, a shrinking workforce (which has been the case in most of Europe for quite a while) and too few young workers to support an aging population. You can’t win for losing! The government has commissioned feasibility studies to determine what might happen if the policy is eliminated or redefined. We shall see.
What’s your opinion?
I’d love to hear from people who have a personal experience with this policy. In the mean time, I see a potential story line for a novel.
Where would you like to go next?
Experience Harriet and Will’s adventures and their pursuit of outstanding sex and a once-in-a-lifetime love, all available through Sapphire Blue Publishing.
Then get ready for their next adventure in China. They’ll be traveling much of the same route I took, and experience adventure and danger at Three Gorges Dam, Shennong Stream, and the Great Wall. Join them for the fun.
Thank you, Lisa, for the opportunity to talk to your friends.
R. Ann Siracusa
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with a novel by R. Ann Siracusa http://www.rannsiracusa.com