Friday, October 08, 2010

Rubbish, rubbish and responsibility

I had no real recollections from my walk past the kungfu temple and
school in 2004; but Andrea, who had briefly studied kung fu in one of
the schools for a couple of weeks back in 2002, left wondering where
the village was that she remembered surrounding the temple and being
full of kung fu and wushu schools. It seems the village is gone and
many of the schools relocated to make way for the electric tourist
buses, street-side sellers, tourist centre and other ancient
Chinese-looking buildings that seemed to have no purpose. Such is
typical with China and necessary to handle over a million tourists
that visit the one temple each year!

The schools seem to be doing well with over a hundred still
thriving-the biggest with over 20,000 students. Impressive though
knife-wielding and punching skills may seem to tourists both of us are
unsure what jobs the students might hope to get. We guess many go into
the army or related private security firms, some go into film or
stage, and the rest... Well maybe their odds are no worse than other
students from their (often poor) backgrounds if, as our taxi driver
reassured us, they do study more regular school subjects in addition
to kung fu. However in 2002 at least (and a lot has changed in china
since then, especially in the education system) when Andrea was at one
school it was pretty regimental... 2 bowls of rice and vegetables a
day and 8-10 hours of physical practice a day.

The next day we visited Longmen Grottoes (one of the four famous
Buddhist caves in China) that are special due to the extensive
carvings and paintings in them. This was the third one I have been to
out of the four and just as impressive. Tens of thousands of Budhhas
of sizes from a few cm to 50m in hundreds of caves carved out of a
cliff overlooking a river. One set were built near Datong when it was
the capital of China almost 2000 years ago. Then the capital moved and
the caves were re-done again (though not identical).

The next day we went to an area known as Taiyun Shan, though we
skipped climbing the mountain itself to spend time in the beautiful
red rock gorge, walking along rivers and past waterfalls, marvelling
at the impressive rock layering and geological formations (the area is
recognised by UNESCO), and even going into the museum. The museum was
worth a 15 minute visit and had English text which places it in an
elite list of museums in China! Unfortunately the site management let
themselves down with a monkey show in one of the gorges (the monkeys
seemed to do their acts out of fear) and a few 3m x 3m cages that
'rescued' monkeys were displayed in and that tourists poked sticks at.

On the one hand I was happy with the site management who had made a
real effort with signage, pathways, electric cars taking tourists to
and from the various sites and rubbish receptacles every few metres
over the several kilometres of pathways. They even had a small army of
rubbish collectors. On the other hand I was dismayed at how incredibly
badly most (not all) Chinese treat their beautiful environment. The
small army and thousands of receptacles were not enough, though they
helped.

Even when we said to a small girl and her dad to put her ice cream
wrapper in the bin that was no more than 5 steps away she just waited
until we turned around and dropped it on the rock. It is a real shame.
I understand that industrial pollution is typical amongst
industrialising counties with lax enforcement of laws and other
(economic) priorities and I know China is not alone in littering...
all across Asia in urban areas it is a problem... but when will
Chinese people 'grow-up' and be responsible? They are not poor
(entrance and transportation around Taiyun shan is an extortionate 30
US dollars and they are not ignorant (there are signs all over the
place) nor are they uneducated. Unfortunately most people are still
fairly disrespectful to anyone they do not know and think incredibly
short-term. Others have probably written fairer and more extensive
pieces on the issue and this is just one paragraph. Of course it is
really impossible to generalise about anything in this country, but I
do like to vent every now and again!

In the course of our six days we have, once again, benefited from the
insane infrastructure that has gone up (and is still going up as we
also experienced with some bumpy rides) and the entrepreneurialism of
the Chinese with highways everywhere, buses all the time, minivan
drivers always hovering nearby, and entire streets of hotels and
restaurants built in a few months to cater for tourists. As
frustrating as it is that everything is so commercial and developed,
it is certainly necessary in order to try to encourage domestic
consumption (or even just manage it as often it is uncontrollable
without any need to encourage it) and to manage the environmental
impacts of having so many people wanting to travel (and often to only
a few places).

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