A Tale of Two Chinas

We are only a week into our magnificent trip to China, but we have already seen several things about the Chinese we love. The people are very friendly and very social. There have been several studies lately linking loneliness and premature death. The Chinese seem to have conquered this issue. You don’t see a lot of people with their faces buried in their phones when they are with groups. Groups of young people traveling in packs are laughing and conversing while the countries’ seniors meet up in parks to dance or practice Tai Chi most days. These practices as well others mean Chinese lead a more active lifestyle. The majority of people don’t have cars (although the traffic would say otherwise) because automobiles are expensive and mass transit is cheap, excellent and often faster than driving. (I will be wrting a blog about this before we come home). Consequently, people walk and use the stairs every day – a lot! And don’t get me started on the squat toilets, but a lifetime of squatting adds up to less knee troubles later in life. 🙂

The food here is also on the healthy side. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables in meals. In fact dessert is usually fruit. And while the meals are carb heavy, which to most Americans seems to be counter intuitive to healthy, there is not much wheat in the diet. Most of the carbs are rice based and freshly prepared, not prepackaged and highly processed. Even the dough for dumplings is made onsite and prepared to order including in most dive joints. Oh and did I mention it’s delicious!?  

Chinese eat family style – just like what you’d see in our local Chinese restaurants. Each person takes a very small portion, which means while some dishes are fried and heavy, lighter dishes balance those. There are always vegetable packed dishes along side a smaller fried dish. What does all this mean? Chinese in general are not overweight, not lonely, relatively fit even at older ages and seem pretty darn happy. 

The only really unhealthy aspect is many Chinese smoke. In fact one of the gifts people give their elders during Spring Festival according to our tour manager, Ivy, is cigarettes along with liquor and tea. At least the tea is healthy! Since I used to actively advocate for stronger anti tobacco policies, I thought it important to point out that contrast. 


Then of course, there is the air quality. Yikes! I have heard for many years about the pollution here, but until I saw it I did not really understand how bad it is on the bad days. Our first day in Shanghai we got lucky. It was a beautiful blue sky day. By the time we got down to the Bund the sun was beginning to set. The skyline was magnificent! The sunset colors masked the polluted water. As the sun faded to dark our breath was literally taken away by the beautiful futuristic skyline. The next morning when we awoke a pollution haze had settled. Visiting the Bund with our guide the next morning some of its luster had faded. We saw the polluted water, the dirty sky, and it made us very sad. 

The haze has gotten worse as we have gone ​​further inland. It is hard to describe what it looks like. In the pictures it just looks like a cloudy, gloomy day, but there is a weird gray, orange hue to it. It makes the air heavy and misty. Yesterday we passed the Xiling Gorge. We could barely see it because of the haze. The air quality was in the red zone. 

The water is also not safe to drink from the tap all across China. The Yangtze River is full of trash along the way as pictured below. Our Shanghai guide said China hopes it will be safe to drink in the next ten years. (I am not sure if he meant only Shanghai or the country.)  I have read for the first time (at least in a while) there is actually a significant amount of money budgeted by the government to begin cleaning up the water. This is a complicated issue because even if they clean the water supply much of infrastructure is old and has to be replaced. It is a multi trillion (American) dollar project. Many still use coal energy to heat their homes, but there is an effort to bring more Hydro Plants online like the Three Gorges Damn Russell, Stephanie and Bruce visited yesterday. This will also help reduce pollution. Regardless, it will take years and years to clean this up and the costs are massive. 

Russell and I both are very saddened by the environmental state of this beautiful country. We have already fallen in love with China. It has also helped to reinforce our belief that we are so lucky to live in America. Even though some believe we don’t do enough, comparatively we take our environment seriously. We are thankful that continued R&D takes place to find even cleaner energy sources for the future. If you ever wonder if we should stop this practice visit a place that has not kept up with best practices, and it likely will change your mind. 

Of course, there is also much we can learn from the Chinese. Their relatively healthy lifestyle is just one lesson. If you want to read more, and you enjoy my blog please like and follow me. There is much more China left for me to explore. Russell is also blogging so check his out here

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