Monday, September 20, 2010

Freedom is precious

Isn’t it great to see a dog shaking itself vigorously and enthusiastically after it has just been swimming in the sea. Water flying everywhere, the head, ears and tail all get a thorough going over. And then that fabulously enthusiastic romping along the beach; and you can tell that as much as the dog has enjoyed the sea, the land is its more natural habitat.
It’s rather like I feel at present. You see I’ve recently had a great visit to China. Not far into the mainland, but far enough for Westerners to still be a bit of a novelty for some locals. It was my third visit – I’ve loved each experience though they’ve all been very different.
I remember studying Chinese history at primary school, and became fascinated with the culture. I immersed myself in Chinese fairy tales and dreamt of a time when the country would once again be open to foreigners.
In 1979 I joined a highly organized tour; at that time there were massive restrictions on the movement of both Westerners and locals. Mao suits were common, the bicycle was king, neon lights were a rarity and a local talking to a westerner was sure to be keenly watched by the police.
The countryside was everything I’d imagined making the fairy tales of my childhood come alive. The richness of The Opera and vibrant colours of circus performers, with acrobats doing amazing contortions and visits to kindergartens with brightly garbed children were at odds with the drabness of daily clothing on the streets. It was a dramatic contrast between the old and new.
My second visit was a couple of years ago. I wanted my children to experience a completely different culture; one rich in history, with a language, customs and political system so different to our own. China was going to host the Olympics, and it was a good time to visit.
How much the country had changed: stylish young ladies sashaying around in short skirts and heels with mobile phones to their ears; young men in shorts and t shirts with logos. Neon lights everywhere, advertising foreign as well as local brands, so many cars and so few bicycles. It was a culturally rich visit, and politically fascinating, particularly as one of our young guides wanted to discuss many of the changes that had taken place in recent years. China had taken massive strides to modernize and embraced many of the good (as well as some of the not so good), things from the west, and many citizens were clearly enjoying the changes.
And now we come to my recent visit and my Teflon brained forgetfulness. I’d forgotten that wearing modern western clothing and using computers and mobile phones has little relationship to the freedoms we in the west know.
Freedom to use and explore the internet - including blogs - is controlled in many countries.
I’m enjoying my foray into blogging, and appreciate contact with people throughout the world. However I was unable to access either my blog or any others for the duration of my otherwise very enjoyable visit. I was surprised at how cut off and frustrated I felt; I was able to see that people had commented, (via Gmail) but was unable to reply as I would have liked. I felt that I was rudely snubbing my visitors and wanted to apologise. I was champing at the bit waiting to find an airport hotspot where I could explain my predicament.
And so, back to my dog (I hope this analogy - or is it a metaphor? - is working). Like it, I have enjoyed my dip in the ocean, but unlike it, I am aware of undercurrents that may be hazardous. It’s good to be back on dry familiar land, have a good shake and resume my romp around the internet. This environment feels natural to me, but the freedom is a privilege which can be eroded all too easily.


Cruella Collett said...

Wow. I'd love to visit China. It is a most fascinating country, and I am curious what the future will bring. A few years ago many of us thought that the suppressing political situation could not continue in a modern economy. China has been transformed in so many ways, as you say, and it seems impossible that this won't have a spill-over effect to other areas of the Chinese society. But so far it seems fairly unlikely to change. Then again, unpredicted change seems to be the way of the world.

You are, at any rate, lucky to have been able to see this great country through several stages.

Helen Ginger said...

How wonderful! I'd love to go to China, but at the same time, it's a scary idea. Perhaps that's what others feel about coming to America, though.

sue said...

Cruella, I think a lot of were lulled into thinking that democratic and humanitarian freedom would happen a lot faster than has occurred.
I notice that Norway has awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident this year - "stirring the possum" indeed! Unpredictable change can and does happen, and it will certainly be interesting to follow events and hopefully visit again.

Helen, I'd never thought of people being scared to visit America, that's really given me something to think about. I'd really encourage you to visit China if you are interested. It's not difficult to arrange a driver and guide through a travel agency at home if you want to travel "independently", and a package tour is a good way to see a lot quickly. On this recent visit I walked around alone quite a bit, and felt totally safe (as long as I had the hotel name in my pocket in case I got lost!)Go on, take a deep breath and do it ;)