September 24, 2010
At turns China appears to have skipped the present. It has the ancient past (gargantuan cultural sites), the recent past (Internet cafés with Internet explorer 6) and then when riding a bullet train going 230km an hour, the future.
The bullet train took us across the 430 km from Beijing to Huludao in just over 3 hours. The remaining 20km to our final destination, Xingcheng, took nearly as long. In Huludao, we hopped a decrepit puttering city bus to the coast passing tiny concrete shacks with solar panels housing people raising stalks upon stalks of corn, not in rows. On the coast we switched to a mini-bus in slightly better shape, an hour later, we reached Xingcheng, an ancient dusty picturesque town on the Yellow Sea. Picture Cape May with 100,000 people.
A taxi from the train station and we arrived at our hotel. Exhausted from the second half of our journey we needed to find a meal before a night’s sleep. But if crossing the street in Beijing had been difficult, it became a blind act of faith in Xingcheng. In China, the walk and don’t walk signs are simply illuminated figures that flash green or red. And they are complete lies.
Drivers making right turns don’t slow down at intersections. There is no pedestrian right-of-way. Crossing the street becomes an exercise in assembling a crowd large enough to intimidate a single driver, but stopping at each lane along the way to repeat the process. However, sidewalks are optional, so people compete with cars, four-wheeled trucks, three-wheeled trucks, bicycles, mopeds, and motorized three-wheeled bicycles for maneuverable transit space on the road. In Xingcheng, donkey carts are also part of the mix.
We found our meal and got our rest and up the mountain we went. Shoushan Mountain is a state park with vistas of the ocean and the city spread before it. It has hiking trails, landmarks, and natural sites, the only thing that’s missing from the state park is the state. The guard doesn’t wear a uniform and the flag doesn’t fly out front.
I expected to find a very heavy government presence in China with visible signs of the Communist party and national fervor in a country know for its patriotism. But I see very few signs of it. No flags fluttering from balconies or emblazoned on the side of subway cars like you find in post-9/11 America. T-shirts are flag free, except for one I saw on a foreign student that took the I Heart NY logo and switched the heart for a Chinese flag and the NY for a CN. I see few policemen and I have yet to see a fire truck, ambulance, or sanitation truck. The state is present, but perhaps hovering.
With only one day in Xingcheng, we were forced to follow our hike with a visit to its other marvel, its intact city wall. A day after we had been whisked here on a signature 21st century Chinese infrastructure project, we stood atop another signature project designed to keep the Manchus at bay in 1428. The wall withstood the Manchus and remains in great shape even as the city has outgrown it. The old city that it surrounds is filled with shacks similar to those on the road from Huludao, all weathered functional concrete with sparkling solar panels on the roof.