I’ve been gone a fair amount this summer, twice within the USA and once to China. It’s been interesting, to say the least. Surprisingly the USA, outside of the parentheses (The North East coast and the Pacific Coast states), is a wonderful place to be. My first journey, to Minnesota/Iowa/South Dakota, was an unexpected joy. Completely out of character, I was rendered unable to make a single sarcastic comment the entire time there. The people are warm, welcoming, down to earth, honest, and blessed with a dry sense of humour which makes life go by much more easily. This was a welcome change from California where life is, to say the least, at times a bit frustrating and the people irksome. There is something to the old cliché about the freedom of the road, the ability to tear down a highway at 90 miles an hour with the music playing in the background, nothing but empty fields and blue skies all around. By the first evening, despite being notoriously prickly and difficult to approach in California, I was sitting around the grill drinking beers with the other men telling jokes and exchanging stories.
China was rather less enjoyable. Hong Kong was, despite having an air of being past its best days, a city of great beauty. Despite its congestion, it didn’t feel overwhelming. The people generally still queue, the mainland Chinese and obnoxious tourists being the most likely to push and shove their way through. The city is, despite 14 years of Chinese ownership, still Britishesque. The buses are double decker, as are the trams. The English is still British, and the old sites still stand. At St John’s Cathedral, in a little chapel, a few old colonial flags still flew. The tattered, ragged remains of an era long gone, yet still somehow not fully forgotten.
Macau was also interesting. The Portuguese left a fair amount of architecture, some of it in better condition than the rest. The Portuguese also left their wine and pastries, both excellent. Macau, sadly, felt more like an open-air museum, at times poorly done, than a true cultural crossroads.
Mainland China was… Hmm… My sarcasm got the best of me. Hardly a day could go by without my making frequent snide comments. It struck me as off that China could afford to build massive sky scrapers and create tourist theme parks many acres in size but couldn’t find the money to afford proper sanitation outside its showcase cities or have any sort of free and open exchange of ideas was troublesome. Getting accosted by beggars, nearly tripping over one who was grovelling, and having shopkeepers chase me down to shove their wares in my face didn’t leave the best impression. There were some nicer places, Hangchow being one, but in general China was something to forget.
Most recently I went to Montana. To the west are the Rocky Mountains, to the east the Great Plains. The pace of life is slower, the people generally pleasant and unpretentious. That there was no VAT or sales tax pleased me to no end. It has a sort of cowboy air to it still, vast ranches dominate the rural areas. The people there, well, at least in the areas not dominated by California transplants, feel like the 1950s. People can go about without locking their doors, neighbours actually speaking to each other, and people — much like in Minnesota/Iowa/South Dakota — recognise the humanity of others and treat them like people, not obstacles to be got around.