I have been asked a couple of times if my assertion that day to day life in China is much the same as day to day life in England can possibly be correct. After all, they say, it can't be, can it? China is so different. Obviously in many ways it is. The food is different. The entertainment is different. Many of the attitudes and beliefs, especially medical ones, sound like little more than preposterous superstitions to us. As my previous post showed the approach to town planning and the efficiency of the public services is certainly different.
So it's different, isn't it?
Well, that's not really what I'm talking about. Let me try to explain.
I am typing this at a desk where I can see out of my fifth floor window and look along the street. What can I see?
Let's take the buildings first.
Running from left to right across the street I can see:
A bank, a hotel, another bank, a grocery shop, two restaurants, a carpet shop, a pharmacy, a barbers, another grocery shop, a bar, a hardware shop and a garage. I can't see it from here but I know, from experience, that below my apartment there is another garage where blue-overalled mechanics are working on taxis, fixing the engines, replacing exhausts and gear boxes. Above all but the hotel, which is itself several floors high, I can see apartments. Where the curtains are open and I can see into the apartments I can, at this moment see a man watching TV, a couple of kids in school uniform (and why they aren't at school, I don't know – it's ten in the morning!), a woman cleaning and tidying, an old woman watering some plants and a group of people just sitting doing nothing much of anything.
All seems very like the things I'd see at home if I could see into people's apartments there.
So what can I see if I look along the street?
Vehicles first – there are parked cars outside the hotel, cars moving along the street, a bus, a couple of taxis, a couple of motor cycles, some workmen's vehicles by the roadworks and a police car with a couple of policemen leaning on it having a smoke: and, just like England, a couple of white vans with slightly dodgy looking geezers parked on the side of the road.
The road itself has rather more roadworks than would be seen in England but, as I explained before, it's also rather more than would usually be seen in China.
There are a couple of stray dogs running about and I can see one cat sunning itself on the shop steps.
What about the people?
Well, it's a little late in the morning for kids. At lunch time or when school finishes for the day I can see hundreds of them in their school uniforms, running, fighting, playing, shouting, dragging their heels because they have a bad school report to give to Mom, smoking at the bus stop, swinging their school bags, reading comics – in short, doing what kids do.
Right now though they are all in their classrooms having history or physics or whatever drilled into them. I can only see adults. The shops aren't very busy at the moment so a couple of shopkeepers are standing outside talking. People in suits are going in and out of the hotel. Men in overalls and orange jackets are digging more holes. Two twenty-somethings are standing looking bored and cold while their friend is a few paces away talking on a mobile phone. A man is awkwardly trying to wheel a bicycle and balance half a dozen bags of groceries at the same time. A woman is reading a notice in the bank window. Lots of people are walking into and out of my view as they go wherever they are going. Two women appear to be complaining to each other as they have difficulty climbing over one of the trenches that the workmen have dug.
The whole thing looks completely normal, a scene that I could see anywhere.
And that's what I mean when I say it's much like life in the west. People clean their homes, look after their kids, go to school or work, earn a living, buy food for themselves and their pets and, on a day to day level, everything is just like back home. Societies may well vary greatly but people are people and that's why the details may vary but it's really the same picture and the view from my window is very like the view from your window