Thursday, July 21, 2011

China:Land of Contrasts

From June 7 to June 26 I lived in China. For 20 days, a small group of 9 women and men Benedictines and one lay person, a professor at the School of Theology in Collegeville, visited eight cities; we traveled by mini-bus, overnight train, rapid train and plane. Why these eight cities . . . what did they have in common? Each one was the home of a religious community of Sisters and/or a seminary. The primary purpose of the trip was to meet and dialogue with the religious women in China.

I am planning over the next few months to write about our various visits but today I want to write about one of the first observations I had upon arriving in Beijing, our first stop. What struck me were the contrasts we would encounter every day. China is an incredibly ancient civilization and the Chinese are extremely proud of that history. They want to show it to the world while at the same time moving rapidly toward becoming a super power. The picture at the beginning of this blog is a small illustration of my observations regarding contrasts. Our group ate a meal in the traditional Chinese-style building and not far from the restaurant is a highrise.

As we approached the city of Kaifeng one afternoon we drove on a very new 4-lane highway with beautiful lamps posts, and looking to the right and to the left of our mini-bus were highrise buildings as far as the eye could see, along with many, many buildings in various stages of construction, as evidenced by all the cranes we saw. One of our first stops after driving into the city itself was to the Cathedral of Kaifeng; however, when we arrived at the street where we would find the Cathedral our mini-bus could not negotiate the narrow road so we walked the rest of the way. There are many more examples like this; for example, driving in the countryside and seeing not machinery in the wheat fields but people who came to the fields on their bicycles and mopeds. Or, the day we waited for a train in a brand new train station, and looking around the vast hall where we were we could see on the second floor a McDonald's, a KFC and a Dunkin Donut - we did enjoy a delicious cup of coffee and a donut after walking up the stairs because the escalator was not working.

I have wondered since returning home if people coming from foreign lands notice the contrasts in our country, contrasts that we do not see. Finally, I hope the Chinese never get rid of all their contrasts - although it would nice to have working escalators in train stations and airports!

Note: The Sisters built a monastery in Kaifeng in 1941 that is now a hotel. For an account of this story by Sister Dolores Super, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment