China 2005

China 2005

 

TAIYUAN

We are driven to Taiyuan, stopping en route at the impressive Shuanglin Temple, which contains many fine, expressive Buddhist sculptures. We also visit the extensive Qiao Family Manor, where Zhang Yimou’s 'Raise the Red Lantern' was filmed. The Qiao family is famous for being prosperous for five generations (three generations of wealth normally being considered a respectable achievement).

Student at Shuanglin Temple

Student at Shuanglin Temple

 

TRAVELLING
BY ROAD

The road journey to Taiyuan is memorable. At intervals, road works are announced by a pile of rocks deposited on the surface. No warning-signs or cones, just a pile of rocks. The idea is that you sweep through a gap in the central reservation, into the path of an on-coming lorry. Then you continue to fight it out for road space with the approaching traffic, until things snarl up, at which point you cross back to the carriageway under construction and shudder along on an unmade surface, until the other side is clear once more. To add to our comfort, the driver has fixed a nice cover over the whole of the back seat, completely disabling the seat belts.

Qiao Family Manor

Qiao Family Manor

Qiao Family Manor

Qiao Family Manor

 

WEALTH AND
SHORTAGE

During our visit we often see wealth and shortage side by side, with little protection apparently offered for the poor. We would explore a brightly lit department store, packed with the expensive products you would find in any city in Europe, and then see on the street outside someone scratching a living selling corn.

Individuals would collect empty plastic drinking water bottles for recycling. At Taiyuan we stay in a Western-style hotel, with a view over the city that seems to encompass the contrasts of modern China. Just about every form of building is visible – skyscrapers, shops, houses, a temple garden – but right behind the hotel is a small, walled yard with piles of materials for recycling. I watch as, far below, a man cycles up and is admitted through the wooden gates into the yard. The visitor and the woman who owns the yard squat together while he lays a few plastic bottles and cans on the ground in front of her. They talk for a while, then she hands him a few coins. After more conversation the man cycles off. It is a long transaction, perhaps reflecting the importance to the people involved of the few meagre items exchanged.

 

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