I recently had the opportunity to travel to Beijing, China with USSEC (United States Soybean Export Council). I learned so much which I’d like to share with you.
Although I am very new to any sort of world travel, I think people always tell the story no matter where one is at. People are people, and each individual makes the difference. I found the people of China to be very friendly. Customs and tradition are very important in their culture. Exchanging business cards was almost ceremonial.
The population is large. The Chinese people make up about 20% of the world’s population. Beijing is nearly 20 million people which is like New York City’s population times two plus Los Angeles. For math lovers Beijing = 2NYC + LA.
When we arrived at the airport in Beijing, one of the first things we did was get on the shuttle. The shuttle was packed. By packed, I mean it was well beyond the capacity for American standards. The reality is that there are so many people that personal space isn’t something that people worry about much because you don’t have the luxury of room. For example, when we were waiting to get into Tiananmen Square, people just pushed in on each other in hopes to get to the front. It was a little nerve wrecking for us as we are used to Disney style lines rather than masses pushing up against one another. Simply a cultural difference.
Another difference is that tipping is not customary. This was strange to me because I really wanted to tip. Especially when five of us got a foot massage.
Lessons Learned While Getting a Foot Massage
The foot massage lasted about an hour. While our feet were soaking, they massaged our backs. I had been carrying a cross body purse and my shoulder was particularly sore. This massage was a very deep tissue massage, and my muscles were very extremely tender the next day. After our backs, they proceeded to massage our feet and lower legs.
The masseuses did not speak English, but we had a translator with us who would tell us what they said. At one particularly painful point on my foot, my masseuse told me that I wasn’t sleeping well. Yes, she was right, jet lag did not agree with me as I probably averaged only 3-4 hours of sleep per night! She also told me that my back was bothering me. It was amazing what she could tell from my feet!
The foot massage, although a little painful, was a neat experience. However, what really struck me was when they told our translator that most of them were from the rural areas and most had children that were being raised by their parents as they work in the city, send money home, and rarely have a day off to go home. As a mother, it was heartbreaking to think of them not seeing their children regularly.
Their stories reminded me of the news reports that I’ve seen on the people who make iPhones. I suppose in many cultures there is the generation that leaves the family to gain better employment to move the family into a higher income level. Although this may be necessary, it’s heartbreaking to imagine what that does to each of the people in that family. I easily would have tipped her 100% for the massage if I would have been sure it would have helped her family, but it was uncertain that she would get and be able to keep the money.
Movement of people from rural to urban to areas
There is a goal to move more of the rural population from the rural areas into urban regions over the next several years. The rural areas are very poor and it’s difficult to provide services such as medical and education. People consume about half as much food in the rural areas compared to the urban population. The goal is to get people moved into the urban areas where there are better jobs and services. With the better jobs then they can afford and have access to more food. Whenever people improve their incomes, they improve their diets including more protein. If you think about this goal in terms of the U.S. population, it would be like moving the entire East Coast population to the Midwest!
Importance of education
Along with the goal to move a portion of the rural population is to provide better education to the people. Education is very important in China. We were told that Kindergarten in China is from age 3 to age 5 years old. I understood that beyond primary education, the family pays for their child’s education. It’s quite competitive to get into the best upper level schools, and they are very expensive.
One child rule
The most common question people have asked me about China is if the one child rule still is in force. As a means to control the growth of the population, in the 1970s the Chinese government implemented a rule that each family was allowed to have just one child. I understood that there might be some differences among the requirements depending upon the providence that the family lives in. The government has relaxed the one child rule, if each parent is from a one child family, then they are allowed to have two children. In some regions, if at least one parent is from a one child family, they may be able to have two children. However, we were told that because education is so important, and the best education is so expensive that many families continue to choose to have only one child.
I am so glad that I had the opportunity to travel to China, and be immersed for a few days in their culture. It was a wonderful experience to meet the people, hear some of their stories, and clear up some of the misconceptions that I had about their culture. It never ceases to amaze me that when I’ve had the opportunity to talk with another how much understanding we can gain from one another.