Stranded in Guangzhou

Let me count it up. This is blog template number... five? Six?

This one is courtesy of the amazing Annie over at BlogU. Me making one on my own was just not working as well as I wanted and I am not one to reinvent the wheel when I see something I like.

What do you think? Hao bu hao? That's Chinese for "good, not good".

So if I see you on the street I might ask you, "Ni kuangre mama hao bu hao?" - which basically means, "How's your fanatical mother doing?"

I know. How did we get from talking about blog templates to the Chinese translation for, "How's your crazy momma?"

I suppose I just have the Chinese city I used to live in, Guangzhou, on my mind.

If you know anything about China, you know there's a lot of people. You know that it's tough to walk into a Wal-Mart and find something not made in China. You might know that Chinese money is propping up some of the financial industry here in the States. So you might think folks are just rolling in the dough there.

They're not. Just like here, wealth goes to a privileged few. When I lived there, the average person made $52 USD a year. That was a dozen years ago and I recently heard it's still not much above that.

The only thing is that China has a history of having, uh, revolutions when folks can't deal with the extremes of wealth and poverty anymore.

Which brings us to the fact that China's been hit with the worst snowstorm in 50 years. The weather is causing total chaos there. You see, Chinese New Year starts on February 6th and millions of people leave the cities and head back to the boondocks to visit their families. But the weather is shutting rail lines down and making getting around impossible. It's estimated that half a million people are stuck in Guangzhou.

The picture above (courtesy of Getty Images) conveys some of what's going on. But to really get how bad it is, watch this video of the Guangzhou Train Station. I got chills watching because these are folks who work all year in the cities and don't get to see their families until this time of year. Parents leave their kids in the countryside and go to the cities to work and you want to tell them they can't go home?

Yeah, folks are flipping out.

I remember taking a train out of the Guangzhou Train Station during the New Year travel time. My first clue that it was going to be an interesting experience was that there was one line for foreigners to buy their tickets and one line for Chinese folks.

The first time I went there, there were around a dozen of us in line and I only had to wait maybe an hour to get a ticket. But for the Chinese people, there was one window open for thousands of people. Folks started pushing in line, started yelling at each other. And before I knew it, some guy pulled a small machete out and began screaming at the man behind him.

People started yelling and running and I was absolutely terrified. It was one of those moments where it really felt like anything could happen. Then suddenly, before anything could really jump off, the police came running in with these huge sticks and beat the people back into submission.

And when I say they were beating people, I'm not talking about a light swat. I'm talking about full-on swinging on men, women and children.

It was crazy because the guy with the machete just put it away and everyone went back to standing in the line or sitting in silence. It wasn't like here in the States where people would be yelling, "I'm calling my lawyer! I'm gonna sue this city for police brutality!"

No, none of that. Ten minutes after the machete got pulled out, it was like it had never happened. Folks just began waiting again. I asked one woman how long she'd been waiting and she told me she'd been there for two days.

Still, none of what I experienced is even close to what's happening there now.

I come across so many people who hate China or hate the Chinese people because they think they're getting rich off the backs of Americans. When you see these pictures or watch the video, you just see how it's not true. When you go to China and see poverty like you've never seen before, you see how, just like here, the good economic times are clearly not being shared. Voodoo economics ain't working over there either.

They're people just like us and my heart truly goes out to them.


Jen said…
I have a friend who regularly goes to do business in China. He's often in the rural areas and says that when it's time to offer the traditional cup of welcome tea, all his hosts can offer is water, because no one can afford tea there any more.

I feel the situation in China is devastating. This is a great post, and very important.

I'm so sorry that awful storm has shut things down. I can't imagine missing out on that yearly chance.
Anonymous said…
On another note, i drew you to interview so if you eail me your email address I'll come up with some questions:

Liz Dwyer said…
Yes, the rural areas are so different from the cities. People think it's like rural areas of America, but the vast majority of the population lives in the countryside, not in the Chinese cities. People forget that Mao pitted uneducated peasants against the educated/wealthy in the cities. I sometimes feel China's setting itself up again for the same thing!

Will do! I need to contact my person as well! Thanks for the reminder.
Anonymous said…
I hope a lot of people read this post. A few people in China have amassed incredible wealth in a short space of time and it has come at the cost of the health and sense of community of a myriad impoverished peasants. There's a photo on my wall that I took in rural China in 95, of a toddler by a shack. I wonder if she is already a factory worker somewhere or if her parents work day and night in an industrial zone to send her to college. And still, my first thought when seeing the news of the weather conditions in China was "I'm glad it wasn't that bad when I was there". I really need to learn to be less selfish.
Ms Angela said…
I saw Third World poverty up close when I lived in the Phillippine Islands for 2 1/2 years. It was a very sobering experience, one that I have never forgotten. Thanks for posting this, Liz. There's so much healing to be done in order to rid ourselves of the extremes of great poverty and great wealth. Ya Baha'ul' Abha'!
Anonymous said…
My coworker spoke abou this on Friday. He lived in China for a couple of years and he remembers the holiday travel.

So sad.

Thank you for posting this - as jen noter this is very important.
West said…
Great post. I'd not heard a single word about this.
M said…
Hey Liz! I haven't been over for a while (been incredibly crazy busy getting ready to leave for -er -China in two weeks!) but the blog looks fantastic!

And yes, great post. China is changing but not in the ways that a lot of people think - and it's certainly got an incredibly long way to go before there is anything near parity in wealth or status (in fact, it seems to be going the opposite direction these days). We've been watching the snows closely and people are really suffering.
Jameil said…
lmao @ "How's your fanatical mother doing?" fab. when i see the crazy weather situations in other countries or even other areas of this country, i just thank God that all I have is an inch or two of snow.
Anonymous said…
I was a chicken...I studied in Taiwan...thank God for incredible speed of rail trains and giant busses...Somthin' about being on a Island..
When I was in China I was tourist and really ignorant...I wish now that I'd studied at the Mainland! What is sad is that as long as the Chinese government spent studying the Global economy before entering it...They did a piss poor job of learning what happens when there is poor distibution of wealth...Good thing is the internet and technology is seeping in to China, and the people are slowly taking it upon themselves to expose corrupt officials. Though still rare...I think the Western world is counting on the failure of the massive dam and the unequal distribution of wealth to finally cripple this manufacturing giant!

P.S. My eyes are adjusting to the flip of the page...maybe we can outsource the job to a chinese IT guy???!!
Liz Dwyer said…
I think about that as well. Poverty there was just staggering. I freaked out the first time I saw a pack of homeless children roving about searching for food.

I had that same thought as well because I had no heat in my building in Guangzhou and it was one of those old school Communist cinder block type of places. I used to be so cold in the winter that I'd put on every stitch of clothing I owned and huddle under the coverss.

It is very sobering. There have been neighborhoods here in LA, and in other parts of this country, that have reminded me of stuff I've seen in other parts of the world. But folks tend to think kids here that are hungry are just spoiled brats that want iPods. (Ugh, am I still mad at Oprah about that remark?)

Traveling on those trains was something else. I was on one train for three days with a very pregnant woman and some rats. It was memorable, to say the least.

I hope they get a break in the weather soon. It's truly a disaster.

I hope the weather clears up by the time you get there so it's smooth sailing for you all. China does seem to be going the opposite of all that their government claims to be for. But that's what happens when capitalism becomes the state religion. Good luck on your journey!

Seriously. And I'm happy that the snow just stays up in the mountains!

It's really interesting to see the efforts to shut down internet freedoms in China. I wonder what'll change there before the Olympics. I always wanted to go to Taiwan but never got a chance.

Yeah, the text being on the left is a change but I sort of like it because your eyes move from left to right!
I tried to buy myself a train ticket on the hard seat train with the Chinese travelers in Harbin once. I thought I was going to die. I was squeezed so tight my feet left the floor. I seriously thought it was my last breath leaving me.

I fought my way out of the crowd and leaned up against a pillar shaking for about half an hour. I walked back to my hotel with my head hanging down and asked the concierge to get me a ticket the old fashioned foreigner way.

I can't imagine how horrible it would be to be stuck in that train station over New Years and miss my holiday with my family. Lord Have Mercy.
Liz Dwyer said…
I can't imagine how horrible it would be either. How long ago were you in Harbin? I was in Guangzhou in '94 & '95. I sometimes think about picking up my entire family and moving back to China because even with some of the issues there, I was incredibly happy and made such good friends there. I imagine my sons growing up speaking and writing good Mandarin!
Lola Gets said…
This isnt the first time Chinas had bad weather right before a major holiday. I want to say that China really needs to work on its transportations systems and stop spending so damned much money on Olympic crap, but that might be a wee bit wrong, lol.


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