Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Great Wall, Salsa, and Life: an unending pirouette

Quiet in the hotel next door. Every green thing in China is designed—even the forests.
I'm in a hotel I don't like. I've gotten old. You check in at a bar—the first hint it's not for me. The carpet in the hall smells like it was recently cleaned to get rid of who knows what, the room is small but "well designed" yet the internet and water is costly. That's OK (kind of) but there is no fitness room or common area or restaurant - except of course the aforementioned bar.
The Great Wall - where once the emperor closed off an Empire, now the Empire is ready to embrace the World.
Yet is was chosen for me in part because it is close to a partner I greatly respect—a young woman who has shared much with me about China. This to include the impacts of a single child policy on parenting: how children are so profoundly valued that they are coddled by two generations as that one child  carries the weight of being the only heir for 6 people in a society where the "social security" is the son. What are the impacts of an entire society of adults who have been coddled their entire lives and have no knowledge of giving of themselves but only of being given too? On the other hand, the population is so dense, what are the impacts of a doubled population (or worse) and their demands on our global resources? I have no answers only questions.

Shanghai night
Ahhh China, I have fallen deeply in love with the place and the people even though my description above may seem to be contrary. The land is vast and the people are straight forward. Each time I visit I find that my perceptions were based on such a small viewpoint. It is a land of people who were once hopeless and now find their dreams coming true. A people where the seemingly impossible has become possible; a society where my generation faced starvation and fear, dying in the millions, yet their children have opportunities abundant; a giant that has awakened to the prosperity we in the U.S. are accustomed and jaded by; a population eager and able to take advantage because of their vast size, population, propensity to learn, and hunger.

Frank Lui - the visionary and extraordinary gentleman behind the summit—and Shanghai's growth.
This week I've been to the mountains of Zhangjiakou to present at the "Enterprise Growth Leader Summit". This same area is poised to be the host of the 2020 Winter Olympics. The presenters at the summit were impressive, bucking their cultural upbringing to compete on a massive scale. Their stories resonate with the lessons I've learned and only partially succeeded at.

Dinner for the foreign presenters - a formal affair, a great honor and the means to valued relationships.
The dream.
But China builds up and tears down mercilessly. The resort area of Zhangjiakou is all new and the ski runs are unlike any I've ever seen with an entire resort mountain for each skill level. The mountains themselves are vast with small villages no larger than a football field tucked within and falling into ruin. In these the grandparents live because all the youth have gone to the cities. Fallen down towns for falling apart people. Is this a possible metaphor for a future Vermont?

Mountains not to be forgotten.
A grandfather's garden
The soon to be past.
Back to my hotel in Shanghai, a hot spot for youth, I walk to dinner and the restaurant is full of young salsa dancers. They provocatively embrace and separate to dust their soles and find new partners. It is all about the dance.

It's all about the dance.
Night moves.
And within the glittering lights and high end costs, less than 500 steps away, a man, painful to look at,  deeply scarred beyond recognition without fingers or thumbs, has spent his day precisely writing on the sidewalk in difficult to know calligraphy. I kneel down and touch his shoulder. I ask if I can photograph his work. I look into his eyes and say "it is beautiful" though I can not read his words and he cannot understand mine. I offer $20 American into the stubs of his hands. It is all I can offer to show my gratitude for his painstaking artistic pursuit.
Night artistry in the sidewalk.
Without hands or fingers with a face beyond recognition, he works.

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