Being a tourist in my hometown
By Shang Zuo
   Traveling around the world is an enlightening experience. But travel itself can be uncomfortable at times. You live in a hotel; maybe you can't speak the country's language; and if you lose your luggage, that would be a miserable day indeed.
      I felt very lucky when I went back to my hometown, Beijing, this past September. My parents arranged everything for me. Going back to Beijing is like going home. However, because the city is changing so fast, I felt like a tourist in a different culture. This was a very strange and exciting feeling.
      Beijing has a very long history. Its many historical sites attract tourists: the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Great Wall, the Summer Palace, and the Temple Of Heaven. They are ancient wonders that represent the highest achievement of traditional architecture.  Nowadays, several new world-class buildings are under construction. The most famous ones are the National Grand Theatre, the Olympic Stadium, and CCTV towers.
      All three buildings are massive structures, and, to my eyes, in odd shapes. The National Theatre looks like a gigantic egg or a UFO floating on a water surface. The Olympic Stadium's nickname is the "Bird's Nest." It indeed looks like a nest wrapped in wild steel. The CCTV Towers are two leaning towers connected high in the sky without any supporting structure, which is a quite appalling stance. These buildings are not like anything I've ever seen.
      Another interesting place I visited was 798 Art Zone. It used to be an outdated military factory whose code name was 798. But some artists started setting up their galleries here in recent year, probably due to its low rental cost and ample space. The artists brought modernity to the space while preserving the industrial feeling of the old factory. Old workshops were transformed into exhibition halls. But you can still see huge red slogans painted on the ceiling: "Long Live Chairman Mao!" Don't be fooled by its appearance. The art factory has actually gained serious reputation and won official support. When I was there, a Sino-Japan Culture Exchange Exhibition, a high level international program, was taking place.
      Not only the cityscape has changed.  The economy is upgrading. The speed of wealth accumulation is astonishing. But I was more pleased to see that some corporations and people have developed a sense of social responsibility. One of China's prominent social issues is the huge gap between cities and countryside, and between coastal and inland provinces. In China, you can see the most beautiful urban skylines in the world, but on the other hand, you can easily find obvious poverty in many areas. I was glad to see some examples of how people are helping the rural poor.
      The new middle class likes hiking to the countryside in their leisure time. A program called "Carry 1 more KG" was born. In addition to their travel equipment, the program's participants carry one kilogram of books in their backpacks, give the books to schools on their way, and spend some time with country kids.
      Another example of help is something I saw advertised on TV. Some remote counties that produce healthy fruits are looking for business partners to set up food processing plants to add more value to their agricultural products. But how come these counties can pay for the expensive airtime on TV? The cost is paid by Sinopec, a big oil company, as charity. Here I see the shrewdness of the company. First, setting up business to let villagers improve their lives by their own hands is definitely better in long term than donating money and clothes directly. Second, the company obviously gets more public attention and appreciation by these ads than writing a check that few people know about.
      The feeling of living in a constantly changing country is hard to explain. There was a movie called "Sweetheart" that best explains my reaction. In the movie's beginning, a girl was standing in a gray city and was screaming. The camera started to swirl around her. Behind her, things started to evolve. Skyscrapers popped up from the ground. Highways extended to the horizon. Banks were dropped from the sky. The camera swirled faster and faster, and suddenly, it stopped. The girl stopped screaming too. She had become a beautiful young woman, standing in the middle of a prosperous metropolis, feeling totally lost. Then, her story began.
      The scene from the movie explains my feelings precisely. I often feel lost and confused. Nevertheless, I believe this is a happy story.
December 2007 Issue