For those of you who are not yet sick of hearing about my travels . . .
I know I am China the moment I get off the plane. It's the smell, potent enough to invade even the normally sterile airport: a distinctive mixture of fried rice, bamboo, garbage, and B.O. (actually I'm not sure what it is, but I would imagine that it could come from these thing . . )
Dirty seems like the best word I can conjure up to describe China as a whole. I know it's not a great word, but it's the only thing that comes to mind as I stare out the window of our taxi. Everywhere I look, buildings are smeared with soot and grime drips from the windows even after a hard rain. Garbage piles litter every corner, line every wall and blanket the floor of any "yards" that might be found outside the shacks. Decomposing and rotting piles are topped with styrofoam and plastic and the occasional banana peel, which I'm more than certain would smell terrible (although I don't roll down my window to check; besides, I'm rather used to the smell by now) I wonder why they don't just leave it outside in big green cans like we do - surely someone else will take care of the problem for them . . .
Chickens run amok through houses and streets, and some of them hang by their necks in hastily established cafes, complete with brightly colored plastic chairs and makeshift tables. Outside one cafe, I watch as several guys play pool on an aged and disheveled looking pool table, and wonder how they can possible shoot straight on the sopping wet, slightly torn felt top; not to mention the way the table sags in the middle as the result of a giant crack . . .
Tarps and mis-matched sheets of metal and wood are propped up by crooked sticks and bamboo to serve as their homes. Something that looks suspiciously like black garbage bags are used in an attempt to cover the cracks and holes this haphazard construction inevitably leaves (they should really use their garbage bags for all the trash in their yards I think, before realizing that perhaps they would rather keep out the wind and rain from their semblance of home)
Life here seems built around the factories, gleaming fortresses surrounded by barbed wire fences and gaurded by serious looking men in heavily starched uniforms. The workers' housing lies directly next to the factories: grungy looking buildings with clothes lining every window pane. Outside the door to every factory we visit is a shrine of some sort. Filled with candles, statues and apples, it is usually made of beautifully carved and laquered wood which shines a brilliant red- in stark contrast to its grey and brown surroundings. Somehow it is this image which fills me with more sadness than anything else I've seen: People in terrible conditions putting their hope in something that can never rescue them. . . . I want to save them myself, tell them the Truth about Jesus and the mansion made of gold they could move into someday -- but instead I just smile widely at them with all the warmth and kindness I can muster. For some reason I am surprised when they smile back - I suppose I expected them to be resentful because they are making beautiful vases for me, vases which will probably never sit with fresh flowers in their own homes . . . But instead, they grin and giggle at me, before shyly ducking their head in welcome. Uncertain of my accent and pronounciation, I quietly tell them "ni ha" (which I am fairly sure means hello) - they giggle louder, and I hope it's with me rather than AT me :-)