Vi and I have just returned from Chengdu, a Chinese village of seventeen million and the gateway to Tibet. Since China is of some interest to the US these days, I thought a description of sorts, actually more in the nature of a disordered travelog, might be of interest. I hadn’t been to the country for twelve years and, before that, not since living in Taiwan in the mid-Seventies. Each time, the changes were astonishing. Herewith some notes:
A caveat: we never got more than three hundred miles from the city and do not pretend to describe the country beyond what we saw.
Despite Trump’s trade war we had no problems in getting visas in Guadalajara or getting through customs in Chengdu. Nobody showed us the slightest hostility. Although China is assuredly a dictatorship and vigorously represses dissent, we saw virtually no police. A friend who lived in Chngdu for several years until recently asserts that there is close to zero street crime. (White collar crime is a very different matter, he said, and seems built into Chinese culture. There are books on this.)
China is often described as a developing country. Well, sort of. Chengdu is decidedly of the First World, modern, muscular, appearing to have been recently built because it was. The downtown is beautiful, at least as cities go, and livable. In many hours of walking aimlessly we encountered everything from elegant high-end stores selling upscale Western bands to noodle shops. It is not a poor city. A considerable number of people wear worn clothes and clearly are not overly prosperous, but nobody looked hungry and most appeared middle class. We saw no beggars or homeless people of the sort common in the US. Whether this is because there aren’t any, or because the…