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A Photo as a Metaphor for my Time in China

February 28, 2011

Our Ride to the Train Station

The above photo is one of my favorite pictures I took last year, and coincidentally, judging by how few hits it has received, one of my least popular. It was taken while traveling through the UNESCO World Heritage town of Pingyao, Shanxi Province in Northern China. Liz and I were being taken from our hostel to the train station in a common three-wheeled vehicle seen in China, which is basically a motorcycle with a tiny open-air cabin in the back (similar to this, but without windows). Scraping down ancient, tiny cobble-stone alleys, barely missing donkey-carts, whiffing by the smelly household fires in the street (they burn everything, including plastic), with the driver smoking a cigarette with no hands (they’re, of course, too busy fiddling with his cell phone), shooting out jokes to his friends while put-putting by them. Liz and I, huddled together with our bags spreading across our laps, trying to stay warm in the damp, early morning air.

This experience serves as an appropriate metaphor what it often feels like to be in China for me. It’s a wildly sketchy (and probably dangerous) ride down a dirty road of contradictions and anachronisms, with so much rapid change that even the Chinese have no understanding of how things work. Like I am watching a movie, I often feel that I only have the ability to take notice and document the fascinating activity from my removed perspective as a foreigner.

UPDATE (3.11): some of the ideas that I mentioned here may be influenced by Peter Hessler’s famous quote from Country Driving.

In China, it’s not such a terrible thing to be lost, because nobody else knows exactly where they’re going, either.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mom permalink
    March 1, 2011 13:52

    Very well written Tim. It’s a peak into your life – away from home and familiar surroundings. Poetic.

  2. Master Unnamed permalink
    April 14, 2011 17:24

    Don’t be a removed perspective foreigner.
    If it is possible, you can regard yourself a Chinese.That maybe interesting and useful for you to understand/study China and the people better.
    Im Shiweiʷά. All the best. :]

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