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A Tepid Return
By Evelyn - 27 Mar, 2000

Page 2 of 4

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Lijiang too was an eight-hour day journey by old ratty bus from Dali in '93. Nowadays a newly paved road suitable for express buses gets you there in less than three. Lijiang saw something of a boom after the '95 earthquake. Impressed that the aged houses of the old city out-survived the concrete monstrosities of the new, the United Nations pronounced Lijiang a 'World Heritage Site'. Subsequently, funds flowed in to rebuild, repair and preserve the old city, making it more tourist friendly (souvenir shops abound), in the meanwhile. Eight years ago, there were no places to stay in the old city; dinner was not readily available except in the streets of the new city. I was told this time there are now some 120 hotels in Lijiang, many in the old city; I don't dare venture a guess at the number of restaurants.

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Of course in '93 the imminent changes to come were already evident, and I knew then that it wouldn't be long before the China I saw would recede. I appreciated the chance to catch a glimpse of a nation coming into its own without yet knowing what its future looked like. Cities still had soul. The "economic revolution" was just getting underway and people had a vigour about them to join the free market that Deng encouraged for all of China (not just the Special Economic Zones as before). Differences defined by regional environment and geographical circumstances were still apparent, reflecting the wise ways and traditions of the local inhabitants. Though not entirely gone, these regional differences are rapidly vanishing for the sake of "becoming modern". I used to describe China as being a place of refreshing experiences, even despite the bureaucratic hassles; it lacked the pretentiousness that so characterizes 'modernized' societies. As China shifts more to a consumer-oriented society, adapting to and assimilating more outside cultural influences, much of its own uniqueness will be lost.

Saying all this is at the risk of sounding like a present-day colonialist¡ªas though the ways of a people and country are for the tourist to enjoy and the more different (regardless how undesirable) conditions are, the more "interesting". I suppose I'm guilty of this to some extent; having been very fond of my year here in the early nineties and therefore nostalgic for the ways things used to be. But I understate what I have been impressed by upon this return.

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Competition and private ownership, though still in its infancy, have stimulated creativity on an individual level. Entrepreneurship and incentive have made for a more dynamic society that is ultimately more meaningful to its citizens, all of which has contributed to a more prosperous and less heavily regulated environment. Having just come from three months in India, I was surprised (relieved) to see cities and villages as seemingly livable as they are. The level of basic needs—food, shelter, clothing, sanitation—is on the surface sufficient. People generally look healthy and connected to a larger society, not like abandoned victims of poverty.



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