Written by Daniel Costie
During our whirlwind tour of China, we had the pleasure of stopping in a ‘small’ city (5 million people) called Wuxi. Unexpectedly, I experienced an aspect of China that had been missing in the previous cities that we have visited. The traffic was not so congested, the buildings were not so tall, and the landmarks were easily navigated. These arrangements made for more of an intimate experience that lived up to the cultural expectations that I had before I left and which somehow were not reached in Beijing, Shanghai, or Qinhuangdao. The lunch and the exploration that followed allowed me to experience a better balance between the cultural aspects of a Chinese city while still witnessing the light speed development that these cities are undergoing.
At lunchtime, many of the team members dined at a restaurant called Grandma’s Chicken. We were treated to a great variety of dishes from the Hunan and Jiangsu provinces. While many of our group meals have been noteworthy, this particular lunch stands out due to the diversity of ingredients that composed the entrees. From green tea cakes, to steamed oysters; from fried pumpkin to an entire chicken (head included), our team enjoyed a culinary array of rich, local dishes.
After lunch, many of the team walked (more like waddled) down an old stone boardwalk that pressed alongside a river. Old, Chinese architecture with modern logos of Starbucks and Dairy Queen lined the street. In places, new developments were peppered throughout older houses, giving small corners of the neighborhood a kitschy feel. When we reached the bridge however, it became very apparent that this area had a long and rich history. A gigantic stone structure connected the lesser-developed northern side of the river with the south. While not traversing more than 25 yards, the bridge was thick and very tall. A truly artisan structure that gave the immediate area a very unique character.
The preservation of the old while ushering in the new manifests itself visually in Wuxi. The picture submitted with this piece demonstrates the juxtaposition of preserving identity while developing modern China. The question that is of great interest to me is whether a society can change the physical surroundings to the degree that China has (and continues to do) while holding on to the cultural underpinnings that make the Chinese identity so unique. Striking such a balance will be the challenge for generations to come.