I was 19 when I first went to England,and my best friend Roxanne Teske came over for six months. She Eurailed while I studied for Oxbridge, and we explored Devon and the Lake District, hitchhiking during a summer when it seemed to pour with rain constantly (that’s one thing global warming has changed). When Roxanne went back to California, she experienced culture shock and wrote that she was especially aggravated by the way people would ask, “So, how was Yerrup?” As if it were all one thing, FranceGermanyItalySpainSwitzerland, to be summarized in a word. “Europe was great,” she’d say. “Guess you’re glad to be home,” they’d respond.
This came to mind, of course, because I’ve been hearing the question, “How was China?” rather a lot. Please don’t think I’m complaining: any opportunity to talk about how exciting my weeks in China were is welcome. I realize it’s hard to know exactly what to ask about a place you don’t know well yourself, and no one has said to me that I must be glad to be back in America. (Though in fact it was rather nice to land in San Francisco, and it’s been lovely in the Berkshires. The daffodils waited till I got home to bloom.)
How was China? It was sprawling, disorienting, daunting. There were masses of people everywhere, lots of energy and excitement. Blatant social and economic challenges, but an enormous sense of possibility, too, and of responsibility. I loved it, and I miss it. And I want, more than ever, to find ways to help Western people to see and feel what China is like. A phrase I heard often, from Chinese and Western friends, was, “This is China.” As in, “After all, this is China.” Or, “What did they expect? This is China.” There’s a sense of comedy about it, and pride. How wonderful that we have named the China handbook we’re writing, This Is China. (Liz’s idea, by the way. And who was destined to work on our new trade book program?)
Here’s a fascinating article by Joshua Cooper Ramo called “Brand China,” commissioned by Hill & Knowlton, who are doing the PR for the 2008 Olympic Games.