First impressions. You’ve heard the saying about those initial moments of meeting someone new or trying something you’ve never tried before. The first impression is a real phenomena, yes, an aspect of psychology that has validity. Usually we think of it when we meet someone for the first time. Did you know that it takes just one-tenth of one second to form an impression when you meet someone for the first time. Is that the same thing that happens when you meet a new place, a new food, a new taste or other kinds of ‘new’ things.
That’s kind of what it’s been like as I stepped onto soil here in Shanghai China. While it’s taken more than one-tenth of one second to form this first impression, I must say my impressions are mixed. One one hand, I’m completely surprised that I’m in a country that is ruled by the Communist Party of China. Why? Well, it’s all the things that are so Western. The car that picked us up at the airport. The way people dress. The vehicles they drive. The utter cleanliness of the this city, Shanghai, that has about 25 million people, and I’ve seen few signs of trash, clutter, graffiti and uncared for property. The vibrancy of the city, the people, the buildings, even the plants!
Then there is the hotel we checked into upon arrival, our first in China. The Kerry Hotel. It has all the trappings and details of the finest hotels in cities like New York, Paris, London, Rome, Milan, Moscow and others around the world. Impeccably dressed, groomed and articulate employees greeted us. Opulence was evident in the sparkling Art deco marble floors, escalators and elevators with gold plated trim, restaurants that can rival the best in the world, and rooms appointed with luxuries you’d only expect in five-star hotels. I didn’t even have to pull out my electrical adapters in the hotel. Everything worked just like I was at home!
After settling in to our divine room, we were told that ‘everything’ in the mini bar and refrigerator was ‘free’. Yes, unlike those in the U.S. where a bottle of water can cost five bucks, we were welcome to have anything, liquor and wine included, and we wouldn’t be charged. Kind of astounded, we made sure this was correct before touching one thing! My husband, Ben, and I then decided to explore. We walked to a nearby mall. Both of us were flabbergasted at the economic high-end stores, the cleanliness, (you could eat off the floors), the array of Western products and brands. In fact, most all of the stores were either European or Western (USA) brands, all beautifully merchandised and fully stocked. Families, teenagers, children and young people were chattering and shopping, laughing, smiling and obviously enjoying themselves. Smartly and stylishly dressed. None paid any attention to Ben or me. We were but two people in the midst of the bustle of the mall’s walkways.
And, it’s not just retail and malls that are touting Western ways. In 2010 General Motors sold more cars in China than in the United States. And, it’s quite evident as we zipped from Pudong Airport to our hotel in the city. Starbucks is a mainstay with over 1600 stores. The Chinese have discovered IKEA who’ve lowered prices. Combine this with China’s goal to stimulate consumption and urbanization, then outside companies probably will do well. Coach, Apple, KFC, McDonalds, Volkswagn, Adidas, Samsung, L’Oreal, Giorgio Armani, Nike, Unilever’s Omo, Philips, General Electric and Intel, all these companies and more are creating a stake in China’s growth.
However, don’t be allured into a false impression with these sights and signs. You must remember that China is not a Western nation. It is a patchwork of privatization and governmental ownership. The government controls the major parts of the economy and society. For instance, the government owns the property. There is only one party politically in China, the Communist Party.
What is the most evident ‘first impression’ I got of this complete control of the government? When I logged into the hotel’s WiFi, opened my Chrome browser and couldn’t get on. Got the timed out message repeatedly. Same with my cell phone. The reality is that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are banned in China. Not only these social media sites, but almost 3,000 other websites like Tumblr, Pinterest, Word Press, Picasa, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and more. I’m happy to say that www.allyskitchen.com is not among the banned websites! It is China’s great ‘firewall’. Yes, there are ways to ‘get around it’, like having a VPS, Virtual Private Server, but without that you probably can’t access these sites. According to Emergency Mail, “…China’s online censorship policies are aimed at maintaining social stability, and that it will help stop the spread of false rumors and inappropriate material.”
Honestly, I felt completely helpless when this happened. As an American, as a food blogger, as a social media ‘hound’, I am completely shut out. It’s an eerie feeling knowing that you can’t share in real time with your friends, family, followers all the wonderful things that you’re discovering about these iconic cities I’ll be visiting, Shanghai, Bejing, Honk Kong.
I am here to taste the flavors of China, visit the historical sites, go behind the scenes and learn about daily life and share these impressions and observations with you and my tribe of foodie followers. Regardless of whether I do that in ‘real time’ or delayed time when I return to the United States, it will be done. China is a country rich in layers of history and culture. I want to help peel them away and build for you a beautiful impression that just might lure you halfway around the world to visit.
While I can’t get to you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, I am able to create posts at my website (yay!), so I hope that I can hammer down a few posts every couple of days to keep you updated on all that’s wonderful and amazing about this once in a lifetime trip!