I’m sitting in the Paris Café enjoying a coffee while Stan Getz’s The Girl from Ipanema flows from the café’s speakers. The café walls are lined with French Impressionist paintings - most of which are reproductions of Monet. Near the entrance of the café stands an attractive, young Chinese woman dressed in a red qipao.
The cafe is full of foreign expats sitting at tables and conversing in a myriad of languages. The Chinese woman at the door is the only indicator that I’m drinking coffee in China rather than in some Mediterranean locale.
Finished with my morning ritual, I leave the café as the doorman opens the door. Parting with manzo, the traditional Chinese greeting that means go slowly he gives me a slight bow and I reenter the streets of Qingdao.
Once through the café doors a totally new world confronts me. As the café music and aroma of coffee disappears behind the closing door, the smells and sounds of modern China attack my senses and surround me.
My face is quickly covered in sweet-smelling steam from the boazi cart parked outside the café entrance. Encircling the line of food carts are young Chinese students laughing and hurriedly eating the steamed, meat-filled buns; a staple of the Chinese diet that cost six cents for the donut-sized meal. Searching over their heads down the street, I can see the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonalds where the wealthier students can be seen running to and from their BMWs, Mercedes, and Buicks while engulfing Big Macs and Chicken nuggets.
My attention is diverted as a sea of bicycles flows down the street in front of me. The sound of the ringing bells ebb and flow as the bicycles pass and begin to converge into the intersection of Zhongshan Lu and the motor traffic lying in wait. The bicycles vary as greatly as the people riding them: some bikes are rusted throwbacks to the Soviet model factories of the 1950’s, while others are shiny, modern bikes fresh out of the Chinese factories; the same factories that are producing more than 20% of the world’s total manufactured goods. With no order but with one direction, the sea of bicycles melds into the queue of cars waiting at the streetlight - the cacophony of car horns drowning out the ringing bells.
It is 7:00 in the morning and it seems as if everyone in China, which is one out of every five people living in the world, is up and moving to some destination. As I walk down the streets of China I am always confronted with the idea that these streets are open
doors to China’s rich past and its promising future. Qingdao’s ZhongShan Lu offers an excellent peek into the paradox that is modern China.
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