The Rotary Club of Richmond Hill was transported more than 8,000 miles to China during the group’s weekly meeting Aug. 2 at the Richmond Hill City Center.
Gene Brogden, a local resident and businessman, gave a presentation on the country that he visited in May with his brother Bill Brogden. Bill travelled to China on business in the late 1980s and returned to see how the nation had developed. Gene was persuaded to accompany Bill on the 30-hour flight for what he described as an “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Their trip encompassed the Chinese capital city of Beijing, as well as Guilin, Chongqing and the Yangtze River in the south. Brogden was struck by the density of population compared to the United States. The Chinese government has a one-child rule. One of Brogden’s tour guides said that she was an expensive second child for her parents: her father wanted a daughter, so they had to pay a fine of 500 Yuan (about $3,000) to the government.
According to Brogden, many of the tour guides study English to enter this profession and, in many cases, escape the poverty of their childhoods where hunger was a reality. While the economic changes in China have led to an emerging middle class, he said there still are a significant number of people, especially those away from the larger towns, who live in poverty.
However, Brogden reported his surprise at how many newly middle-class Chinese were travelling as tourists within their own country for the first time. The 6-foot-4-inch Brogden said he often had a line of much shorter Chinese waiting for their chance to have their photograph taken with the tall foreigner.
Brogden’s travels included a stop at the Great Wall of China, the 5,500-mile-long fortification of stone, brick, earth and wood which was built east to west to protect the historical northern borders of the Chinese empire. They traveled more than 1,000 miles south to the “small” city of Guilin, which has about 8 million people.
The Brogdens cruised part of the Yangtze River, the world’s third-largest river that stretches about 4,000 miles. Brogden said there were no crossings across the main stretch of the river from Yibin to the river mouth in Shanghai, a distance of 1,792 miles, until the completion of the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge in 1957. Since then, there have been 60 bridges and three tunnels built, and the government relocated 1.3 million people when they flooded part of the Yangtze River Plain, he said.
“This is just one example of the dramatic pace of change in China in just a few decades” Brogden said. “I was struck time and time again by the contrast between the traditions of this ancient civilization and the changes wrought by swift economic development.” Traditional fishing methods still are widely used.
“I was amazed to see cormorants trained to catch and swallow fish, then cough them up whole for the fisherman to sell,” Brogden said. “Of course, once in a while these birds were allowed to keep and eat one themselves.”
Commenting on the modernization of China and the population’s enthusiastic embrace of technology, Brogden noted several developments.
“There are many, many more cars and motorbikes replacing the bicycles that dominated in the 1980s when my brother last visited China,” he said. “But pedestrians beware, as lanes and lights are suggestions at most and right of way seems to be according to size.”
Other changes included high levels of pollution intensifying the natural haze in some regions and PVC being used instead of bamboo to build barges.
When eating out, Brogden said that they relied on pointing at pictures of their selected food that was then texted by their waiter to the kitchen. Brogden confessed that he and his brother visited Starbucks and Kentucky Fried Chicken once in a while there.