Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Why Can't China Be More Like Japan?

This is not fair to China, since China is much poorer and much less developed than Japan. But it's hard to be in Japan without feeling as if you're in an Asian country that works.

Today is a good example of how smoothly things can go. We're in Kyoto but decided to do a day trip to Nara, a town about a half-hour by train from Kyoto. We take a cab to the train station from a lineup of about 8 cabs sitting patiently in front of our hotel.

We get to the train station, wait in an orderly line, and buy three round trip tickets to Nara, speaking English to the clerk. We get on the train and it efficiently deposits us in charming Nara, where we are given a map in English and spend the day looking at stunning shrines and temples, eating sushi, walking under crystal clear skies, and generally enjoying ourselves. Then we walk back to the train station, visiting clean restrooms on the way, get on the train and end up back in beautiful Kyoto.

It rarely works that way in China.
I mean, China has its charms. There are no strong smells in Japan, unless you count the incense in the temples. There are not as many outrageous outfits, or people staring at us, unless you count the cute little school boy in the yellow cap who clearly needed to interview foreigners for a school project. "Hello, my name is (fill in a long Japanese name here). Where are you from?"

We consider telling him Beijing but know that it would totally mess him up. "America!" I chirp. "And you?"

He squirms. I'm going off script, so I decide I won't ask him if he plans to watch the first presidential debate.

Anyway, he's charming, as are the Chinese people we see in Beijing and everywhere.

But what I mean is that Japan is orderly and spotless. We visited a local coffee shop two days in a row, and now we're considered regulars. All the taxi drivers want to chat us up. It takes me half a day to find a trash bin to throw out trash. There is no trash and there are no bins. Does Japanese trash just magically disappear?

Even the deer in the park at Nara have learned to bow their delicate heads when they want a biscuit. I want to come back in my next life as a sacred deer in Nara's parks, watching the hoards of schoolgirls in sailor dresses and knee socks squeal as they slip a deer wafer in my mouth.

I'm hoping that I won't be too sad when I land in Beijing and taste the metallic air and ride in a hair-raising cab trip home. Meanwhile, I'm appreciating Japan's gracefulness and beauty.

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