China Road by Rob Gifford

When people in China ask me, “What’s America like?” I’m always at a loss as to how to answer. What part of America do they want to hear about? Big cities or small towns; mountains, oceans or plains? My one-word answer is, “Diverse.” They usually balk at such an answer, but then I compare America to China and they begin to understand what I mean.photo china road

China Road gives a deeper glimpse into the diversity that is China. Written by an NPR correspondent formerly stationed in China (who speaks fluent Chinese, by the way, although even a definition of the Chinese language is hard to nail down thanks to  thousands of dialects!), China Road is the record of his experiences, musings, insights, and reactions as he travels across the vast country on Route 312. Originally part of the Silk Road and China’s version of Route 66, Route 312 covers the entire country, from Shanghai in the east to the border of Kazakhstan in the west.

For anyone who’s wanted to visit China but doesn’t have the money to travel there, China Road is a vivid sneak-peek into many parts of the country, probably some parts you wouldn’t have time or opportunity to visit as a tourist. It confronts those aspects of the country that are hard to swallow and celebrates those parts that are inspirational and heartwarming.

Though Gifford knows a lot about China, he’s clearly not been to Hunan Province (where I live) in the summer. I know this because of his statement that no self-respecting Chinese man would wear sandals without socks. This is, of course, widely true, but here in Hunan, we realize that escaping the heat in any way possible is far more important than self-respect. I haven’t seen a single man wearing sandals with socks since the heat started in April. We just embrace stinky feet here.

It’s always interesting to read other foreigners’ opinions and views of various countries. What stood out to them, what did they like and dislike? Reading Gifford’s viewpoint reminded me that China is a rising and developing nation – still on its way, growing and changing. And the changes, the difficulties it’s facing, reminded me of America’s beginnings in many ways. How do the people in the western regions relate to the very different people and lifestyle in the east, and vice versa? (Remember the western settlers’ issues getting along with Native Americans?) Among the numerous and usually obvious differences between America and China, it’s strangely refreshing to remember that they’re not entirely different nations at all, just set in different situations and at different stages. A good reminder that all people are, at root, cut from the same cloth of humanity. If you look hard enough, you’ll find commonality among us all.

Total number of pages: 296, FoA pages: 20,964 (The total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)

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