Murray and I have just arrived back from traveling through China. Even though China is much in the news and its icons are clichés, there remains something of the frontier about the Middle Kingdom. Considering China is the world’s largest economy and possesses the world’s largest population, and standing army, there is still much that we do not understand. We gained amazing insights and learned much from our incredible experiences but perhaps, most of all, we learned more about our love of our hometown than we learned about our host country.
Since the late 1970’s China has developed economically on a scale which we can barely appreciate. The country continues to progress at an amazing pace – it currently has 98 cities that are larger than Sydney. The city of Shanghai houses more people than the entire population of Australia. Beijing has 20 million people. Xi’an has 13 million. These are megalopolises that we cannot contemplate in Australia. Accordingly, in China the buildings are colossal and countless, public spaces are sprawling, and roads are super-highways. Food is anything that is digestible and the majority of homes are small apartments in innumerable forests of identical high-rise.
Although Australia has developed at a healthy rate, we have a very different scale. Time, money and logistics are all easier. The scale of our development has a more individual dimension. And our country is far more personal. Australia has a special intimacy among its people that is not available in China due to its immense populous. By comparison, our size is diminutive.
And then there is Wollombi.
In our tiny town, development occurs when required and on a scale sympathetic to an historic village. Most residents are connected and life is not based on time, but on habit and method. Nature is the overseer of this village and is respected as a wise elder. The town operates on principles of beauty and simplicity that is very Australian and very comforting.
China is an impressive, significant, and successful country. The people are dynamic, hardworking and nationalistic. There is a lot to envy about China. But China must also envy a lot about us. Once the modest scale of a quaint village is lost it cannot be authentically replaced. And such towns provide a portal of the past and usually offer a peaceful lifestyle. But such history and peace is very fragile. The intimate, the individual, and the personal seems to have been built-over in China’s race toward the future.
It is important though to travel and to be exposed to other cultures and lifestyles. Periodically Wollombi can seem very minor and cloistered. And life can seem too easy. The experience of other countries and lifestyles offer perspective and insight. Greater awareness. It can also refine our preferences and allow us to consider what is personally important. And Wollombi is important to us. We will frequently continue to wander overseas and although we open our minds to new experiences, we have always understood what contentment is.