When I was self-employed between 2005 to 2008, most of my students were learning English, but incredibly three were with me to learn Mandarin Chinese. When the possibility of teaching them first was proposed by one of my clients, it seemed rather bizarre. My Chinese, though useful, wasn't anywhere close to fluent. But I had teaching technique, a firm understanding of the basics and nothing better to do with my time (and I fancied giving it a lash). Two were marketing people who had to go to China or Taiwan, while the other, an older gentleman, went to China on occasion but I believe he took the lessons as a benefit of his job to help him fight the ageing process, rather than for work. He wanted to learn to read and write which were the most difficult skills of all.
Two of them had had a long connection with China, both having visited in the 80's. I remember being jealous of them and that they had really gotten to see the speed of development by visiting at different times since. China, to be clear, has been one of the fastest developing societies in the history of the world. At that stage I'd been to the Mainland twice, in 2000 and 2003 and would be going in 2007 and felt I had only a snapshot of this change. One of my students had gone to China exactly in 1980 just a few years after China re-opened its economy. Now I'm the one with a bit of scope especially with my access to the back stories and better understanding of official and unofficial history. My association with the Mainland is almost 18 years old. It does spin the head to reflect on the changes.
Guangzhou was one of the greatest point of references in that. It was my first steps into China from Taiwan in August 2000. Back then, there were no direct flights between Taiwan and the Mainland. We had to fly to Hong Kong to apply for a visa and then cross the border. We disembarked in a dusty, unattractive area. A dirty child approached me with a flower, which I assumed was a "gimmick" for beggars and moved quickly away from her. It didn't really appeal at all as a city. Jump forward ten years and I was living happily in it.
The villages are where there is the littlest change. The villages themselves get moved around by development after all. My in-laws home, the only home I have known them in is about 10 years old. The previous home, which was apparently much more basic, was moved by a motorway development (which makes getting here all the so much easier). We visited my brother-in-law's abandoned old village which still has most of its buildings still remaining despite all the residents moved to the "new village". The homes are beautiful. But due to a dam project which would make the ground water undrinkable they were moved about 500 metres and rebuild the homes, but in a much more modern way.
As a result in the villages, the rubbish is still collectively dumped. Roads are narrow and concrete. And the water and power can be iffy. But as nostalgic as we can be about it, it's not the most comfortable place to live for modern people. It's a way of life that might have done it's dash.
I remember watching the movie Dragon Boat which had villagers in Guangzhou being moved out of their villages to make way for the High Education Megacentre (aka University Island). The elderly even when moved to the comfort of air conditioned apartments were often sadder and depressed. It uprooted them from their purpose, habits and rituals.
I hope my in-laws when the day comes can adjust to a new life. I feel lucky to have been able to see and experience it.