Friday, November 1, 2013

Looking Back at Zigong

Man walking down a relatively quiet street in Zigong, China

Two years ago I spent about 10 days in Zigong--a city in Southwest China's Sichuan province. Zigong was where I perused a dinosaur museum with a "romantic scene", saw more of the various mobile phones for sale in China, watched a Mother's Day fashion show, met a friendly family in a neighborhood of older homes, and chatted with another friendly group of people at a restaurant. It's also where I found examples useful for contrasting the online lives of students in mainland China and Taiwan, comparing Google's, Baidu's, and later Bing's online map services (here and here), and showing how a global online social networking service such as Facebook could potentially address unmet needs in China.

Like almost everywhere else I have been in China, there is more I could say than what I have already expressed here. And soon I will share another another aspect of Zigong which caught my eyes. But first, I want to bring attention to the reason Zigong came to mind today. China correspondent Rob Schmitz first went to Zigong in 1996 as a Peace Corps Volunteer and recently made a return visit. In an article on Marketplace he shares some of the changes he saw in the city and his acquaintances there:
Zeng picks me up in the provincial capital of Chengdu in his brand new Volkswagon bug. Each day, this city limits traffic to certain numbered license plates to curb air pollution. To get around that, Zeng simply bought five cars – one for every day of the week. He’s on the move. At 29 years old, he’s now one of China’s top young artists. "When I was young, I played with toy cars, but I never imagined I’d ever be able to buy one," Zeng tells me as we speed down the expressway.
Schmitz's account reminds me of the changes I've seen since I first set food in China only 8 years ago, whether while living in Shanghai or from revisiting cities such Kunming, Quanzhou, and Changchun. And it makes me wonder what changes I would notice in Zigong after a little more than 2 years. For example, Schmitz notes Zigong's relatively new Walmart, which I saw when I visited (shown in the mobile phone post), but I wonder if the Mall-mart (shown in the Mother's day post) on the other side of the river is still there. What became of the student (mentioned in the Facebook post) who felt "crushed" by the limitations of his college and degree? And has the home of the friendly family I met continued to survive China's relentless development?

I don't know. Although Zigong is on a list of places I would like to revisit in China, the list is long and there is always more to see. Making return visits such as Schmitz's can be incredible, especially in a country changing at a remarkably fast pace. I recommend reading Schmitz's full article here for a taste of those changes.

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