By Sofia Catalina
My hotel room marked the first night I spent in China. Half asleep from exhaustion, my roommate and I stopped short when the door opened, thinking there must have been a mistake.
We were facing two walls of windows overlooking the Shanghai skyline, and I can remember thinking, "There's nothing in the world so huge."
Endless buildings stretch in every direction, millions of people going about their days, the skies slightly hazy. Nowhere but in China is there such rapid change and improvements, where a couple of years could mean hundreds of structures erected. The enormity of the city and the sheer number of people is simply incredible.
Chairman Mao of the People's Republic of China once said, "He who never climbed the Great Wall cannot be deemed a man." Although a bit of an overstatement, Mao got one thing right: There is nothing comparable to the greatness and magnitude of the Great Wall of China. Filled with both foreign and Chinese tourists, it is well deserving of its title as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
The Great Wall has stood for Chinese strength and power for thousands of years. Struggling up its steep inclines, it is not hard to imagine that it was the greatest building project in the world with the greatest cost in human life. This awe-inspiring structure is truly a feat of human determination, strength and sacrifice. To think of the millions of people who spent most of their lives building it makes the time-worn stones and towering outposts that much more impressive.
China has changed much from the days of the Great Wall, but, in many ways, the two are as similar as they are connected. Both are staggering in their enormity, unforgettable yet somehow indescribable.
Working out China is a seemingly impossible task, made all the harder by its rapid change and economic growth. From the light show that takes place every night on the Bund in Shanghai to the abandoned apartment buildings outside the cities, to all the things I have not yet had the chance to hear, see, taste and experience, China is an enigma, not one thing but many, a vibrant mixture of old and new that is finally pushing its way to becoming one of the most prominent world leaders of our time.
Upon returning home, many have asked me how my trip to China was, and each time I have wracked my jet-lagged brain for the words to describe what I have experienced. Awe and shock and amazement mix together with sadness as I think of the people in China who have not yet benefited or perhaps suffered from the leaps forward the country has taken. In truth, I believe I have just seen the briefest glance into a culture and society so complex I could spend years trying to create an appropriate and complete answer.