Across Siberia to China.

One of the more interesting trips I’ve taken was a train ride from Moscow across Siberia to Mongolia, then across the border into China and south to Beijing and Shanghai. Once again the message to be heard and hopefully learned: Fundamentally, people are all the same.

The first of many surprises was realizing that in Siberia there are cities with populations of well over a million people . . . people who go to work every day on modern metro systems.

By contrast, after leaving what we think of as Russia, we passed a great many small Siberian villages. Well, barely villages . . . really just clusters of perhaps eight or ten small houses. I noticed that every back yard was being used to grow vegetables. No available space “wasted” on a lawn. And at the far end of every back yard was what could only be a privy. Imagine having to get up out of a warm bed and use the privy on a cold winter’s night in Siberia!

Here’s an interesting photograph. What else could it be, but a Mongolian mother taking her daughter to school on the way to work? They live in a traditional Mongolian yurt, but she drives a relatively new model car.

When our group was in China, we visited Tienemin Square in Beijing. It was an insensitive question, but I asked our Chinese tour guide where in that huge square was the courageous young man standing when he stood in front of the tank, preventing it from possibly firing on other protesters.

Our guide hemmed and hawed uncomfortably. Then, barely noticably he nodded toward a Chinese man, age of about 50, who was about 25 feet away. I immediately noticed that he was holding something the size of a carton of cigarettes up to his ear.  That’s when I realized that the Chinese government was monitoring what the guides were telling the tourists! Welcome to China!

But it gets worse.

Several days later, I was in Shanghai having lunch with a young woman who was my guide for the day.

I had noticed a number of very tall, very unattractive concrete apartment buildings when my train from Beijing was arriving into the city.

My guide told me that her parents and their parents before them had owned and lived in a very nice European-style single family house in what was once the French section of the city. Three generations of one family!

She said that just two weeks before our very pleasant luncheon, a government official came to their front door unannounced at 10 o’clock at night and gave them an eviction notice and the address of their new apartment: 400 square feet on the 45th floor of one of those ugly new concrete high-rise buildings. They were given 10 days to prepare for the move . . . which meant that her parents and her grandmother would have to get rid of most of their furniture and other belongings. She seemed sad, but resigned to their fate.

Lucky we live U.S.!