我在中国农历猴年的2004年初春来到北京。 12年后的2016年也就是中国人常说的一轮过后， 人们常问我这12年中国有哪些变化。
I arrived in Beijing in the spring of the Monkey Year 2004. Twelve years later, we greet 2016 another Year of the Monkey. I have completed the entire cycle of the Chinese zodiac. People often ask me to reflect back on how things have changed over that period.
I begin by stating I am neither a political pundit nor economic guru. I grew up in a small Mid Western American farming town in Missouri where most residents have never applied for a passport. My mother was the town librarian and so I spent many after school hours reading about far away places as I waited for her to finish work. I ultimately came to China through the Missouri Office of International Marketing to China and the University of Missouri-Columbia. I was sent to teach at the University of Hebei in Tangshan because Missouri and Hebei have a sister relationship. This is where, in 2004, my retrospective begins.
Hebei University Tangshan bicycles 2004, 2004年唐山河北大学的自行车
Tangshan friends 2004, 2004年和唐山朋友
I lived in Tangshan nearly three years before relocating to Hainan Island at the end of 2006. The air had always been dry and hazy in the frigid Hebei winters. Coal burning increased the level of pollution during the winter months but there were very few cars on the roads back then and tens of thousands of bicycles. Then it was joyfully announced that Beijing had won its bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Great Collective launched into a massive upgrade of the infrastructure surrounding the Olympic venues. Many ancient hutongs were cleared away along with the old Beijing Silk Market. Now, many people look back and wonder if these irreplaceable cultural relics were worth sacrificing.
I moved to Hainan in 2006. Compared to Hebei, life in general was even more remote. My years growing up in the farmland of America prepared me for driving rutted backwoods roads and cooking simple meals from the garden. Best of all, in spite of the challenge of speaking the local dialect, I quickly learned that the spirit of farmers is universal and I have made lifelong friends. I was quite content to be the only foreigner for hundreds of kilometers in any direction.
Boao Beach 2007，2007年博鳌海滩
In 2009, Hainan was declared an International Tourism Zone. Seemingly overnight, highways leading to 5 star resorts sprung up. Overseas Hainanese as well as mainlanders flocked to the once sleepy island to stake their claims and build, build, build. Behind my home in Boao town on the east coast, a 20 story hotel gleamed where once had been a field of flowers and an unobstructed view of the South China Sea. Real estate prices soared to dizzying heights. The value of the apartment I purchased in Hainan’s capital city of Haikou has tripled in value. Foreigners started to arrive. Chinese supermarkets such as RT Mart sprang up followed by the French Carrefour. I could now buy cheese and butter and Budweiser (brewed by Missouri brewer Anheiser-Busch) without having to go to a wholesale restaurant supplier. Car ownership exploded followed by improvements in public transport. Hainan now boasts the worlds first circular high speed rail system and busses in Haikou city have wifi.
This brings me to what I believe is the most significant change of all: WeChat and social media in China. It’s hard to imagine that the app we all depend on everyday in China did not exist 5 years ago. The advent of smart phone technology combined with built in cameras has allowed the spread of information and ideas to even the most illiterate of rural citizens while the international version now connects me to family and friends all around the world. With more than 600 million monthly active users, it is easier than ever to stay abreast of currents events happening inside China and globally.
This type of connectivity along with WeiBo, AliPay and my personal favorite, Lucky Red Envelopes has truly been the “Cultural Revolution” of the century so far. That along with the surge of Chinese citizens travelling abroad for pleasure, work and study has helped create what has been called “China’s Peaceful Rise”.
Finally, I come to what I believe is the most significant change of all. That is, the changes that have taken place in me. Confronted by vast cultural differences on a daily basis, I soon learned that applying the principles of Taoism such as “Be like Water” and “WuWei (do nothing)” were the best ways of weathering the storms of life even though they initially seemed counterintuitive to my Western way of thinking. Twelve years living in a country whose history dates back more than 5,000 years has helped me reach a profound level of respect, tolerance and patience with challenges and conflict that I never would have attained had I stayed in my cozy little farming community.
Miao friends 2015， 2015年和海南苗族朋友
Elizabeth conducts tours to remote Miao Villages and Historic walks in Haikou’s old districts. She can be reached at email@example.com.