On the ground, life in China is never like the tourist trade implies and nothing like any of the various academic, newspaper or other media portrayals of the developing economy with £$£$£$£$$$$$ £££ GDP etc.
Another culture, yes definitely, I feel odd and out of place nearly all the time even though lots is by now familiar to me, I have visited at least ten times in the past ten years, sometimes for several months at a time. My stories are not of the Great Wall but more of the sitting on the wall with the other grannies at the bottom of the tower block. Not this time, the boys are now 7 years old and don’t go in for sitting much unless there is an i-pad or laptop in front of them, and that would occupy them all day if they were allowed to stay glued to the screen. Childhood is another culture now too.
We all know China is full of people – millions of them. Try traveling in to Guangzhou center by bus and metro and you will become pretty closely acquainted with more than you wished for. Just like the London tube in rush hour, or any other city, people smell, smile, frown, chatter, talk to their phones etc etc. as they stand crowded together. Here I am better off than in other places as I am obviously Western, greyhaired and OLD. Some young guy always offers me a seat, in China chivalry, or politeness to strangers, is alive and well.
GDP means nothing of importance, no matter how much economists or politicians think it does, until it starts measuring the ordinariness of just getting on with life. As feminists have been saying for a long time, getting the dinner ready, doing the laundry, is not counted as paid work in GDP. Neither is offering a seat to an older person on your way to your paid work. But all these things matter to the way an ordinary life is lived, just as much if not more than GDP. The life of most is invisible.