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China Rising

Dale Johnson Posted by Dale Johnson in On Location May 6th, 2014

 As youngsters we heard, "If you drill straight down through the Earth you would come out in China." That comprised just about the sum total of our knowledge of China. Perhaps the improvement in knowledge since then has been slight.

We all know of our foreign aid program for China. Not a Congressional act, but enormous amounts of U.S. dollars to China, sent through the conduit of Walmart. 

 
At least some of the rise of the middle class in China can be attributed to our purchases of low-cost goods, although there are other reasons for the remarkable growth of their economy in the past three decades. 
 
One American tourist remarked recently that what China has achieved in 20 years took the U.S. a 100 years to accomplish. He was referring to the upscale, modernist look of Shanghai with its 24 million people: four times larger than NY City.
 
 
There are 3000 buildings in Shanghai that are
higher than 30 stories,
 
There are eight lane highways through the City and traffic seems to fill them all. This is true in all the cities I visited. 
 
China does indeed have cars...lots of cars. There are at least 20 Chinese companies that manufacture autos, and many of the World’s auto builders also make or assemble cars in China: companies such as General Motors, Chrysler, Audi, Volvo, Volkswagen, Toyota, Nissan, and others. Last year (2013) more cars were purchased in China than were purchased in the U.S. You can see the manifestation of that buying spree in the traffic. 
 
We often use the term ‘unbelievable’ in our
  The Shanghai World Financial Tower
tops out at 121 stories.
conversation, but traffic in China truly is ‘unbelievable’ to our American sensibilities. Vehicles casually pull in front of other drivers with impunity, trusting that the driver behind won’t actually crash into him. In our Country a driver would be outraged at such an act, and you might possibly get shot for such an action here. But in China, drivers just ebb and flow ‘with the traffic’ as it were, and everyone accepts such driving behavior with equanimity. Even bicycle riders will pull out into pretty heavy traffic with calm assurance that no one will do them in. 
 
In the same way that you and I will walk through a crowded shopping mall or airport, sort of making way for other people, giving a bit here, or taking a quick step forward to avoid colliding there, so goes the flow of auto traffic in China. But it’s a sphincter tightening experience for us to engage in or to watch as an American driver.
 
 
 
In one upscale mall an ordinary living room
chair might cost $6000.
I learned that China has more millionaires than any other nation. The richest woman in the World is a Chinese lady who has built a fortune on recycled waste from America. However, as you will surmise, there are still many Chinese at the very low end of the economic scale. But a rising middle class is upending the traditional view of China as a very poor country. 
 
In one upscale mall there were items that most Americans couldn’t afford to purchase. An ordinary living room chair, for example, might cost $6000. The upscale has gone very upscale in some sectors of China and such retail outlets seem to be thriving there.
 
I had expected China to be sort of a dirty place
with littered streets. Not true.

 
I had expected China to be sort of a dirty place with littered streets. Not true. Not true today. At five in the morning, street sweepers will be working the streets of the major cities I visited. In Harbin for instance, one of the smaller cities of China (eight and a half million, but still larger than NY City), after the streets were swept, motorized tank trucks would pass through, washing the streets. This continued throughout the day.
 
In the northeast part of China we traveled to the Heilongjiang Province, a major agricultural region. We were almost to the border of Russian Siberia. Driving through this area reminds one of traveling in Iowa, with vast reaches of corn fields and soybean fields.
 
Near the border of Russian Siberia are vast reaches
of corn fields and soybean fields. Driving through
this area reminds one of traveling in Iowa,
It is still a region of small farmers who have a plot of land to farm, but the farmers live collectively in villages scattered throughout the province. Some larger farms are being developed now however, and we visited a 40 thousand acre enterprise where modern farming equipment is being used in ways similar to what is done in the U.S. John Deere has a large plant in this region and is looking toward a growing and expanding market for their products. 
 
There are virtually no fat people in China. I suppose we always attributed that to the notion of many poor people in China. But there is a distinctly affluent class now, and they remain unfattened, so to speak. There seems to be an abundance of food today, but the the diet is different than we are accustomed to. 
 
A Chinese restaurant has a large lazy susan in the
center and as many as 20 dishes, most will
be vegetarian, or rice and tofu.
There is very little meat in Chinese cuisine. They use almost no sugar, but lots of vegetables. Even when meat is served, it is usually mixed in a vegetable dish. In a Chinese restaurant there may be 20 dishes on the lazy susan in the center of the table and most will be vegetarian, or rice and tofu. Some meat is served of course, and it is most often small portions of pork. For American tourists, there will be exceptions. 
 
Everywhere there are tourists by the hundreds. They are Chinese tourists: not so many are foreigners. The Chinese in great numbers are visiting all the monuments and historic places in China today. On the Great Wall (which the Chinese call the Long Wall) people are everywhere...Chinese tourists. 
 
The Great Wall is about 4000 miles long, stretching from the Yellow Sea, or the East China Sea, to the western barrens where the Wall is now almost unnoticeable, almost indistinguishable in the landscape. In those far reaches of China the Wall is now only a few feet high in some places, it’s stones and brick having been scavenged for other building projects.
 
Copyright Depositphotos.com/Zhang Heming
The Great Wall (which the Chinese call the Long Wall)
people are everywhere...Chinese tourists.
Copyright istockphoto.com/ccahill
North of the Capital of Beijing it has been restored and this is the part of the Wall most often visited.
 
You may have heard that the Great Wall is the only man-made object visible from the Moon. Not true. It’s not as wide as a four lane highway and there are many other man-made structures that are larger.
 
China is now the second largest economy and still expanding. It’s rate of growth is slowing now to single digit percentages rather than the double digit rate it has sustained for two decades. It is still a Country worth watching, and a Country worth knowing. A fascinating People with a vibrancy, hunger and ambition to make things happen.
 
Dale Johnson is represented by Windoes Travelogues.


 

 

 

 

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