My wife is in China as we speak. She is a guest speaker, having been invited to China to speak at a conference of the Chinese competitive intelligence industry. For those who do not grasp that term, “competitive intelligence” is sort of industrial spying, but it is LEGAL. It is the gathering of information about what a business or industry is doing today and planning to do in future. It is a common practice in the business world to remain competitive by keeping an eye on the competition.
My wife’s trip to China is revealing to her an interesting dichotomy. China has an exploding, first world economy, but China itself is still a rather backward, colloquial and unsophisticated nation by many Western standards. According to this statistic, China is 91st lowest in the world in per capita GDP, falling behind other third world nations like Bosnia & Herzegovina.
She and I talk daily and to hear the anecdotal evidence is truly shocking. A “four star” hotel in China is not what a westerner would consider a four star experience, and not by any small margin, but by leaps and bounds. Only in the major cities of Beijing, Shanghai and a tiny few others would a westerner discover accommodation on any scale as the average MOTEL here in the US.
Contrary to what we often hear in America, while perhaps the uber sophisticated in China speak English as a second language, far and away most Chinese do not speak word one of our native tongue. Not only do the cab drivers, bartenders and hotel maids not speak English, but largely even the hotel managers in the tourist city of Xi’an do not understand English at all. Most of the people employed at tourist destinations do not speak English. Xi’an is the city where the Terracotta Warriors were found and displayed. Xi’an is a major destination for world travelers, yet for the most part it is a place that has not caught up with its reputation.
According to the lovely Mrs. Whiplash, Beijing is much more “tourist friendly” in that more people speak English. Of course 99.99% of Americans do not speak Mandarin, but how many times have we heard how advanced China is? How “everyone” learns English and we, the US are arrogant for not learning other languages as a matter of course? Such laments are merely America hating denigrations, for as the factual and anecdotal evidence shows, the vast, vast, vast majority of Chinese have not clue one to a single word of English.
Certainly one would think if China were as we are told, where everyone learns English and they are so far advanced beyond us for their alleged “international flavor,” then wouldn’t the people who work in hotels and drive taxis in the tourist areas speak at least some basic English? That is clearly how we who have not been to China have it portrayed to us. What a load of bull!
In the morning my wife will return to Beijing to give another speech to a different group, as she was simultaneously invited by two separate groups to come and speak, and she is eager to return to Beijing which is – only slightly mind you – more tourist friendly and only slightly less backward.
She did say one thing for the Chinese though — they are people who when they are your hosts, will go out of their way to accommodate one. Her Beijing hosts have arranged a car for her to have a private, free of charge to her, tour of the city. She will see The Forbidden City and be driven to a local section of the Great Wall — two things she is very eager to see.
I guess I wrote this for two reasons ‘” one was to brag on my wife who is an intelligent, accomplished and recognized person in her field and also to correct some impressions even I had before her plane landed after the 14 hour flight from DC to Beijing. She has been in China for a week and will not be home until about Midnight on Thursday, June 2.
Perhaps my wife’s experiences can serve as a cautionary tale for those of us who are constantly assaulted with being told what a horrid place the US is and just how damned wonderful almost everywhere else is. On my wife’s first night in China she called and said she wished she were coming home in the morning.
Exotic? Yes. A fascinating and ancient culture? For certain. Historically important? No doubt. But China is also a nation of 1.4 billion persons. The standard of living of the entire nation is exceptionally low. They are not sophisticated for the most part and certainly to all but the most hardy, China is most certainly an arduous adventure back in time. Wanna see how our ancestors lived before all the modcons we take for granted? Go to anywhere in China but for Beijing and Shanghai and one will indeed see a third world nation being drug into the 21st Century, albeit at the pace of a snail.
But for their huge land area, vast mineral resources and massive population, in the main China is so foreign to Westerners as to almost be the Moon. For the most part China is backward. China is also one of, if not the leading, polluter on Earth. Smog is overwhelming and NOT an environmentally sound or sustaining nation for the most part. According to Democratic Underground, China is building 3 coal power plants per week for the next ten years. Talk about pollution?
And the US is an evil place bent on empire and wealth, caring not for the fate of our fragile planet and the flora and fauna we evil American’s gleefully sacrifice? Puleeeeze!
I did not undertake this effort to belittle China or their people, but to make the point that while China has an explosive economy, it is an overpopulated and largely backward nation. Outside of a tiny few cities, China is almost medieval in many ways. A huge percentage of China’s population still live as their ancestors did 1000 years ago. Oxen still pull plows and most people live in stone and clay huts.
And while the sheer size of China’s population does make it a shaker and mover on a worldwide stage, it’s only real threat to the West is its massive scale. China is not a threat to us in the West unless we buy into the notion that not only is China a potential economic powerhouse, but that the culture and individuals of China are superior to the West. That is a load of bull being pushed by the usual suspects who somehow manage to find everywhere else on this rock to be superior to we evil capitalist Americans.
I wouldn’t take $10 million dollars to live in China, even if less than $100 USD is enough to stay in all but the Ritz in Beijing! Folks, don’t buy what the haters sell — that the US is so bad and evil, polluting and all concerned for making a buck. China is dirty, polluted, backward and in fact many who move on the periphery of the western tourist industry in China see Western tourists as a walking, talking opportunity to make a buck and many in a very underhanded and decidedly NOT generous manner. But still, I envy my wife for the experience of having seen such an historical place, but eating unidentifiable foods, and yes, even in hotels that “cater” to western tourists, well that’s not my cup of tea and I have an iron gut and can eat roadkill fer Christsakes!
When it comes to China I think some photos will do just fine! Is that arrogant of me? Fine. I wouldn’t trade my life and where I was born and live for $100 million dollars. Course I am a colloquial nationalist who actually likes my nation and MOST of my countrymen. How positively redneck and hateful of me, no?