Tuesday, February 12, 2008

China Rising

I just came back from my second trip to China. The first one was a 2 week visit in Summer of 2005 and was a whirlwind of impressions from all the places we saw (Beijing, Shanhaiguan, Shanghai, Suzhou, Hanzhou). This time, my wife and daughter spent most of our time in Shanhaiguan with my in-laws. But since we arrived/departed in Beijing, I also got to check up on the Olympic preparations.

China is such a place of contrasts for me: on one hand, I'm thrilled by the energy the whole country exudes. Everyone, especially in the big cities, seems so up-beat and hopeful about the future. The truly gigantic amount of construction going on in the metropolitan areas just serves to underscore this hope for the future. One feels the proverbial dragon awakening. On the other hand, it also feels like China is trading its population's health for a seat at the global economic table. The air quality, at least in all the places I've been to, is truly bad. Based on my short experience breathing this air, I truly believe that the people of China will have a long-term price to pay for all this pollution.

I want to make it clear that I'm not condemning the Chinese for the pollution in their country. Quite the contrary - I'm awed that with over 1 billion people living in the country and it being the factory for the entire world, China is still "just" the second largest polluter in the world (I believe that title still belongs to our good ole' USA). I am simply saddened that the Chinese people have to pay this price. Think about it: the Western world (Europe, US) got to pollute the planet for a few hundred years to achieve its current standard of living - pretty much avoiding paying any penalties for this abuse. The Chinese are now trying to catch up, but with the world already as polluted as it is and with the size of its population, this can no longer be done without consequences. Sad.

Change of subject: Chinese driving style :-) Although roads exhibit plenty of traffic signs, lights, etc., they seem to be generally ignored. People seem to do pretty much as they please. The only thing that seems to be, more or less, observed is the speed limit. That is probably the saving grace in all this traffic chaos - in my two visits to the country, I only saw two traffic accidents (both in Beijing) and they were very minor ones.

Well, that's it for now. In my next installment, I want to talk about Education. Growing up in Germany and the US and having a wife who is Chinese and a daughter that is beginning to go through the US educational system, I want to share my humble (not!) opinions on the subject.

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