Monday, January 26, 2009

Australia Day special: An Australian's perspective on China

In October last year I spent nearly a month in China. Here are my considered reflections as we celebrate all that is good about Australia on our special day. (This post is way off topic - indulge me my moment of introspection).

Top 10 things wrong with China (I can be a cranky fellow)
  1. The "mist"/pollution - serious air quality issues here will lead to terrible chronic disease over time. Why burn off rubbish? Why does every male still smoke? No, it is not mist in the countryside if you can't see blue sky on an otherwise clear day. Where is the blue sky?
  2. Traffic - too many cars (not enough car parking), chaotic streets (the footpath may or may not exist depending on who has decided to park their conveyance or set up their stall on the 1-1 1/2 metre "footpath"), too many car horns, does no one know what a red light is? Things are improving such as divided roads so that oncoming cars don't veer towards you to overtake.
  3. Maintenance - hasn't been taken seriously enough. Something will look great when it is built but then will not be maintained sufficiently (hotels/public furniture in parks). Maybe its the usual lack of forward planning by spending the budget on getting it built and then not having any funds. Maybe it is a more tropical atmosphere.
  4. Monumentalism - some seriously big monuments/gestures but some of them don't last or are soulless. I'm thinking of some of the areas around the Olympic venue here. I couldn't really get into the concept of Tiananmen square either. Maybe the scale daunts me - a large gathering of people that isn't going to a sporting match - that's crazy!
  5. Commerce gone mad - Every park and tourist attraction has shops. Every house with a retail frontage is a shop. Too many people are selling the same things - on the street and in shops particularly to tourists. I've heard about convenience but this is taking it too far. Isn't diversity the spice of life? More diversity please - people will take more of an interest and you'll make more money. If everyone opens a restaurant or a boutique guess what - most of that sector will become unprofitable and you'll have to find another craze. Obviously the product of bottling up people's capitalist inclinations too long - won't take too many bankruptcies
  6. Apeing the US model too closely - just because the US does it doesn't mean its a great idea. Go for smaller cars. More fuel economy. Don't build inefficient cities just because the US can't be bothered doing it. Show us a different way.
  7. Spitting on the street - dirty habit. Will say no more.
  8. Translations/Chinglish - my Chinese is hopeless but I don't try to write public signage or explanations of historical events. Just check with a native English speaker to give it a once over for colloquial English usage - I'm sure they're happy to help to avoid embarrassment. Thanks for making an effort though - much better than nothing!
  9. Concentrated population - just like Australia however in China most people live in 10 storey apartment complexes instead of a quarter acre block. Not a place for a backyard game of cricket. On the plus side the one country where they have done their bit to reduce the unsustainable growth of our worldwide population.
  10. English - some of the tour guides who have studied English at University still have trouble speaking English clearly and seem to have learnt their patter from a script. Any deviation leads to fruitless attempts to be understood.

Top 10 good things with China (I'm easily amused)
  1. Investment in infrastructure - so many roads (at least 5 concentric ring roads in Beijing), subways, public facilities, dams, canals, good mobile coverage. These aren't used to capacity yet which is evidence of forward planning. Similarly their infrastructure investment seems to have begun in the 1980s and constant rather than the usual knee jerk we haven't invested in infrastructure for the last 10 years - help.
  2. Food - it was good. At some places s-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y good.
  3. Traffic lights that count down - brilliant especially for the anxious. You know exactly how many seconds you need to wait until the lights go green but see point 2 above.
  4. People - are generally very friendly and inquisitive about foreigners. Although just because I have two little children they are not necessarily twins. Thanks for asking...and asking.
  5. Feeling of safety - maybe everyone is too scared to interfere with foreigners but in any case I always felt safe. How can you not when everyone is throwing backward glances at you :-)
  6. Gender equality - I saw more female taxi drivers than China than in my entire life. The situation is similar in most professions. Not only are women doing it but they are providing they are equal/better at the task.
  7. Clean cars - The car as a personal shrine - kept scrupulously clean to the point drivers become upset if you have unruly children that smudge the white linen in their cabs. Fixed fares for short distances. Wake up Australia there is another way.
  8. Culture, history and natural wonders - a very large and diverse place with so many different experiences. Their 55 minority groups represent 8% of the population or 105 million people. As you realise as you travel although the official national language is Mandarin there is huge diversity in the language spoken in each major city and province. They've managed to maintain these linguistic differences and culture.
  9. Police on street corners who also act as street directories - I just like the concept of having a more visible police presence that will help whatever the problem. I guess they can do it because there are so many of them.
  10. Shop opening hours - 9.30am to 9pm most days. Want to go to a shop after work? Not a problem it will be open even after you have dinner. Now why haven't we thought about that?
This is what I remember. Nothing gives you a better perspective on what you have and how good it is than travelling for an extended period.

Chinese Ethnicities
Three Gorges Dam
Yang Shuo
Temple of Heaven

Bridge Along Yangzte
Bridge along Yangtze River
Guilin Natural Scenery
The Great Wall

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