Saturday, November 7, 2009

Nanyang, China

Friends: A fall bicycle tour is always highlighted by the added vibrancy in the air of harvest time with so many hands busily engaged in getting the crops in. With 700 million farmers throughout China, there is a lot of harvesting going on. I share the roads with overloaded trucks of produce and see tons of various crops being prepared for market. Some of the harvest is sold at road-side stands--apples and oranges and melons and kiwis.

Yesterday I passed through a mushroom-raising region. All along the road people sat with heaping baskets of the fungi waiting for some form of transport to take their harvest to market. In towns on nearly every block there was a huge pile of mushrooms out front of some establishment with five or six women, young and old, seated around them sorting and clipping.

It was sweet potato country as well, though I didn't see any of those being brought to market, just an occasional heaping pile, much higher than the mushrooms. I didn't at first recognize the first pile I came upon as sweet potatoes. I'm so accustomed to seeing piles of bricks, which they closely resembled, that I assumed it was just another.

Its been several decades, almost as far back as the Norman Rockwell era, since fall back home was associated with the pleasant aroma of burning leaves until ordinances were passed throughout the U.S. prohibiting such a practice. That is not the case in China. My nostrils have the pleasure of the scent of burning leaves here, though all that added smoke in the air is turning my throat to sand-paper. If it gets much worse, I will start wearing a neckerchief over my nose and mouth and join the occasional person I see wearing a white gauze mask. Leaves are not all that is burned. People burn rubbish in front of their stores and homes and in the fields.

Both are practices that will no doubt soon be curtailed as China becomes more cognizant of what it is doing to the environment. There are indications aplenty that the Chinese recognize they must be responsible citizens of the world. I regularly see solar panels atop buildings, and the newspapers I've been reading all quote Chinese officials and businessmen about trying to be more green.

Litter is one of those issues that China needs to address. There are random piles of it in towns and along the road. Though locals diligently sweep in front of their homes and businesses, trash receptacles and dumpsters are a rare site. Dirty toilets and spitting and litter and all the smoking, especially in elevators, are Julie-Ann's chief pet grievances of living in China, but she sees progress. She said that last month, just before the country's massive 60th anniversary celebration of the communists taking control of the country, trash receptacles suddenly appeared without any warning everywhere on the streets in Xian.

One never knows when the government will put its might behind some issue. She and many others were hoping the government would also use the celebration as an opportunity to relax some of its Internet censorship. Up until a year ago Julie-Ann was able to maintain a blog and access others. But someone decided blogs were a menace and placed them off limits.

A fall bicycle tour in the U.S. has the added luster of Halloween decorations. There are none of those here, though Julie-Ann said there were some in Hong Kong. As China becomes more affluent and Westernized, the Chinese will surely find a way to incorporate Halloween into their lives, especially when businesses realize there is money to be made from it.

The newspapers are full of success stories of entrepreneurs making gobs of money. Not so long ago there was a term for someone who managed to accumulate $1000, an unfathomable sum back in the Mao era. If that's all one is worth in today"s China, one doesn't amount to much. Yuan millionaires, someone with $150,000 to their name, are now so commonplace they are hardly worth mentioning. Multimillionaire and billionaire is now the status that the ambitious aspire for.

With all this wealth people are challenged with what to do with all their money. Large-scale charitable giving is a new concept to the Chinese. The government has had to establish guidelines on how to go about doing it. Horse-breeding has become a significant enough hobby for these new billionaires that the governor of Kentucky recently paid a visit to China to promote his state as a source for good breeding stock.

The global economic recession has marginally effected China with imports and exports down twenty per cent. China initiated a $586 billion stimulus package to keep people employed. But car sales are up by twenty-five per cent over a year ago. In the first half of 2009 four-and-a-half million cars were sold here, more than anywhere else in the world. China boasts the world's largest beer brewery, Snow. It sold seven million tons of beer last year. The Peak sporting goods company would like to become the biggest in the world. It recently signed two more NBA players to endorse its products, neither of whom are Chinese, the 10th and 11th players under its umbrella.

China is such a thriving market, Disney is set to put its fourth theme park outside the U.S. near Shanghai--the others are in Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong. One urban area is developing as an outsourcing center with plans to do more work than all of India. Everyone thinks big here. China's leading hand-writing recognition company aims to be one of the Top 500 companies in the world. It goes on and on.

Hearing of such ambitions back in the U.S. might seem frightening, that the Chinese are taking over the world and crushing anyone who gets in their way. But being here in the midst of it seems exciting, especially being so well-treated by everyone I encounter. They don't seem intent on overwhelming the world, rather simply excelling. It was an important moment in China's development when they were admitted to the World Trade Organization, the WTO, in 2001. The world's interests are now the Chinese interests.

It knows though that it can't rely on exports and the world's purchasing power to sustain its economy. It needs to encourage consumer spending at home. Experts also comment that China needs to rely less on exporting toys and more on exporting its expertise in development. It has much of that and could contribute to making the world a more habitable place.

Later, George

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