In 2008, the Chinese put on the summer Olympic Games that were an attempt to show they had entered the modern world and were ready for the 21st Century to be the Chinese century. After spending eight days in China’s two largest cities, I am here to tell you that short of a miracle this century will be America’s century -- again.
There is no question there are some aspects of this country having made progress. After spending five days in Beijing we were ready to say Hasta la Vista China and relieved to be in Korea (see prior column). But then Shanghai redeemed China for us. It is much more sophisticated and beats Beijing as a place to visit hands down. The French Concession (an area dating back to the mid-19th century) has as much charm and culture as any place in any city in the world. In both cities high-end hotels and stores are everywhere bringing one to wonder who is buying all this stuff.
This is a country that cannot deliver drinking water to its citizens in its hallmark cities. We could not eat chicken while we were here. There currently is a major disruption of the rice supply which is tainted with cadmium. Outside the few major cities it is a third world country. Going to the bathroom outside the cities takes you back a century or two. There are more peasants in this country than America has people. The pollution is so bad the cars in Beijing are covered with dirt. My wife and I decided we were going to open a string of carwashes in Beijing and become billionaires.
The cab drivers are totally clueless about where to go (when you were not dealing with bandit cabs.) Even when our hotel gave the driver instructions and we had a card to give them to bring us home, it was always an adventure as to whether we were going to get to our destination. And speaking of adventures, driving the streets of Beijing was best done with your eyes closed. In America we are taught the most dangerous light is a green light because you think you have the right to go and you still need to make sure the cross traffic is stopping. The most dangerous light in China is any light. It is hard to tell what light the drivers are moving on and when they are stopping for cross traffic. Pedestrians risk their lives just by being on the streets as cars never stop. On the other hand, the pedestrians walk in such haphazard ways it is shocking the death toll is not in the thousands. In Shanghai our driver drove by a dimwitted pedestrian not looking and knocked his cell phone out of his hands into the street with the side-view mirror.