General OpEd Article
By Graeme Mills
'Tai Gui le'
(tie g'way ler)
"Tai gui le" (too expensive) were the first Chinese words I used. I had walked out of the customs area at GuangZhou airport and was an obvious mark for the helpful young men who descended on me. One led me off with much gesticulating and obvious heartfelt concern for my well-being. The asking price for helping to negotiate around 60 metres was 100 Yuan. I did not know if that was too expensive but I did know that all prices had to be negotiated, so I negotiated. He looked crestfallen, as if I had insulted his mother, grandmother and a string of ancestors. I probably just looked confused. Hence the final price was 60 yuan, which was probably three times as much as I should have paid.
On time 99% of the time. Dream on. The one announcement burned into my psyche is along the lines of, rattle, squawk, static, we regret to inform you that flight CS - 983 to Nanning has been delayed 飞机不飞了. They pack many more people into Chinese domestic aeroplanes. I got an un-interrupted view of the cabin wall, while resting my knees in my ears.
On the flight into GuangZhou I saw how a country can accommodate 1.4 billion people. They do it in countless high-rise apartment blocks. I was intrigued to see farmers working the land beside the airport and in and about the high-rise apartments and factories. That was to become a feature of China for me: the 21st Century beside millennia of tradition, poverty side by side with wealth. In the West we rely on fossil fuels to plant and harvest our food and transport it to where the population is. In China, they rely on labour to a far greater extent do the same thing [though that is obviously changing]. Hence, if there is a major oil shock, the industrial capacity of China will be affected, but they will still be able to feed themselves. How will we do that in the West, since we cannot even plant the crops, let alone have the widespread knowledge to do so?
I was going to China to meet a friend, Xiaosui, who I had met while teaching English. Indeed, she owned the school and with her I have met many very interesting and often highly placed people. My China experience was not travelling and sightseeing, it was not going from doss house to doss house and living on noodles, it was not travelling on public transport (though I did go on an extended overnight train journey to Kunming, of which I will regale you with tales of woe and discomfort later), it was not business, it was not teaching. It was fitting into the heart of a Chinese family and a close network of friends in a small Chinese city largely un-influenced by the west. Indeed, in my first five months I only met two Europeans. I lived in an apartment in the centre of the city beside a lake. So, my view of China is personal and not in the least bit objective.
From the official government website on Nanning - 'The total population is 6.3470 million, consisting of over 36 minorities, such as Zhuang Nationality, Miao Nationality, Hui Nationality, Yao Nationality, etc. Among all the population, 1.4039 million are urban residents. People of all nationalities are living together friendly and harmoniously. The unique local traditions and the diversified ethnic cultures have provided Nanning with an open, tolerant and creative culture.'
Nanning is located about 250 north of the Vietnamese border. It has always been the trading city between China and Vietnam and still is. It hosts a major Expo each October for SE Asia and is looking to become a hub for SE Asian commerce. Like all cities in China, it is constantly evolving and growing with apartment blocks springing up like the proverbial mushrooms. As I was being driven around, rather alarmingly, in the local taxis, I could not help thinking to myself that if the people in America are wondering where their money has gone, I can tell them. It is being used to build high-rise buildings and factories in China.
I think of America and China as two houses side by side. America built a large mansion and tended its gardens very well, growing food and flowers. Beside it was a small mud hut with the land being inefficiently tilled. Then the people in the mud hut started to make clothes for the rich people next door, who soon forgot how to make their own clothes. Then the people in the mud hut built a second mud hut and asked the people in the rich mansion if they could help them set up a factory and show them the technology to make widgets, of which the people in the rich mansion where particularly fond and which were a real pain to make. Best of all, the people in the mud hut could make the widgets for less and less money. And as widgets only had a limited life, that was a good thing, since they could keep on buying them from the people in the mud hut for ever and ever, cheaper and cheaper. There was obviously no need for the people in the rich mansion to ever work again, the people in the mud hut would do it for them. And so on and so on. However, the people in the rich mansion soon found that without working they could not buy widgets, or clothes. So rather than work they first spent their savings [which didn't take long, since they were very meagre indeed], then they persuaded their friendly central bank to print lots of money and being devilishly clever, they paid for the widgets with bits of paper. Ha Ha Ha, sucks on you Chinese. BUT!, those little bits of paper are still real claims on the wealth of the Rich Mansion.
Over time, the people in the rich mansion not only gave all their money to the people in the mud hut and told them how to make just about everything, they, rather than work, borrowed money to purchase their widgets from the people in the mud-hut -- who all the time were very polite and smiled a lot, while reading Sun Tzu, 'The Art of War'.
Now the people in the rich mansion, which is starting to need some maintenance, I gotta tell you - are in effect renting from the people in the mud hut, who have watched in amusement as this young nation full of hormones goes around the world fighting everyone and throwing its wealth away. 'The Art of War' counsels that you should never extend your lines or dissipate your strength on far away battles, and that the nation that does will surely lose the war.
Postscript: I use the references to 'The Art of War' in an economic tactical and strategic sense not a military sense. China is certainly not looking for a war with any county. Well, possibly with the exception of Taiwan ... in the fullness of time ... when it is propitious ... when the people in the rich mansion are fixing their leaking roof.
Oh, and taxi drivers in China should charge at least double for a journey in the front seat of their taxi. It is far more exciting than any theme park ride.