Archive for June, 2013

Remembering China # 5: Shanghai

June 27, 2013

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Shanghai. Wonderful, amazing Shanghai. I truly love this city, and when I think about China, it’s here that I miss the most. I would give anything to go back there, to live and work.

Shanghai is a city that’s rapidly changing – and not necessarily for the better. This formerly European concession was unlike any other place that I experienced in China. Of the 10 or so cities that I visited, Shanghai had the most distinctive personality.

The thing that makes Shanghai so special, is the old vs new. Beyond the amazing skyline, full of some of the most amazing buildings you’ll ever see, lies a facade of 18th century style European buildings that are truly beautiful. As I walked along a street that ran behind the tourist infested Bund, when I squinted my eyes and the people became just people, and not Chinese, I could have easily been in Melbourne. At night, when the Bund is lit up to the nines, and the old style buildings are glowing yellow with the snapping Chinese flags above each of them, it truly is an amazing sight. Across the river, the Pudong is also aglow, with the famous Pearl tower with its distinctive shape taking centre stage.

But what I loved most about shanghai was its feel. When you really get in there among the twisting roads and lane ways, it’s an amazing place. From the French concession, with its twisted trees stumps before old colonial style buildings, to the older streets lined with alleyways that could easily have been movie sets. There’s power lines and washing hanging above dusty bicycles and old Chinese characters painted on the walls. It’s simply intoxicating.

But unfortunately much of the old Chinese charm is also disappearing. Great blocks of old Chinese houses are being torn down in favour of skyrises. It was among these districts where you would find those amazing laneways, and snapshots of what the older city would have been like. The reality unfortunately is that while these places are visually amazing, the living conditions inside them are the opposite. Many old Shanghai citizens have been relocated out of the central city district into the suburbs, and relocated into high rise apartments.

But i have found that among people who have been to Shanghai, it is a polarising place. Some people love it, others, not so much. I think that it can come down to how you view the city, and what efforts you make to really get in among it. I had the luxury or visiting it on a quite regular basis. Compared to Wuxi, Shanghai was the closest ‘big’ city (they’re all big in China, really), and had the highest prospect of finding foreign goods such as English language novels and various other products. But beyond that, I also had a chance to walk around it like a local – with no agenda, and i think that made the difference. From simple tasks to just going in search of good coffee (which rocked in the French district incidentally) to finding a decent hairdressor, to enjoying watching all the locals do their tai chi and folk dancing in one of the many parks.
I hope to return to China in 2014, and it’s Shanghai that I am most excited to return to, and this time photograph with a proper SLR.

Demystifying the Chinese Economy with Professor Justin Yifu Lin

June 8, 2013

I recently attended a free lecture, run by Melbourne University entitled ‘Demystifying the Chinese Economy.’ It was run by former head of the World Bank, Professor Justin Yifu Lin and I have to say that while it was interesting, I didn’t learn really anything new. That was partially because the information was quite raw economical data, speaking about growth in percentages, but also because it was actually quite difficult to understand him speak!

Professor Lin had a fairly thick accent, and I could understand most of what was said, but a couple of times, there was a key word that I just could not work out what it was – it sounded like extortions, but it wouldn’t be that, because it was said in such a way:

“And the reason the Chinese economy was able to sustain over 9% growth for over 30 years was thisdamnedwordIcantunderstand!”

The frustration!

Anyhow, I am glad I went regardless, as I have a continued interest in anything that relates back to China. It did amuse me though, with half the room Chinese – likely economics & business students from the university, and the other half white/westerners, it’s possible that no-one actually understood what was being said! Perhaps if he did the lecture in Chinese then at least half the room would have been crystal clear!
There were a few things that I found interesting in what Professor Lin spoke of. He mentioned that as part of the growth and economic success of China, there of course had been problems too. He felt that the biggest issue that China faced was the disparity in wealth, with vast gaps still remaining between the countries rich and poor. In fact, he said despite the countries success, many Chinese were not happy because of this money disparity.

Professor Justin Lin

He listed several other negatives, which escape me now, but one thing I found interesting was that there was no mention at all to the damage China has caused to its environment as part of this massive growth. Now everyone is no doubt aware of the problem China faces with pollution – all problems of its own making, but what about the neighboring countries? How do you think the Japanese feel about the smog coming across the sea from China to pollute them? How about Vietnam, which is also copping it? It’s simply unacceptable.

Getting back to the reason for China’s success, in a nutshell, it can be put down to China leveraging its strengths as a nation. Back in the late 1970’s when this all began, it couldn’t compete with the other developing economies from a technological point of view, but it could compete in manpower. This has seen China develop into what is often termed the world’s factory.

So what then happens, when all of these millions of workers become fed up with working in factories – for peanuts no less? Yes there are income disparities, but what about quality of life? China now does have the money to upgrade its technology, and while I am no expert in factory based manufacturing, I think that logically, it would follow a path of many other countries, where manual labour is replaced by robots and machines automating much of the process.

What happens to these millions of people if they decide to do something else but slave away in a factory?

He mentioned that other countries could follow the Chinese model of success, but really, I can’t see that happening. There’s no way known you’d get a typical Australian to work the amount of hours a typical Chinese factory worker does, or for such low pay.

One thing I did find interesting, was his answer to whether India would be a competitor to China. I thought that it would, but Professor Lin said that India had focused on growing its service based industry – as anyone who has had to call their phone company recently no doubt knows!
While India created 2 million service based jobs – China created 75 million. I found that really quite telling.

Professor Lin said that by 2030, China would possibly have an economy the size of the USA’s, or possibly (more accurately) twice its size. China has become an absolute beast of a nation when it comes down to the size of its moneybags. It has so much money invested in so many different parts of the world, that I think there’s going to come a time when many countries resent that. I suspect that China might find itself paying a heavy price for its success.

Pissing in China – the greatest question of all.

June 5, 2013

Once upon a time, I made a post about people in China pissing in public. I then even made a post about that post, commenting on how it regularly comes up in the webstats as a search term. Today I am making a further post to question this great phenomenon.

 

Why oh why are so many people searching for pissing in China??!  The search term that caught my eye today was none other than, “Chinese pissing websites”
What the fuck people!

 

Seriously – if you yourself have happened to search for pissing in China, i’d love if you could stop by and fill me in as to why. It’s one of life’s great (miniscule) mysteries.

 

Sheesh!

The obligatory pissing image.

Of course by writing this post, i’ve damned myself to another ten years of pissing in China search results plaguing my webstats 🙂

Remembering China # 4: Tai Hu

June 2, 2013

Lake Tai, or Tài Hú is not only China’s 3rd largest freshwater lake, but one of the main reasons that Wuxi is a popular Chinese tourist city. Wuxi is a pretty cool place really, with lots of things to do and see, but for the foreign tourist to China, there’s definitely other places you’d be better off visiting – such as Suzhou next door – or Hangzhou just a short distance away.

Funnily enough, we only went to Tai Hu one time. It was the end of winter and absolutely freezing, but the guy who was charged with babysitting us in those early days, Pan Zili, graciously drove us down there for a look. It was quite pretty actually, and if you pretended that the haze was mist and not smog, you could go so far as to say it was picturesque.

Most of the surrounding trees and grasses were brown and flattened from the recent snow, but there was a nice vibe down there – plus a few pagoda style teahouses (you know, like the ones we imagined as our stereotypical China).

One of the best things about our visit to Tai Hu, was walking across an old looking Chinese bridge(that was probably only recently built) to a small island. On that island, a pack of around 5 feral cats were absolutely going to town on a rubbish bin. Whenever we travel, we always try and find cats – so these feral, scrawny little beasts made our day.

I don’t know why we didn’t go down there more often to be honest. There are several touristy locations, such as Turtle Head park, and a Chinese movie studio where they still film period drama’s and movies, while putting on live shows. I guess all told, without access to a car, it was a bit of a pain in the ass – particularly seeing it wasn’t on the same side of Wuxi as the school where we lived.

The only other time we were going to go there, was a few days before our kiwi friends, Matt & Abby, were about to head home to New Zealand. As the four of us hopped in a taxi and made our way towards the lake, it became darker and darker, until it was what we officially call ‘scary dark’ – in that, it looked like the weather in the USA just prior to a tornado touching down. It then proceeded to dump down rain for the rest of the day, so we just returned to Wuxi city centre and walked around, enjoying the surprised water attacks that would pop out from beneath the tiled pathways.

Tai Hu was actually a very prominent part of Chinese news a few years before we were there. Large algae blooms were appearing in the water, which was a massive issue as it’s still used as one of Wuxi’s primary drinking water sources. There’s even a beer called Tai Hu Shui – meaning literally ‘Tai Hu water’ –  a pretty good beer at that!

The son of one of the owners of the Aussie expat bar in Wuxi said it was terrible. He said that when they turned the taps on, the water coming out was a horrible thick green sludge – mm, mmh! And what causes algae blooms you might ask? None other than pollution – and likely industrial waste dumped directly into the lake from any of the numerous factories in the area.

If you happen to get to Wuxi, do make the effort to visit Tai Hu, and if you do get there, please send me a photo of you in the paddleboat – i’ll appreciate it on multiple levels.

Lake Tai Hu, Wuxi

Lake Tai Hu, Wuxi


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