July 15, 2024 The Best Source of News, Culture, Lifestyle for Culver City, Mar Vista, Del Rey, Palms and West Los Angeles

CHINA: When WEST Meets EAST

Most folks know China as a series of worldwide superlatives: Most pollution, largest population (1.3 billion people) and the ever-present “Made in China†decals that mark the country’s hundreds of exports. Behind those impersonal numbers is a country whose very face is changing with the momentum only a 5000-year-old civilization can muster.

I traveled to China to mine the culture and people behind the statistics. I returned to the U.S. three days before the 7.9 magnitude earthquake ripped the Sichuan province on May 12, and I share in the country’s national mourning for its 65,000 dead and 500,000 homeless.

Certainly, the country’s national treasures are to be cherished and admired. And the Chinese people are magnificently resilient. They are survivors on their way to becoming innovators and, very soon, global leaders.

Fact: China’s one-child policy created a generation of only children that numbers 90 million.

These only children are raised bearing the hope of the entire family on their shoulders. And with hope, inevitably, comes pressure and a full workload: Academic tutoring, English classes, piano lessons, etc. They often live with three generations in one or two-room quarters that house eight to 10 family members.

Our tour guide, Luc, frequently spoke about growing up as an only child, lonely and yet doted upon by his parents. He and his fiancée, whom he met in his favorite karaoke bar, are already discussing how to care for their parents in their old age.

Fact: China is expected to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy in 10 years.

Wal-Mart, KFC and McDonald’s are infiltrating the country and have been welcomed by eager Chinese shoppers. The consumers make it a family outing, donning their finest apparel to dine at McDonald’s. Nearby and extending for several blocks in each direction, retail cell phone shops

and internet stores pack in the youths. But as much as the Chinese are adopting American customs, they also appear to revere Americans. On several occasions, near-giddy Chinese shyly ask to be photographed beside tall, blond Western men and women with enthusiasm usually reserved for rock stars. Whether to spare Americans the embarrassment of mispronouncing Chinese names or to indulge further in a Western way of life, many have adopted typical American first names: Betty, Doris, Bob.

Fact: China surpasses the U.S. in carbon dioxide emissions.

It should be no surprise that in the capital city of Beijing our tour bus is locked in chronic standstill traffic. The snarled conditions persist 24/7 despite four and five-lane roads. There appears to be no abatement: 1,000 additional cars are issued permits each day in Beijing. Its rival city, Shanghai, has imposed a disincentive by assessing drivers’ license fees that are as expensive as the vehicles themselves. Meanwhile, the Yangtze

River, the magnificent 4000-mile waterway lifeline of this nation, is also a cesspool in parts. The Three Gorges Dam project holds back 10.3 trillion gallons of water to control flooding that has destroyed entire villages in the past, but pools extremely high levels of pollution as a result. The clean-up process is slow at best, with workers tediously spearing one piece of trash at a time.

Fact: One of $20 of China’s GDP is generated in Shanghai, and a fifth of the nation’s exports – up 500 percent in real value since 1992 – pass through its portals.

Shanghai, as one fellow traveler put it succinctly, is going to take over the world. The city is abuzz with international businessmen and women, high-end restaurants and skyscrapers–4,000 dot the city’s skyline already, with an additional 1,000 planned for completion in the next year. We

stayed in Pudong, in east Shanghai. Fifteen years ago, the area was farmland. Today, it’s comparable to New York City’s financial district. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has said that in three years, the city will probably boast more Starbucks sites than in the United States.

Come this August, Beijing will host the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The country will be in the global cross hairs for all to witness and to judge. Whatever the outcome, the people of China are ready for their close-up and prepared to occupy the superpower status that awaits them.

Facts source: National Geographic

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