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Saying Goodbye to China – Confused Communism & Controlled Capitalism.

2 Nov

Say goodbye to China. I wonder when I coming back? If, I’m coming back? Isn’t it strange to think like that. Thinking that you many never, ever return to a place. In other words, death will knock on my door before China will?

What would bring me back to China? Work? Vaction? I really just don’t know.

Do I see myself in China? Hmmm… Do I see myself in Russia? I believe Russia needs me more than China. They’ve got things cranking in China.

Russia, she just sighs. Has so much potential. I have a “fixer” soul. When I see a problem, obstacle or issue – I look for a solution. For me, China’s simple. She’s in need of an image makeover. Re-branding to describe this blending of free market and one-party government. Russia is lost. She needs to find herself.

After spending some time in China, I found day to day, communism is a non-issue. Like the rest of the world, the Chinese are more worried about holding on to their jobs, paying bills, feeding their kids, saving money for school… They are more concerned about making a better future for their children than what the Chinese government says about the currency, human rights, Tibet or climate change. For the most part, they’re a politically apathetic bunch of folks… Sounds familiar.

Unlike Sweden, UK, US or Canada….there’s scant evidence of any social safety net in China. This SHOCKED me for I assumed communist governments took care of their people to the point of putting a spoon to their mouths.

What about Social security programs? Medicaid or medicare? Welfare? Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac? Chinese are on their own. Because of this, they save and save and save and save.. To buy an apartment. To buy farm land.  To pay for having a baby at the hospital. To pay for their one kid’s high school education.  To pay to drive on a road…They pay out the nose, considering their average salaries per year hoovers around $4,000 US dollars –– depending on who you ask and who you include…

At a macro -level,  one-party rule is here to stay. There’s no tea party. No coffee party. No dumpling party. No nothing. People can’t kick out the inept. Can’t trash talk their leaders. Can’t call for change. Really, they can’t call anyone.

What you see – is what you get. Quite frankly, it’s in their culture NOT to question parents, elders or superiors.  They obey.  Did you see the opening ceremonies for the Olympics???

As a Westerner, I can NOT imagine keeping my mouth shut if I received a notice from the government instructing me to move from my home I was born and raised in to make way for a skyscraper, five star hotel or new toll road.  They do.  They comply.  For, government officials know what’s best for the collective whole.

Commercial break. So, when China Southern Airlines does their 411 on “what do do when you crash,” you have to giggle. Of course, I look around

Picture taken of TV of N. Korea Parade

seeing if anyone else finds this humorous. The plane is 98.4% Chinese. No one is smiling.

They are reading the newspaper. Front page news details yesterday’s little dictator gathering in N. Korea’s where Kim Jong-il showcased his large and in-charge son and his country’s military might on international TV.

OK. China Southern Airlines instructs us to do the following before you crash and burn. Four main rules of thumb…

  1. Take off your high heels
  2. Take out your denatures
  3. Take off your head phones
  4. Put on your flotation device.

Then, and ONLY then, can you slide down the raft. That is, if you are still alive. Never knew wearing heels and denatures were an issue during an airplane crash. Now, they are playing over the loud speaker some Latin dancing number to slow Chinese music. The woman is doing the samba to Chinese music.

Back to blog: Confused Communism and controlled capitalism. That’s how I labeled China.

Came here with little expectations. And, leaving confused.

Someone I met said China, reminded her of Europe after WWII. People had hope. People saw a promising future.  Innovation. Ideas…She said, that is how China is to her now where possibilities are limitless…  Even, a two party government? Freedom to express your differences?  Five thousands years of written history says…“not so fast lady.”

Face of China

I look out the plane window and question what is China’s tipping point?

They’ve entered a time of government corruption, a widening income gap, a decomposed, non-existent social safety net and political disinterest in favor of profits. China’s been here before – just a different dynasty, different millennium, same issues…

And, I wonder if it possible to change the direction of 5,000+ years of a culture based on Confucianism, Buddhist & Taoism?

Where respect for elders and complete obedience of your superiors remains unquestionable.

Where people have differences in opinions, yet are required to live in harmony with each other.

Where seeking knowledge to become a better person means bringing wealth and honor to your family and, once again, serving your superiors.

Where trading for profits is seen as disrespectful and self-serving. Where attraction, not force, is used to obtain what one wants. And, where humanity is seen as kind and benevolent.

This philosophy fits perfectly in this government’s one-party rule. Doesn’t fit so nicely with free markets and modern political parties. China seems to be straddling both sides.

Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China, “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she’ll shake the world.”

From what I’ve seen, this giant has stirred. Watch out world..

Next stop. Bhutan.

Buddhist country of only 700,000.

Just put in roads in the 1960s… Some towns just got electricity. Monarchy introduced democracy two years ago. Only allows a select # of tourists in per year…My type of place…

Cruising Down China’s Toliet. Yangtze River.

2 Nov

China's Largest River - the Yangzte.

Boarded the Chines LOVE boat to cruise down China’s largest toilet, Yangtze River, to check out the Three Gorges Dam.

Olive, our chipper Chinese tour guide, is bunking with me. The boat is oversold, given 1.3 Billion Chinese are on holiday. Because of this, tour guides are booted from their rooms and have to sleep in hallways. Not for our Olive. Having her one-on-one allowed me to hear her thoughts about growing up Chinese. More on that later.

Real fast. Let me give you a 411 on the boat. It’s not your LOVE boat or your “I support Obesity” with the all-you-can-consume – Carnival Cruise – boat.  It’s an older boat. Low ceilings. Musty carpet. Built in 1950. Needs updating. In comparison to the others, our boat is clearly a ONE or TWO star, not a zero star.

Say no to bunk beds and hello to two twin beds with mattresses. A toilet that flushes into the sea.  Lukewarm water.  And, a dusty window with pristine views of the river.

Room aboard.

The boat is to carry us down the Yangtze river, largest in China, to the Three Gorges Damn. Quick background about the Damn. I’ve never given dams a though prior, but give me a political, economic or religious angle and I will find most anything interesting.

Three Gorges is one of the wonders-of-the world for the communist. The dam is an estimated 600 feet tall, one mile wide and generates over 20,000 megawatts of hydroelectricity.

The building rationale was irrigation, flood control and power generation for millions of Chinese. The dam was the brain child of Li Peng, the prime minister involved with the communist party split that let to the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre. You can imagine there was no debate on the damn’s efficacy and the $22 billion dollar project moved forward.

It is reported Three Gorges displaced over 1.4 million Chinese living alongside the river – equivalent to the obliteration of Dallas, Texas.

Rumor on the street is another 300,000 will need to be relocated with the recent flooding and “cracks” in the surface. So, let’s add the estimated population of St. Petersburg, Florida to our friends in Dallas. Relocating in China means getting a few weeks notice to quit your job, pack your home, move your animals, harvest your fields and go wherever the Chinese authorities see fit to place you.


Besides displacing millions, the dam ate up over 80,000 acres of land and large number of historic relics from one of the most ancient areas in Chinese history. Translation. Daming the river means higher water levels. Higher water levels means artifacts lost forever and ever. To Chinese, feeding people and powering businesses outweighs preservation of ancient civilizations and animal/plant species.

To the locals, Yangtze river is seen as the country’s largest toilet. More than 150 million Chinese live upstream from the dam. Household garbage is dumped directly into China’s largest river and it is reported that nearly three tonnes of crap is collected from the dam everyday. Imagine if that was your job. And, imagine being able to walk across the river via bridges made of trash.

That should give you a nice visual of floating along the Yangtze to the Three Gorges Damn. Water may be polluted, ancient relics lost, plants dead and people displaced, but the natural beauty is truly awe-inspiring. Photos do a better job describing it than words. Check out the album on this blog for more pictures.

This View on back of $10 Yuan. Olive and Dawn model for us.

We docked one day and took small boats through the Yangtze canals. Breathtaking. We were to do some hiking, but the entire area was flooded. So, we cruised around.

That night, we stopped at the infamous relocated town of 1.4 million. It reminded me of a slum. Or, tenant housing. The people looked happy to see us, for we now our their only source of income. Prior, they were farmers – had their own land – now they live in small apartments. We happened upon a square where the town came out to greet us. They played some rockin’ Chinese music and started line dancing. Country and Thai-Chi line dancing rocks. They next thing I know, tallgirl is out there line dancing among the young and old. It was a memorable night.

One final note about the boat cruise, rats. So, I’m rooming with Olive. She said, “we may have friends tonight….we are near the kitchen…expect friends.” I did not know what she was talking about. “What?”

Olive: “You know. Rats. If you have food in your room, they will come for a visit. I don’t like rats Can we keep the light on tonight.”

Hell, I hate rats too. The lights stayed on. I just slept with a pillow over my face. Oh, the joys of traveling…

Gearing up for the Chinese Boat Cruise

28 Oct

Traveling on a Chinese Train. 6 Bunk Beds per Compartment.

Just got off the overnight train. Landed in a town of 13 million called Wuhan. Key word here is town. As far as I know, still in Southern China. Inhaling humidity. Dancing in pollution. Typing on a mini-bus made for mini-people. Travel poss is in route to a village of 2 million to board a boat to cruise the Yangtze River, the second or third largest in the world.

Just crossed a ginormous bridge over a man made lake. When asked, the town of Wuhan is reportedly known for their rice and fish ponds. Sounds quaint and fits perfectly in the book of tourist propaganda. From where I’m perched, Wuhan is a confused community for this town of 13 million reeks of capitalism not a silly fish pond. One of the country’s main shipping ports saddles Wuhan. Big city. Big money. Bid deals.

The highway drives orderly Three to four lanes. English and Chinese signs, warning us not to follow so close. On one side of the highway you have a shacks of warehouses piled with lumber, cement bags, blue roof tiles, plywood (for my mattress), broken pipes and big boulders. The sky scrapers look as if they’ve been blown out in a recent war. Not the case. They’re actually in the process of being built. The Chinese build sky scrappers in stages. First is they mount line up three or four building skeletons. Then, they tackle the inside – electrical, floors, ceilings. Then, they wrap up the outside. The skyline looks like a cluster mess then —- whaaalaaa – concrete beauty abounds.

Crossing the Yangtze river now. I spy tankers carrying more coal. More rocks. More sand. More lumber. More oil. What look like floating drift wood are fisherman competing for space among the tankers. To my left, I count twenty-five tankers. “Must feed the beast,” I hear them chant. Yangtze transports 70% of the entire country’s shipping imports/exports.

Peering from my mini-window in the mini-bus, I’m checking out the cars speeding by. Thinking of investing in China. Rumor has it a very small percentage of the 1.3 billion own cars. I spy Volkswagen, Nissan, Toyota, Chinese brand cars I can’t translate… I see very few American cars. As much as Japan and China are seen as political adversaries, by the looks of the highways this is not the case.

When asked about Japanese products, you get mixed answers. If the elderly respond, they lean towards anti-Japan. If the youth or students respond, they lean towards pro-Japan for they have more access to cheaper luxury products. Olive told us a funny story. She said when her grandfather bought her grandmother their first TV many years ago, he bought the best – a Sony. Her grandmother responded, “No Japanese in my house.” The TV was booted to the curb. Sounds strange today to a US person who is not abreast of Japan/China history.

Now that I’m here in China, I want to learn more. A few months back, there was an incident between a Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese Coast Guard. Both sides claimed the dispute had to do with fishing and waterway rights. Little fishy incident escalated to a point where Beijing and Tokyo were talking about breaking off all future relations. Visas were being revoked. Business trips canceled on both sides. Quite frankly, this had little to with fishing but more to do with who owns the tiny islands in East China Sea. Is it Japan, China or Taiwan? Some believe there is something special under those islands. Energy reserves? Oil? Ahhh… There lies the rub.. It seem to come back to oil ’round here.

Going back to cars… Olive said the Chinese government marks up imports on cars between 80% to 100%. Sometimes, up to 200%. So, a Nissan in China may cost you double. And, what better way for the Government to keep people employed and the Chinese economy humming? Penalize for buying imports and reward for buying domestic. Chinese people are saying – “noooooooo way Jose…we want imports….brand name shows status… Chinese car? No status…”

I was in a bathroom stall the other day – yes, squatting Chinese style – and to my left was an advert for BMW. Guess how much? Almost $550,000 in Yuan for a low end BMW – Series 3 or something. That’s around $90,000 US dollars. We’re in China were the mean income per-capita is around $3,500 per year – taking in rural and urban populations. (No one really knows the per capita income in China… this is a guess).

What baffles me is the government push of this communism ideal of “everyone must be equal.” As I squatted I contemplated the following – Do I actually believe those who can afford a BMW support the communist notion of “equality for all 1.3 billion?” These Chinese work and save for years to drive an import. They get their imported car. How do they justify “equality.” Just can’t see the Shanghai Chinese believing they are on equal footing as their fellow rice picking peasants, military soldiers or Tibetan monks. Still seeking. Still struggling. Still confused.

Then, I wondered – still squatting – why is BMW pushing hard at the advert game. They are everywhere in terms of billboards, magazines, newspapers and bathroom stalls at highway rest stops. Well, even if .0001% of Chinese can afford a BMW, we’re still talking about millions sold per year. And, as US and EU pressures China on to rethink its currency and tariff strategies, companies like BMW will be poised to capture a larger market share. Brand awareness today for market share tomorrow. Invest in BMW? Couldn’t think anymore. Legs went numb from squatting for more than 2 minutes.

Last night’s train ride was much better than anticipated. I expected mayhem and chaos. But, remember, this is China. Rules and order make this country tick. As we made our way through train security, the actual station was orderly. People were seated. Staring. And, quiet. The only noise was coming from a static loudspeaker. The gals decided to make one last run for the bathroom before hunkering down on the overnight train. I was envisioning sharing the toilet hole with rats. For me, this was my last restroom refuge for some hours.

Well, it turned out to be the second worst bathroom I encountered in China. Yes, this time I had a door. But, I had to squat over a trough. One long cement ditch where running water moved bodily junk to an undisclosed location. No, Kerri, I did NOT look down. Kept my eyes focused on the wooden door, while holding my breath.

The positive…seriously there was a positive here – the aroma was not THAT bad. The restroom ladies stoked up some MAJOR incense to reduce the potential for dry heaving, vomiting or fainting. Oh, in case you are wondering, the worst bathroom by far was a truck stop. One room. Multiple holes in the floor. No doors. Risked a bladder infection on that one.

Fast forward. The micro-mini bus made it to the town of 2 million. We had a few hours to kill before we boarded the boat to the Three Gorges Damn. So, the travel posse spent the afternoon exploring. It felt more like a “REAL” Chinese city/town than Shanghai or Yangshuo. Not many tourists. Chinese were walking up to us wanting to take our pictures, practice English or just smiled as we walked by. They would stop on the sidewalk and giggle when we approached. This town – will become a tourist haven in a few years. The Chinese government has kicked out or “replanted” many Chinese residents living along the river to make way for high rises, hotels and Prada retail stores. Soon this sleepy village of 2 million will grow to a town of 10 million.

When we drove in, we passed what looked like a real US style suburb. The homes and town homes were brick, large streets and trees. It was like Pleasantville – Chinese style. Very eery. I was surprised for it wasted a lot of space. High-rises are the way to go in China. Olive said that those homes are inexpensive compared to Shanghai or Beijing. Many Chinese are moving here.

We cruised over a big bridge, shot some balloons, watched some Chinese play cards and walked the town. It was a good way to spend an afternoon. Headed to the grocery store for one final “load’em” up. Took a lot of pictures.

There is little refrigeration – so milk, yogurt, cheese, tator tots or healthy choice is out of the question. You get a lot of zip lock packaged foods. See pictures below. Oh, there is no bread in the grocery stores. You have to find a bakery, and even then, bread is limited. This has caused confusion with our group. The fruits have been amazing. Street corners just full of fruit stands. Olive pulled through and we boarded first. She “knows” people. Next blog is about the actual cruise up and down the Yangtze River to see a very large concrete structure made by men and not otters. Three Gorges Damn.

Walking across the bridge

View from the bridge