Just finished the last bag-drag back from China, jet-lagged, brain fried on caffeine, edgy groggy. Maybe I’ll kill something. Or hibernate. What province am I in? Why do these Mexicans have round eyes? It’s not natural. Some thoughts, barely:
I couldn’t find the commies. Conservatives, who apparently preserve their minds in amber at birth, ramble on about Communist China. I guess their brains have parking brakes. Things are much less confusing if you have only one idea and stick with it. Anyway, if China is a communist country, I’m Julius Didianus. Who ever heard of a communist economy growing at nine percent? Or at all?
I grant you, the rascals used to be commies, but they’ve degenerated, and lost their touch. I could do it better. When I landed at Beijing, I got through passport control in about thirty seconds. They didn’t even glance at my baggage. Grabbed a cab to my hotel. The driver tried to overcharge me. It looked like capitalism to me.
I remember going into the Soviet Union on some junket or other. Now, the Russkies could do some communism: Paranoia, thuggishness, ugly boring buildings, clothes that looked air-dropped and people walking hunched over as against a cold wind when there wasn’t any wind. Nothing in the stores, and not many stores. Nothing worked. Nobody cared about anything. It was like Mexico but without the technology and consumer goods. Or the sense of urgency.
I went into St. Petersburg from Helsinki on a train, like Lenin though with less effect, because Aeroflop had lost our reservations in its central abacus. The border Nazis rolled down window shades in case we might have stashed propaganda in them. It was like going into a prison. It was going into a prison. That’s how communism is supposed to work.
But China. If the government had the slightest interest in us, I didn’t notice it. For two weeks we rushed about—Beijing, Xian, Chungking, Shanghai, Guilin, and such like, and spat ourselves out into Hong Kong like a cud. I don’t astound easily, but this time I astounded. Sure, I knew about the vast rivers of vacuum cleaners and calculators spewing out of China into Wal-Mart. But knowing it was like knowing that the Grand Canyon is a large hole. It doesn’t convey the reality.
The joint is hopping. China has 1.3 billion people, and 1.5 billion construction cranes. I counted them. Pretty girls wander around in snug jeans and camisetas ombligueras so you won’t wonder whether they have navels. Stores are full of things that stores are usually full of. Some of the malls could have been in Japan. China has lots of ordinary five-star hotels just like any anywhere, well-run, unpleasantly air-conditioned, and with free toothbrushes. The country is alive and shows indications of going somewhere. The shopkeepers spot a Western mark and holler. One of them successfully sold me a bottle of local booze with a cobra pickled in it.
Oh Mexico, thou of the mere little worm in thy tequila….
I suppose I was unconsciously expecting something third-worldly, maybe like Guadalajara—tolerably prosperous, sidewalks crumbling, most things working most of the time, low buildings not excessively well maintained, nothing happening and nothing indicating that anything ever would. No. Chungking is what New York would be if New York were a big city. We’re talking forty-storey high rises that somehow don’t look as dull as ours, massive highways and bridges. Every time we landed the airport turned out to have been completed four years ago, one year ago, what have you. Those cities aren’t Guadalajara. They’re Chicago.
The clunky Russian aircraft are gone. Now you see new stuff from Boeing and Airbus.
OK, that’s the up side. The downside is lots, and smart people see real instability that could lead to an explosion. The Chinese explode well, as the Cultural Revolution of 1966—76 demonstrated. One problem is that said Revolution also left a generation of jobless ex-radicals who can’t read, a bit like New Orleans. You can criticize Mousy Dung all you want, but you have to give him credit for being an unconscionable ass with no concern for his people. Anyway, those kids, no longer kids, could be trouble.
Then the policy of one child per family, combined with a preference for boy children, has left huge numbers of excess males who aren’t going to find wives. They too might become disagreeable. I would. Add that the new wealth isn’t reaching a whole lot of people. Corruption is rife. Poverty remains horrendous in many parts. Finally, China is said to have eighty million evangelical Christians, which means that it will likely attack Iraq, as well as a lot of Moslems.
Years ago I lived in Taiwan for a bit, studying Chinese, both the language and the young ladies, and living on fried squid bought in stalls under a bridge. At the time the island was doing a Five Year Plan. Back then every country with a patch of jungle, two colonels and a torture chamber had a Five Year Plan, efficiently doing nothing. I noticed that Taiwan was actually following its Plan: The reactors at Jin Shan were almost complete, the port at Gau Syung functioned, the steel mill made steel.
I thought: “Hmmm. These folk can obviously play big-city hardball finance and such, since that’s what they are doing in Hong Kong, which is just Manhattan with slanted eyes. They can run a high-tech economy, since Taiwan is doing it. That leaves Mau, keeping China mired in darkness, as America’s first line of defense.”
Mau croaked. You really can’t rely on communists. China now appears to be doing what Taiwan did. My take is that the Communist Party figured out that Marxism was great except that it didn’t work, and anyway it could bore a tax accountant into the shrieking gollywoggles, so they decided to keep the name while doing whatever worked. This is a novel concept for the West, which tends to eschew reason for organized imbecility, as for example liberalism and conservatism. Anyway, Katie bar the door. Better, open the bar.
Now, Beijing isn’t the headwaters of compassion. I avoided staging any protests in Tien An Men Square, as the government is unprincipled and would not hesitate to use Waco-style methods to crush me. Russia, though, China isn’t. Remember that when the Soviet Union was a superpower, though usually with a Guatemalan level of technology, it couldn’t make a decent personal computer. Taiwan was spitting them out like aspirin tablets. Well, same people. And no Mau to paralyze them.
I’m going to go to sleep, or maybe jump off a roof. I hate airplanes.
Guilin. Nicely moody, but residual.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well.