Saturday, July 08, 2006

In China

Rob Skiff
July 7, 2006
Somewhere over the North Pole

It takes quite a while to fly to China. Right now I’m 30,000 ft over the Greenland cursing Continental Airlines’ movie selection. However, I’m also thinking about the possibilities that this trip has for the school. I’ve got a good feeling that if we can come to some type of understanding between Nanjing AV and Vermont Commons that this marks a start of a wonderful relationship.

At the airport I met a Chinese who worked at the National Bank of Canada. I presented my card and got into a polite and interesting conversation about econometrics. Piper entered the conversation and switched to Chinese and charmed the hell out of him. It was a brilliant example of how important it is to have a smart intelligent and dynamic Chinese language speaker on your team. One of the reasons that America is falling behind is our lack of second language skills. The opportunities in this world belong to those that are intelligent, creative, skillful and have the ability to speak in another foreign language like Spanish or Chinese. If your also able to synthesize and see connections then you have a chance at influence. Don’t forget your mastery of math and science. Without that nothing else is possible.

The trip from the airport to the hotel is the first impression that an area gives to a guest. The Bejing Airport is modern and has the anywhere world atmosphere of all places directly connected to the world. Piper as usual guided Pete and I through the process of finding a cab and getting us to the hotel. Our cabby was 35 years old and has a son who is ten. We asked him about Tienamen and he told us that everyone remembers and that the democracy movement is just bubbling under the surface, but the government keeps a lid on it. People so not have access to the quality that they need. He also thinks that the education here in China is not good and that learning English is essential. The road from the airport was lined with trees, everywhere there are advertisements for renewable energy and green building. Pete told me that the leaves show clear indication that they are not getting enough light because of the smog, and we are encased in a think has where even the location of the sun is not visible.

After checking into the hotel, we took a walk to the Forbidden City and Tienamen. This area is huge and the people were well dressed with some funky clothing. The younger the kid the more they resembled their contemporaries in Ecuador, Vermont and the rest of the world. For them globalization is already here and the world has already knit itself into a global culture. To get to Tienamen we walked though Bejing’s version of Church Street with thousands of people walking around. I did not get one stare of look, it was as if I was just a normal piece of the environment. Piper could not believe the changes that had taken place. She remarked that the people were much more sophisticated and that the city was clearly using the Olympics as a motivator to do a massive program of urban renewal.

Walking into Tienamen was amazing. The buildings are massive and Mao’s tomb opposite the Forbidden City created quite the impression. The Forbidden City was the home of the emperors for a very long stretch of Chinese history. It was forbidden for any ordinary citizen to enter the Emperor’s presence unless they were a member of the civil service. The closer you got to the center of the city and the presence of the emperor the greater the power and honor. Watching thousands of people walk in and out of the city made me realize the power of communism and how much a symbol of reform opening up the city must have been. Now the people were the center. However, old cultural forms don’t die they just become integrated into the new cosmology. Mao’s tomb outside the gates, with his portrait on the its mail wall has clear significance. It is now the square that is the symbolic center of the Chinese world. That is why the democracy movement gathered here to build the statue of liberty, and that is way the party cleared it with tanks and a lot of blood.

After hanging around, we walked into some back allies and saw some beautiful courtyard homes of the party members. Their wealth is shielded from prying eyes, by an architecture that replicates the philosophy of the forbidden city in miniature. They are beautiful buildings. The art galleries, restaurants and smells all seemed more familiar to me as what I remember from Thailand and Indonesia. We got into another cab and talked to the driver. This guy was not as open. He asked it we were Americans and we said yes. He said he liked the American people but did not like our government. Piper answered “We don’t really like our government either. That means were just like you.” He laughed and then quickly changed the subject.

The noodle shop where we ate dinner was great. A tour group from the south of China came in and ate. The waitress, who was from Bejing was clearly horrified by their manners. They were country people, just like me. I liked them from the beginning. They are another part of China that I know very little about.

China is so massive and diverse that it cannot be described with any easy analogies. It is not the red horde, but a massive cultural identity struggling to make sense of the world within some very clear ecological and economic constraints. There is a lot of optimism on the streets of Bejing, like some great positive change is about to happen. Wireless is everywhere, the cell phones are out and people are walking around. China has 1.3 billion people. I suspect that they will have 300 million people that we would describe as middle class quite soon. 1 million ultra rich and 1 billion lower class rural and urban workers. This part of China is the one that party is concerned with and the whole world needs to pay attention to. How they react to globalization will determine the success and survival of not only China, but the rest of the world. Imagine feeding 1.3 billion people a day, taking care what comes in and what goes out just boggles my mind. Ecological restoration needs to start and end in China and India.

Time to go back to watching the world cup and surfing the web for ecological groups to connect with.