The Surprising Middle Kingdom of China
Travel certainly broadens the mind. And sometimes it causes one to change one's mind also. Typically, most people get their impression of other countries and cultures from news stories, which invariably create a distorted view of reality. Fortunately, more and more people are travelling these days, which is just as well, because without a broad understanding as to how other people live, we can easily end up with potentially dangerous misunderstandings. Yes, travel opens one's eyes, and often in surprising ways - as I found out.
Imagine living in a place where you weren't compelled to wear seat belts or cycle helmets; where you could walk around in relative peace and safety; where jaywalking is encouraged and the traffic seems to work in the absence of traffic cops and enforced speed limits; where you can eat a substantial meal for a couple of dollars; where you are not hassled when entering the country; where entrepreneurship abounds; where the gap between rich and poor doesn't breed envy but aspiration; where smoking isn't a sin; where every modern convenience exists; where policemen are hard to find; where opportunity is everywhere; and where income tax is virtually non-existent.
I'm talking about is China - a place I have visited and lived in many times.
Now, I'm not saying it's necessarily a freedom haven for those already there - although it certainly seems freer in many respects than what we are used to "at home" - but I am saying that for a freedom seeker, someone who doesn't mind living in different places, it offers some unique and tempting benefits.
On my first visit to China I can recall, on the plane from Singapore, wondering what level of bureaucratic intimidation awaited me at Beijing's Capital Airport. Well, I was in for a shock. Instead of a typical shakedown as in America’s notorious LA airport, I was politely received with no inspections, no body searches, no snide comments asking "what are you doing here?", and no fingerprints. For some reason, my expectation when arriving at the world's largest bastion of Communism, was to be given the third degree. But it never happened.
My next shock was in the modernity of the city. Broad clean roads with loads of traffic. Driving habits a little on the crazy side. Everywhere clean and tidy, with lots of greenery. A trip to a department store quickly caused me to reevaluate my prejudgement of visiting a developing country - as its wares easily equalled the best the retail world has to offer - in both range and presentation.
Perhaps the hardest thing to fathom is how such a vast number of people can apparently live alongside each other in relative peace and harmony. Everywhere, people walking, talking, eating - even dancing. And there's no doubt the Chinese love to eat - usually in quite large groups. Walking down a typical side street one is confronted by the reality that almost every third or fourth shop is an eating establishment of some sort. Some are big and brassy and very red. Others only have two or three tables and are obviously a one-man shop. But in each case, people were eating, drinking, talking, laughing or gambling.
Of course, Beijing offers a plethora of wonderful, historical tourist attractions - like the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven. And I did all these and more. But what most impressed me was the tangible sense of optimism, entrepreneurship and a bustling get up and go attitude, which clearly reinforces the idea of China being an economic powerhouse about to take on the whole world. The Chinese capacity for business and entrepreneurship is legendary, and daunting, and bodes ill for the many countries now sinking under a mire of democratically imposed, ill thought-out, socialist, dead-weight legislation.
And how is this? After all, China is the land of Mao, the land of socialism. China is a one-party state, an international pariah by some democratic standards. How can such a country rise above and beyond its own socialist slogans to actually become a capitalist giant in the making? And if there is any truth to the saying that the presence of advertising is the "calling card" of capitalism, then China knows how to advertise!
The Chinese have a refreshing attitude to money which not sullied by religious talk of rich men finding it difficult to pass through the eye of a needle. Not bothered about guilt as a way of life. Apparently not in the least bit concerned about the obvious disparity between those with money and those without - preferring to see it as it really is, a fluid situation where people are continually moving between states, and given every incentive to rise higher. Not for China the minimum wage, or the mumbling of socialist naysayers.
My next two forays into China were to the city of Chongqing. This bustling city is in south-west China, a major industrial centre adjacent to the Sichuan province and lying on the merging waters of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers. It is famous for its hot and spicy food, in particular the Chongqing Hot Pot. The main downside is the heavy pollution, which often engulfs the entire city and can irritate the throat. I was told that there are definite plans to reduce this horrendous pollution, but naturally it will take some time. However, it seems to have absolutely no effect on the locals, who are intensely proud of their city and twin rivers.
Whatever nasty chemicals are in the atmosphere could certainly explain the crazy driving antics of the speed-crazy locals. There appeared to be no real road rules, apart from driving on the right. A drive in any taxi quickly disabuses you of the notion of a heavily-policed society. I could see no police anywhere, nor any apparent sense of a speed limit. People and cars mingle freely on the roads, negotiating each other with considerable skill - coupled with liberal use of the car horn. But you have to watch out for those covered moped taxis that dart to and fro at night - without any lights!
But it's at night time that the real flavour of Chinese life becomes apparent. They don't just go home, lock the doors, switch on the TV and retire for the night. No, the night is alive with tens of thousands of people milling around the streets. Many just walking. Some sitting talking, or playing games. Others are busy doing tai chi, or even gathering in groups and dancing to recorded music. And everywhere people are eating. So much eating, and so little obesity. There must be some important dietary secret hidden here.
Yes, of course you can still pig-out on McDonalds, KFC or Pizza Hut if you want - as they are all there. And maybe a younger generation of Chinese might be "invaded and enslaved" by western eating habits. But for most part, the apparently enthusiastic and continuous eating seems to have no impact on the nation's collective girth.
I was able to have an interesting political conversation over dinner one night - with the help of one of the guests who could speak English. I moved the discussion on to politics and communism. I asked what they thought of it all. There was a surprising sense of "Oh, that? We don't believe it." One gentleman I was talking to was a newspaper columnist who gave me a run down on why the free market was China's future. He was a no-holds-barred capitalist. I can't speak for the millions of people who have to live in China, or for those who may feel constrained by their political beliefs, but I can say China proves something - that economics trumps politics and will be proven to do so, here in this so- called communist nation.
My general impression of China is that it is literally mind-boggling. What is going on there is unprecedented in human history - an industrial transformation at the speed of light. Not for the Chinese the complaints against foreign investment. No, they chew it up as fast as it arrives, the more the better. No "PC" nonsense here, as even the official party line is only given lip service. Chinese people obviously have a lot more important things to do - like making money!
Freedom lovers everywhere need to take off any rose-tinted glasses that may blind them to a deteriorating domestic situation or to the advantages of new environments - and see the emerging world anew. For I believe we are witnessing a huge historical power-shift that is already well underway. And being on the right side of an opening crevice is obviously the sensible place to be.
David MacGregor operates an information service for those seeking a freer lifestyle - involving international living and business, offshore banking, asset protection and investing - and offers a free introductory e-course "The FreedomShift" from his website: http://www.sovereignlife.com