Sunday, September 24, 2017

Beyond Communism - the Emergence of a Newly Prosperous and Increasingly Capitalist CHINA!

OUR CHINA TRIP - An Overview

LEFT: At Shanghai China Disney World, my "Chairman Mao"  hat attracted a software engineer who works for Alibaba (Chinese version of Amazon) for an interesting discussion. MIDDLE: At Disney with three of my favorite  women, my Wife Vi, Daughter Lisa, and Granddaughter Michaela. RIGHT: Brooklyn T-Shirt atop the Great Wall of China
Vi and I visited China in September 2017, starting with a standard professionally-guided tour of Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai. We added a self-directed visit to Suzhou where our Granddaughter Michaela, a Hospitality major at Purdue University, was in the midst of a six month internship at a hotel. We also visited Shanghai Disney World, along with our daughter Lisa (Michaela's mother) who was on a separate tour of China, and Anna, a fellow intern with Michaela. We are indebted to each of them (Lisa, Michaela, and Anna) for guiding and helping two elder travelers during these off-tour activities. The Chinese people we met, including those being paid to serve us as well as total volunteers with little or no knowledge of English, were uniformly helpful and kind.

A visit of fewer than a dozen days to four popular business and tourist areas in China certainly does not make me any kind of expert on this topic. Therefore, please accept this posting as the questionable opinions of a rather casual observer. Like the "Pussy cat" in the well-known ditty*, I have well-worn interests and biases. *Pussy cat, pussy cat,, where have you been? I've been to London to visit the Queen. Pussy cat, pussy cat, what saw you there? I saw a little mouse under a chair. Yes, the cat missed all the finery and luxury of the Queen's palace in favor of that lowly mouse under the chair! Perhaps we all miss some majestic sights as we are drawn to the familiar?

Vi in Tiananmen Square where Chairman Mao's portrait hangs prominently. His visage appears on Chinese currency. 
We found China to be surprisingly modern and prosperous, with open, helpful, and accepting people who seemed genuinely happy to have us visit, anxious to try out their often limited (but sometimes quite good) English. They are in the midst of revolutionary changes in their economic and political systems. The situation may be very different in other areas of China, particularly some less developed "autonomous regions" such as those with substantial non-Han Chinese populations.

No More "True Believer" Marxists in the World?

Both Russia and China are far more "Capitalistic" than you might expect, and are rapidly moving in that positive direction.

Our experiences in "Communist" China confirmed our experiences from a brief visit to "Communist" St. Petersburg, Russia, a few years ago, . There are no longer any really "true believer" Marxists left in the World (except for a few Professors teaching at Universities in the US and other Western countries :^)

The core ideal at the heart of Marxist Socialism "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs" is certainly heart-warming, but does not stand up to any serous analysis. It flies in opposition to basic human  nature! Most of us will not voluntarily work to the maximum of our abilities unless we are rewarded for doing so, or punished if we fail to do so. Furthermore, most of  us will consume far more resources than we actually need unless we must personally bear the associated costs.

Thus, all attempts to implement Marxist ideals on a large scale, such as those of "Red" China and "Communist" Russia, as well as other extreme Socialist countries such as Venezuela, have resulted in either an Authoritarian police-state society, or, in the best case, Extreme Bureaucracy, general poverty, and pervasive scarcity. As Milton Friedman, one of my special heroes, quipped: "If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there'd be a shortage of sand."

The only realistic and humane alternative is a market-oriented competitive Capitalistic system, with visible rewards for those who work to the limits of their abilities. Of course, to be truly humane, the system must provide necessary welfare protections for those who absolutely cannot find gainful employment.

George Orwell's Animal Farm

In George Orwell's 1945 classic Animal Farm, the Pigs [Communists] lead a revolt of their fellow animals [Proletariat] against the Man [Capitalist] who owns the farm. Their motto, “All animals are equal" is soon transformed to "All animals are equal, but some animals [the Pigs-Communists] are more equal than others.”

At the end, when the Pig-Communists move into the farmhouse, adopt the manners and lifestyle of humans, and align themselves with human society external to the Farm,  “The creatures outside [the farmhouse] looked from pig [Communist] to man [Capitalist], and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

Capitalistic China

Our first impressions of China were of Beijing airport, which, other than the crowds of Chinese people and signage, could have been any airport in the US or Europe. The taxi ride to our hotel plunged us into heavy traffic. Our driver (who spoke no English) showed his expertise in beeping and angling the taxi to prevent other cars from pulling in ahead of us. He had an uncanny ability to scoot from lane to lane and around other cars. He could have given cab-driver lessons in our native Brooklyn, NY!

Our Novotel Peace Hotel was modern and comfortable, with spectacular views from our 28th floor window, despite the somewhat smoggy air. The only negative surprise was the poorly-designed tub-shower that had a glass wall that blocked access to the water controls. You had to get fully into the tub to turn on the water. That meant you'd get splashed by the initially cold water. Furthermore, the tub, although not particularly deep, was way above the level of  the floor, a significant slipping hazard when getting out.

Our tour director, Lee, spoke excellent English, and shared well-received stories of his family life, including the hazards of the 1960's and 1970s "cultural revolution" and of his mother-in-law. In Xian we had a second leader, Peter, an expert who has worked on restoring the terracotta warriors. He too shared personal stories. He told us to look for him on a PBS documentary scheduled for release around the new year 2018.

Our bus comfortably accommodated the 26 members of our group. We soon became friendly with several of our tour-mates, including those from Bulgaria (now living in South Africa), Canada, England, and various  states in the US.

Flying and Touring Routine

The travel and tour was physically and mentally demanding, especially considering our ages, 75 and 78. We traveled by taxi from home to the Villages Transportation terminal at Spanish Springs, their Van to the Orlando FL airport, changing planes at Los Angeles CA, and again at Hong Kong for the flight to Beijing. That all took over 36 hours from home to hotel. We were exactly 12 hours off from our home time, so the "jetlag" was significant. The tour day usually started with a 7AM hotel  breakfast and an 8AM departure for sightseeing. There was a lot of walking, particularly the first few days at Tiananmen Square ("Temple of Peace"), the Forbidden City, and the Great Wall.

After the touring day, I usually ventured out alone, or at times with Vi, to walk the streets in the hotel vicinity, seeking a convenience store, supermarket, American fast-food, and so on. The streets were teeming with aggressive vendors and lined with small food shops, restaurants, and other stores. All, as far as I could tell, were strictly privately-owned and operated. I was impressed by large, multi-level and very modern shopping centers, featuring intentionally known brand names.

Scooters and bicycles, along with crowds of Chinese people, flowed along the sidewalks. I was continually surprised that no one ever seemed to get pushed or run over.

Crossing the street was an adventure! A plethora of people, cars, trucks, buses, scooters and bicycles seemingly regarded the traffic lanes and lights as mere decoration. I followed the advice of our tour leader and adopted a "sticky rice" strategy of embedding myself in a crowd of Chinese people and going with the flow.

After the organized tour, we had the opportunity to use taxis and public transportation, under the very able tutorship of Michaela and Anna. Both are excellent and inexpensive.

Bottled Water

Throughout our trip we were required  to use bottled water, and were told not to use tap water at the hotel for drinking or brushing our teeth. Drinking fountains were not generally available anywhere. The hotels provided two or four free small bottles that we usually put into the refrigerator. Additional water was an expense.

At airports, safe water was available for free, but it was either a choice between "hot" and "warm". I brought empty plastic water bottles through airport security and filled them with the "warm" water. Chilled water in bottles was available but cost around $2 each. I  noticed that some Chinese people had bottles with tea leaves in them, and they would use the "hot" water to make tea. The tea was weak and almost colorless since the tea leaves were used multiple times. At Disney they had safe water fountains, but that was an exception.

Internet Blocking in China

We had very good free Wi-Fi internet availability at Chinese airports (Beijing, Xian, and Shanghai) and at our fine hotels in those cities as well as in Suzhou. However, throughout our time in China, I could not gain access to my Google Groups or Google BlogSpot accounts. Facebook, however, continued to work OK. Our granddaughter (in the midst of her internship at a hotel in Suzhou) had suggested that I could use an app called "ExpressVPN", which, for a fee, would give us access to at least some of the blocked sites. However, the front desk agent who signed us in at our first hotel told me that ExpressVPN was not legal in China, and, since I had access to other internet features, I did not try to use ExpressVPN.

Cable TV Access in China

At each of the our hotels, we had access to many TV channels, in each case including several in English. All hotels had Bloomberg. Two had CNN, and some had the BBC, CNBC, and HBO, as well as an English-language Chinese station. However, I  never saw Fox News or Fox Business, nor did I see MSNBC. I don't know if this situation was due to blocking by the government or simply a matter of cost control by the hotels.

Some Highlights of Our China Tour

Please note that I generally do not take photos of the sights and scenery since better, professionally-taken photos are generally available online. Therefore, most of my photos feature images of family, friends, and me.

Beijing Area

Novotel Peace Hotel. The tour included: Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall, Ming Tombs, Rickshaw Tour, Home Lunch, Foot Massage, Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
Courtyard of private Chinese home where we enjoyed a wonderful meal with our tour group..
Note yellow bike on right is one of tens of thousands all over the city streets that can be unlocked by cellphone code and borrowed for a fee. 

Our Rickshaw Driver allowed me to sit in the driver's seat and pretend to pedal Vi around tte town.
Great Wall of China Panorama. TOP: Note Vi in blue sitting. BOTTOM: View looking upward as Wall rises steeply.

Xian ("She Ann") Area

Sheraton North City. The tour included: Elementary School Visit, Terracotta Warriors, Xian Old Market Area.
At an Elementary school in Xian. My student is Pang Zi Han, who wrote her name in Chinese and copied some English words for me. Vi sits with her student behind me. They asked for a volunteer to teach the class some English. I was the first. I drew the Earth, pointed out North, South, East and West, located China and USA, then I sketched a separate map of the United States noting New York where my wife and I were born and educated and worked, Florida where we retired, and California from where we flew to China.

Vi and I view the famous Terracotta Warriors. At the right is a "warrior" who looks a lot like me :^)

Shanghai Area

Hilton Jing'an. The tour included: Bund, Waterfront, Old Shanghai, Acrobats Variety Show.
Vi at Shanghai waterfront skyline. Vi on the Shanghai Bund takes the bull by the horn. 

Shanghai Disney World (on our own with Lisa, Michaela, and Anna).

Suzhou ("Sue Joe") Area

Jingi Lake Grand Hotel (where Michaela and Anna are interning).

Michaela and Anna arranged a walk and a golf-cart tour around the lush forested grounds and lake. Vi relaxed as Michaela and I used their impressive and humongous swimming pool and hot tubs.

Michaela and Anna took me, by taxi, to the old town area, intending to visit the museum. It turned out the museum happened to be closed, which was fortunate! We walked along narrow a narrow alley with shops on both sides, along their canals (reminiscent of Venice), took a woman-powered canal boat tour (and she sang!). We consumed a freshly-made waffle cones with ice cream and jelly balls.
In the lobby of the Suzhou Jingi Lake Grand Hotel where our Granddaughter Michaela, a Hospitality major at Purdue University, is interning. 

Suzhou. China - we went to museum by taxi but it was closed. turned out great because we walked down narrow lanes, dodging scooters and bikes. We walked along the canals and got to ride a canal boat

Suzhou China - fantastic pool and hot tub complex in hotel where Michaela is interning.

She is a competitive swimmer and treated Vi and me to dinner at her hotel using two awards

earned by winning swimming races against other hotel personnel.

Suzhou China - freshly made waffle cone after wonderful singing woman-powered canal boat

Journey with Michaela and Anna. ZOOM IN TO SEE WAFFLE COME!
Early Evening Suzhou Lake View - TOP: Note Ira and Michaela near right edge. BOTTOM: Chinese family enjoys life. 

Shanghai Pudong Airport Area

Ramada Plaza Pudong Airport Hotel. Our 5th-floor room overlooked the airport. We could see the terminal and the planes. We had dinner and breakfast at  the hotel.

We took the hotel courtesy van to the Shanghai Pudong Airport, changing planes at Hong Kong, changing again to San Francisco CA, changing again to Charlotte NC, and getting off the plane then on again to Orlando FL for the Villages Transportation van and taxi home. Again over 36 hours with a 12-hour time difference. We each had a bit of digestive upset and health issues, but they were mostly remedied by the medications Vi thoughtfully brought along.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

An good narration of a great trip. I look forward to your presentation at the Philosophy Club on December 1.