Sunday, November 20, 2011

The China Facade

China is growing rapidly and the Chinese want to find the best ways to showcase their new found wealth.  China’s goal:  to be the best at everything.  Faster is one way to achieve that.  Take the Maglev for example:

The Maglev is Shanghai’s ultra-fast train.  It runs one line from a train station near the city out to Pudong International Airport…. in 7 minutes.  How does it do it so quickly?  By going super fast.

And that’s not even as fast as it can go.

And think taller.  The Shanghai World Financial Centre is the world’s third tallest building – though they really wish it was the first.  To get to the observation deck, you enter the building and head down some escalators to a small exhibition telling you how amazing the building is.  This includes highlighting several times how the SWFC was certified by the Guinness Book of Records as having the world’s tallest occupied floor and world’s tallest observation deck when it opened – take that (taller) Taipei 101!  The Burj Khalifa opened shortly after the SWFC did and stripped it of a few titles that it held over Taipei 101… most titles actually… but they didn’t mention that.   

The building itself is a pretty big feat though – I’ll give them that.  You start down in the exhibition at an elevation of -5 meters:

And about a minute later you’re at the top:

Pretty insane.  The observation deck is on level 100:

The view down is pretty spectacular.  One thing you can see is the Jin Mao Tower.  From the ground, the building looks like this:

From the SWFC, it looks like that:

That buidling right behind/below me.  Yes, that's the Jin Mao Tower.  It’s awesome that you can look DOWN on the ninth tallest building in the world.

It’s not just building above ground that’s pretty neat.  It’s underground too.  Take this space here:

I swore I was in an airport, but this is actually a subway station in Shanghai.  Clean.  New.  Big.

But then, after the oooo-ing and aaah-ing, you begin to scratch away at the surface and you realize that all of the glitz and glam and new and shiny is really just one big façade.  Take the train, for example.  Yes, the Maglev is super fast, but they no longer let it go at max speed due to safety concerns.  In July, a non-Maglev high speed train crashed and killed a bunch of people.  The cause:  they think it was just operator error – but there wasn’t any backup safety mechanism in place either.  The SWFC – as tall and impressive as it is – has a ton of vacancies.  They opened the building right as the GFC hit.  And the subway stations are another story all together.  Every subway station in Beijing and Shanghai has an x-ray machine that you have to put your bag through.  Safety first, right?

Wrong.  They aren’t even watching the damn screen.  The attendants who are supposed to be looking at the TV monitor to see if you have any weapons or bombs or anything in your bag are too busy talking to one another, talking on the phone, texting, picking their nose, or just staring at the ceiling.  Not even kidding.

Along the same lines of safety:  I didn’t see one person wearing a helmet on a bicycle, scooter, or motorcycle while in mainland China.  Do they even sell them?  I suppose if they are dumb enough to ride their bicycles on a busy six-lane highway, then they aren’t smart enough to wear a helmet while doing it.  No wonder the traffic related death rate is so high.  Also, seatbelts can’t be found in taxis.  Why do they insist on cutting them out or covering them up?

Did you know that you need to register with the police within 24 hours whenever you go to a new city?  Hotels and guesthouses will register for you, but since I was staying with Ross & Jonathon for a few days, I had to go check in with the popos.  There was no indication that the registration system was in any way, shape, or form linked with the immigration/passport system.  So… ?  Again, all for show?

But it doesn’t stop there.  Signs like this are seen in some parts of Beijing and Shanghai:

People still spit anyway.  Also, they need to amend the sign to read “No Spitting or Shitting”.  It’s quite incredible how a mom can be standing at a busy intersection in the middle of Shanghai and decide that it’s totally ok to tell her young son to just shit right there on the corner – and then wipe his ass for all passersby to see.  Seriously?  I’d take people spitting over shitting any day of the week.

Accounting standards?  They don’t have them.  “Sure – those numbers look good!  They will really make the competition worry!”  And then there’s something about China’s exchange rate not fluctuating like it should and that documentary I saw about how the Chinese just keep building and building and building and half the time there’s just no demand so massive apartment complexes, shopping malls, and commercial towers sit idle – whole cities of them – just waiting for them to be needed one day.

And don’t forget pollution!  How could you forget pollution when there’s so much of it.  So, apparently, they banned or are going to ban outdoor heaters on patios at restaurants and bars.  The reason:  the outdoor heaters are gas heaters and therefore they pollute.  Forget the millions of cars.  Forget the massive factories.  All of China’s pollution woes stem from the small handful of western restaurants that have enough money to purchase outdoor heating lamps.  That makes complete sense to me.  Once again, they’re doing it to make it look like they’re doing something.

From all of my posts on China, you would probably think I hated it, but I actually didn’t.  Just the opposite really.

Ok, maybe I didn’t love it, but I really enjoyed China.  Now, I’m not signing up to move there ever, but it was something so different and so interesting to see.  There were some really friendly people there, and once I learned how to push people and completely ignore signs telling me to queue up, I sort of fit in ok.  My main concern was food, but I ate well thanks to Deona, Ross, and Jonathon.  There were some incredible things in China – including the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Warriors – and there are so many more things like that across the country.  The history is long, the culture is rich, and the landscapes are beautiful… when you can see them through the smog.  I actually do want to go back and see more – just as soon as my lungs recover from this last trip.  It’s a shame that people are cut off from so much information and that the whole country seems to be just putting on a show for the rest of the world.  Underneath, I don’t think it would take all too much for the country to stumble and crumble some.  Maybe ignorance is bliss?  Maybe not.  I guess we’ll see what happens in the next few decades…

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