Where is this house

June 15, 2008 China Preservation, Economics Comments (0) 915

How come American Airlines wants $5 for a box of nasty formaldafoods during a 4-hour flight to Mexico when Air India and Indian airlines will feed me hot food during an 1 ½ hour flight (or three hot meals during a 7-hour flight) and give out Johnny Walker Red like it was orange juice? Remind me which is the wealthier country, because from a consumer point of view, it ain’t us.

I guess we are wealthier because you add up each individual’s wealth and divide by the population. That must be it, because by any cultural collective standards, we’re in the poorhouse. I am not into typical complaining about culture in terms of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and Tom Cruise and Starbucks and McDonalds and Wal-Mart. They have all of those things in Beijing and Sao Paolo and Kyiv and Paris and Lagos – that isn’t what makes us different. It doesn’t even make us bad. But we have become mean and cheap in a way most of the world doesn’t dare.

I don’t think it is even economics, unless it is the economics of lawyering, which makes the USA one giant whipped-cream-covered superdelicious tort just waiting to be violated by gang lawsuits. In India they train 40 engineers for every lawyer, and in the US this ratio is reversed and one economy is growing and the other is stagnating and it doesn’t take a business degree to figure this out.
Since I started working in China five years ago it has become clear to me that the economic strength of the US has lost its inevitability. There are more and better capitalists in India and China and it a matter of less and less time before they leave us in the dust. I have seen a seismic shift in five years and the response to the actual seismic event in Wenchuan proves the new China. This is not 2049 inevitability but 2019 inevitability.

China is the man in their command of capitalism and their newfound economic confidence layered on top of a very, very old cultural confidence. It is almost the anti-preservation culture because while we in the West are concerned about authenticity and original fabric, China is not. They would just as soon rebuild something. Perhaps this is because they have a culture so deep and assured that it needs no physical reminders. The tour guides lament the demolition of Beijing’s city walls in the 1950s but maybe they tell us that for the same reason they take us to Joseph Rock’s house near Lijiang and the Joseph Stilwell museum in Chongqing, because these are American things and they assume that is what we want to hear and see.

I was in China for two weeks and took six airline flights and every one of them was on time and the baggage came out as quick as the passengers and they fed you something on every flight even if it was only 45 minutes long. I waited more than 45 minutes for my luggage when I got back to Chicago. My fellow travelers commented on the dedication to service they encountered in China and contrasted it with home, where more and more service industries are acting like waiters in a Parisian café. Man, these young countries are hungry and willing to work hard and even though Americans work harder than their European counterparts we have always relied on a steady stream of hungry immigrants to do the heavy lifting.

So where will those immigrants choose to go in 2019?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *