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Back in 2004, I was sent to China to help implement Process Engineer Training in Shanghai, my first trip to Asia. The training was focused on properly applying the scientific method to aid in problem-solving. I made several more trips to China over the next ten years (as well as trips to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore), and I learned many things about communist China:
– The downtown architecture of Shanghai is like Godzilla meets The Jetsons with a dash of fireworks-influenced design.
– Always eat in restaurants, never from street vendors.
– Assume that your hotel room is bugged and everyone you meet will report anything you do or say.
– Always say “No” to any young woman who asks, “Do you want to party?”
– The popular tourist shopping locations, like Yu Gardens, offer a ton of cheap products, made by slave labor, and all of them are Godfather-like fronts for the CCP. And everything, especially watches, purses, and DVDs, is poorly made, even in shops that look legitimate.
– My VP and I went shopping in Yu Gardens. He’s a staunch Progressive, now retired near Portland (may he recognize what he helped unleashed). Paradoxically, he’s a hard, merit-based, hard-nosed competitive negotiator. We were told not to patronize anyone off the main shopping area because they were not govt-sanctioned. My VP was looking for a knockoff Prada purse and wasn’t having much luck. A young man came up and encourages us to follow him out of the main shopping area to a kind of shed with a flimsy covering curtain. Inside, he had a wall of purses. My VP found what he wanted and started negotiating. At that time, the value of Chinese money was very low compared to the dollar, so he was arguing for a discount of perhaps one or two dollars. Meanwhile, I looked glanced around the small 30×20 area and noticed a woman coming down some vertical stairs nailed to a wall, from a small square cut in the ceiling, carrying a baby. I looked up through the opening and saw reflected in a mirror up above a bedroom. I went up to my VP and said, “This isn’t a shop. This is their home.” He walked over, looked up, and paid the man full price.
– The night views are stunning, especially of The Bund, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and Nanjing Road. The nuclear power consumption is massive, and the millions of lights and fully lit roads remind you of what American cities were like before all the power consumption nonsense, with lower-watt yellow lighting replacing full, bright incandescent. American cities are now dark. Chinese cities are fully lit.
– Riverboats sport HUGE TV screens (plasma back then, LCD and beyond now) with advertising.
– Hundreds of brands and styles of smartphones everywhere. With such a massive consumer population, much more customization is evident. Remember, the larger area of Shanghai has a population of over 25 million, in a country population of billions. They are not impressed by our largest cities.
– If you like REAL reflexology (foot massages that are painful, but after, you feel like your walking in clouds), you can find 60- to 90-minute sessions for very cheap. Ask your flight attendant on the way to China for recommendations.
– There are so many people everywhere that everyone takes it in stride when a taxi or motorcycle/moped hits a pedestrian. Well, not the pedestrian.
– Any of your initial touristy excitement fades in a couple or three days. There is a nauseating sameness to all the apparent variety.
– Don’t be surprised when at the airport your plane is suddenly halted on the runway for a couple of hours while the Chinese military practices maneuvers overhead.
Beijing is different. Where there is a decided police presence in Shanghai, there is a military presence in Beijing. The difference in the feeling is very stark.
– Beijing is smog. There are clearly no constraints on pollution. My visit was before the Beijing Olympics and high-rise hotels were being built everywhere 24 hours per day. You could see the wielding torches all night long. (Shanghai, OTOH, is near the ocean, so its air gets wind-cleaning.
– If you go to that famous Peking Duck restaurant, you’ll notice, like other restaurant owners, this owner has pictures hung in the long entryway with himself and celebrities. Like Castro, Khrushchev, etc.
– Do NOT order the all-duck dinner, where everything from the appetizer, first course, second course, main course, and desert are all made out of duck. You will NEVER eat duck again!
– The Summer Palace is the most beautiful tourist attraction.
– The Great Wall (the little bit you can see) is interesting, but the bus ride there will scare the bejeezus out of you. Tiny two-lane road with cliffs, and pull-down seats that fill the walkway between the main seats, so you are packed in like a sardine.
– We took the Tienanmen Square / Forbidden City tour with a Chinese guide. There was a countdown clock above the square. The guide explained that it was counting down to the Beijing Olympics. Before that, it counted down when China would get back to Hong Kong. Next, it will count back when China gets back Taiwan. Nobody laughed under the massive portraits of Mao.
– The Forbidden City was being remodeled for the Olympics, but it was an interesting walk-through. Leaving the City, you are greeted with dozens of people holding children, many with missing limbs, begging for money.
I was happy to leave China. And happy never to return.Published in