July 10, 2001

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Whatever notions I had of China I have had to send to the wastebasket of history. China is a country where everyone works and works and works. Whether you are in the countryside or the city you see signs of progress. Probably the most basic symbol of progress is a pile of bricks. Everywhere you look there are piles of bricks. Most of the cities and towns I saw look less than 20 year old. I saw many buildings being torn down that did not look that old. Progress is moving so fast that buildings become obsolete far quicker than in our country. There almost seems no attempt at recycling buildings.

If Ely was growing as fast as a typical Chinese town there would be at least 20 commercial buildings being built and no less than 3 high-rises. In China there seems to be a thousand little businesses on every square block. This is true in the countryside as well. These people don't think of anything like building an iron foundry in the middle of some fields. Many of the old farm co-operative look more like small factories that anything else.

Such is the example of the factory I came to visit. Heibi Musical Company was started by two farmers. They had no formal training in making instruments. They did not even play an instrument. However, that has not stopped them from creating a company that has 650 employees. Even today with all this success they still dress simply and look more like auto mechanics rather than owners of multi-million dollar companies.

With the high quality of workmanship that China is putting into their country I can easily see them becoming an economic power that will dwarf Japan very quickly. The only thing holding them back is the incredible number of people. Labor in the USA is very tightly used. In a department store you have to hunt a clerk. In China there is a clerk every five feet. The same goes in restaurants. Everywhere you turn there are uniformed employees waiting to help you.

Labor is cheap and so in many areas there are still things done with brute human force. Ditch digging new sewer lines is still done by thin hardworking men.

Beautiful modern bridges are made with the skill of many laborers. I saw few pieces of heavy equipment such as earth movers or bulldozers. In all the fields we saw there were laborers with hoes clearing the fields of weeds.

In Ely we take for granted the natural formations of nature. In Northern China the land is mostly flat and shows signs of being shaped my man over and over. Every patch of ground available is farmed.

To support all the building I saw was a world of trucks. There are not many cars in China. Trucks are everywhere. They are all open bed trucks and they carry everything you can imagine. Some trucks were so overburdened that they had cargo sticking out over five feet on each side. Weight limits are not a concern in China. Of course these over burdened trucks can barely go 30 mph and yet they are commonplace on China's beautiful freeways and toll ways.

While we are in China we have Mr. Wong as our driver. He doesn't speak English, but he is one hell of a driver. He makes the Indy 500 look like a cake walk. Weaving and passing in China is allowed all the time. You can pass on the inside; you can pass in the oncoming lane with approaching trucks lumbering your way. I thought my wife was going to have a heart attack when we drove to TianJin City. Mr. Wong made it look easy, but in the USA he would have piled up hundreds of tickets. In spite of the Chinese free spirit approach to driving any way you like, I did not see one accident and most cars looked accident free. It is an odd system where highways can be used by trucks, cars, bikes, and moped trucks that can barely do 20 mph. You would think the highway would be as red as the Chinese flag.

Another thing I expected was Mao photos everywhere and tons of patriotic statues. Instead I mostly saw advertisements. China is not like some 1984. Mao suits - I never saw one. Everyone wears western clothes. In the stores I saw more variety, more styles, and more of anything. American teenagers are more enslaved with their blue jeans' look than are the Chinese. The Chinese are a handsome race and one where I drew attention due to my girth.

China is on a mission and that mission is profit. It will be interesting to see how long they can maintain this level of growth. In our country a 3% growth rate is considered good. Seeing China's sample of a 15% growth rate was eye opening. It is true they are catching up and it will be interesting to see if this economic freedom will ever push aside their iron leaders. However, at this point I sense the Chinese tend to ignore their government. They have economic freedom and they see progress. What more do you want from a government in a land where 40 years ago most were peasants?

Speaking of bricks and spoiled western bodies, the beds in China are very strange. They look like our beds in that they have a mattress and a box spring. However, the mattress is more like a hard wooden shell with at most an inch of padding. Lying on your back is like being on the slab at the morgue.

Our lack of sleep was made up by the endless variety of food. We never ordered for ourselves as the menus were totally in Chinese. At every meal the food looked different and tasted fantastic. The French have noting on the Chinese when it comes to sauces. Chinese style eating was a new experience. You have chopsticks, a soupspoon, and a small plate that is smaller than a tea saucer. In the middle of the table is a large lazy Susan where all the dishes are available. If you want something across the table just spin and help yourself with your chopsticks. At these meals you would have at least three different meat dishes and about six vegetables dishes. The Chinese think our food is very plain and very simple. They are right. Even at our Thanksgiving best we do not come close to the Chinese in complexity and style. - and yes, I do miss milk.

It has been a trip of a million different visions. I am much more impressed with China than I was with Europe. Despite the panorama of bricks and the hard beds China is worth the 26 hours in planes and airports.


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