Friday, August 06, 2010

Random Notes from my China Trip - Part 1

China.  I was not too enthusiastic about going there.  There was just one reason - China is a large, populous country like India.  This fact painted a picture of China resembling India with its crumbled infrastructure, inadequate space and insufficient resources. 

I felt stupid.  Not because I considered that my notions about China could be wrong, but because I felt that these are not reasons for not taking interest in going to a country.  After all, this notion and lack of interest did not make for a person influenced by present day economics, and an economics that is, beyond doubt, being shaped by this big country.

Not fair ground tents: Beijing's developments seem to be well-grounded
than just being the side effects of Olympics
There was also this mild concern to do with language and communication.  I was told that it would be hard to get through only with English.  So, what happens if I go somewhere and get lost? 

Well, my concerns turned out to be unscientific, biased and completely unfounded. They were as conveniently bigoted as the notion of considering all Westerners as people with loose morals.   And I felt stupid for qualifying my stupidity  as that associated with my ‘irrational feelings of not taking interest’, whereas my stupidity was in fact, genuine stupidity -  pure lack of knowledge and know-how. 

China just left me gaping.  The trip became memorable, for all the right reasons.  The following are some random notes on my experiences:

-          Mind your Language: Lesson 1:  Language is definitely a problem.  You cannot ask your way around; not all signs are in English; even the [5-star] hotel staff might not interpret your English correctly [and you theirs].  So it is essential that you anticipate your most frequent queries and responses and have them written in Chinese.  Keep a copy of this sheet with you always.  Most hotels give you their address card in Chinese with the phrase: ‘Take me to my home’ written in Chinese. 

The Climb to the top: Beijing's infrastructure vouches
 for China's ascendancy to the ranks of superpowers

-          Mind your Language: Lesson 2:  Be careful when you attempt to speak Chinese names, such as those of your destinations.  Chinese seems to be a language, in which, every fine change in pronunciation/ diction can twist a word to carry a different meaning.  It would be quite unfortunate if your taxi driver hears your ‘Chin’ as a ‘Cheen’ or as a ‘Ching’ or as a ‘Jin’.  My overconfidence with Chinese names provided me a [of course, paid] tour of Shanghai that I did not really intend to take.

-          Maximum City: I had more apprehensions about Beijing than about Shanghai.  Somehow, it felt that Beijing is too much into the deep [good 2000 Km up north Shanghai, it’s the real mainland China], that I can manage in Shanghai, but in Beijing… hmm… doubtful.  Also, I did not have much expectation from the city – capitals are not always the most exciting of places [exception: Paris?].  But Beijing just shattered my notions.  When I was expecting, at the maximum, a city comparable to Delhi [Delhi, I hear is better, except for the weather], Beijing just fumbled me with its size, infrastructure and facilities [Marriot Beijing was more posh, cozy and stylish than Marriot Shanghai].  I was especially impressed with the roads - All the roads are far broader – much richer than their Indian counterparts, lined with trees, well-tended rose bushes (!) and tall, stylish buildings.

It definitely gave the picture of a bold, dominant economy that China has become.  Though, some of these developments can be attributed to the Olympics, it doesn’t look as if these are just recent developments.  The city seems to have planned its infrastructure long ago. 

Holistic?:  China's economic growth might not be
well distributed, but so is India's.
I visited a public sector customer in Beijing and it was time again to correct my assumptions about China.  While I had imagined a place that will most likely resemble the headquarters of one of the public sectors in India, this one was absolutely efficient and gave the picture that it is all about business – clean, neat, modern and highly professional.  The line of plush conference rooms with high tech projection systems, though could be considered superficial evidences of sophistication, in this case, just became subtle statements of the default classiness of the organization.

-          Language Again: This meeting also made me realize that Chinese is a complete language in that one can conduct discussions about technology and science completely in Chinese.  Though I couldn’t participate in conversations directly [as they were all in Chinese], I was fishing for facial expressions and the occasional English word that I thought would pop up now and then.  But no.  I could neither discern the facial expressions nor scoop English words.  I was awestruck to know that words such as browser, compatibility, UI technology, bandwidth etc can be expressed purely in Chinese.  I know that it is possible to find equivalents for such words in, say Tamil or Hindi.  Even then, how much of this ‘native language’ words is used in conversations?  [And whether it is worthwhile to have higher education in our native languages is a question worthy of a separate discussion.]

Balanced: The country of 1.5 billion is the world's largest
producer and world's 2nd largest consumer
-          Beijing Traffic: The city of 22 million is estimated to be running a staggering 4.2 million cars – a number, to the growing concern of everyone, is growing at a steady pace [an interesting statistics says that 2214 new vehicles hit Beijing roads everyday].  Every road seems to be clogged with traffic, irrespective of whether it’s a peak or an off-peak hour [and in spite of the broad and better roads].  The Beijing municipality is trying several alternatives such as having ‘no-car days’, congestion tax, higher parking fee etc, but to no avail.  Road trips in Beijing are taken with buffer hours calculated considering the traffic jams.  Every major road has traffic congestion indicators, but they can’t be of much help if one’s main route, as well as all alternative routes is clogged.

-          That Cloud of Puff: A big irksome factor in Beijing is public smoking.  The tinge of tobacco can always be felt in the air.  Since public smoking is allowed, and since the air has a vague trace of nicotine [or did I imagine that?], there’s no point in someone excusing themselves and either not smoking or trying to let the puff out in a different direction.  I’m sure this will be annoying even to an avid smoker – or perhaps a week in Beijing roads could be an effective therapy session for such smokers to quit smoking.  Add to this acrid atmosphere, a dash of the exhaust gases from the voluminous Beijing traffic, and you would have experienced the notorious Beijing pollution. How do people cope up with such levels of pollution?  Get a Chinese perspective of weather and pollution in this interesting NYT article.

To To be continued...


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