What a wacky, wonderful month we had in China. A big part of us didn’t want to leave, but with only eleven months, twenty some countries to visit, and visas that expired on the 16th, we knew our time had come. Guilin the second time was just as mellow as thIMG_0581.JPGe first, though this time we actually had to face the ill-reputed taxi drivers at the bus station. As in Xi’an, no one wanted to take the Americans to their destination just a short distance away. Yet again it was a Saturday (you’d think we would have learned not to travel on a weekend in China), and drivers could be choosy given the abundance of potential customers. Though no one was excited about the prospect, we had resolved ourselves to walking the mile to the Sheraton when a nice young man in a pink shirt approached us and asked if he could help. After five minutes of negotiating, he had arranged two cabs off the meter for only a slightly inflated rate. Our new friend was so concerned that we not be ripped off, that he rode with Tom in the first cab to ensure the drivers actually took us where we wanted to go for the agreed upon price. This guy didn’t want to sell us anything or get anything from us; he just wanted to help us. Before he left, he warned, “All Chinese are not your friends.”
His concern was touching and a fitting farewell from a country that, for the most part, embraced us warmly. (I hope it’s embraced my iPod with my affection as well.) There were many things that frustrated us, but more that delighted us. The biggest takeaway from our encounter with China is sheer amazement at what it has accomplished in such a short time and what it most certainly will accomplish in the coming years. At home we don’t pay much attention, but we’d better start. While we flounder in public debt, this country has $1 trillion in foreign currency reserves, much of it in dollars. Foreign investment is flowing in faster than skyscrapers and factories can be built. A billion and a half people who for decades were prevented from freely earning or spending money are gradually building up bank accounts, and the world’s businesses are salivating at the prospect of peddling their wares to these prospective customers. China’s power and influence are growing exponentially. One US official recently compared China’s 21st century rise to that of the United States in the early 20th century. This is big stuff, and most of us, myself included, sit at home and think no more than how glad we are that we can buy cheap goods at Wal-Mart because the Chinese are willing to make them for us. The Chinese still have huge obstacles to overcome–pollution, corruption, a lack of basic personal freedoms–but if we don’t get our Western heads out of the sand, we’ll be making their tchotchkes someday.