Thursday, 21 May 2015

Chinese Persistence

You cannot fathom the true meaning of the word persistence until you have been doggedly trailed 10 kilometres up a steep hillside, topped with the Great Wall of China, by a withered and ragged 70 year old woman , all in the vain attempt to sell you some postcards for the princely value of 50 cents. As your breathing becomes laboured and your 25 year old legs are straining and shaking with the effort of hauling your slightly over weight frame up that mountain you realise that this nimble little lady has walked this path thousands of times. She does it with next to no effort, her bandy legs rest lightly on the earth as she hounds you relentlessly to just buy her postcards.

It was an accumulation of moments like these across China that I realised if persistence is the key to world domination the Chinese will be the next world super power.

With just under 4 weeks spent in China I had concluded that there was rarely an opportunity missed by the industrious Chinese people.  I guess in the face of poverty in a country with no social security to fall back on a missed opportunity is a missed meal. In the tourist town of Yangshuo, where I spent my first few nights in China, young children work till the early hours of the morning going from bar to club, restaurant to karaoke den selling flowers to the tourists. Around 3am I approached a brother and sister flower selling team who could not have been more than five and eight years old to ask them when they would be going home. In their timid voices and with sweet innocent smiles they informed me that they will go home when the last of the tourists go to bed. In a town like Yangshuo where the streets are lined with establishments that exist for the sole purpose of entertaining tourists I am surprised that there might ever be a time where all the tourists have gone to bed.

On long bumpy train journeys through inland China I witnessed every manner of industry and progress. In the south, small scale rice farming reigned, the locals bent over in back breaking work through the day-light hours and at night they retire to little more than concrete cubes with rudimentary comforts.

A thick oppressive blanket of smog descended over the sun's rays as we moved further north. A sign that the industry was scaling up. We passed through mega cities with populations far exceeding that of the entirety of Australia's population. The Chinese who were not employed in the many factories were kept busy with jobs you would just not see in the Western World. Men and women sweeping the highway with straw brooms, dodging in and out of speeding traffic, locals taking advantage of traffic jams to sell home grown fruit to the stranded passengers sweating it out on the buses, people of all ages and questionable skill levels constructing bamboo scaffolding to extend the buildings ever upwards towards the sky.

The old clickety clack railway tracks that shunted us all over the country are now all gone. Devoured by high speed rails lines all within five years, now the most extensive and most heavily used high speed rail system in the world covering 16 000 kilometres.

At the time the mammoth Yangtze Three Gorges Dam project was part way through it's inception. 1.2 million villagers in the path of the rising river was not enough to stand in the governments way of producing the worlds largest hydro electric power project. Heavily protected my a military presence and shrouded by the standard practice of censoring information meant that we only heard the positives about the project as we made our way down the river in our rusty tub, playing mahjong with the local ladies.

At the time of my trip in 2006, China was facing a dire situation with pollution. The environment was groaning under the strain of such progress. There were attempts during my visit to clean up their act as the world was turning their attention towards the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Change seemed temporary at that point in time but time tells an interesting tale. As of early 2015 China has reduced their CO2 emissions by 5 per cent in just 4 months and will have the last of Beijing's coal plants shut down by 2016. As the largest consumers of cars worldwide there has been moves to incentivise the purchase of electric vehicles. China has heeded the warnings of an imminent eco catastrophe and have made moves to circumvent it. Time will tell if these moves are legitimate and long lasting or if they are just replaced by alternate methods that will be just as polluting.

No one nation has made more leaps and bounds in the last 10 years than China. After spending nearly a month traversing the vast country witnessing the people, their persistence and their resilience first hand it seems maybe there is nothing China can't do. Hopefully progress doesn't come at too higher price and that social reforms follow suit to keep up in some way with the vast physical and economical advancements China has put in motion


Originally posted on Thursday, 21 May 2015 by

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