Period: December, 2016.
By: Anil Chelampath (a pseudonym)
I just got back to Canada from a 30 day trip through China, and wrote a trip report for my friends here in the Toronto area. Since I am a friend of the Saker, I thought I would polish it up, and submit it to the Saker to see if he might consider it for his blog.
I had always admired China from afar, but to complete the picture decided to see up close the country, the people and the institutions and infrastructure. With my Chinese born Canadian friends, we flew from Toronto to Shanghai. From Shanghai, to the far west, then north-west up to the Gobi Desert, north to Beijing and beyond, and north-east close to the Yalu River. The places I visited included portions of the Ancient Silk Road; segments of the Great Wall at the far western reaches; several Buddhist places (old and new) including the Shaolin Temple – founded by Buddhabhadra circa 495 AD, and followed by Bodhidharma circa 527 AD; and the tombs of Dr. Henry Norman Bethune of Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada, and Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, of Solarpur, Maharashtra, India.
- China is an industrial giant, and in my opinion is now the No. 1 superpower economically. She produces about 600 million tons of steel a year (mty), compared to about 80 mty in the US, and about 100 mty by Lakshmi Mittal of ArcelorMittal.
- “Bullet” train – The Chinese call these High Speed Trains. The Bullet Train is a game changer. They travel at over 300 kph (km per hour), which is about 186 mph. Once the New Silk Road is built, the Eurasian land mass will change in a manner unprecedented in history.
- Subways: Almost every city I visited had a subway (underground railway, Metro). In every case, they were more advanced and better than our Toronto subway system, in terms of efficiency, cleanliness and speed.
- Cars, trucks: Top of the line vehicles from Japan, Europe, Korea and the U.S. And many produced in China. And they clog the roads everywhere.
- Roadways: Beautifully built and maintained, with a separate lane for electric cycles, scooters and such, and a sidewalk for pedestrians, with raised strips for blind folk.
- The people:
- Friends and acquaintances: Friendly, generous and hospitable to a fault.
- People and officials in public places: Rough mannered, discourteous, uncharitable, racist to varying degrees. On landing at the Shanghai airport, among a sea of yellow faces, I was singled out for a medical test. Wherever we went, at railway stations, airports, hotels and such, one look at me, and I had to produce my Canadian passport for detailed scrutiny, reminiscent of Hollywood movies caricaturing the Soviet police!
- The environment:
- A complete disaster. Killing the planet without any sense or inkling of the Earth being a fragile living entity. Every city I visited had varying degrees of extremely severe smog, with up to half the population wearing face masks.
- The Government: The Party has a tiger by the tail. But if the economic model is not immediately changed, there will be problems, irreversible in nature, both for the people and the planet. I have addressed these issues, and suggested solutions, in the detailed report below. I am taking this liberty, as my way of showing appreciation for the fine gesture that Mr. Xi Jinping made when he visited the younger sister of Dr. Kotnis, during his visit to India a couple of years back. This gentle touch indicates to me that the Party is driven by the same compassionate folks that Norman and Dwarkanath volunteered to fight with, and died for.
I wish to maintain the anonymity of all the various people I met. But since this report is bound to be subjective, I will introduce myself to explain any biases I may harbour. I am over 70, been in Canada 50 years, just retired from my engineering company, now work part time as a consultant. I was born in East Africa, my folks are Syrian Christians of Kerala, India, followers of St. Thomas the Apostle, who came to India in the 1st Century and died there. The clergy use Syriac Aramaic for liturgy. Some factions owe allegiance to the Patriarch of Antioch.
Thanks to my friends who accompanied me, I met several dozens of their friends and relatives in different parts of the country. These folks were from different walks of life, such as taxi drivers, cooks, store keepers, captains of industry, and some in government and the Party.
Rather than follow a chronological order, I have elected to break the report into various subject matter.
More than 20 cities have advanced subway systems. The stations are very well constructed. The announcements are always in Chinese and English (generally with a kind of Oxbridge accent). Every car has an electronic map above the door, showing the entire route, where the train currently is, next destination, and so on. The stations have glass partitions close to the platform edge, so that there is no way you can jump on the track. There are sliding glass doors, and the driver lines up the train doors with these sliding doors. I know of a Toronto acquaintance who used to drive a subway train, and told me how frequent are the “jumpers” who commit suicide. This simple system would prevent that. All the trains I saw had overhead electric lines, not the third rail ground level system.
The tickets are sold from machines that are again in Chinese and English, and once you get used to the electronic language, can be easy to use. But for the older folks, this is not easy to master.
John Tory, our Toronto mayor, could pick up a thing or two, if he paid a visit.
High Speed Rail System
The Bullet Train is a wonder on its own right. The trains are sleek, streamlined beauties. You get seat numbers, no standing. The ubiquitous clickety-clack of the rails that you hear all over the world, is gone. All you hear is a smooth “swish”. The issue of the rail joints every 39 feet is gone. The expansion joints are apparently filled with a special material that adjusts itself with the varying temperature. The stone ballast looks similar to what we use in North America, and look well maintained. But no wood ties, all reinforced concrete ties. I used these trains several times, and the speeds (always displayed on electronic boards) were approaching a maximum of 310 kph. They are actually capable of higher speeds. For speed and convenience, it actually makes more sense to travel, say, from Shanghai to Beijing, or Beijing to Xi’an by Bullet Train than by air, and that is what most of the mandarins (civil servants) do.
This would never work in Canada, let alone India. We don’t have the population in Canada to justify this. And our track record for maintaining our tracks is abysmal. And India is much worse. But it could work in parts of the U.S. I suggest Mr. Trump visit China, and he would be truly impressed. He is savvy enough to negotiate a business plan to build these all over the U.S., that would be a big boost for the American economy. As the Chinese say, this would be a win-win-win project (China-2 vs US-1).
A couple of places I visited:
- Machinery Builder: This was a world class company. Their showroom alone was a huge steel building with three overhead cranes, with various mining and steelmaking equipment, some over 40 feet high. The quality of the workmanship was excellent, and pricing was unbeatable.
- Building Component manufacturer: Not world class in quality, but very competitive. When I pointed out some shortcomings in their design, they were quick to acknowledge, and make corrections.
I saw one integrated steel mill. This is the classic Soviet design, that you can see all over north India, and most parts of China. All of them use the Blast Furnace route. It is coal based, and is a planet killer. Just the sight of the plumes of smoke from a distance is enough to make one sick. The basic process includes an in-house coal fired power plant, and powdered coal and coke made from coal for the iron making.
We passed one power plant. Their emanations were horrible to watch. Power plants are generally coal fired. I read that China commissions two coal fired power plants a week. That’s right, two a week.
General Observations on Chinese Industries
In almost every case, China takes a working design from another country, and tries to imitate it, with “Chinese characteristics”. This worked in Japan and Korea, and it is applied on a monumental scale in China. In the early days, this approach resulted in some very shoddy work, but now there is a concerted effort by the government to ensure quality, and anything for export has to meet stringent quality controls.
A family where I spent time with, to the west of Shanghai. House by a river, walled all around, enter through a gate. Up to about 30 years ago, life was extremely hard, everything was rationed. You were lucky to get meat to eat once a year. Because of lack of fuel, you would sometimes go without showers for a month. In the winters, there was no heat in the house. The people here are so hardy, even now they manage indoors without winter heat, which this Canadian resident found unbearably cold. Now they live in a mansion, easily worth a $1m in Canada. One daughter and her husband have a store in town, which stays open 7 days a week, all year. These are unbelievably hard working people, and have benefitted from Deng Xiaoping’s revolution. I spent a few hours upstairs over their store, to rest from jet lag, and the place was packed with noodles that are made daily, with a bunch on the balcony, getting sun dried. The son has a high level position, drives a top end Audi, and I would guess their house would be worth about $2m in Toronto.
At the parents’ house, there are chicken at the back, couple of sheep in a barn nearby, and a plot of land down the footpath, where all kinds of vegetables and fruit are grown.
Family in Beijing. One kid is completely Americanized, goes to an American run school, speaks fluent English with a Yankee accent, plays junior hockey, has a Russian coach. Skis in the winter. Lives in a condo in a gated complex of multi-story condos. Inside is lavishly furnished. Because of this location, this condo would be worth several million. Parents widely travelled to all parts of the world, conversed in moderately good English, I even spoke some Swahili and Spanish with them.
Way up to the north-east of the country. House by a frozen river. An incongruous scene of a guy actually skating on the river, next to the house. The house was built with sheet metal and plastic sheets, and garbage was strewn all over the frozen river. It was bitterly cold, and I can only guess at the conditions inside. Reminded me of my indigenous brothers and sisters in Northern Ontario.
Retired professor in a big city. Lives on a pension in an apartment in the university grounds. Lives modestly but comfortably. Entertained us for dinner in the university cafeteria building. We passed by the kids in the cafeteria, then went to a section where there are large rooms, Chinese style, where they entertained us to a very lavish dinner. We were joined by a few other professors, who were very cordial to me and very respectful to their retired buddy.
The Education System
Basically officially sanctioned child slave labour. The average kid wakes up at 5:30am, after breakfast at home, leaves about 6:00am for school (by bus, taxi, etc.). Lunch and dinner at the school. Back home at 8:30pm. Five days a week. Saturday: Home work. Sunday: Tutoring.
The sole purpose is to pass the exams with the highest possible score, to qualify for the best universities. On meeting some of the kids, I did not get a sense that anyone was having fun learning. For some of the children of the very poor, this is the only ticket out of poverty. Having met some of the graduates in Canada, and their parents in China, I can see the logic, but cannot agree with this approach.
Food and Booze
(Vegetarians can skip this section). At a lavish dinner hosted by some of the local well-heeled friends, near the Shanghai area, I was simply awestruck by the stupendous cuisine. And very distinctive. I will never again say “let’s go out for Chinese.” Every province has its own style of cooking. In the Shanghai region, for instance, “sweet and sour pork” is actually sweet and salty. Not sour, Cantonese style. As you go north, food gets more salty, less sweet. It is customary for a family to say “let’s go out for Szechuan”. Or “Cantonese”. In the far north-west, one of the “delights” was minced donkey meat. And a half-cooked lamb with the head still on, that was brought to us to garner our approval, before they finished the cooking. Near the Mongolian border, the sliced lamb meat literally melted in your mouth.
In one of the group dinners, after hearing that I liked red wine, the hostess brought out a bottle of Chinese red. The label had fake comments about its French pedigree, written in hilarious Chinglish and Frenchlish, and dated “Since 2012”. It tasted like some sort of medication, but to be polite I said it was similar to our Canadian Ontario wines. I said it was not bad, and actually quite good for marinating meat, especially goat meat. She got my drift, and two days later invited my friends and I to a 5 star American hotel, where they actually served a creditable Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. More about the hotel later.
The native rice wine is stupendous. I tried two kinds, one brownish and milder, and one pure white and much stronger. At a hot pot party, where you dip pieces of lamb into the pot, then dip it into sesame seed paste, they would then down a small glass of this white wine, bottoms up, after each bite. These guys reminded me of Russians, the way they drank, and the camaraderie that got warmer the more they drank.
In all the subways, train stations, malls, up-scale hotels, the washrooms are spotlessly clean. But almost always some are Asian squat style, rather than the Westers seat style. The health benefits of the squat toilet is not well known in the “West”, but a search on the internet will yield very good information. As you go further west and north, toilets start getting somewhat “crappy”, and in the boondocks end up being just a hole in the ground, and quite gross. It is extremely important to bring your own supply of toilet paper if you go to the remote regions.
After their deed, about half of the fellas would leave without washing their hands, about the same average as Canada.
Basic Courtesies, Charity (Lack Thereof)
In the entire 30 days that I was in China, I only saw two acts of basic courtesy. In the subways, train stations and bus stops, the folks rush and mill about without a single “excuse me”, “after you” or “thank you”. I don’t mean to me, but to each other. If there is a rush to the elevator or escalator, they would literally shoulder each other off to squeeze in.
In every subway car, just as in any subways around the world, there are always well marked seats on either side, reserved for the aged, infirm, pregnant women and children. In every case, these were occupied by young men or women. Not a single person would get up for an old man, or woman with child.
When I had to travel on a bus, standing room only, an older man, neatly dressed, but frail, was standing near me. When the bus suddenly jerked to a stop, he lost his grip on the side bar, and lurched forward. No one on either side moved to help, so I jumped forward and grabbed him.
I saw a few instances of begging/panhandling. I suspect the authorities try to move them out of sight. In one case, it was an elderly woman, sitting by the side of the sidewalk, one leg painfully contorted, visibly handicapped. It was bitterly cold, and she was dressed in tatters. This was a busy walkway, but not one passerby dropped a yuan. In another instance, what appeared to be an old soldier from his tattered clothes and stiff bearing, was sitting on a small foot high broken stool, painfully playing a tune on his two stringed violin. After a couple of swipes of his bow, he had to rest, he looked so weak. Again, busy walkway, no one dropped a penny. I know a Salvation Army lady in Toronto, who would make short shrift of this situation. But unfortunately, I suspect she would not get any funds in China.
Courtesy #1: I was once travelling with one of my friends in a crowded subway in Beijing, standing next to a couple of burly Turkmen looking guys, one wearing an Islamic taqiyah (skullcap). They were talking to each other in a Turkic sounding language. At one stop, a seat opened up, and as usual there is a fight for the seat. The taqiyah won the battle, but when he sat down, he looked up to see me, saw my features and age, and instantly shot up, and in a forceful way told me to take his seat, which I did and nodded to say thanks. When I got up to get ready for my stop, I said as-salam-alaykum to him, to which he immediately replied wa alaykum salam with a smile. I asked my friend to chat him up a bit. She told me they hailed from Quinghai, in the far west, north of Tibet, and now work in Beijing.
Courtesy #2: In the Shaolin Temple (which I address later), in one area, standing far to one side while the visitors were milling about between temple buildings, I saw a portly middle aged monk, in the usual grey uniform. I venture to guess he was the Abbot, and he did not look happy, watching the undisciplined visitors. When he saw me, he suddenly broke into a warm welcoming smile, put his hands together in the traditional Indian style, and bowed down to give me a namaste. I reciprocated, of course.
Comment on the “Asian” Culture
It is fairly common to hear people of Asian ancestry (Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, and so on) say that Asians are different from the rest of the world, when it comes to dealing with the old, infirm and destitute. That Asians are gentler and kinder. Unfortunately, this is not reflected in reality. The “West” is far superior in this regard. I have found more Buddhist compassion in the West than anywhere else.
Stares, Glares and Racism
A psychologist would have a field day with this subject. I am just a lowly engineer, but I am going to give it a shot. First, some definitions.
“Races” (no basis whatsoever in anthropological reality):
- White: “European stock”, gringos.
- Yellow: Chinese, Han.
- Black: African Negro ancestry, originally south of the Sahara.
- Brown: Latin Americans, Native Americans, North Africans, Arabs, West Asians, South Asians, South-East Asians, Indonesians, Filipinos. There are about 3 billion of “us”. Meaning much more than Han Chinese.
Just as Indians are racist to varying degrees, I was surprised to discover that the Chinese are also racist, but of course with “Chinese characteristics”. It turns out the Han have racist terms for the “darker” species, based on some sort of vague chromatic scale. When it comes to “whites”, there is a peculiar combination of “inferiority/superiority” complex, just as in India. In India, in most of the billboards, ads, Bollywood movies and such, “fair” skin is often associated with beauty. Same thing in China. In almost every outdoor ad, on TV, etc., there is always a Hollywood type of gringo in among the Han. To give the commercial “authenticity”, I guess. And the Han depicted are invariably close to the American model in looks. Complete with hair dyed shades of brown/blond. There seems to be a specific obsession with the “American” idea of perfection.
The irony is that the Chinese are a handsome race, the men, particularly as you go north, are tall, strapping, handsome guys. And the women! If only I were 50 years younger! Just as the cuisine changes from South to North, the women also seem to change, in unique, beautiful ways, same as in India.
First, a digression:
My friends here in Canada, while sympathetic, don’t always quite understand the unique experience of being a minority. I don’t mean my indigenous brothers and sisters, who are now a minority in their own land, but my “white” friends. But when I went with a buddy to Nigeria on a business trip some years back, he was so uncomfortable with the stares wherever he went, because he stood out as a “white” guy, he warned me he would never want that kind of experience again. He called it a trip from hell! Another time, a good friend from Chicago was in a remote mountain area of Peru, doing some research on Toltecs, when he was accosted by a group of young toughs, who said some nasty things about “gringos”, and there was a clear danger of getting stoned, but managed to escape with his life. In my case, 50 years ago Canada was quite an uncomfortable place for “minorities”, but now it is quite multi-cultural, with a black chief of police in Toronto, a Sikh defence minister, and Chinese, black and Indian folks in all levels of business and government.
- After landing at the Shanghai airport, we ended up in a huge group, with this intrepid reporter among literally hundreds of yellow faces, heading towards immigration. Far to the left, I spied a desk with two officials in white lab coats, a man and a woman. The woman stands up and points to me, and in a harsh tone said I should go towards her (my friends translated for me). She then demanded my papers, including my passport and boarding card, and if it wasn’t obvious, my friends pointed out to her that I was arriving from Canada. She then pointed to the lab guy next to her, and gestured that I should go to him, again in very harsh tones. The guy had some instruments on him, and asked me to lift my tongue, and then poked under it with a prod thingie. After several minutes, while he checked some gauge that was hooked to the prod, he imperiously allowed me to proceed.
- Wherever I went, particularly subways, trains and buses where you tend to get visually “exposed”, the stares ranged from the simply curious to quite baleful. Sometimes, walking down a street, a passer-by, or a street cleaner, would stop in his tracks, and actually walk around you, without any smiles or comments, as if watching the panda at the Toronto Zoo. On three occasions, the stare was so baleful, that I would have to go way east of Oshawa, in biker country, to get that kind of look, that says he wants to break every bone in my body. On each of these instances, I went to an inch (25.4 mm) of the guy’s nose, and returned the glare, doing an imitation of Russell Peters. Each time, my friends noticed this, and hurriedly pulled me away.
- When we entered a hotel or restaurant, the waiters or attendants would warmly greet my Chinese friends, but one look at me, would turn away. Even if I tried to catch their eye, and say “nee hao’r u”, no response, no smile.
- At a railway station in the west of the country, as soon as we entered the large waiting hall, all eyes would turn on me, as if on ball bearings.
- When we were boarding the train to go further west, there was a very pretty woman in a red uniform at our car entrance, checking everyone’s tickets. One look at me, “ID please”, in harsh Chinese. My friends helped me with the process, and she let me get on.
- This was a regular train, not the Bullet train, and we had a 6 bed sleeping compartment. The most uncomfortable, intrusive train ride I ever had. There was no door at the entrance, there were seats in the corridor at the entrances. Black clad officials walking up and down, peering at this foreigner. During the night, one official sat on the seat at the entrance, constantly peering in.
- There are signs everywhere, in Chinese and English, warning against “disturbing the social order”, “no loitering”, “no slaptick (sic) behaviour” and so on, or you would be dealt with “according to the relevant laws”. When I kind of “lost it” with a rude steward on a plane, I was cautioned by my friend that getting angry is not allowed. The steward was joined by another burly black clad guy, just to make sure I behaved.
- At a hotel in a big city, we checked in, went out to a Szechuan restaurant with a local friend, on the way back, a guy in plain clothes in the lobby notices me, and gets up and tells my friends that I am not allowed, as I was a foreigner. We call our hostess on the phone, she comes back, has a talk with the guy, while she gestures me to go up to my room. The agreement she got was that I should leave and enter “discreetly”, without talking and hanging around the lobby. Well, for three nights, I had this nagging anxiety of getting a knock on the door.
- I learned later that there are restrictions on associating with foreigners, staying in friends’ houses and so on.
World class transmission system. High voltage transmission up to 1,000 kV AC, and 800 kV DC. Transformers, switchgears, etc. appear to be up to world standards, on a par with GE, ABB and Siemens.
I had read about them. Saw several while travelling west and north. Huge apartment blocks, rising suddenly out of the countryside. Not sure how many are occupied.
I could not access Google or Reuters. But could get the Saker, Sputnik, RT and ZeroHedge. It turns out that Google is viewed with great suspicion. No Google mail, but did get Yahoo mail. The internet is of course a powerful medium for transmitting deadly political viruses, to create Maidans and other malignant movements. So the Government is justifiably wary.
Traffic and Pedestrians
The roads and traffic signals are of excellent design, most are better designed than anything I have seen in Toronto. Unfortunately, drivers and pedestrians treat each other with total contempt. It is common to see pedestrians and cycles and scooters cross at the wrong times, even cycles and scooters going the wrong way. At one intersection I saw the aftermath of an accident involving a pedestrian, with a small pool of blood on the pavement. The police and ambulance arrived immediately, and everything was back to normal in minutes. Not sure about the pedestrian.
The striking thing I noticed was that the cycles, tricycles and scooters and such were all electric. Even what I would call auto-rickshaws were electric.
Politics, News Coverage, CCTV (China Central television)
Xinhua and Global Times coverage of world events is mediocre. CCTV is usually running in restaurants and public places. In Chinese, of course. But the coverage is excellent. I noticed from the contents that the happenings in Syria, for instance, were covered extensively, including war footage. The reports appeared to be unbiased, meaning the massacres perpetrated by the terrorists, funded by the west, were given fair coverage. On one occasion, I noticed there was a full interview, in English, of a Canadian reporter named Eva Bartlett. Wow, what a wonderful, beautiful person she is. And of tremendous courage. The Party, as represented by the news coverage, clearly identifies with the Russian position.
Unfortunately, this is not true of the majority of the people. Generally, the Chinese are as morally calloused as North Americans and Europeans. Any attempt to discuss the Syrian conflict, or the million civilians killed in Iraq, or the genocide of the indigenous people of the Americas, is met with a glazed look of incomprehension. When I pointed out that Hillary was responsible for the “pivot to Asia”, and that Trump is better for global security, there was uniform disagreement. The sense is that Trump is not good for Chinese business, and that is all that counts for the average guy. Unless you bring up the South China Sea, and then there is some passion.
Advice to Visitors
To women of all stripes: Dress is generally conservative, very fashionable in the cosmopolitan areas. Judging from the ads in the subways and TV, summer dress is as skimpy as in the west. I did not see any evidence of harassment, unlike, say, north India, where I would not advice any women to travel alone. The only example of extreme smooching was a gringo with his Chinese girlfriend on a bridge over a river in Suzhou, and they drew a lot of stares.
To men: No hugging or kissing, Russian or Latin style. But unlike India, you can shake a woman’s hand.
Gays: Did not see any evidence of ostensibly gay folks, and I am sure this lifestyle is not officially welcome.
Handicapped: Forget it. Saw only one guy in 30 days, in a non-motorized wheelchair, being pushed by another guy. The Party is clearly making valiant efforts to make China handicapped friendly. Unfortunately, with the characteristic hustle and bustle and pushing and shoving in every metropolitan area, they will not survive.
Chinese: All visitors, including of Chinese heritage, will have a tough time on their own, if you don’t speak the language.
“Whites”: The younger folk seem to look “up” to you, especially if you can pretend to be a Yank. As a foreigner, you will draw stares. Going far west to the Islamic areas may pose some challenges.
Blacks: You are lower in the chromatic scale (heheh), unless you can be dressed in an expensive suit, and appear to be well-heeled. Then they will shamelessly suck up to you! Because money talks in this country.
Browns: Associated with deep poverty (not without some merit!). If you can have good friends accompany you, or are part of a tour group, then you can manage. On your own, it will be challenging.
Vegetarians: You can manage with soy milk, vegetables, steamed bread and rice. But milk is hard to get.
Older Folk: Very tough, unless you are part of a guided tour. I know a retired Swiss-Canadian couple that took a train tour through China, with guides and interpreters, who said they enjoyed it immensely.
Commentary on the Chinese People
First, the Chinese mother: A force of nature, like Niagara Falls, or a Category 6 hurricane. Whether she has a Chinese or foreign husband is irrelevant. When it comes to her child’s well-being and education, you cross her path at your peril. In my opinion, this is the force that drives the rush to prosperity.
The instinct to succeed at any cost is pervasive in every corner of the country. The Chinese businessman is as genetically corrupt as the Mumbai businessman. For instance, injecting synthetic sweetener into oranges, or contaminating baby’s milk, or cheating on the metallurgy or mechanical properties of steel, is no problem whatsoever. Any concerns with the environment, legality, morality, ethics, worker safety, is of no consequence, if you can get away with it. If it were not for the Government, they would get away with murder. Deng Xiaoping has unleashed a monster.
The wealth in the eastern parts of the country is incredible. People work very hard, and also spend it well, on expensive cars, parties, travel, schooling for their kids.
Without Government control, the society would break up into total chaos. There is an inherent lack of discipline everywhere, same as in India. Cigarette butts even in the most pristine areas, even in 5 Star hotels, where the signs clearly say “No Smoking”. Ashtrays with matches are provided in all the hotel rooms.
Every rich or “elite” family I met had a child studying overseas, or was planning to send one. And always to Canada, the U.S., Australia or New Zealand. And it is well known that rich Chinese are buying up property/houses in the suburbs of Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Melbourne and so on. Which sends house prices in these areas through the roof.
Dialects versus Languages
I don’t understand how the Chinese can call the speech in different parts of the country “dialects”. They are different and distinctive languages. Even within a few hundred kilometres from Shanghai, the Shanghai natives don’t understand the local dialect. Once during a dinner with about 20 people in Shanghai, one of my friends from the north, who spoke only Mandarin and his northern dialect, was left completely out of the conversation, with the result he and I were left politely smiling, but not understanding a word, while the Shanghai mafia carried on their pretty raucous banter.
A 5 Star American Hotel
This was in a big city, and for the first and only time during my visit, I was welcomed with the kind of warm and smiling hospitality that top notch American hotels are justifiably famous for. As usual, not a single foreigner in site, the waiters and front attendants (all Chinese) catch your eye, and smile. As you walk through this corridor style area, with cooking facilities behind glass partitions on either side, every single chef smiles at you as you walk by. And the service and food – incredible Chinese fare, including a chicken that was covered in a clay ball, and cooked until the clay was hard. We had to break the clay, to expose the delicious dish inside.
The Ancient Silk Road – Yan Guang Pass
Located in the far North-West of China. This is high desert country, cold at this time (about -10 deg. C , 14 deg. F) and the Silk Road used to traverse this section, from about 200 BC. I saw one section, that had that smooth, worn look, well-trodden over centuries, meandering over the desert. It was about 50 metres wide, and I could almost see in my mind’s eye the traders and their caravans travelling each way with their prized goods.
Nearby in Dunhuang, we also took a long ride on a camel (two humps!), just to get a feeling for how the ancient traders traveled. Actually, quite comfortable, once you get into their characteristic rocking motion.
The One Belt One Road (OBOR)
The new Silk Road is contemplated somewhat along the same route as the old one, according to the local officials. In a few years, I can see trucks driven by Afghans/Sikhs/Punjabis carrying fresh shrimp, mangoes, cashew fruit (that’s right, the delicious fruit), coconuts and guavas from the south of Kerala, in the southern tip of India, through Pakistan, China, Kazakhstan, Russia all the way to Western Europe. And the route will be dotted with dhabas, the truck stop restaurants that are dotted all over the Indian sub-continent, that serve roti (chappathis), dhal (lentil) curry, and other spicy stuff. Having seen the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese, most of these will be run by Chinese, and run better than Indians! If Jinping and Vladimir and Nursultan can be joined by Narendra and Nawaz, the OBOR can be built quickly, and they will have helped change the world for the good.
I cannot do justice to this city in this report, there was so much that happened here in the past.
- Capital of China during the war against Japanese occupation. The massacres and rapes here by the Japanese were of grotesque proportions. Words cannot describe this barbarity unleashed on the Chinese people. My Chinese friends tell me the only way they can tell Japanese apart from the Chinese, is when the Japanese bow. What measure of identification did the Japanese use to identify the victims of their horrors? Apart from dress. I can’t even call this racism.
- Sun Yat-sen Memorial: Sun is acknowledged as the founding father of the Republic of China. A beautiful, well-kept memorial, architecturally stunning.
- The Confucius Temple: Excellent historical records of Confucius. I was surprised to discover that his concern was with the proper running of society and government. Unlike Buddhism, the backbone of his teachings was “propriety”, not compassion. As an official of the government, he actually had a convict put to death, because the defendant did not show enough “contrition”.
Buddhism in China
First, a little snippet from the past:
Shortly after his arrival in China in the year ~520, Bodhidharma had an interview with the Emperor Wu of Liang:
Emperor Wu: From the beginning of my reign, I have built many temples, had numerous sacred books copied, and supported all the monks and nuns. What merit have I?
Emperor Wu: Why?
Bodhidharma: All these are inferior deeds, showing traces of worldliness, but shadows. A truly meritorious deed is full of wisdom, but mysterious, its real nature beyond the grasp of human intelligence – something not found in worldly achievement.
Emperor Wu: What is the first principle of your doctrine?
Bodhidharma: Vast emptiness, nothing holy.
Emperor Wu: Who, then, stands before me?
Bodhidharma: I don’t know.
Lingshan Buddha (or Disney meets Sakyamuni)
Located near Wuxi, in Jiangsu Province
This is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. There is also a baby Buddha, high up on a pedestal, with lotus petals that cover the baby, that open up every so often, with a huge fountain shower to the sound of inspiring music.
Completed in 1996, this is a commercial sham. They charge huge fees, and the place is crowded, even on weekdays. Our hostess friend who was showing us around told us that on auspicious days, the place is completely packed, and people leave money for good luck. There are also donation boxes, so the owners get money two ways. The people who visit here have no inkling of Buddhism, but if a donation can bring good fortune, people will spend money.
To give it a veneer of authenticity, there are some signs in Sanskrit. But not a single sutra, in Chinese or any language.
There are stores all over the grounds, selling very expensive trinkets. And the restaurants have various meat dishes, which is truly sacrilegious.
What merit do they gain?
Buddhist Grottoes, Caves, Carvings
Mogao Grotto near Dunhuang in the far north-west: Work on these Buddhist carvings were spread over 1,400 years. Sakyamuni, Amitabha and Maitreya Buddhas are all portrayed in truly stupendous carvings on the stone cliff faces, which are sheltered by temple like structures around them. Including one with Kasyapa and Ananda on either side of Gautama.
Longmen Grottoes in the north-east: Thousands of magnificent carvings of Buddha and his disciples, on either side of the Yi river, dating back more than 1,500 years.
For any Buddhist students out there, these two are a must-see.
I was left with a sense that, of all the peoples of the world (including Indian), the Chinese understood and accepted the Buddhist teachings in an incomparable way, for the longest period in history.
The Shaolin Temple in Zhengzhou
This place now has very little to do with Buddhism. During a Xinhua interview with Vladimir Putin, he was characteristically gracious in his description of his visit to the temple. I am afraid Vladimirovich was being kind. First, a sidebar:
In the village in Kerala where my parents hailed from, my mother used to talk about the local Hindu temple, where some of the members were practitioners of kalaripayattu (kalari in short). They had a reputation for being inconspicuous in appearance, but no one could challenge them physically. On talking to some friends who had familiarity with the art, one of the exercises was the high side kick, that you repeated endlessly. I learned that kalari originated in Kerala, and Bodhidharma likely was adept at this form of martial art.
Now a little history, some contested:
- The Shaolin Monastery founded in 464 AD, by Buddhabhadra.
- Bodhidharma arrives around 520 AD, and among other things, teaches martial arts. Now, this is contested by some so-called experts. The irony is, even Japanese karate acknowledges its Bodhidharma roots.
Well, I enter the grounds with a lot of trepidation, anxious to absorb every tiny detail, aware that this place marked a historical turning point. As I walk in, to the left, at a lower level, I see a large grassy area the size of a soccer filed. There is a group of about 100 young men, all in red shirts, with several instructors to either side. All of them are vigorously engaged in repeated high side kicks, kalari style. After about 10 minutes, they switch to touching their toes, which is basically the Uttanasana. Later, inside an auditorium, there is a Kung Fu display, introduced by a beautiful well-dressed young woman, and young male students come on stage and show various martial arts tricks. One guy with a metal sort of belt around his waist, balances horizontally on the tip of a saber. This is of course a variation of the Mayurasana. So now you want to give Kung Fu Chinese roots. Basic decency requires that you give credit where credit is due, but go ahead.
There are small buildings all over the grounds. Each building usually housed carvings and paintings of the Buddha, and his disciples. All looking distinctly Chinese, except for one image, where he was painted with a reddish hue. I saw one image of Bodhidharma, but it was hard to make out his heritage. Reminded me of seeing images of Jesus as a blued eyed Nordic type, not the Semite that he was. And I don’t mean Khazarian.
Everywhere, you can see men in grey robes, which is basically a kind of government approved uniform. They are pretending to be monks, when in fact they are civil servants. And all the spiritual essence of this place has been wiped clean. There was not a single sutra in evidence.
You have to pay to enter, of course, but one building that I wanted to enter, was blocked by a young “monk”, because I was not part of a paid tour group. And stalls everywhere, where you pay to get various trinkets, you have to pay even for a poem penned by a monk.
Again, what merit do you gain?
Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery, Shijiazhuan
Apart from the thousands upon thousands of Chinese martyrs who fought and died for freedom, I was keen on visiting the tombs of two men from disparate backgrounds, who volunteered to serve with the resistance against the fascists.
- Dr. Henry Norman Bethune, born March 4, 1890, in the town of Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada. Died November 12, 1939, aged 49, in Hebei. An outstanding doctor, selfless in every sense of the word, served first with the Republicans against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War, then with the Eighth Route Army under Mao Zedong.
- Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, born October 10, 1910, in Solarpur, Maharashtra. Died December 9, 1942, aged 32 (thirty two!), in China. He was the first director of the Dr. Norman Bethune International Peace Hospital. He married Guo Qinglan, a nurse he met at the hospital, and they had a son they named YinHua (IndiaChina).
Both these gentlemen are venerated with great reverence at this cemetery, with separate sections for each of them, complete with statues, and photos and detailed personal histories inside a large museum type structure. The tombs are located in a large park, and the entire area is well kept, well manicured.
I found this place quite heart rending.
As I see it, the martyrs of the revolution, including Dr. Bethune and Dr. Kotnis, and those who followed them around the world, such as Dr. Ernesto Guevara and Fidel, are all simple people who decided not to accept injustice. In the modern age, the milieu and the playing field has changed, whether it is the streets of Aleppo, the slums of Gaza, or the board room in the Trump Tower. I would like to include Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning in this grouping of folks who have nothing in common, except a refusal to accept injustice.
I salute you.
This is a deadly subject, in every sense of the word. In every city I visited, in the middle, north and north-east, the smog was so thick, that you could not see more than a 100 metres or so, and climbing one flight of stairs left you panting. The alert levels were at the highest, school children had to stay home, and vehicles had to alternate between even and odd license numbers , to cut the traffic by half. The solution for the locals is of course face masks, and there appeared to be a kind of high fashion in mask designs, with paper and cloth masks of various styles and colours. This is absolutely unacceptable, and the situation is only getting worse. This has to be not just reduced, but reversed, otherwise we are on a slippery slope to catastrophe.
The solution for the rich is to pump out as much money as possible, have a kid studying overseas, and perhaps eventually move out. When I pointed out that this is unacceptable in a “workers’ paradise”, I got the comment that the best brains in China are trying to find a solution, and how could I possibly know better. Well, I think I do.
I understood that the Party have their way of arriving at decisions. When there is an issue to deal with, all the facts are brought to the table, and there is intense debate. Unfortunately, there are several competing factions, considering the size and complexity of China. Sometimes, an internal debate among the Shanghai faction would be incomprehensible to the rest, because it is a different dialect. When a decision is made, the strongest faction would prevail, not necessarily the one which is “right”. And once a decision is made, it is implemented swiftly and ruthlessly.
Recommendations to the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, and the General Secretary, Mr. Xi Jinping
- Power Plants: Start switching immediately from coal fired to natural gas power plants, using gas turbines. Cooperate with Russia, Europe and the U.S. for the manufacture of the gas turbines.
- Steel Mills: Start switching immediately from coal based blast furnace iron and steel making, to natural gas based technology using the DRI (Direct Reduced Iron) process, with an EAF (Electric Arc Furnace).
- All Industries: Every industry should be assessed not on their production, but on their cleanliness. The culture to implement this at present does not exist in China. It can only come from the top down.
- China is already importing natural gas from Russia. Increase this flow, and start negotiating the purchase of electricity from Russia. I have seen the HV transmission system in China, and they are world class. All the steelwork for the transmission, and all the substations and switchgear, would require considerable investment, but also produce high value employment.
- Start implementing a network of energy storage around the country.
- Increase the network of water storage reservoirs around the country. I did not see a single water reservoir, although I understand China has the largest number in the world.
- Education: There are two links I would like every one involved in setting educational policy to watch: ElectroBOOM, and the Bollywood movie, 3 Idiots. Education is not fun in China. What you are producing is a bunch of educated robots, who end up more paranoid than their parents. The goal should not be to become millionaires and kill the planet, but to spread wealth equitably around China and the world, and have fun doing it.
- Change the economic model that Mr. Deng Xiaoping initiated. It makes absolutely no sense for a communist country to produce incredibly rich millionaires, who then ship their money out, and the young couple I know in Toronto cannot afford to buy a house to start a family, because house prices have shot up beyond their reach, caused by the rich buyers from China.
- Employment: I understand the primary mission for the Party is to provide employment and a good life for the whole country. The western regions have not yet seen the economic prosperity of the south-east. I submit humbly, in keeping with the drive for a clean environment, switch to organic farming. Mr. Putin is now engaged in an agricultural revolution in Russia, by switching to organic non-GMO food. Avoiding all the poisons that accompany GMO food production. This is worker intensive, and also highly profitable.
- Relations with the U.S.: Negotiate with Mr. Trump for the following:
- First, take him on a ride on a High Speed Train. Then offer to help build this rail system all over the U.S. Of course, all the infrastructure that supports the rail lines have to be re-built, resulting in huge employment in the U.S.
- Cooperate with the US, among others, to help with the gas turbine manufacture for the power plants in China. GE would be ecstatic.
These steps have to be taken immediately. This requires another Long March. But you know how it starts.
Take the first step.
Russell Peters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYiteaPBlz0