I remember my geography teacher back in the day talking about the time bomb that was China’s one-child policy. He said that there was a fear that this policy would result in a nation of “spoilt brats”. He emphasised the word “brats” as if he had personal experience of a Chinese person who had done him wrong. The memory came back to me when I heard Mandarin being spoken in Hong Kong; the word’s No.1 language has a certain petulant ring to it, especially when spoken by a young female. I’m keen to learn more about this vast country that’s set to become the next superpower but I only have a week in the South as I pass through on my way to Laos. My first stop is the city of Nanning in Guangxi provence and I arrive with the sensation that I’ve stepped into a fascinating world and culture I barely know at all. There are 656 cities in China, 160 of them with a population over 1 million. There are visible signs of the new prosperity and the fast-track pace of ‘development’ everywhere.
One thing that surprises me is the music I’ve heard. In contrast to South East Asia (where many places tend to play bad, outdated music in English or their own language), since I arrived in China, I’ve heard music I can actually enjoy listening to, in both Chinese and English. It sounds fresh and contemporary in comparison to much of the shite I’ve heard over the past year. In the streets I also hear people singing and whistling to themselves as they walk, something I never heard in Japan. In the hostel I meet a Canadian chap called David who loves China and its people. He tells me about his travels around the country and how he especially loves nights out in the big cites. “As a foreigner you can get away with a lot here”, he tells me. When he goes out he never has to buy drinks himself, as people always insist on buying him drinks all night while he parties, “I’m not a club guy…I don’t enjoy clubs at home but here’s it’s awesome; the music, the welcoming people who are delighted to have a foreigner hanging out with them…it’s great!” I’m intrigued so I agree to go with him to a nightclub along with a young Swedish couple and a middle aged professor from Greece (such is the randomness of people you hang out with in hostels). We end up drifting in and out of a few nightclubs and sure enough, the dance music is quite good for dance music and has occasional live singers, the decor is classy and we are supplied with free drinks (which I politely decline resulting in massive disappointment for those offering). It’s clear these are dens of the rich though, as there are Porches, Lamborghinis and other richman toys outside. Waitresses are constantly coming to the tables with large bottles of whiskey and pouring it along with ice-tea into massive jugs. The group I’m with get hammered pretty fast. I wish I was in my early 20s and still drinking, as I’d be up on stage with the others dancing and got giving a fuck. Instead I soon tire of it and go back to the hostel.
Onwards to the city of Kunming in Yunnan by night-train. I stay in a pleasant area of the city near parks and quaint old streets. I’m exhausted from so much travel so I take it easy for a couple of days and try to recover some energy for further travel towards Laos and Thailand.
A city of 3 million, I don’t really see the scale of Kunming until I travel on the brand new metro to the Southern Bus Station. On the bus south, for about half an hour we drive through new high-rise developments or those in the process of being constructed. All I can think about is how unsustainable all this building is. The accelerating rate of urbanisation throughout the whole country is mind-boggling. A humungous bubble is set to burst as it did and will again in the West. The government implemented the dramatic one-child policy as if it was key to solving China’s problems but it’s will take a lot more to blunt the sharp edge of capitalist expansion. In a recent blog post, my friend quoted a National Geographic article that stated 35% of all grain in the world goes to feeding livestock. China, the world’s 2nd largest corn grower, has to import grain to feed its pigs (China raises half the world’s pigs). It takes 5 times more grain to get calories from pork than to get it from the grain itself. This momentous inefficiency is having disastrous effects the world over and China plays a major part in this environmental destruction. So the advice from Driftin’ Eastward to the government of China is to outlaw meat eating. Use your authoritarianism for some good and enforce vegetarianism (or at least allow the populace to eat meat once a week). You’d be doing everyone a favor including the Chinese people!
I can’t begin to summarise the world’s most populous country from the three southern provinces I’ve skirted through. By the time I’ve reached Xishuanbanna near the Laos border, I’ve had it. I would’ve needed a hell of a lot more time, energy and cash to get a wider picture of China.