(This post will be the first in a series that documents my recent trip to China.)
I recently visited China to do some touring and to look for new business opportunities. Before this trip I knew very little about China, other than what I had seen on the internet and TV. I knew that a large portion of my wardrobe originates from China, that General Tsao was really good at making Chinese food, and that Beijing has terrible smog. In my mind I was expecting China to be big, both economically and physically, but nothing could have truly prepared me for the actual scale of China and the dichotomy of capitalist and communism.
I arrived into Beijing Capital airport with my three friends late Thursday evening after almost two days of traveling through 4 different cities (NY-PHL-CHI-BEJ). At first glance, the airport looks very modern and could easily belong in any one of a number of American or European cities. The modern airport was one of the many changes that China underwent in preparation for the 2008 summer Olympics, but as I continued to make my way through the airport it quickly dawned upon me that, despite the western architecture, this trip was going to be very interesting. Passing through customs, it amazed me the efficiency and monotony with which the custom agents worked, something that I would soon realize was a hallmark of Chinese communism and the government workers that make it function.
Before this trip New York City, where I currently live, was my go-to definition of a big city, but the cab ride into central Beijing quickly changed that. Rather than having 4 lanes in between the high-rises, like in New York, Beijing has 10 lane highways that crisscross the city of over 21 million people. Mile after mile I saw high-rise apartments and skyscrapers on a scale that made Manhattan seem quite small. After arriving at my hotel, and collapsing due to the jet lag, I awoke the next morning to a beautiful view of the sun rising over Beijing, which was distorted by the toxic cloud of smog that oftentimes hangs over the city.
Over the next few days I toured Beijing and visited a few potential suppliers for a start-up I was working on. I would take cabs most places, as an average taxi ride cost less than a subway ticket in NY, and would often notice the extreme gap between China’s have and have-nots. Nearby our hotel there was a park with a restaurant that seemed to be quite a popular hangout for Beijing’s elite. On a given night I would see more Lamborghinis, Porsches, BMW’s, and Land Rovers than at a luxury car dealership in the US, all being driven by people who looked no older than me (FYI, I am 23). I would then take a 10 minute drive and end up in what seemed to be a manufacturing district with row after row of dormitories for the millions of factory workers who come to the cities from rural china in search for work. Interspersed between the dormitories, luxury cars, and high-rise apartments I noticed walled off neighborhoods of low cost housing and slums. In Beijing the poor live in the shadow of luxury apartments of its wealthy elite.
The rapid growth and modernization of china has led to massive cities, a large income gap and major environmental problems, however there is a lighter and more fun side to china that I will get to in my next post.