HSBC, the English bank with genuine Asian credentials, produces one of the best regular newsletters on Greater China – both entertaining and informative. The cover story in the latest one says: “Forget the West – Why China’s big trade growth is with the rest”. As I pack up after three months here, looking forward to blue skies and a soft bed, my thoughts on China are as confused as when I arrived. James Fallows, worldrenowned journalist and an editor of The Atlantic, America’s oldest magazine, spent three years in China until early this year to see for himself what all the fuss was about. He said this was not nearly long enough to understand much about China. China is not the world’s factory. It’s not just an economy.

It’s a country, with an amazing history where culture, language, family, medicine, food, survival, fun, life and death are entwined in a unique package. Like Fallows, I have grown very fond of the Chinese. I like their feistiness, their strong sense of family, loyalty and honor. Relationships matter more to the Chinese than they seem to for us laowei. And in economic terms, the Chinese get things done. I saw a woman haranguing a policeman. I don’t know why, but she was really giving it to him. I felt some sympathy for the cop. The particularly odd thing was that he was carrying a sub-machine gun. It’s the little things you remember. A Beijing hospital has been raising money for breast cancer research, sending out the usual annoying commissiondriven fund raisers to touristy shopping malls, with apparently mixed success, until last week. Amid controversy, so China Daily reported, the hospital hired several six-foot-tall bikini-clad models to brave Beijing’s Autumn.

They made a motza. Memo To Self: tell Mavis and Fiona about this for next year’s Mother’s Day Classic. A pretty girl in a local grocery shop I frequent asked me on a date. I had to beg her pardon – clearly something was lost in translation here. No, she said let’s go out on a date. I can’t remember the last time that happened, possibly never. Mumbling about my wife and grandchildren, I made a hasty exit. Another note to self: better find a new grocery shop. I was tempted to think something like: Brighty, you’ve still got what it takes. But on reflection I had to admit China is still a poor country. The United Nations is 10 years into a 15-year plan to reduce world poverty. In that 10 years China has reduced its level of poverty from 36 per cent to 16 per cent of the population, lowering it to second place behind India in absolute terms. The UN defines poverty as living on less than US$1.25 a day after adjusting for purchasing power parity.

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