With clean air and blue skies, no doubt. And admittedly my observations to date come from only three sources: my observations, my translator Sophie and Englishlanguage Chinese newspapers. But many things strike us laowai (foreigners) almost upon arrival. There are the tourist-type things such as: NO-ONE speaks English. The taxi drivers seem to struggle with Chinese. None has a Mandarin Beijing Gregory’s street directory let alone a Tom Tom. And there are the signs of great wealth, alongside poverty and desperation. From an investment point of view, it is clear China is entering a phase of slower economic growth. At the same time, it is paying the ‘price’ of its success during the past couple of decades. Workers have been striking, at least at Westernowned companies, and even in the government-owned press, concerns are expressed about the environment and the increasing gap between rich and poor.
In the China Daily, an Englishlanguage paper owned by the People’s Republic, there is a report that the gap in average income between the top and bottom quartiles is the widest it has been for 10 years. There are columns railing against the destruction/ redevelopment of the historic Hutong in Beijing (alleyways with courtyard houses) and about the ever-rising pollution and traffic congestion. Perhaps Sophie’s story is more demonstrative. Sophie, 23, is a student at the Peking University. She is from the Hunan province, which boasts the spiciest food in China. She has a 21-year-old sister who lives at home with her mother and father. Sophie has a bed, desk and locker in a four-person room at the uni and travels for about an hour on bus and train to go to and from her temporary work with me as a translator. Her sister sounds like a bit of a handful. She wants to get a tattoo – rare in China, even among young people.