The Beautiful Country
James Fallows of The Atlantic Magazine had been away on assignment in China for seven months when he returned to America last March. His first impression of America after a long stay in China:
"It is obvious, but: The wealth. The things. The overall abundance. (And, yeah, well, that you can speak English.) Plus, how clean the air is, and how many trees and birds and flowers there are, and how few unfinished edges -- open ditches, stacks of construction beams -- you come across. Since I'm in Northern California I haven't yet had the cliched reaction of how large the people themselves look. But I notice how sparse they seem to be on the streets, compared with any Chinese town.
"The name for America in Chinese and several other Asian languages is ... meiguo, "beautiful country." ...
"I realize an error of logic I had been making. China is so fast-changing, so ambitious, so covered with construction cranes, so on-the-move and on-the-rise, so dotted with localized pockets of affluence and big new projects like its Olympics sites and its giant factories and its 'Mag-Lev' trains, that I had begun, without thinking, to assume that it was 'rich.' Not even close. I am reminded of where the country actually stands. ...
"Once again, the beauty, wealth, polish, finished-ness, natural abundance, cleanliness, order, consumer choice, etc of America’s polished cities is just stupefying. Yes, this was a clear and perfect autumn afternoon in a prosperous capital. Still: my wife and I walked into a run-of-the-mill drug store and stood for a moment, stunned: there was a wider array of stuff on shelves within our immediate range of vision than we’d seen in months in Shanghai, the cosmopolitan pride of China.
"Americans read so many reports about the dynamism of China’s industries and the skyscrapers of its big cities that they may begin to think there is some overall comparability between the two economies. No. There isn’t. Not to mention: at the friends’ house where we’re staying, we drank water… out of the tap!"
Labels: James Fallows