Thursday, October 25, 2007

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!"

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2 Comments:

Anonymous heidianne jackson said...

it is always amazing to me the limited choices that are settled for in other countries around the globe. whenever a new exchange student arrives, they invariably want to go to an american grocery store - and they literally will stand and stare.

tesla is coming to be something like it, but they exist only in larger towns in europe - even our small "convenience" stores often have more choices than their normal grocery stores...

Thu Oct 25, 06:49:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Tantor said...

In the Philippines, people buy their groceries at sari-sari stores, which are like convenience stores, but smaller:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sari-sari_store

The Filipinos would hear about the BX (Base Exchange, a military department store) on base and the commissary (grocery store) and want to go. They called America the Land of the Big BX, which was true enough. The BX was like a small Sears while the commissary was like a medium-sized supermarket. It was nothing earthshaking by our standards but for the Filipinos it was like going to Disneyworld.

One time, a friend of mine was playing tour guide to a bus full of Filipinos who were brought on base to show them what was going on as a good will gesture. The moment they got on base, they all pulled out money, began waving it, and demanded to go to the BX. "B! X! B! X!" they chanted.

A Russian friend of mine told me of the time her family travelled from Lithuania to visit friends in East Germany when she was a little girl. She was amazed that there were so many products on the shelves in the stores. It was overwhelming. She asked what the stores were like in West Germany. Her hosts told her that the West German stores were as better than the East German stores as they were from the Lithuanian stores. She just couldn't imagine that, what that would even look like.

Sun Oct 28, 10:44:00 AM 2007  

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