It was about 3 years ago that I made my 1st visit to China – Shanghai and wrote the 1st part of Chinpressions. Read here. In between that and my last visit this week, many more visits to China happened. Ergo, 3 years hence what are my impressions?
The visit this week coincided with Narendra Modi’s another foreign tour – this time to China. So obviously India was in the news. As is the wont these days in our PM’s abroad visits, he was in “Rock star” mode in China as well with local Chinese craving and crowding to take selfies with him. It’s obvious that in the last 1 year Modi has single handedly changed the perception of India for the better outside of India.
I had mentioned that in my last post that Shanghai was devoid of emerging market symptoms like touts at the airports,… I realized now that it’s not the case. There were the touts on arrival at the airport chasing you for taxi/hotels,… just that they were of the “suited and booted” types 😜 😜. Similarly I had the impression that Taxis were on meters always. Well, yes most of the times. But not always. This time much to our chagrin, we realized that beyond 10 p.m the cabbies were upto fleece passengers demanding 4 to 6 times the normal fare!!! While on cabbies, I couldn’t understand why the driver was always enclosed in a cubicle of sorts making it difficult to communicate with him/her even in sign language. (Trying to communicate in English is a horror left unsaid :( :( )
For all the heavy duty infrastructure and the investment led growth strategy Chinese government has been adopting all these years with a fair degree of success, it is now clear that the growth is stuttering. A 7% growth is being touted as the new normal. Print media is agog with articles questioning if the world’s 2nd largest economy is heading towards a protracted period of subdued growth. China has now become the latest example to explain the Economics theory of the “Middle Income Trap”
It’s clear that despite the pretensions of the Government taking China to being in the league of developed nations, it is still haunted by a few trappings of developing/underdeveloped countries. Which the people are yet to shrug off it appears.
- Like the locals not caring about courtesy to others and smoking to glory in public washrooms.
- Like the drivers continuing to smoke while driving in cars inspite of requesting them not to. (Blame the language)
- Like invariably the noisy scenes you get to see in restaurants when Chinese get together to dine and drink. (Something like we Indians I must say).
- Like the rounds of bargaining one has to do some times starting with 10% of the quoted price to purchase stuff mostly the imitations at the fake markets hawking branded stuff from I phones to watches to bags to clothes to everything. China’s tryst with IP regime may prove to be its Achilles heel sooner or later. Just couple of days ago while in China I read the news that top brands like Gucci were suing Alibaba the E-Com giant for sale of counterfeits through its marketplace.Like getting to see touts trying to sell I Phones at US$100 around to gullible passengers even inside the Shanghai’s Pudong airport terminal!!! I was surprised to see these guys inside the airports after the Check-in Area moving around looking for their customers!!! (This doesn’t happen in India even)
- Like being amused to see empty chairs placed in sides of the road meant as parking lots. Something like placing the chair to reserve that lot. Reminded me of our Indian habit of placing towels/kerchiefs,.. in buses to block seats :)
- Like for all the fascinating sights at “The Bund” at Shanghai (Clean, colourful, Hawker free,..,…) the urinals are still the old world style not seen even in towns in India these days.
- Like finding grills in windows in residential apartments a la India type just that they were more uniform and still not spoiling the elevation of the building unlike in India where grills of all types and sizes spoil the frontage of most buildings.
Most of the above fall in line with the definition of “High Context Culture” as defined by Edward T. Hall in his seminal work – Beyond Culture, I feel. So not surprising.
But, these are just symptoms waiting to disappear soon I guess. Despite the current ills like ever rising labour costs, China continues to be the factory of the world. Global companies don’t have an option but to court the Chinese. Like Apple’s Tim Cook was attempting to do when he was in China last week logging on to “Weibo” – the Chinese microblogging site akin to Twitter. (Modi did the same on his run up to his China visit). The ever increasing aspiring class is a segment of the world’s largest population that just cannot be ignored. But one thing which continues to amaze me in China even after being the world’s largest populous country is – Where are its people?? For example in Shanghai the world’s most populous city – you don’t get see crowds in the roads, in the malls, in super markets, in train stations,.. So where are they???
Let’s see if that mystery unravels in the next visits.
3 years hence, the impressions are still very good but may be the shine has worn a little bit.
Postscript: Heard that the PM’s baggage on foreign tours will now have a “Selfie stick” 😜 😜