Part 1- Arriving in China

This is a series about our experience in China, a two week trip. China, the middle kingdom, not opened up to tourists from the United States until a few short years ago- but home to my in-laws for a number of years. Being a student of history, China is the middle kingdom- the center of the earth.  While I never thought seriously about that, after the first day of being here I realized it is quite true.  China is, today, and will be for some time- the center of the earth.

Driving from the airport at Beijing to Tianjin is about an hour on a freeway that has 16 lanes and this freeway was  built in the last two years.  Imagine that in the United States – a 16 lane freeway connecting two cities that are about 70 miles apart and being built in less than a year. As tired as we are from a long flight, it is hard to not be impressed by a freeway like this one.

TianJin a small 13 million city outside the capital


The winter is ending here, but what struck me as we arrived in the city were all the trees.  My father-in-law pointed out that when they first arrived in China years ago there were no trees, most had been cut during Mao’s regime.  As a result, there were no birds in the city. Until six years ago one could rarely find a bird in Tianjin, now birds are everywhere. Under Mao most trees were cut down in a disastrous policy.  The trees were stripped to build fires in the backyards of people for smelting for iron.  Only to discover that the iron was poor quality and not good for anything.  They even melted their utensils and cooking pots. Still, the damage was done- like the American Passenger Pigeon, trees, the ecologic niche they serviced were gone and  the economy was in shambles. No one thought it would recover in this lifetime.

We passed by a large park, acres and acres of trees, fountains, along with places for young people and old people to safely play. “That use to be the wholesale market where it had the fish market, textiles, produce, and others.” The market moved, and within a year they had torn down the market, replaced it with a park with fully mature trees.  I was reminded of the old Ford Factory outside Detroit, along the river, it closed in the 1950’s and remains an eyesore to this day.


In China this eyesore would be replaced with a park. Not so in Detroit

Imagine the city of Houston in ten years doubling in size –  not only in terms of population, the infrastructure needed to support it, and that while this is happening the standard of living for all residents doubles, triples, even more.  Better yet, imagine Port Au Prince in Haiti doubling in size, and bringing its residents from poverty to middle class, and along the way doubling in population, and building a new infra-structure to support the people. Going from occasional starvation, to where cell phones are the norm.

That is the miracle we call China.  Forget what I learned from Milton Freedman in Economics classes at The University of Chicago, here is an economy that is not following any of those rules – and prospering.  In 2009 when the world economy was almost collapsed because of the greed of Wall Street (“greed is good”) they came, hat-in-hand, to China  – one response from China was simple, “You wouldn’t let us invest too much in your economy before and we are glad you didn’t”

There was a haze in the air, a result of the industrial revolution hitting China and yet the air quality has improved year after year. My father-in-law, who has been here for six years confirms, “ We have more sunny days, and every year the air is getting better.”  What city of 13 million in the US could improve air quality while doubling the number of automobiles in that same time period?

One answer is that China is planting over one billion trees a year.  When people talk about greenhouse gas they talk about China, and how in the US why should change what we do when China is polluting more.  Turns out that China is far greener than the US – and is making strides that would put any environmentalist in the US to shame.

Looking around at the many apartment buildings I was struck by three things: every few apartment buildings had their own park, where kids could safely play, fully mature trees planted.  The park had something else, exercise equipment for the adults (in the US the only parks for adults are golf courses).  The rooftops were filled with the usual dishes for satellite as well as solar panels for hot water.  In Phoenix, home of solar panels, there are not as many as one sees here.


Greening of China starts with parks for the people

China is building a harmonious society – and the entrepreneurial spirit is providing the economic engine, while the government is keeping it from over heating.  There will be no “bubble” here—a balloon perhaps, with the government regulating it closely.

First impression of China – wow. This is where China has come from — the disaster that was the cultural revolution left the country in a mess. The economy was in ruins, and many economists felt it would take decades to recover.  Not only did China become the dominant economy in Asia, it has become the economic engine that sustains its 1.3 billion people. What a person can see, even feel, in the first few hours of being in this country- is that China is vibrant, alive, and the people are friendly.  There is no way to describe the magnitude of what they have done here – other than to be amazed.  Much like looking at a photograph of a mountain, until you see it, you cannot imagine it.

Part 2  next — the food.