Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Random Observations from Xi'an

The following are some random observations I wrote down while in Xi'an:

- I could see nine construction cranes from the bedroom we stayed in at Qian's parents. NINE! Every morning at dawn, the sounds of hammers started echoing throughout the apartment blocks. Construction continues at an amazing clip in the Middle Kingdom.

- Related to the new construction, scores of old 城中村 (city villages or "primitive" neighborhoods) are being torn down at an amazing clip. Although there haven't been western journalists writing about the destruction of neighborhoods in Xi'an (like there have been on Beijing and Kashgar), Xi'an's old-time, low-income neighborhoods are disappearing quickly. New apartment blocks and luxury shopping centers are rising up from their rubble.

- Xi'an (and China in general) has gone nuts promoting the 2011 International Horticulture Expo that is in Xi'an this summer. I got annoyed with the hype of this event and I was only there for three weeks.

Qian and I went to the expo with her family. It was lame. Three hour waits to get into a greenhouse or climb a pagoda. We ended up just walking around the giant park that had minimal items of interest. There are free parks in Xi'an more interesting than this 100 to 150 RMB per ticket event. All of Qian's family agreed with this sentiment.

The greatest irony is that this green expo is in one of China's most polluted cities. The day we went to the expo, the pollution and smog in Xi'an were at an unfathomable scale.

- After mocking Xi'an and the expo, I do have to say that the pollution in Xi'an is getting better. It's still horrific and surely unhealthy, but it's light-years better than when I arrived in China the first time in 2006.

- Like Americans, the Chinese are drinking lots of vitamin water. "VC," or vitamin C, is something the Chinese have gotten into.

- Groceries are damn expensive. We've all heard about inflation in China. I can confirm from the ground that it is bad. Qian and I calculated that for many items, including a lot of varieties of fruit, that things are cheaper in the US (after translated into US dollars).

- Chinese people are incredibly scared of eating hot pot at restaurants these days. I had to beg Qian and her family to eat a proper Sichuan-style hot pot meal at a restaurant. I'd missed the news from the US, but beginning last year, there have been a score of reports on the unsanitary conditions at hot pot restaurants. The one accusation I kept hearing from people is that the restaurants re-use oil from one table's pot and then give it to the next people who come in. Don't get me wrong, that's absolutely disgusting. I find it hard to believe that it's impossible to find a clean hotpot restaurant, especially given the scrutiny the restaurants are under these days, though.


Ramesh said...

Nice to see you back in blogosphere. Of course, no chance of posts from China - the net nanny has become even more awful there I hear.

The inflation is particularly hitting on food almost everywhere in the world. I think food prices have now become globally equalised. Awful for the poor.

Interesting bit about the Horticultural expo. Same hoopla happened about the Shanghai expo a while back - complete non entity of an event for which a zillion people went to !

Anonymous said...

The flight back sounded like a nightmare. I'd say flying to/from China is without doubt the worst part of going to China. 12+ hours on a plane, ugh.

We spoke with some friends who live in Jinan this past weekend and they were complaining about the food prices. 18 yuan per pound of pork. I remarked that it wasn't so bad, because that was only about $3 US. Of course I was immediately informed that for your average citizen in China, it doesn't translate quite that way. It ends up being the equivalent of us having to pay $18 per pound over here, thats bad.

All the cries that 'China should let the yuan' rise will soon be put to rest. Inflation is getting really bad and China knows it needs to stop printing money before they have a 'Han Summer' (ala Arab Spring) on their hands. Once they stop printing so much paper, the yuan will float rapidly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Enjoy your writings and appreciate your sharing our insights.

Nice to get "unbiased commentary" of life on the ground in the middle kingdom.

Inflation and pollution are very much important topics.

Thanks, LA Guy