I just returned from my first travels in Asia, a 10 – day business trip to the People’s Republic of China. While my two-city sojourn was far from an exhaustive exploration of the ancient nation, I obviously have some first impressions of those cities that paint my image of the country as a whole.

Nadir in ShanghaiBut more importantly, this trip profoundly altered, affirmed and added context to views I hold for my own country, the United States of America. These impressions were partially formed by my other travels outside the United States, in Europe, Canada and the Caribbean as well, but this journey confirmed some beliefs while completely obliterating others. And of course, since my tendency is to think too much and pontificate profusely, I thought I’d share these impressions with anyone who cares to take a moment and read them.

This is largely a message for my friends and fellow citizens of the United States of America, arrogantly known the world over as “Americans” even though the regions of North, South and Central America contain 35 nations and 10 non-sovereign territories, within all of which reside “Americans”. We Americans from the United States are taught from an early age that we are the center of the world, and that everything that happens on this planet revolves around US, and our political, cultural and financial interests.

Well, forget what you heard. China is the center of the planet.

Perhaps this is a recent development, but from what I gathered from ten days in two of China’s most important business centers, the rest of the world has LONG known this, and our uniquely American hubris has blinded most of us from this realization. Certainly American businessmen have known this for quite some time. Gone are the days when China was merely the place that makes the cheap stuff we buy.

China has surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy, and more importantly, the world’s largest potential consumer base. After decades of making the world’s stuff, the Chinese domestic market finally outpaces exports as their dominant source of revenue. And because of some savvy reforms to their socialist market economy, more and more people in the world’s largest developing country can now afford to buy those goods themselves instead of just making them for everyone else.ShanghaiWhile they still struggle with income inequality, the Chinese government has determined that by lifting their poorest citizens out of the depths of poverty and creating what they call a “moderately wealthy society”, they will become stronger as a nation, eventually becoming the world’s largest economy, and the world’s most powerful country.

This assent is inevitable. The United States is moving backwards politically and financially as a few elite individuals and families control so much more wealth than the rest of us. Unfettered capitalism without common sense socialist balances has doomed us. Our embrace of Trumpist protectionism and racism will annihilate us.

The only reason the United States has maintained any standing at all is because we consume like ravenous parasites, and because we cling to our guns and schoolyard bully attitudes. The American way is to fight anyone who threatens our empire. So while the Chinese are lifting their people out of poverty, the United States seeks to take healthcare away from the poorest among us, and to keep increasing our military budget as if more guns wielded by an unhealthy populace will make for a strong nation. It won’t.The view from our hotel in Guangzhou. Me on the left. Reavis Mitchell on the right.

So here are my observations and impressions of China in no particular order:

    1. I didn’t see any obviously “poor” people in my travels. Granted, I visited Guangzhou and Shanghai, which are both international cities and business centers. My client, Icon Pro Audio’s factory is in Guangzhou, the city best known for housing the Foxconn factory that builds Apple products, and countless other manufacturing and assembly plants. So there is work to be found.Meanwhile, Shanghai is a leading center of international finance. Maybe they hide the homeless people because there are so many foreign visitors to both cities, but I didn’t see a single person panhandling or sleeping on the streets. I did see a lot of street entrepreneurs, peddlers hawking fake Rolex watches or offering ride share services at the airports and train stations, but none of them looked impoverished by any means.Guangzhou MetroA report I viewed on the Chinese Global Television Network (CGTN), China’s state-run English language news channel, implied that much of the nation’s poverty still resides in the rural areas, of which there are many. According to the report, the Chinese government views the eradication of poverty in the countryside as one of their greatest challenges. But they’ve done a bang up job in the cities, at least as far as my short stay would indicate.
    2. Everyone was YOUNG. I was told that China has one of the world’s largest populations of young people, age 18-25, and it shows. EVERYBODY was a 20-something. I saw very few elderly people. I saw relatively few children. I saw a few obvious 30 and 40 year-olds, but the vast majority of the people I saw working, walking and going about their daily lives was young 20ish folks. This means (among other things) there are several billion HUGE marketing opportunities for a lot of people. But more importantly, ten, twenty years from now, these people will be running the planet.Guangzhou Monday Morning
    3. Their consumer technology, especially in Shanghai, is ten years ahead of us. The overwhelming prevalence of LEDs and jumbo trons give the cities a fantastic futuristic look. Of course, they MAKE a lot of this technology there, so it’s probably inexpensive and more ubiquitous, but the look and feel of the cities was definitely high tech.A typical corner in Shanghai at night.They have embraced the QR code in ways that I haven’t encountered before. For example, you can go to a restaurant and scan the QR code at your table to view the menu. No hard copy menus needed. You place your order from your phone, it is delivered to your table (by a human), but you pay by QR code. You can also scan your code to buy goods all over. Connect your bank to your WeChat account (WeChat is everywhere in China, much like Google and Facebook are in the US), scan QR codes to your heart’s content, and shop till you drop.Nadir at the Shanghai MaglevI also rode the Maglev, the world’s second fastest bullet train. We have long bemoaned our shortsightedness in the US of sacrificing our pioneering train systems for a reliance on automobiles. The Chinese (and the Europeans, and nearly everyone else on the planet) have embraced mass transit and trains in a big way. And for individual transportation, Shanghai has REAL bike lanes, separated from the cars by fences. At rush hour I saw just as many bikes as I did cars. And these were largely rented bikes which can be picked up and left nearly anywhere in the city.Lunch at Dim Sum at the mall near the Shanghai New International Expo Centre
    4. The food was AWESOME! We were very fortunate to travel with our hosts from Icon Pro Audio, and for the most part, we enjoyed group meals where they ordered, and we ate family style. If you’re on your own, left to your own devices to decipher menus in a language you don’t understand, you just might eat some things you weren’t expecting. But if you’re as lucky as we were, once you get over the sight of geese hanging by their necks, and of fish heads and tails on your plate, you will discover they are delicious.
      Fresh fish for dinner in Guangzhou Many of the genetically modified, additive-laden ingredients that make up American foods are outlawed in China. Therefore, even though I ate a LOT of foods at every meal, I only got that bloated, heavy feeling after eating American foods there.Two things I hope never to eat again: jellyfish (the taste wasn’t bad but the texture was like a cross between beef gristle and plastic six-pack can rings) and Americanized Chinese food (it simply doesn’t compare). Yes, never is a long time. We’ll see.
      Guangzhou Airport
    5. Airport security in China is real security. Airport security in the United States is largely a sham. Our trip to China started in the Detroit Airport after an encounter with an enterprising TSA employee explaining the US government’s CLEAR program. While the US is in the throes of an eternal war on terror, you can conveniently pay the government to prescreen you. By promising to submit to a background check, submit to a fingerprint and retina scan, and pay a nominal monthly fee, you can fast track the TSA’s airport screening process.THAT’S NOT SECURITY!! Just because someone has a clean record today doesn’t mean they won’t decide to blow something up without warning in the future. To me this program is proof that the US is more interested in the illusion of security rather than the actual security of our air travelers.
      Reavis Mitchell In line for the security check at Guangzhou Airport
      “Haven’t you people seen an airport before?”

      Meanwhile, every person and every bag that entered Pudong International Airport in Shanghai was screened BEFORE entering the terminal. Then we were screened a second time before going to our gate. I happened to be carrying a couple of bags with electronic equipment, so I was screened FOUR TIMES before getting on the plane. Both my checked bags and my carry-ons were emptied and I had to explain that THIS was a large diaphragm condenser microphone, and THIS was a tube preamplifier.

      And while this was a huge inconvenience, the security personnel were very understanding, courteous and helpful. They even helped me repack my bags afterward. It was a completely different experience than what I have experienced in the US. I wasn’t irritated much at all, and I didn’t have to take my shoes off.

    6. During our debate about whose government is more corrupt, our German distributor won because his government is less corrupt than both the US and China. Our Chinese host was amused by the idea that in the US his money would enable him to better influence government policies. In China, the government is in complete control, corruption scandals notwithstanding. Of course, in the US, corporations control the government through the electoral process and our codified legalized bribery. In Germany, however, the government seems to be a fair arbiter both for German citizens and for German business. Imagine that.
      And speaking of Germany, they have got China on lock. While there were obviously a lot of Chinese brands, and several Japanese brands everywhere, the prevalence of German products in the Chinese marketplace was eye opening. I expected to see the Volkswagens, Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches, but I was surprised to see so many German toy brands next to the Hasbros and Legos. Yes, Cadillac, Fender and Disney were well represented among American corporations, but smaller US brands are lagging behind the Germans in the Chinese marketplace.Shanghai Tower
    7. China is open for business. American hubris and shortsightedness will lose in the short and long term. Get on board now because the bullet train is leaving the station. And Americans, wake up before we go the way of the Romans here at home.

    綠波廊 Chinese Restaurant


    The view from below Shanghai Tower on a cloudy evening.


    The view at the top of Shanghai Tower on a cloudy afternoon.


    Shanghai, China

    The Icon Pro Audio booth at Shanghai Pro Light and Sound


    The Icon Pro Audio booth at Shanghai Pro Light and Sound

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