China: Where the sun used to shine

I realize China is one of the world’s largest economies, and I know that the wonders of the MacBook Air and iPhone wouldn’t be possible without its industrious workers. But I’ve been traveling to the People’s Republic since 1980, and back then, it was a complete dump. Don’t be fooled by all the publicity and the skyscrapers: today, China is a modern pile of missrepresentation and crap.

Back in the ‘good old’ days, China was just like the Wild West. I would get on planes where every seat was taken, and then, just before the doors were closed, the airline would pack even more people on! These poor latecomers would stand like New York subway passengers, holding on to the backs of seats or whatever they thought would stabilize them—and then be thrown down the aisle like bowling pins by the G-forces of takeoff.

On “roads” that turned to sodden tracks of sucking mud during the rainy season, I would travel to crumbling factories that had nothing but horribly poor workers, then spend hours in a taxi trying to get back to the border, often stuck in the mud, often desperate to get out and pee, but having never learned the Mandarin for “Please stop, my bladder is about to explode.” I was trapped in pain on a smelly back seat, with no way out. Those roads were pure mayhem: packed with more vehicles than they could possibly handle, cars driving on all sides of the road in every direction and round the wrong way at roundabouts.

Well, China is not too different today. Yes, they have spent billions on improved infrastructure, but all that means is that you can get from one decrepit sewer to another that much faster. Plus, China is like an insecure homeowner who uses newfound wealth to show off to his neighbors by building a disgustingly tacky addition on his house. The government used its money to catch up with the rest of the world—without paying much attention to little things like engineering standards or quality control. So now those gleaming towers and state-of-the-art roads are all falling down.

If the need ever arises to give the earth an enema, the tube will be inserted through China.

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