Thursday, June 29, 2006

A trip to China, part 1: a change of attitude

I write this post looking out a window at a typical section of the Chinese city of Guangzhou, a city of around 7 million people in southeastern China. It's a view that could be of any city of similar size in the US, except for the abundance of construction cranes. It has been about four years since I visited China, and in some ways it seems that major psychological changes have occured. I'd say "irreversible," but of course nothing is truly irreversible if you're willing to spread enough destruction around.

Here's the change in a nutshell: an overnight train trip. Yes, the equipment has been improved, but that's not such a big deal -- the big deal was the staff working on the train. Four years ago, as they had been for many years, the conductors working on each car were lords of their domain, and as far as they were concerned, the passengers could kiss their asses if they didn't like it. For example, on one trip several years ago, my wife and I thought we had gotten lucky by being only two people in a four-person sleeper cabin. But the gentleman working on that car decided to use the empty half as his entertainment space for the trip, sitting around smoking with his friends. That was typical behavior.

Now, there are young people working on the train. Instead of learning to be petty tyrants in their down time, they IM their friends on their cell phones. This is typical behavior for their generation, easily confirmed by walking around any Chinese city. China is a young country, and this leaves me feeling optimistic about the future.

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