A Dispatch from China
Here at Yankee Fog, our goal is to provide you with up-to-date coverage of the entire world. That's why, at great personal expense, we have sent correspondant Eric Peng to China for a first hand account of life there. (Note: for purposes of this article, "sending a correspondant to China" means "republishing an e-mail sent by my old college roommate who happens to be visiting Shanghai.") Here is what he has to say:
I've been here two weeks now and it's my first extended visit to China in ten years. The pace of change here is almost incomprehensible. Almost the entire side of the river where I'm staying was farmland the last time I was here, and now it's like the Manhattan skyline. The street I'm on doesn't even appear on maps dated 1999. Everywhere you look, there are new high-rises or skyscrapers going up (and old neighborhoods being bulldozed). If you think there's a property bubble in the US, try Shanghai ... typical occupancy seems to be around 40% so all the empties (and to some degree the rentals) are pure speculation.
In 1994, there were four national TV stations (CCTV is sort of like Chinese BBC), and now there are 14 plus the other 50 regional channels you can now get with cable. Of course, half of the programming is still low-budget period dramas with lots of kung fu, swordplay, and long white eyebrows --- not that that's anything to complain about.
Jacob, I'm sorry to report that the poorest (and stupidest) person in China is the one who is trying to sell actual legitimate DVDs. It seems like every street corner and highway underpass is full of people hawking pirated copies of every conceivable movie (although it's heavy on Hong Kong and Chinese films, as you might imagine). The other day, we saw Seinfeld seasons 1-3 on sale for Y20 (US$2.40). The only saving grace for those who hold their intellectual property dear is that most of these copies are pretty bad quality, so I imagine that one of these days when the Chinese have more money, they'll actually want the real thing. Frankly, no one here right now is going to pay US$100 to watch Seinfeld.
While the papers like to emphasize the widening gap between rich and poor (and it's certainly a problem), the most encouraging thing is that it seems like it's not just the rich getting really rich (i.e. Latin America), but the middle class really growing and becoming significantly better off.
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