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Thursday, December 9, 2010

BEST PLACES IN THE WORLD (Part 20: Honorable Mention--China)

The following continues my serialization of Chapter 6 from SIMPLE SOLUTIONS FOR HUMANITY.


            Jewels of China 

The capitol of China began forming during the first millennium BC, and was earlier called Zhongdu in 1153, Dadu under the Mongols, eventually to Peiping, then Peking, now Beijing. In periods from 1425 to 1825 it was the largest city in the world. Today, it remains too crowded with horrific air pollution, but this is the power base for the country. Beginning with Peking Man (who was not one, but many, and not Homo sapiens) to tea (yes, the Chinese were the first) and the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Beijing Opera, Peking duck to the 2008 Olympics, much can be experienced around this grand city.

Shanghai is the most populated city in China, and eighth largest city in the world. However, while Mumbai is supposedly #1 with 13 million people, it is said that Shanghai might well have 20 million residents, depending on whom you count and who you ask.  This world class municipality has long been China’s international port and is emblematic of a progressive economy. The city more recently wallowed until provided with a mandate for market-economic redevelopment in 1992. The result has been spectacular. The skylines are extraordinary with fascinating architecture. I ordered a one person scallop soup at the Tokyo Westin, costing around $50. For this price at 
the Westin on the Bund, my wife and I got a full Asian fusion meal with wine. From a magnetic levitation train connecting their airport to downtown, with a link planned to Hangzhou, 106 miles away, to the coming 2010 World Expo, astonishing things are happening here.

Xian has a history longer than 3000 years, is one of the four ancient capitals and is the Eastern terminus of the Silk Road, connecting to the Roman Empire in the West. Today, with a population in excess of 8 million, it is said to have nearly 100,000 ethnic minorities. In 1974, the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor was accidentally re-discovered by farmers drilling a water well. Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was buried with 8,099 life size clay figures of warriors and horses. It is reported that the effort began in 286 BC with 700,000 workers over 38 years. The Terra Cotta Warriors are now the prime tourist attraction of the region. Also try the Xian Dumpling Banquet, with 32 varieties, although another 120 different types can also be ordered.

Hong Kong, meaning fragrant harbor (which it most definitely is not), was a crown colony of the UK from 1842 until 1997, when China regained control upon the U.K. actually acquiescing to a former treaty. The transition has been satisfactory, with the economy still booming. Less than 16 miles away by train, Shenzhen was a fishing village of 25,000 when, in 1979, it was made a Special Economic Zone. In two decades, the population of the city and environs zoomed up to 18 million, surging past the entirety of the Hong Kong metropolis. What used to be the thrifty shopping attraction of Hong Kong has been transferred to this new city. But height restrictions have been removed from Kowloon, located across the harbor from Hong Kong Island, so look for spectacular buildings to sprout. This is the only Chinese location where English can generally be spoken and understood by a third of the people.

In 1670 Portugal leased Macao, but in the Beijing Treaty, China ceded to Portugal perpetual occupation. Through a series of political dealings, China officially regained jurisdiction in 1999. Both territories (including Hong Kong) are now Special Administration Regions, meaning that the central government will attempt to keep hands generally off the economic imperative of those locations. Beginning with the invasion of the Sands casino in 2004, mostly American investments of more than $25 billion have converted this almost dingy gambling destination into the world leader, surpassing even Las Vegas in revenues.

I know of colleagues who went to work in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and ended up living there. In both cases the wife was a mainland Chinese, so the transition was smooth. Not many will want to permanently relocate to China if you don’t have important connections, but it is possible, and something to consider if you are on the adventurous side.

NEXT:  Japan

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The Dow Jones Industrials slipped 2 to 11,370, with world markets mixed, and in particular, the Brazilian Bovespa has been sinking because of inflation.  Gold increased $3/toz to $1388 while petroleum remained steady at $88/barrel.  Interesting that the Chicago Mercantile Exchange has crude oil only at $89/barrel in the summer of 2016 and $91/barrel in December of 2019.

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