First Contact

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There’s so much to say that I’m not sure how I’ll fit it all in. I’ll stick to the general stuff for now. Guangzhou has changed a lot in the five years since I was last here. The big thing everyone keeps talking about is the Asian Games that were held here last year. The government absolutely moved mountains to get ready for it. If you think London is spending a lot, well, Guangzhou has specifically closed and moved factories outside of the city to clear the smog and has put up a couple of skyscrapers far taller than Canary Wharf. One is called the International Financial Centre. Whose jobs are they after, I wonder? You can see blue sky and stars on the edge of the city now, when before it was all just haze. While we’ve been talking about building high speed rail lines in Britain, Guangzhou has already finished six new subway lines and new intercity lines to most neighbouring cities that have cut two thirds off travelling times. I’m told that Shanghai now has a maglev train to and from it’s airport. For all you non-techie types, that’s essentially a train that floats on magnets so it has zero friction with the rails and can hit 200mph. Anyone still think of China as being backward and undeveloped? Did you read in the news about American generals spitting out their coffee when they heard that it has it’s own stealth fighter already? This place is skipping out decades of development and going straight to the cutting edge. It’s obviously not true of the whole country as Guangzhou and the other big cities are centuries ahead of the interior, but these things are a sign of where China is headed, and I’m not sure that the outlook is positive for Britain. There’s always going to be a future for the part of the UK that does highly skilled manufacturing and services, and China can now buy anything we can sell. The City of London is safe. Oxford and Cambridge are safe, but China killed off the lower end of manufacturing in the west from the 70‘s onwards, and I don’t see why people complacently assume that it will stop there. A country that can build maglev trains and stealth fighters, as well as shoes, ipads, and nail clippers could see our temporary job shortage become something that people about to finish school and uni should fear and we should all get used to.

It’s hard to convey how much energy and vibrancy there is around here. London is busy and bustling, but even that doesn’t compare to this place. The parallels are there; both cities are dominated by the young, as older people have moved out to the suburbs or not come over in the first place. It shows around here. At 9pm you can find small streets in the suburbs busier than a British city on a saturday afternoon. There are market stalls selling clothes and shoes and almost everythings else, and people live a great deal of their lives outdoors in public. Many people seem to have the disposable income to spend cash on going out for food, or they just go and hang out. Even though incomes are still low, because income tax is pretty much non-existent, gas/water/electricity bills are subsidised, and manufactured goods are so cheap, people get by okay with average incomes. Unlike in Britain, it’s easy for people to push down their costs here. Can’t afford an apartment? Okay, just rent a single room with a little combined bathroom/kitchen stuck to the side of it. 30 pounds a month, please. The average person here is saving 50% of their income, when in Britain it’s 0.5%. I know people setting up businesses here who have people queueing up to hand over ten of thousands to invest. Contrast that with British business that can’t even get an overdraft. Life is still tough for people earning basic wages, though. Inflation has pushed the cost of pork up to about 3 pounds a kilo (similar to back home), which may sound like an obscure statistic to quote, but people tend not to eat beef or lamb, or much chicken. The shops here are jammed with everything you could possibly sell, and there’s a lot of luxury stuff for sale (like at the ferrari dealership down the road), but people earning 40 pounds a week in a shop or as a gardener will struggle to afford to eat meat. The variety and complexity of the food here is still staggering to me. I’ve lived in China for two years previously and I still see new foods every day, new ways of cooking and new flavours. A couple of days ago I had beer duck cooked for me. I’ve had beer duck before, and steak and ale pie, but who back home would think to put cinamon and star anise in a pot with some duck, and then pour beer over it? It tasted like some kind of delicious, magical medicine!

The photos are of the flats where I live, a flower on a banana tree, a little lizard I picked up on the street inside an empty drink cup, the front of a local temple with it’s lotus pond, and a view of Guangzhou from the top of White Cloud Mountain in the north of the city.

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