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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Clear thinking...

Things have been quite on 22C+ for a while! And for good reason. I have a five week break from teaching in Hong Kong, and am now in Australia. Perhaps I should tell you that I went to Beijing first,which is part of the reason why I am feeling pretty good right now. Let me explain.

There are a lot of nice things about Beijing. The streets are wide. The pace of life is merely hectic, not frenetic like Hong Kong. The infrastructure is good. There are spanking brand new shopping malls, bridges and buildings all over the place. The subway - which barely existed when I lived in Beijing - is now half decent. People aren't exactly friendly, but they aren't hostile either. Oh, and there are beautiful women all over the place. Don't tell my wife that bit.

Here's a nice video of some Chinese kids playing in a fountain in The Village shopping Centre in Sanlitun, Beijing. It's a hot summer evening.


The pollution in Beijing is horrific. For the first three days of my week there the air filth was at Armageddon levels. When I went out for a walk at midday (remember, this was mid summer), visibility was often no more than a few hundred metres. When the air cleared enough, I could actually see that there were no clouds in the sky. This surprised me as I had  thought there was one hundred per cent cloud cover, so dull was the day. The air smelled and tasted awful. I actually felt concerned for my health, imagining what the stuff was doing to my lungs. On the fourth day a big storm arrived, and the air was much improved thereafter. Maybe the Beijing authorities just got tired of breathing crap, and ordered the clouds sprinkled with chemicals, to induce precipitation. This is, of course, what they did to create the illusion of a clean China for the Beijing Olympics. Check out the video, taken at luchtime. The temperature is in the 30s, and there are no clouds in the sky.

OK, so now I have absconded to Australia. And what a difference! Currently I am staying in Byron Bay in northern New South Wales. I went for a walk this afternoon and gazed upon a sparkling clear blue ocean. The air was crisp and so clean it was a delight to breathe. There were birds everywhere. People were playing with children and walking dogs. I walked along wide, quiet, tree-lined streets. As evening fell the clear blue sky dimmed to a darker shade of azure, the moon came out in a clear night sky and the sound of hundreds of birds chattering filled the evening. As I strolled around my mind became as clear as the atmosphere, and something dawned upon me. Some things are priceless, and no amount of money can ever buy them. No amount of relentless "You so handsome!" ego flattering from pretty Chinese girls can ever replace the quiet presence of being in a culture which values simply being present - no dodgy karaoke bars to compensate for non-touch relationships, no pop songs pumped through public sound systems and endless fiddling with mobile devices to anesthetise the pain of a soul numbing dash-for-cash culture and its face-obsessed society.

I never actually bought into the materialism on Hong Kong and China, but in the quiet of a small Australian seaside town I can see how it subtly brainwashed me. And I can see how it brainwashes almost everyone in the Confucian world. Chinese people are born into a society where their entire identity is determined by how far they can climb the social ladder, and how much cash and how many assets they can accumulate. Sound familiar? It is like the West on steroids.

Not for everyone. But true for far too many. There is discussion of all these issues in China, but the entire system is in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle. The legitimacy of the government depends upon continued high rates of economic growth, so it has no choice but to keep investing energy into the continuation of the system. But on the other side of the coin it is the people who are demanding economic growth, and many have bought into the consciousness of greed.

Don't get me wrong. I have met many wonderful Chinese people. But they are embedded in a very repressive political/social system (and I might add there are plenty of people in Australia who I wouldn't give the time of day). China is a fascinating country, but for me it is vital to get distance from it at regular intervals, to avoid being pulled into the consciousness of the place. It is, in my opinion, suffering from collective insanity, or perhaps we could simply downgrade the diagnosis to mass delusion. The charade will end, just as it is ending in the USA, Greece, Italy, Spain etc. The USA and friends are just showing how it is done. The entire world economic system is unsustainable. Either there is a massive restructuring of material values or there will be a very, very heavy landing for us all. It won't be nice anywhere, but I definitely wouldn't like to be in China when it happens.



  1. Welcome home to the lucky country.

  2. Thanks Natalie. I will be here for 3 weeks, then back to Hong Kong. However this trip has made me realise that I don't want to work in HK anymore. I will resign from my "day job" there after returning. I will either give a month's notice, or perhaps leave at Christmas.