At no time have I considered myself a cultural anthropologist, but, I do consider myself to be a particularly good observer, and a very good observer of anomalies and exceptions. That's what entrepreneurs do, look for opportunity. I was provided with many opportunities to use these skills on my recent trip to China.
The story of the transformation of China is a fascinating one that I've been telling people since my return. Since I am old enough to remember when China was forbidden territory, with no trade, no travel and practically a direct war (Vietnam), it's hard to comprehend the level of change that is being embraced and encouraged in that Country.
We can barely imagine the world of China only 25 years ago (1985, say). Think of the U.S. with no cars and all bicycles - kind of like 1890.Families stay close for life, with many multi-generational households. Education is not a strong pursuit - kind of like the Plains in the late 19th Century. Major cities are more akin to overgrown villages. Costs of living are low as is personal income, if any, since the land or the government is what takes care of most.
Then, open the doors to western opportunity. In those 25 years, borrow from free market capitalism the pursuit of opportunity, not just the comfort of sustainability. Add cars, add phones, add TV, add marketing, add high rise office buildings, add the Olympics, add manufacturing and exportation, add restaurants and bakeries and internet cafes. Add cultural pride. To use an old term, it is mind-boggling.
In the U.S. as everywhere else in the West, the globalization/modernization process has been going on for over 100-150 years. In China it has happened in 20. All of it at once. One giant leap for mankind, so to speak. As a result, there are cities of millions where there were villages. It's rare anyone has been driving for more than 10 years. Cars and busses in the city share roads with three wheeled bicycles with wide loads taking up half a lane of city street. In fact, it is the roads where this evolution is the most glaring.
Drivers willingly drive against oncoming traffic on a divided road to avoid going around the block. On a bicycle it's what they've always done. Pedestrians are on their own to cross the street, sometimes one lane at a time standing on a stripe in the midst of traffic, that does not respect the concept of lanes. It's what they've always done. Imagine missing a highway exit and then taking the immediately following ONRAMP on the other side back down against traffic to catch the street you want. Imagine using it as a strategy to avoid traffic. Why wouldn't you?
What if time was compressed. We've all watched the science fiction shows where an future culture can offer technology or insight to a culture further back in time. In Star Trek, being cautious about this transfer of information was so important it is called the Prime Directive. In China, we get to actually watch what happens when the Prime Directive is removed. The 21st Century is being laid on the landscape offering prosperity for all who engage. Contrast with not fully engaging and being relegated to forever primitive. It's cultural evolution at practically internet speed.
I suspect I'll have more posts on this subject as I come to other awarenesses of what I saw or how it fits into the fabric of GreenSmart or frankly, how the myths about China that we have accepted are being regularly erased at almost the same speed as we erase a picture from our digital camera that we no longer want. - The picture? Notice the many centuries old junk in the middle of Victoria Harbor with Hong Kong and its convention center in the background and a well lit Samsung sign. It's not a tourist ferry - and you can bet it has a smart phone onboard.