I must start with an apology. I posted the previous blog to the wrong address – it sat for a week under my music blog and even though Sally did try (subtly) to point this out I was just too dense to catch the hint. All things restored now.
As I explained in a recent post my job has a lot to do with South East Asia (SEA) but also with China. Technically SEA is everything south of China and east of India. In our case it includes China. So I have been researching China inside out. It is a fascinating place with a great deal of interesting places and people.
Everyone knows, for example, that it has the highest population and population density, but not many know that about half the country is so arid that it is labelled “uninhabited”. America has the highest number of Macdonalds outlets per capita, second comes… New Zealand (not because we have many Mac-joints, we just don’t have many capitas) and it might interest you to know that China has the very least – for the inverse reason.
It’s economy is growing so fast it is difficult to contain. It has 115 US$ billionaires where it had none about 10 years ago. Everyone is getting so rich so quickly. And those who are not rich yet are trying desperately to do so. You may have heard the news story about the farmers who were so eager to cash in on their watermelon crops that they fed them an extra dose of growth hormone. And last week, at picking season, their fields turned into mine fields as the watermelons started exploding because of the heat and the water and the hormones.
The wealthy Chinese are very wealthy. Harrods now has many Chinese speaking assistants to help rich Chinese tourists spend their money. They recently installed a special payment terminal which accepts Chinese credit and debit cards (previously they had to pay cash). Within one month they recorded a 40% increase in spending by Chinese tourists – with the average spend amounting to £3,000 (that’s R32,000). The Chinese are phenomenally brand conscious and they like Burberry the best.
They are successful in almost everything they do. There is a very significant Asian population in NZ (and specifically where we live because they all want to go to Macleans College). The school has 49% NZ and other European students, 44% Asian and 4% Maori/Pacific students. Its website is available in English, Chinese and Korean. A recent TV programme looked at why it is always the Asians who succeed at school, who win all the prizes. They interviewed a Chinese girl who came first overall in Chemistry (i.e. best in the world for Cambridge matric). She humbly told them too (when pushed) that she got 100% in five other subjects. And the reason is they their parent don’t tolerate nonsense. They force their kids to practice, to study, to perform well. In many cases they drive them to excellence. Whereas the Kiwis either “love” their children so much that they dare not be harsh, or they are negligent. And that is what the programme concluded: the Chinese will always dominate because they are clever and they work hard, so simple.
Now I keep getting bowled over by the statistics from China – the number of people (1,33 bn) there are 23 cities that have more than 5 million people. The government is going to be building 36 million new apartments in the next 5 years to accommodate the influx of people from rural areas. The Great Wall has several segments but all strung together they measure 6,000 kms. Now Pretoria to Cape Town is a mere 1,400 km so you get the idea of size. The average salary of an urban worker is climbing so quickly that China is no longer the low-wage manufacturing haven it used to be – in fact Chinese companies are now outsourcing they labour to really cheap countries like Vietnam.
Now to top it all I am attending Mandarin classes. It is without doubt the most difficult language in the world to learn. There are about 50,000 letters (characters) in the Chinese alphabet but the average person uses “only” 5,000. There is a system called pinyin where latin alphabet is used to help with the pronunciation of the words. Sadly the sounds used in Mandarin cannot be produced by the normal alphabet, so every combination of letters in fact has a unique sound that sometimes has no bearing on the English equivalent. So in order to understand the language one needs to re-learn one’s own alphabet because it is too difficult to learn their alphabet! When I started the class I could say Ni hao = howzit my China. That is also supposed to relate to the subtle pun in the title of this post. I can now add a few more phrases like wo jiao = my name is. But each vowel is supposed to have a diacritic on it which indicates the pronunciation, so don’t say to yourself “mmm that does not seem so difficult”.
Next time I’ll post pictures of the school and its surrounds – most beautiful. In the meantime I’ll just say Xia ge xing qi jian = see you next week.