Why we have lost the race to China
I am in China on holiday for a few weeks. I thought I should record my observations, as they occur to me and in no particular order. We say “Made in China” sniggeringly to indicate cheap and poorly made things. The evidence on China’s streets does not betray this lack of quality. The finish and construction of their pavements and parks, the way their gardens are laid out and the trees in their public spaces. All these things are first rate.
The small things, the details in China are right. Platforms are aligned exactly to the height of train floors. There is cleanliness and it comes from an engagement with surroundings.
When we attribute Singapore’s order to Lee Kuan Yew’s genius, we must be able to explain why Hong Kong is also as clean. The reason is of course that it is the Chinese whom we must credit and not some dictator.
One of the first things that one notices at the table is that the Chinese respect vegetables, unlike us. One can taste the flavour of the food on the plate, which is cooked with a light touch, not assaulted with masala. The other thing is how many vegetables they serve. We stress our vegetarianism but are essentially grain eaters.
I would say this difference also extends to tea, which the Chinese respect, unlike us. The freedom fighter Maulana Abul Kalam Azad once began researching tea and came to reject what passed for the beverage in India. He called it “liquid halwa”.
On the street in China’s cities and towns, there is equality, physically speaking. The chasm, the physical separation of Indians by class—compare your colour, size, beauty to that of your servant—is unapparent.
The Han, 90% of China’s population, are a beautiful people, small but not malnourished, radiant of skin and with no body hair. Like in European nations, the dominant physical shape is slender and thin.
The old are alive in spirit, active in workplaces (we were rowed on a boat by five men of whom the youngest was 74). The parks are full of old people exercising, the tea houses are packed with them.
The Chinese have a genetic lack of tolerance to alcohol (meaning they get hammered easily). Most beers contain 2.5% alcohol. Two 320ml cans contain only as much alcohol as a small 30ml drink.
Though English is now compulsory from kindergarten in cities, almost nobody speaks it (Chinese people can modernize themselves without leaning on the West, unlike us).
Yet car number plates are in English because the Chinese system is too complicated for the small plates and I suppose for quick reading.
The English on signs is strange, as we all know, and probably the result of someone using a dictionary: “Tickets once sold will be dishonoured.”
标牌上的英语很奇怪，正如我们所知的一样，可能他们都是查字典写的，比如“Tickets once sold will be dishonoured.”（票一旦售出再不XX？）
This kind of translation results in signs that are direct: “Please aim carefully”, was pasted over one urinal. “Help keep this cleaner by stepping closer”, was pasted over another urinal. I didn’t need to, of course.
There is a high level of state penetration. An example: In the town of Yangshuo, all restaurants are required to use identical crockery that is washed and sanitized by one company that collects and returns the vessels daily, each set in plastic wrapping placed before individual diners at the table.
Is this level of execution possible in India? Not even in my beloved Gujarat.
Currency notes of all denominations have a photo of Mao Zedong and the issuing bank is called Zhongguo Renmin Yinhang.
You can get a first-rate meal at a high-end restaurant for seven people, including beer, for Rs.3,000. That is not possible in India where the quality and the surroundings drop precipitously once the very highest end of expensive places is taken out.