Piecing it Together, Understanding the New China …

A month in China gave me plenty of time to see the sights but also time to see some of the unique and yes, quirky aspects of Chinese culture. Here are a few.

1. A great place to go both early morning and at dusk is a public square or park. Older Chinese congregate in the morning to do group exercise and in the evening there are pop up dance groups. You will be surprised to see twenty or more couples performing the fox trot, waltz and even the tango. I guess “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” also includes “reactionary” Western dance.

Younger people are adopting even more interesting dance moves. There are many. Try googling “China school principal dance” or “Chinese dance craze”. It is wonderful free entertainment and uniquely Chinese. I just wish I could do this stuff.

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2. Lipstick. The color of choice today among the young is bright red lipstick. But what amazed me was how young women’s lipstick looked so perfect, no mess, no smears just perfect. Well there’s a secret. The answer is that some Chinese women are getting ‘permanent’ make up injections to get the perfect red lips. Ah yes, the cult of beauty knows no borders!

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3. Sanya on the island of Hainan is considered the Hawaii of China. Beautiful beaches, clear water, many hotels and…..wall to wall Russians. It is not known as “Moscow on the South China Sea” for nothing. Where else in the world can you see signs in just Cyrillic and Chinese!

4. High tech is everywhere. A decade or two ago it was thought China would never develop much of an advanced consumer sector. They had no credit cards, their financial system was backward and they had no logistics, no FedEx and no UPS. Well the Chinese are improvisers. Today they have the biggest messaging app in the world (WeChat), the largest online seller (Alibaba) and two very sophisticated payment systems (Alipay and Tencent pay). And for delivery they have cobbled together a motorcycle/small van system that rivals FedEx/UPS.

5. U.S. consumer companies in China: This is how I handicap things. KFC is the definite winner. Their stores are always busy, they offer Chinese options for breakfast and their chicken is much higher quality than in America. You get the distinct impression KFC is a Chinese brand. McDonald’s is also popular but not like KFC. I used to fear Starbucks would fail in China due to high prices but with rising urban incomes and an increased taste for coffee, Starbucks is gaining ground.

The one company I am worried about is Apple. They are the face of American commerce in China today. Huawei’s phones are getting very competitive and if there is a major trade war and anti-Americanism rears it head, Apple could be the fall guy.

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6. The downside to China’s rise is that tourists and crowds are everywhere. Don’t expect a quiet, pristine experience. Even on distant mountain tops there are crowds and noise (Chinese are loud talkers) and selfie sticks. We are going to have to get used to the fact that Chinese tourism both domestic and abroad is the new reality. Just as Americans mobbed the world in the 1950s and 1960s now its China’s turn. Adapt we must.