While China is gradually evolving from authoritarianism towards democracy and transforming from socialism to capitalism, it will surely suffer from side effects. For instance, there are already snake-oil salesmen on TV programs, which are mostly aimed at young women. Fashion and beauty products are heavily advertised. If you want to increase the size of your breasts, just buy that bra that augments their sizes with the help of its special design and magnets. If you want to lose weight (after frequenting to McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC for instance), and wish to become as beautiful as the ones on the cover of Vogue and Cosmopolitan (yes, the Chinese versions of these magazines and more were shown in the ad’s background) you may just rub your stomach with a magic cream. Voila! You are now as slim and as beautiful as those American models. Perhaps the advertisers were aware of the popularity of rubbing Buddha's belly for luck. So, selling fitness by rubbing a woman's belly with cream was a perfect sales pitch. You become your own Buddha and generate your own luck!
MacDonald's walls are merging with China’s wall and they display posters of major Hollywood films. Both corporations sell consumerist lifestyle, albeit without competing with each other. I do not know how the symbiotic relation between McDonald’s and Hollywood was created. It seems to be a clever economic alliance, which eliminates the current U.S. government from being a party in the conspiracy.
China has no option but to remain and embrace the global market. The US companies are ubiquitous. From Microsoft to Ipod, from Nike to Wal-Mart, from McDonald’s to Pizza Hut! American brands are everywhere. We have already invaded China with our brands and franchises. We research and develop. We investigate and innovate. They work hard and produce for less. Then we brand the products and market them. We may care less about the tags “Made in China” but Chinese, especially their youth, are caring about our brands. Perhaps, they are addicted to them. They are paying five or ten times more premium just to have our logos on their shirts, shoes or hamburgers! Who knows, what goes around may come around soon. Do not be surprised if you see cheap and fuel-efficient tiny Chinese brand cars filling our streets in less than a decade. Then the American Minivans, Trucks and Hummers will be the dinosaurs of automobile history. Furthermore, Chinese have learned how to clone our sophisticated products. Last year a company hired teams of hardware and software engineers and cloned iphone in less than a month, with a few additional features. I am not an expert in predicting global economy, but looking at our history of innovation, I can bet that American ingenuity and comparative advantage in high tech products and fashion will continue for decades to come.
Tough capitalism, with its good and evil, is conquering China; some Chinese are still living in their socialistic boxes. Two days after our arrival, Monday morning before the classes began; we were going to be introduced at the stadium to the entire school. David was expected to deliver a short speech to more than 6000 students and 600 teachers at the Lushan International Experimental School, a semi-private institution. Monday morning, before leaving the hotel, we hurried to print the speech. But, we could not find a printer in the hotel’s business center. The secretary at the lobby had a printer hooked up to her computer, but she did not honor our request to print it. I showed her the USB drive, and asked the translator that I would pay 5 dollars, which buys three Big Mac meals. Then, I doubled the offer. I put 10 dollars on the counter for her to print just a single page from her computer. She could not. Because she had never done so for any customer before. Ten dollars for a page was not sufficient to break the wall of that bureaucratic box!
Yet, China is in great transformation. Many Chinese, especially the younger generation, have adopted the paradigm and attitude of free market; both a blessing and a curse. While increase in productivity and quality in service leads to comfort and prosperity, it depletes natural resources and replaces contentment with greed. “If you cannot afford caviar all your life, do not taste it” said the Greek philosopher Epicures. Well, Chinese are tasting caviar and beyond. As the gastronomic version of the First Law of Thermodynamics is “there is no free lunch,” Yuksel’s First Law of Economy is “there is no free free-market.” Free market has its own peculiar costs on environment, society and individual. The future of China will most likely have more abundance, more luxurious cars on the roads, more sophisticated gadgets in homes and pockets, better buildings; but at the same time, they will grow horizontally, the divorce rate will go up, and their children will be addicted with video games and other vices. And they will learn the ADD and the rest of the alphabet soup of ailments that follow our hectic, fragmented, over-stimulated, and stressed and depressed lifestyle.
Within two days, the Olympic torch was going to be relayed in Changsha. Everyone was very excited. The media is a great tool to mobilize masses to any direction wanted by the elite. If you know about Chomsky’s depiction of our democracy, “manufactured consent,” you will fully understand what I mean.
Predicting the national Olympic fever, the textile manufacturers flooded the Chinese market with T-shirts carrying slogans for the coming Olympiad. I was going to buy a few for myself. My interest was not in the Olympic, but t-shirt itself. I stood by a peddler on the side walk. While waiting for my turn, I enjoyed observing the bargaining of a Chinese couple. I was surprised to see the guy taking off his old sweat-soaked T-shirt and putting on the new one. After his wife made a comment, he took the shirt off returning it to the peddler. The peddler was constantly talking loud and encouraging them to buy it. Then, the woman decided to try it herself. She did not take her shirt off; she just wore it over. The peddler was continuously talking; perhaps telling her how nice she looked inside that white thin T-shirt. After about ten minutes, she decided to purchase it. She took out 100 Yuan from her purse. Since I did not have any idea about the price of the T-shirt, I started carefully watching and counting. She received 45 Yuan back. The T-shirt was sold to 55 Yuan or $8. The peddler started to wrap up the T-shirt. But the woman picked it up from his hands and sniffed it. Yes, she sniffed the very T-shirt that she and her husband tried on themselves. She made a face like a male chauvinist changing his child’s diaper, and uttered a few words pointing at another T-shirt. The peddler did not object. That was the time I decided not to buy any T-shirt from that peddler.
The following day, I purchased five of the same T-shirts from another peddler who had reduced the price because of the timeliness of the souvenir. I paid 15 Yuan or $2.2 per shirt. A parent, who was going to purchase more than 20 shirts for students and staff, became greedier. She decided to wait after the Olympic torch passed through the town. Then she thought she could buy them for 10 Yuan each or $1.5. I accused her to be greedy and she accused me of being gullible. What she did not know that I wanted those poor peddlers to make a few extra dollars from me. Well, the night the Olympic torch left the town, no peddler was selling the same T-shirt. So, she missed the best discount on t-shirts in town.