What a long, strange trip it's been. That's about the best way I can sum up the last six weeks since I departed the United States for China, put my life on hold, and headed to the other side of the planet (via Indiana and the Jersey Shore...I told you it's been long and strange).
But now, as promised, I'm back.
Before some tidbits about my trip to China, a bit of fun personal news I just found out about: For the second straight year, I was named 5280 magazine's Reader's Choice for best columnist in the Mountain West. Additionally, the new site Mediaite.com ranked me the 38th most influential newspaper columnist in America. Not bad, methinks, for living so far away from the New York-D.C. cabal - and quite obviously much of that success has to do with readers' unflagging support for my work. So a big thank you.
OK, now for what's ahead: As the last newspaper column I wrote mentioned, I was almost completely off the grid for the last few weeks, and thus I'm still digging through my email and trying to bone up on the political/cultural goings on of the past month - not easy, considering my own self-imposed isolation was enhanced by residing in the Chinese government's censorship bubble. So what I figured I'd do for this first week back as I get up to speed on current events is publish a series I wrote during my trip called "An American Griswold In China." I couldn't publish the reports while I was in the Middle Kingdom for fear of having my visa revoked and/or being blocked by China's national firewall. Now that I'm back, though, I'm going to post one each day at www.openleft.com for the next week starting tomorrow, culminating in a newspaper column about my trip on Friday.
I don't purport to be a China guru - three weeks there hardly makes one an expert. At minimum, though, I can promise you my series won't be the usual corporate brochure copy about China you get from the Tom Friedmans and Fareed Zakarias - the triumphalist apologias insisting how wonderful China is doing because the limo drivers are so friendly and the views from the 55th floor of Shanghai's five-star hotels are just so goddamned spectacular.
Of course, to imply, as the Friedmans and Zakarias do, that such vistas present an accurate and complete portrait of China as a whole is like insisting a skyscraper view of Manhattan's ritzy Upper West Side is a microcosmic look at America as a whole. It's like visiting only Northwest Washington, D.C. and Beverly Hills, and then writing as if those symbols of opulence and excess are perfectly representative of the Toledos and and Tulsas in between.
That's why my wife, Emily, and I spent a good portion of our trip away from the coastal wealth centers that the American punditburo's self-styled sinologists almost exclusively limit their China travel to. Instead, we spent about half our trip in the country's interior, where most of the 1.3 billion Chinese people actually live. There, if you have the stomach for it, you'll find the darker side of the supposed "economic miracle" that doesn't get talked about at C-Span symposia, in green rooms, or on American op-ed pages.
It's not all bad, mind you - not even close (and, thanks to the people we met, our trip was absolutely fantastic). It's just a helluva lot more complicated than what you tend to read about in our sad excuse for a media. I hope over the next week, I can give you a glimpse into that world.
Let me end this ramble on a sentimental note by saying I'm relaly thrilled to be back home - and by "back home," I mean physically back home in Denver and in the United States,. Going to the other side of the world teaches you a lot of things - not the least of which is a renewed appreciation for the comforts and freedoms we all take for granted. It reminds you of what the value in spending at least part of your life trying to put the privileges you've been given (and American liberty truly is a privilege) towards making some kind of positive difference in the world.
Columnist, Creators Syndicate
Author, The Uprising (2008) and Hostile Takeover (2006)
Fellow, Campaign for America's Future