High Road to China

This summer, my family and I took a 3 week grand adventure across China and Taiwan. It included 7 planes, 2 boats, 4 long distance buses and 2 cross-country trains. I was in need of a vacation after vacation! While there, we visited Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Taipei, and took a 4 day boat cruise down the Yangtze River. Along the way, we walked/hiked a TON, saw remarkable temples, pagodas, palaces and tombs, chowed down on some of the greatest noodle soups known to mankind (for $3 a bowl), and scoured the street markets for all things interesting and unique. But the 2 major highlights of the grand adventure were hiking the Badaling section of the Great Wall and cruising through the gorges of the Yangtze River. Both were indescribable and overwhelming experiences that further adjectives truly cannot do justice to. And the opportunity to spend 3 weeks with my kids, uninterrupted by work (we were 12 hours ahead, so no one was calling me at 2amET back in the States!) is something I will remember for years to come and likely won’t happen again anytime soon.

But, along the way, there were a number of personal observations that I took away from the trip as well.

Observation 1

Everyone has a smartphone and using it, non-stop. No matter what they were doing…walking, driving, shopping…the phone was in use. If you know much about the Chinese Government, you may know that the Government blocks access to Google, Facebook, Netflix, Amazon and other US companies. This blockage of Amazon has enabled Alibaba to become the Amazon of the Far East, and selling even more diversity than Amazon if you can imagine that. And, can you imagine if Facebook were allowed in China? Facebook could have nearly 4 billion users and Mark Zuckerberg would be the #1 richest person on the planet (even with the hit he took last week!) hands down.

Observation 2

As ubiquitous as the smartphone is, equally ubiquitous are the power banks that charge all these devices. Constantly wired, constantly powering up, constantly providing that glow of the device on faces. The race for power is on, and it is in batteries, not in space, not in weapons. Without juice, your smartphone or any other gadget simply won’t last the day and you’re dead in the water. So whichever country controls the battery engineering and production will hold the keys to the future. Thus making Elon Musk’s acquisition of SolarCity back in 2016 a crafty and brilliant move.

Observation 3

Every gadget you can imagine, and many more that you have never even imagined are all for sale. Speakers, robots, tablets, drones, cameras, projectors, computers, and of course smartphones. Which further supports Observation 2, the continuing, heightened dependence on battery power. I even experienced a taxi ride in Taipei where the taxi driver was watching a movie on his tablet (no joke), had his phone providing GPS coordinates, had a dispatch box from the taxi company squawking pick up instructions, AND had a dashcam recording everything going on in front of the car. Not to mention, he was driving the taxi…talk about device overload!

Observation 4

Nobody and I mean nobody carries any form of money or credit card. It is ALL pay by phone. That means not just at Starbucks or at McDonalds or at one of the finest peking duck houses in Beijing (Quanjude). It means that even the street vendors and corner noodle shops take phone payments too. Pay by phone was such a standard that it bodes well for crypto-currency in China because the younger generation has no idea what physical cash is any longer. 

Observation 5

And while it is such a digital culture, which is all being tracked and controlled, the transportation laws are diametrically the opposite. On the roads, you will see anything with a wheel on it…cars, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, and scooters. This vehicles are moving in what appears to be complete chaos, but operating in total harmony with each other, like a ballet, with nary an accident seen during our 3 weeks. Oh and no one is wearing helmets. Kids on scooters, dangling from their mother’s arm, crossing a 7 lane interchange as buses, cars and motorcycles whiz by…no helmets. Here in the US, DFCS would have a heartache.

Observation 6

The food…oh the food. Amazing, flavorful, spicy, simple, clean, healthy. And that is the street vendors that I am talking about. And like DFCS above, here in the US, DHHS would probably have a field day with these street vendors. Once I blocked that out of my mind, I experienced some of the best meals of my life. Everything is handmade, all made-to-order, and it’s all fresh. 

What a great 3 weeks it was. I experienced so much that it took me a while to process it all. It was truly the thrill of a lifetime, all while experiencing the hustle, bustle, craziness and crowdedness that is China and Taiwan. 

And of course, I took a few of my favorite bands with me . . .