Monday, July 28, 2008

Asian Wrap

A few final thoughts on my recent trip to Asia:

- There are definitely things we can learn from the Chinese. One example was the traffic lights in Nanjing that countdown the green and red lights:




You know how much longer the light will be green when going through and more importantly you know how long you're going to have to wait at a red. It goes a long way to reducing your traffic anxiety and anything that makes driving (or riding) in a Chinese city easier is a most welcome development.

- There are of course many things that they can learn from us too. One important lesson is that attentive service is not necessarily good service. In hotels, shops, and restaurants you sometimes marvel at the seemingly endless number of people available to help you. They swarm to do things like open a door, pull back a chair, or push an elevator button. Which is all well and good, but too many times when the rubber meets the road and you need someone to solve or resolve a service problem for you, they don't prove up to that task. Less quantity and more quality of service is a waiting opportunity.

- I noticed more young girls on this trip than on previous visits. However, it still seemed like the overwhelming majority of children that I ran into in public. While talking about children with a Chinese colleague I was told that they are no longer allowed to learn the sex of babies in the womb from ultrasound tests because of the number of people who were opting for abortion if the baby was a girl. You have to wonder how this is all going to shake out fifteen to twenty years down the road. Mark Steyn's quote about "gay super-powers" comes to mind...

- Going from China to the Philippines provided an opportunity for compare and contrast. In China, when the government wants a public works project to happen, it usually does. In the big cities, highways, bridges, and airport terminals go up quickly and are often state of the art designs combining form in function. In Manila, a new international air terminal stands ready to open. From what a driver told me, the facility has been completed for some time, but politics have delayed its use. Apparently, the terminal has been ready since 2003, but has been caught up in the political infighting between President Gloria Arroyo and former President Joseph Estrada (who awarded the original construction contract). Now, it finally will be opened years past when it could have been and years since it was needed.

If the Chinese government continues to allow its citizens the sorts of economic freedom many now enjoy and is viewed as being able to get things done (like build and open new airport terminals), I wonder how strong the push for political freedom from the people will be. Political freedom is liberating, but it's also messy and often slow as the people of the Philippines know all too well.

- Finally, another thought on the Olympics in Beijing and their "One World One Dream" theme. I would actually welcome our one world government overlords if they could deliver my one dream for the world: teach people everywhere how to properly form a line.

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