China Part 6

Published in the Trinidad Guardian on 28th October 2007


Last week we were cruising down the Yangtze River. This week I have to finish my China story as I want to write about the election issues next week, the Sunday before the election.


Before I get to the incredible Three Gorge Dam Project let me share a few more notes with you. There were solar water heaters everywhere. There must have been millions of them, all reducing pollution. The cost of electricity is similar to T&T but a solar water costs approx TT$1,500 installed so it makes economic sense.


In the interests of efficiency, the Chinese have pulled all their holidays together and in May have “Labour Week” where the whole country stops for one week. They do it again in October for National Week. This is a time when families get together and with seven days thy can make a real holiday of it.


At one point on our travels we witnessed an old lady get “bounced” down by a car. The car hardly touched her but she promptly fell on the ground writing in agony. It seems that the driver is always liable and old people use the chance to go to hospital to have all the internal organs examined at someone else’s expense!


We noticed that even though our guides all had degrees and were very fluent in English and general affairs, nothing we said could persuade them to sit and eat with us. Talking of meals, a typical ordinary meal in a modest restaurant will cost about TT$20. You can also get Peking Duck for TT$60 a treat not to be missed.


Please note in the hotels they use 220 volt UK style sockets and although they say they have 110 volt outlets we found they were very unreliable. So walk with a transformer for small stuff and borrow the hotel hair dryer, iron etc.


But back to the amazing Three Gorges Dam. Now this project has been on the drawing boards for nearly a century. It seems that every year the Yangtze River would flood millions of homes during the spring when the snow in Tibet melted. In addition it made navigation almost impossible due to the strong currents. By building a dam over 175 meters high which is twice as high as the Twin Towers, they created a lake stretching 660 km back up the Yangtze River.  The power station will generate 14,000 times as much electricity as the whole of Trinidad produces. The dam and ancillary works will use 28 million cubic meters of concrete which is nearly 3 million Ready Mix Truck loads. At the peak they were placing over 55 thousand trucks loads a month!


Incidentally I would like Minister Imbert to note that they have designed for a 1 in 100 year flood with a controlled discharge plan to handle a 1 in 1,000 year flood. Not like Trinidad which struggles with a 1 in 1 month flood!!


But let me not bore you with facts and figures. To simply see this engineering feat is amazing. To sit in your 3,000 ton cruise ship and be lowered nearly 600 feet is mind blowing. You have to see it to believe it.


With much regret we left our cruise ship and took another one hour flight to Shanghai, the culmination of our two week tour. As far as I could tell there are at least 8 separate airlines in China, all owned by the Government and all in competition with one another on the same routes. None of this OWTU nonsense about everything being run by one company. Real competition. On time performance is compared, the most profitable airline paying the best salaries. Never mind China is communist; they understand the advantages of capitalism better than we do. Watch out for our own energy sector if the present Government has its way and creates one big company. Down hill all the way.


Incidentally you can catch an Air China flight direct from Houston which is just one hop from Trinidad via Continental. Also note that internal Chinese flights have a baggage allowance of ONE 20kg suitcase unless you specify to your tour company before you book that you want the two suitcase allowance to match your international travel allowances.


Now nothing prepared us for the spectacle that is Shanghai. Manhattan looks positively drab compared with the hundreds of brightly lit high rise office blocks in Shanghai. Communism may deny you the right to vote but it certainly doesn’t believe you should lead a drab life. With towers as high as the Sears Tower in Chicago (America’s tallest building) they seemed to try and outdo one another for amazing architecture and lighting. By contrast  just outside of Shanghai we visited a silk factory. Ancient machinery unraveling the silk cocoons to produce threads that I couldn’t break. Then they lead you into the showroom. Fashions to die for. Once I got used to being a XXXL size (by Chinese standards) I wanted to buy all the shirts they had as they felt so luxurious. But at TT$300 a pop they weren’t cheap…but they were silk!


The next day was more sightseeing and a walk along the famous “Bund” where we watched ships 3 abreast racing up the river to the interior of China. Incredible industry. A final meal and the next morning it was onto the MagLev train from the centre of Shanghai to the ultra modern airport. Now this train travels at 450 km/hr on an elevated track approximately 30 feet away from homes, offices etc. Totally scary and totally fascinating all at the same time. I now know what it must feel like to be in a plane crash landing in a housing area! Within just 5 minutes you have reached from Port of Spain to Piarco. Unbelievable.


And so, what must count as the most amazing holiday we have ever had, came to an end. Friends, if you only ever do one big holiday in your lifetime…this is the one. China defies everything we thought we knew. It turns all our years of self inflicted indoctrination upside down. It made me realise that Capitalism can work very well regardless of the form of Government. But don’t take my word for it. Go and see for yourself.


Next week…Election Thoughts