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A Tale of Two Chinas


Both have the potential to merge into one powerful country.

This past Friday marked my two-month point of living in China. Admittedly, it's been a roller coaster of emotions since I arrived.

I came here searching for evidence that China really is the miraculous economic growth story the world seems to be fixated on. And I wanted proof that the country has what it takes to lead us out of this recession -- a job that the global economy seems to have assigned to China.

Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Upon my arrival, I stepped out of Pudong International airport and could literally feel the exhilarating growth taking place. As my taxi drove me to my apartment, I caught my first glimpse of what's now become obnoxiously excessive construction. Buildings are being raised at lightening speed, new metro lines are being added in groups (rather than one by one), and western corporate signs mask smaller Chinese enterprises in some of the biggest business districts.

After my first few days, I was quick to conclude that China was everything both the business media and I had built it up to be. Unable to find any trace of a recession, I sent my condolences to friends and family stuck in the crippled US, boasting that I'd relocated to the economic hotspot of the world.

The funny thing is, though, that the longer I seem to be here and the more immersed I become in the culture, the less answers I have about this place.

One Window, Two Landscapes

Gazing out of my fifteenth-floor flat here in Shanghai, I have a picturesque view of an ultra-modern skyline that resembles something straight out of The Jetsons. Odd-shaped buildings stretch as far as the eye can see.

Yet dare to peer below the horizon and it feels as if I've been transported to an entirely different country. A massive shantytown intertwines commercial buildings where peddlers roam the streets, running water is nonexistent, and residents live on just a few dollars a day.

This great disparity carries through the entire country and creates a bi-polar view for most observers. Like my fellow ex-patriot acquaintances, my attitude towards China changes on a daily -- even sometimes hourly -- basis.

In nearly every way possible, there are two Chinas that seemingly coexist as one country. The developed China that's lined with Dolce & Gabanna stores and Lexus sedans rolling down the street models what the country is capable of. The third-world China that lacks drinkable tap water and hauls equipment and goods by un-motorized transportation methods reveals the lingering backwardness.
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