A couple of days to unwind in the luxurious lap of the Sofitel before Karen, Susan and Tim arrive and the sightseeing tempo picks up again. Strangely, although this is all one mega vacation, we never seem to have time to ourselves when we can just loaf around, read etc. and I , for one, hadn’t realized how much I needed it.
So today – after we’d all breakfasted together – I had settled down in my room with a book on China, when a squeaky noise made me turn (don’t worry, Janet, no rat this time) …
…and I was reminded that I was in a world demanding to be seen. So I went out and wandered the streets, people watching.
Xi’an has grown, and is still growing, like crazy, with massive apartment buildings sprouting like weeds to accommodate the flood of young people pouring in from rural China to find jobs that pay as much in a month as they could earn in a year of farm work.
To stand on a street corner in Xi’an and watch the insane Brownian motion as everyone scuttles to meet market needs, is to be forced to recognize that there is no way any centrally planned economy – no matter how brilliant and assiduous the planners – could ever meet material needs as efficiently as the Invisible Hand of capitalism – particularly not on this scale. I know that one might experience a similar feeling in most major cities, but what is different here is that so much has been accomplished in just a few decades – hundreds of millions of people tugged out of poverty by that Invisible Hand.
But witnessing the exhaustion on the faces of older people struggling to earn money to compensate for the diminishing purchasing power of state pensions, or seeing sick people, who you know will never receive adequate medical attention from a weakening state sector, is a reminder of the cruelty of unfettered capitalism.
I know it is neither profound nor original to suggest that the best we can hope for is to bounce forever between the extremes of capitalism and statism, but my point is just that the streets of modern China make that truth so blindingly obvious.
I loved this street vendor – offering a view of Saturn – a need you never knew you had until the Invisible Hand offered it up.
In the evening we dined in a private dining room with Richard’s Chinese friends – the ones who pulled strings to get us the police escort (indeed to get us permission to bring our bikes into the center of Xi’an from which such terrifying monsters are banned). Suffice it to say that whoever believe that the Chinese are inscrutable has obviously never met many of them. These dudes can party.