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November 2016, in Brief…

November 2016 has seen me in Cape Town, Virginia, Seattle, Colorado, Pohnpei, Guam, and Beijing. I have hundreds of photos to go through and those should appear shortly.

But I write some thoughts about Beijing.

This was my first visit to mainland China (I’ve been to two other Chinas: Hong Kong and Taiwan), and I went in with only the expectation that it would be cold. Which it was – not horrendously cold, but coming from 28° weather in Guam, meeting 3° weather in Beijing was a bit of a shock to the system. I was prepared with a winter coat, hat, and long underwear.

I spent Friday and Saturday in a tourist bubble, being guided by Joe of Beijing Walking on two private tours. Let me just say, before I forget, I unreservedly recommend Joe as a tour guide. He’s personable, worldly, and has a sense of humor that works with mine. It never felt awkward, it felt more like long walks with a good friend.

Friday was Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and other assorted tourist attractions, including an acrobatic show. Saturday was a trip to two un-touristic bits of the Great Wall. The trip out of the city was a blessing: Saturday the pollution in Beijing was incredibly thick: I could barely see across the street out my hotel window and I was coughing continuously (which I’ll attribute 75% to the pollution and 25% to the fact that I’m getting over a cold from earlier in the month).

To me, China needs to do two main things in order to become what I would think of as a solid first world country.

First, China must deliver safe, clean, drinking water from the taps. If South Africa can deliver safe, clean, drinking water from taps in townships, then China can do it in Beijing. Even America gets this right (I suppose with a very visible exception in Flint, Michigan, which only serves to prove the rule).

Second, China must clean its air. Some pollution is inevitable – I get that – but China need not replicate America at its worst moments in development. It can make a leap over the stages during which people wear masks in order to filter the air while walking down the street.

These are, to me, the two basic things that China needs to get right in order to become a solid first world country.

There are a lot of other things China needs to achieve: improving driving behavior would be at the top of my secondary list. Traffic in Beijing is worse than traffic in Honolulu.

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