We toured Beijing today, a city of 17 million people, 6 million cars and buses, and 3 million bikes; saw Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, and The Great Wall. All were impressive but the Forbidden City and Summer Palace offered limited access. In many cases our viewing was limited to peering through windows at artifacts, not like the Biltmore Estate where you could feel a part of the history and grandeur. None the less it was humbling to think that I were able to experience over 2000 years of history and gain some understanding of the Chinese culture. After one day in China I feel better about the money I have invested in FXI, a China ETF, than any investment that I have ever made over the past thirty five years. I feel like I have gathered inside information today.
The Chinese people are the most disciplined, gracious, hard working people I have ever seen. In our twelve hours of travel today I saw no litter, no graffiti, more history then I could comprehend, flowers in the street medians, and smiling people. It looks like Beijing has a fifty story building owned by every Fortune 500 Company, as well as every major European Company. Beijing is building an entire new sports complex and housing for the 2008 Olympics that will make all past Olympic hosts look like minor league cities. Their main stadium, the Bird Cage, and their swimming facility, the Ice Cube, are both futuristic and inviting. I wish I were a young athlete who could look forward to participating in this event.
Our guide, a 27 year old married woman explained the one baby rule that has been in effect now for thirty years and ended by saying, “This is good for China’s future so it is good for me and my family.” She explained the three exceptions to the rule: If you are of a minority race, any of 56 tribes other then Han you may have a second child. If your first child is mentally retarded you man have a second child. If you are a farmer and your first child is a girl you may have a second child. China’s goal is to reduce their population to one billion by 2020. If the policy is broken a fine is assessed and the child is not issued a National ID Card which will bar the child from attending school or being employed in China, thus the illegal child will be destined to poverty.
There are eighteen in our group eight couples and two older women traveling by together. Our second day in Beijing started in The Heavenly Park in the center of the city. We arrived at 8:15 in the morning and found a sea of bicycles in front of the park gate, inside is the Temple of Heaven built in 1420 during the Ming Dynasty. In the middle of the park are grassy and concrete areas that are used by groups of people to exercise. A group of fifty senior citizens was practicing ballroom dancing to music provided by their instructor. Our guide explained that there is no organization and no charge, “these people show up everyday and dance for exercise, the drill sergeant instructor is a volunteer; this is how our senior citizens get their morning exercise.” In another area there were a group of ladies doing ribbon dancing with long colorful ribbons flowing through the air in a synchronized movement. A group of both men and woman were doing precise moves with sabers and another with hand fans others practice Kung Fu.
Later in the afternoon we caught four hour flight to Northwestern China and arrived in Urumqi. Urunqi is a mining city, oil, natural gas and coal, home of 2 million people and growing. Urumqi is rough, and in disrepair. Able one of the men on our tour who had been in Beijing eight years ago said, “Urumqi looks like Beijing did in 1999.” Urumqi has become a key point for the transshipment of goods from interior China to Central Asia and Russia much as it did thousands of years ago when it was a stopping point on the Silk Road. Urunqi is the largest city in northwest China, and is recigonized in the Guinness Book of Records as the most distant city from any sea in the world at a distance of about 1,400 miles from the nearest coastline. As we drove from the airport to our hotel I was reminded of Pierre South Dakota and Cheyenne, Wyoming thirty years ago, with wide streets and merchants of all kinds doing business at the street side but with an additional 1.95 million people thrown into the mix.