An update after a long absence.

Yao Wei and Shen Hao
In March I took my first trip to China since 2008. I got to visit many friends, including Yao Wei and Shen Hao (Pictured above. We’ve been friends since 1994, when I first went to China).

The trip in 2008 was my first since 2001, so the changes I witnessed then, as the paralympics were wrapping up in Beijing and the whole country seemed mesmerized by the afterglow of its Olympic-hosting accomplishment, far outnumbered the Changes I witnessed in 2011.

But I was amazed at how much Chongqing had changed in those two years. The Jiefang Clock Tower was still in the same spot, and most of the large buildings in that square were still the same, but there were other stunning changes.

I went to meet an old friend from 2001, who had returned to China from Alabama years ago to continue teaching in China. He told me to meet him at Starbucks. I went to the wrong Starbucks. When I was living in Chongqing in the late 90s, it would be impossible to go to the wrong Starbucks. There were none. One could also not go to the wrong McDonald’s (no McDonald’s) or the wrong KFC (only one KFC).

There was only one Ferrari store in Chongqing, but I currently live in Minneapolis, where there are no Ferrari stores.

I went to a bar with some friends called the Shark Bar. It’s real name was something else, but that’s what everyone called it because it had a huge tank running the entire length of one of the 12-foot-high walls of the bar with three or four live sharks swimming around in it. When we were parking in the garage two souped-up Porsches entered.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Chongqing’s development has been massive. It’s growth, although I haven’t looked up the exact numbers, must be at percentages approaching or surpassing what Shanghai did from about ’97 to ’08. Chongqing has a monorail. It has a port that can accept ocean-sized freighters. It has an economic development zone. It has a booming real estate market and a vibrant manufacturing sector. The city is quite simply stunning to look at. I can’t wait to go back in the next few months to see it again. I can’t wait to go back and live there, and work in a professional capacity.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the attitude of the people I met there. My friends had not changed. We spent six wonderful days together and they tried to convince me to move back. They didn’t really need to try at all. When I stepped off the train from Chengdu and saw them at the station, I was already convinced.

China’s growth faces many challenges over the coming decade. They’ve got to figure out how to develop their domestic economy enough to sustain the natural slowdown of a very much matured export-oriented industry. They need to bring up the level of domestic support programs so that their consumers will spend more. They need to develop jobs at home, from within. They need to have more foreign businesses in China that focus on China’s market rather than simply manufacturing things for export. This is all happening, but it needs to happen faster. The banks in China need to provide entrepreneurial, small-business development loans. They need to allow foreign competition to freely enter without throwing up blocks to competitiveness so that the local talent will rise to the top and won’t fall victim to the fate of artificial, protected growth.

I think all of this will happen. The government wants an economic powerhouse positioned to compete with the rest of the world. The people want opportunities to develop their careers and move ahead. I’ll write more on my opinions about China’s domestic growth soon.


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