Saturday, November 11, 2006

The American Dream, in China

I'm not the most conventional of people, but I must say that I am pretty cliche in my hopes for the future. A husband, a couple kids, a dog, and a modest house in the suburbs-yes, the sterotypical American Dream. I can, however, go without the picket fence and golden retreiver. If (or should I say: WHEN) I come back to America, there is a good chance of eventually making all these dreams a reality. If (this is a hypothetical "if") I were to live my life in China, the chances of this happening are slim to none. The husband and dog will happen, the two kids-maybe (I'm not sure if I have to abide by China's "One Child Policy"?). The house, fat chance in hell.

Finding a house in China is not easy. I have never, with my own two eyes, have actually seen a "house" in the American sense. I hear that they exist out in the Beijing suburbs, but I've only seen pictures in magazines. The fact is, it's better for me not to think about it. I start to feel a little bitter because I know it's something that could never be mine. Same as owning a car here. Yeah, it's great not having to rely on a vehicle, but when the option is taken away from you, you start to feel a little resentment. Generally, only taxi drivers and those with really high paying jobs have cars. Keep in mind that the average yearly income in Beijing is just over US$2000. People live off of less than $200 a month, on average! Many people survive on much less. In that sense, I am incredibly fortunate.

Clearly, having a car is out of most people's reach. Having a house is even more so. Word is that the suburbian houses cost several hundred thousand US dollars. Not only that, one can never actually own the house because it's technically on 70-year lease from the Chinese government. That's communism for ya.

But things in China are changing. You've probably heard? Fastest growing economy, blah,blah,blah. I don't know all the details, but things are developing fast and the standards of living are changing. Chinese people want more, better, faster. Does this sound framiliar? I think many Chinese are hoping to find there own American dream. But can it happen? Let's hope not. And I'll tell you why. . .

I just recently read an article (an interview of Lester Brown, a famous environmental analysist, in case you were wondering) about China's future. It is predicted that China will reach the same income level as America in 25 years. If China spends it's money in ways similar to how American spend their money, there are going to be some problems, to say the least. I'm a girl who likes statistics and simple numbers. Sure, many of them are BS, but let's just entertain ourselves with some for the time being. According to this Brown fellow, if future Chinese consumers are anything like current Ameican consumers, the Chinese will consume twice as much paper as the world currently produces. Keep in mind that China, at present, has about 1.3 billion people. America, a country similar in size, has about 280 million. So what does that mean as far as cars on the road? By 2036, it is predicted that the Chinese will drive 1.1 billion cars. That's asking for a lot of traffic jams! At the moment, there are 800 million cars driven worldwide. What does that mean for oil? 99 billion barrels of oil a day for China ALONE. The world currently produces 84 billion barrels a day. So it looks as if the American Dream is not going to do China, or the world, much good. It will be a sweet time for car manufacturers though.

I have always been, more-or-less, as environmental conscious as the next guy. I seperated my cans from my papers, but was occassionally known to throw a cigarette butt out the window of my car. Living in Beijing has made me realize how much I took for granted. There is garbage lying everywhere here, although that's the least of my concerns. The air is thick and brown most days, with little visibility. I heard that living here is like smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. When will it get better? There will be a city overhaul for the Olympics, no doubt, but I'm a little nervous about Beijing's post-Olympic future. But by then I'll probably be living out my American Dream in American and blissfully clueless about life under the red flag.

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