Country Roads, Take Me Elsewhere
Come and Get Yer Fresh Highway Wheat!
Transportation is not just a means. It's a double means, to two different ends.
Example: I rode in a car through areas of China's Qinghai Province where the seasonal harvest of wheat was
being carried out by thousands of rural families.
We sped along, honking all the way to urge the farm-folk out of the road as we passed through. I couldn't
believe their lack of hustle, and they left wheat on the hard-top!
Then I got sight of a few of them actually throwing their fresh grain in our way on purpose. Initially
baffled, it dawned on me: they had figured out a way to make annoying traffic work to their advantage, by
threshing their wheat with the wheels of passing autos.
In my experience, I reached my destination and helped someone get their daily bread. By any account, though,
transportation is more than just getting from A to B.
The Drive to...well, Drive
As gas prices have gone up here in the States, we've heard a lot of talk about how the industries dependent
on automobiles have suffered. In China, whether petroleum is expensive or not there is going to be a feeding
frenzy of automotive buying over the coming decade and more.
I've said it before, but I have to reiterate. In 2008, China expects to sell 15 million cars. That's more
than any country in the world, and a quarter of the total global demand.
Avis is currently China's leading joint venture auto rental company, through Anji Car Rental & Leasing Co.,
Ltd. Avis is predicting that Chinese drivers will not only want to drive their own cars, but rent them as
well for vacations and long trips. Given the budding Chinese fancy for extravagance, that is a pretty safe
Avis is going in strong. Anji Rental currently operates 10 rental locations. By 2007-less than two years from
now-Avis plans to have established 70 locations in 26 Chinese cities. Now that's trying harder.
North Korea is commissioning a Chinese firm to expand its railway system, a further example of strengthening
ties between the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) and China.
It is hoped that this increased economic interaction will help to soften North Korea's stand on nuclear
weapon threats in the coming years as interdependency grows between the hermit state and its neighbors. South
Korea has even built a new road and railroad across the demilitarized zone to ferry tourists across the 38th
The significant growth in Chinese rail technology includes the highest railroad and highway in the world,
which connects Tibetan Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province.
Greater mobility across these picturesque regions means more opportunities for urban Chinese to experience
open spaces. This will surely be a popular choice with more and more city-dwellers who feel trapped by the
coastal Chinese conurbation.
Keep Your Head in the Clouds
Unfortunately, roads bring destruction. They require the clearing of land, often by blasting it away. They
can also dispossess families and businesses that stand in the way of the area zoned for construction. But
nobody lives in the clouds.
China Eastern Airlines recently became the first airline in the Asia-Pacific region to boast of 100 Airbus
aircraft. This is the result of 20 years of cooperation between the French avionics giant and the Chinese
civil air transportation industry. Airbus is helping to both create and reap the whirlwind of China's lust
for tourism and expanding business travel.
China Eastern isn't alone in its relationship with Airbus, as over 65 more aircraft are expected to be
delivered by Airbus to Chinese airlines just this year. That makes up a total of 28 percent of the market,
and even if that percentage remains stagnant, real numbers of export to China will continue to climb with
consumer and industry demand.
Foreign investors want their money in budding enterprises in China that they know will take off, and plane
travel is the obvious choice.
International dealmaker George Soros has twice invested 25 million well-placed shares in Hainan Airlines.
Once to purchase 100 million shares at a friggin' quarter a share in 1995, and again this year to officially
merge Hainan with its subsidiaries to form Grand China Air.
Consider these injections booster shots as Grand China Air coalesces to be the 4th largest air carrier in
China, with American Soros holding a fat 15% stake.
Please Don't Spit in the Aisle
This week, official cartoons and public announcements started going out over Chinese airwaves and through the
press. The message: Clean up, we're having guests!
When Beijing hosts the Olympics in 2008, the world will be viewing and visiting the country in a very
intimate way. Various cities will host events, and each place will be pressed to behave itself sublimely as
spectators, athletes and press flood the game sites.
This means that jostling in lines and spitting on floors won't be tolerated-a significant change for many.
The travel industry will be no exception, as millions of Chinese and international visitors hire conveyance.
So China is also amping up the smiley faces of the transportation industry.
I rode on plane flights in China where my companion and I were the only westerners on the plane, but English
was still spoken in the announcements.
China Eastern Airlines has hired Indian flight attendants, and Air China has hired Germans, all of whom will
be required to learn Chinese. The major players will continue to put an international face on China's air
hospitality to increase quality service over the coming years.
I predict that, as with so many other trades, Chinese will observe, practice, and then do it for themselves.
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