I have the unfortunate task today of getting up at 3:00 AM in order to catch an early morning flight to Shanghai. Having never flown on a domestic Chinese airline before, I am not sure what to expect. Thankfully, our plane appears to be quite modern and its crew and flight attendants seem to be very professional. One of the things I’ve noticed flying with Japanese airlines in the past and with this Chinese airline today is how all their flight attendants are young attractive women. It’s a bit odd for me to witness this since I have no memory of US based airlines ever exclusively employing flight attendants of this ilk. This must have been what it was like to travel in the US in the 1960’s before the era of discriminatory hiring lawsuits. Despite the fact that these hiring practices are not fair, for the next hour I have the rare opportunity to live like a character out of the television show Mad Men.
Having buckled in for the short flight to Shanghai, I am offered some reading materials in English to help pass the time. What surprises me about the newspaper I am given is just how honest and forthright it appears to be concerning issues of politics in the various provinces of the country. I wonder if this forthrightness is due to this newspaper being in English and if the Chinese equivalent is much more censored. Or perhaps China is changing and becoming more tolerant of local controversies coming into the news. Another possible explanation is that I am reading news stories that make local governments look corrupt and incompetent and thereby making the central government, by comparison, look good. Regardless of the reasons, it is fascinating to get an insight into local Chinese issues from the perspective of a citizen of this country.
Upon arriving in Shanghai, it is clear that this metropolis is a world class city. Comprised of 24 million people, Shanghai is a city where living is fast paced, expensive, and people are always reaching for the sky. Another thing I notice here that I also noticed back Beijing is how drivers utilize their horns. In the US, most drivers will stop or at least slow down when someone walks in the middle of the road. This is then followed by a small tap or an obnoxious slamming of the horn. Here in China, however, people toot the horn but do not slow down and apparently do not stop. Hitting the horn here basically says that the car is coming and you better get out of the way if you want to live. I guess in a country of 1.3 billion people, the social norms concerning issues of car horns, waiting in line, and how loud one speaks in public is going to be quite different from those of us who live in the sparsely populated west.