The Saratoga Sun -

Americans should never accept the Strongman

 

February 16, 2022



One of the hardest things for me to do right now is read the news coming out of China. I cannot believe a country that was turning into a world partner has taken the opposite road.

About a decade ago, I lived in China. Suzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzen were all my residences at one time and it afforded me the opportunity to see the Chinese people turn these cities into world class destinations.

It was 2009 and my first time living in China was in Suzhou. It has a populaton of 8 million and is about a 45 minute bullet train ride from Shanghai. It is called the Venice of China because of canals in the old city, which is built on lakes. It is world reknowned for its pearl industry. Back in the day, its user friendly factories were used by the likes of Caterpillar, GM, Nokia and lots of smaller companies.

I worked at the largest ex-pat restaurant/bars situated on one of the lakes of the city. It had two floors, with two bars, an upstairs balcony and patio which overlooked the water. From our venue, you could see the fireworks put on every weekend by the city. My buddy and I were the only Western individuals in a staff of about 50. It was a huge operation. There was a kitchen manager, bar manager, two assistant managers and a venue manager, plus lots of service and kitchen staff. My job was to run the place when my friend wasn’t there and help him when he was.

I had visited China a couple times a few years before and I couldn’t believe how it was mdoernizing so quickly.

Suzhou, at 8 million, was considered a small city but there was a lot going on. My apartment was covered by the restaurant and was pretty sweet. I was within a 10 minute walk from a major market which had fresh everything. There were stalls with live seafood, live chickens, fruit, vegetables, meat, noodle and dim-sum stalls. I interacted with a lot of Chinese folk there.

The staff at the restaurant often asked me what America was like. I was proud to tell them that although people didn’t agree politically, America worked through its problems. It was pretty surprising how many Chinese would ask me questions about freedom and democracy. I really got the feeling there was change in the air as far as China opening up. A lot of these people became my friends and helped me whenever they could.

A couple years later, I was living in Shanghai and working for the largest American small craft beer importer in China. I was pegged to start their spirits division, specializing in American companies. It was a great time, not only because I loved my job but Shanghai was opening up great hotels, bars and restaurants from all over the world on what seemed a weekly basis.

It was amazing the transformation this city was going through. Skyscapers were sprouting like mushrooms on a dewy cool morning constantly in this city of 25 million.

I also found all the nationalities which mixed in this city, Chinese or not, were really cool.

My boss, who was the first China manager of operations for Coca-Cola and later Pepsi for Asia, was a member of the Communist Party. He had been educated at NYU and lived in Melbourne for several years. He went with me to Kentucky a couple times. The company imported, distributed and had liquor stores and restaurants all over China.

It would be an understatement to say he was well off. His house in Shanghai was in a gated community filled with Doric mansions. Driving in there reminded me more of Savannah than Shanghai. We talked politics sometimes, and he was open to the freedoms happening in society.

The Chinese youth were learning about the world by getting educated overseas and you could see the influence coming through in fashion, entertainment and the desire to become worldly.

It was heady times.

The impression I had the five or six years I lived in China was theChinese people in general liked to be around Westerners. Americans were especially treated with admiration and respect. It made selling American liquor—especially whiskey—a lot of fun.

English signs were common on highways and even streets, so it was actually easy to get around. I would get my hair cut at little local shops and it was always an experience. Besides getting a scalp massage (sometimes this included the shoulder) people would crowd around me, asking questions about America. I speak like a 5 year old and it was not always easy. I shopped and ate at a lot of small businesses and English was seldom spoken. I did this because it was way cheaper and also, it helped me with my Chinese.

I was living in China when President Xi Jinping came to power as president in 2013. Previously, President Hu Jintou seemed to be opening the economy more and more and not just with the West.

Taiwan and Hong Kong were thriving and Chinese tourists were coming and going. I went to Hong Kong many times while living in China.

My friend, Wyoming native Darby Doll, lived there my last couple years in Asia. He also lived in Shanghai when I did. We never were in Beijing at the same time but we both know the city, which was another marvelous place changing all the time.

Both of us are in agreement; President Xi, in less than a decade, has changed everything.

The other day I read he is telling the nation men were getting too effeminate and TV shows and movies needed to be censored from pop stars­—boy bands—and movie personalities who wear earrings. Censors actually blot out ear lobes with piercings. Tattoos are considered effeminate, so they are frowned on too.

When I lived I in China, I was struck by how many young men dyed their hair different colors. It looked damn cool seeing these kids expressing themselves in fashion that was as hip as any place in the world. President Xi has issues with that fashion now. In fact President Xi has said China should not emulate Western lifestyle at all.

Around the large cities, English is being taken down. No longer can you read where a train or airport is. Covid-19 restrictions in China have kept the Chinese in and foreigners out and President Xi likes it this way. Hong Kong has no media freedom and protesters are arrested. Some protest leaders have been captured on boats in international waters.

Well, the world’s international waters, but China has a different view on this boundary.

Darby, who lives with his wife and daughter in Taiwan, has told me he will never go back to China or Hong Kong. He has true fear of going in and not being able to come out.

President Xi, as he has gained power over the years, has had opponents marginalized or arrested. He is making it clear, if you don’t agree with him he and the party will have you out of the picture and out of sight. He is also very pro-ethnic Han Chinese which is the dominant race. There are many bloodlines in this country of 1.4 billion. It does not bode well to be a minority there right now. The Uyghurs are facing this right now as are Tibetans.

I won’t go as far as saying I won’t go back to China, but this column alone, makes it dicey for me to consider it any time in the future.

I feel sorry for my Chinese friends I knew once who asked about freedom and the American way because I bet they don’t now.

It makes me glad I do live in a country where thuggery in politics is not acceptable although it happens from time to time. At least it is recognized. I am grateful that one man cannot be a dictator because we have checks and balances. Most important we have the Constitution where it lays out what is allowed and not.

I really believe absolute power corrupts and bless our forefathers for figuring it out early.

Seeing what has happened in China, makes me appreciate all the more that they did.

 

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