The Great Wall

[ I adapted this piece from one of the writing assignments I did for a class]

On Sunday, our MBA program visited the Great Wall of China. I had to adjust my way of thinking – it wasn’t the Great Wall of China anymore, just the Great Wall. It was quite an experience; the long bus ride, the walk up the massive wall, the spectacular views and the large number of people who were gathered there.

The drive to the Great Wall was only supposed to take one and half hour. However, it took over six hours to complete the sixty km. journey. One thing that stood out was despite the modern infrastructure i.e. highways in excellent conditions, there weren’t enough amenities for tourists. I didn’t see a gas station, a restaurant, or even a toilet. Often the people traveling to the monument would get out off their cars, and walk to the side of the road and use the adjoining shrubbery as a bathroom. A paradox in the fastest growing economy, on one side you have excellent infrastructure, yet the conditions experienced by the tourists were something that would be found in a third-world country, not a developing nation.

Another fascinating thing that I saw was the reaction of the other tourists towards my team and me as we were walking up the wall. Some of the tourists, who I presume belonged to rural China, would stop by and ask me to take pictures with them. I felt like a “rockstar”. It was a surreal sight to be treated like celebrities, and brought to light the vast cultural, and socio-economic difference between the urban and the rural China. I’ll be surprised if I get the same kind of reaction in Shanghai, later next month.

Coming from a background, where I was exposed to a mix of India and US cultures, the expectation of me was that I imbibe the “good” parts of each culture. Viewing it from that prism, I have found my China experience so far very fascinating. For instance, in India, traveling by bus or car can be quite a different experience. There are amenities for tourists that I found missing in China, but those amenities reflect the quality of infrastructure present. Since the time I left India, the infrastructure has greatly improved, but doesn’t even come close when compared to China, its close competitor. Anyone who’s traveled through Bombay Airport knows what I’m talking about. United States, I feel tends to fall somewhere in between. Often, there are places where there is great infrastructure in place for public, which is reflective of economic condition in that state or region. On other occasions it can feel like that you’re not in a developed nation.

When I applied for MBA, or even was thinking of doing my MBA, I had hoped for such an experience; an experience where I could understand and talk about similarities and differences in cultures and economies, and apply them to solve real world business problems. I do feel with the summer trip to China, I’m on the right track. However, as Steve Jobs once said- You can only connect the dots of your life looking back, not ahead. Though, I do hope that forty years down the line, when I look back at my life, I can connect the dots from this summer.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Amit on May 14, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    China with over billion population will never ( not that it cannot) be able to build infrastructure to meet the needs of it masses and its progress should be understood in a broad historical context of the country’s political and economic dynamics. Being closed republic it was never exposed to outside world and everthing under development was and is has state ownership. It was not until last 5 yrs that it realised the power of global market economy and consequently undertook the infrastructural development. Amenities will slowly come along as they find out the needs of tourists from western world.
    Please note 80% of its population is rural based and resides in 4 major provinces of China where it has lived with bare minimum amenities all their life. These are the people who, when exposed to outside culture will start demanding the same for themselves in their own country. I have seen the transformation in India over 10 yrs I left that country. Therefore, the magnetic attraction(not reaction) of local tourists towards you folks is surely indicative of their liking of western culture/ glamor/ openess.
    The PRC is acutely aware of it and in all fairness will try to protect its political integrity by keeping a fine balance in projecting itself to world market economies.


  2. I understand that it’s not easy to build infrastructure for a country with unofficial estimates of population at 1.7 billion. Rather, the infrastructure is there. In a couple of years there will be a train service going from Beijing to Shanghai, a distance of over 1000 kms, in about 3 hours. Think about it, what would you give to travel from Delhi to Mumbai in about 3 hours by train? The amenities aren’t a problem if you’re doing touristy things in cities, but traveling outside of cities. Perhaps, it’ll change as Chinese government realizes the needs of it’s citizens and that of foreign tourists.

    I did want to compare this to India, where the government is democratic, yet unable to understand the needs of its citizens. Change is happening, but too slow in such a transformative world, and definitely too slow for it to keep up the pace with China.


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