Criticism of China about Uyghurs will lead to Bhutan-style deportation?

A bleak thought for the first day of winter…

Whenever I posted a photo of some amazing new piece of Chinese infrastructure, e.g., the Suzhou metro or part of the 24,000-mile high-speed rail system (California will catch up soon!), American friends would predictably respond with a complaint about the Chinese government’s treatment of the Uyghurs in response to an ongoing conflict.

(My American Facebook friends who’ve never been to China throw rocks at the sheep-like Chinese for following the party line, but they respond to virtually any mention of China in nearly identical and predictable ways: (a) point out that the government there is “authoritarian”; (b) “what about the Uyghurs?”; (c) “what about Hong Kong?”)

The same friends who criticize China regularly celebrate Bhutan, virtuously carbon negative (CNN) and using the correct yardstick (“meterstick”) of Gross National Happiness. That Bhutan deported one sixth of its population in the 1990s is apparently forgotten or not relevant.

Muslims are only 1.8 percent of China’s population (CIA). The Chinese government could reasonably infer that if the Bhutanese can be warmly appreciated by the global righteous after expelling a minority religious group that was 16-30 percent of its population (estimates vary), instead of continuing this draining fight it would make more sense to pay nearby Muslim-majority countries to take them and/or have an India-Pakistan-style split in which part of western China was given away.

In other words, could Western say-gooders concentrating on this theme actually end up harming the Uyghurs whom they purport to be helping?

(Separately, we are informed by our media that 1-1.5 million people are being detained in camps (example below). Ghoulish tech question: wouldn’t camps big enough to house this many people be easy to spot via satellite imagery? The U.S. prison gulag is easily spotted from space. It is easy to find articles (example; example 2) showing one or two camps, but not a comprehensive census. In the age of satellite imagery, why are the purported Chinese concentration camps the subject of speculation?)


  • “1.5 million Muslims could be detained in China’s Xinjiang: academic” (Reuters): A leading researcher on China’s ethnic policies said on Wednesday that an estimated 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims could be held in so-called re-education centers in Xinjiang region, up from his earlier figure of 1 million. … “Although it is speculative it seems appropriate to estimate that up to 1.5 million ethnic minorities – equivalent to just under 1 in 6 adult members of a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang – are or have been interned in any of these detention, internment and re-education facilities, excluding formal prisons,” Zenz said at an event organized by the U.S. mission in Geneva, home of United Nations human rights bodies.
  • U.S. incarceration rate (we are, sadly, #1)
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Air pollution has an insignificant effect on life expectancy?

It seems obvious that people who breathe filthy air would die young. Yet people in Shanghai live 13 years longer than those in poor provinces (source), which are presumably less densely populated and therefore might have cleaner air (but maybe they are breathing indoor smoke from coal used to heat?).

Another possibility is that people in Shanghai are being slowly killed by air pollution, but they’re so smart that their high IQ gives them a longer life expectancy to begin with. (Scientific American) Without the massive welfare state that the U.S. operates, it is tough for a person without a high IQ to move to Shanghai and thrive there (apartments are comparable in price to the most expensive U.S. cities; see Forbes).

There is supposedly a five-year difference in life expectancy in north versus south China due to worse air pollution from heating with coal in the north (source). But, again, how to square that with the 13-year boost in life expectancy in Shanghai, a city that is spectacularly polluted.

Mist or filth?

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Air pollution masks prove that women are more prudent than men?

As previously discussed here, air pollution in China, though it is being cleaned up gradually, is the one problem there that U.S. media is not exaggerating (see below for a good one, though!).

Anecdotally, it was women aged 20-40 who were most likely to be protecting themselves with a mask. Although helicopter parenting is no doubt common in Shanghai, it was uncommon to see children wearing masks. It was much more common to see a mother wearing a mask while the precious toddler inhaled filth than vice versa.

As only two out of 50+ gender IDs are recognized in China, I think I can safely refer to “men” versus “women” in this context. Based on observed mask-wearing behavior, I wonder if it would be possible to quantify, via a careful survey, the extent to which humans with one gender ID are simply more prudent than humans with a different gender ID.


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Why wasn’t Google Glass popular for translation?

Aside from missing family and friends and finding that wearing an air pollution mask tended to fog up my glasses, one reason that I was happy to return home from China was that it was no fun being illiterate. WeChat can be used to translate a sign or menu into English, but it is somewhat cumbersome. Same deal with Google Translate, which works to turn English text into characters to show shop and restaurant personnel.

It occurred to me to wonder why systems such as Google Glass hadn’t caught on simply for the purpose of finding text in every scene and translating into the traveler’s home language. Was there simply not enough battery power to have the thing running continuously? It would have added a lot to the trip if I could have just walked around streets and museums and, without having to take any explicit action, seen English language versions of all of the surrounding writing.

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Getting around the Great Firewall while in China: roaming versus VPN

Some practical advice for getting around China as a tourist…

Buying a local SIM means you’ll be behind the Great Firewall whenever you’re on LTE. Tourists whom I met said that they tried to use ExpressVPN, but that it did not work for more than a few days. “One VPN will work for awhile and then stop,” said a local. I had subscribed in advance to Express VPN, but found that it never worked on WiFi.

The Verizon Travel Pass: works! “They don’t care what foreigners read or think,” said a local. Be aware that the included 0.5 GB per day will be consumed within an hour or two if you let photos sync over cellular data. Simply using iMessage to share photos, posting to Facebook, etc., will run up close to the 0.5 GB limit every 24 hours (Verizon will sell you another 0.5 GB for $10, but in a world of ever-increasing bandwidth consumption they really should expand this).

Public WiFi is often 50+ Mbps, but, as in France, it is not legal to run a completely open network. You have to authenticate with a mobile number and it often doesn’t work to type in a foreign number. The splash pages are often in Chinese only. Hotel WiFi networks are authenticated with room number and last name, but some networks are more permissive than others. The Four Seasons Shanghai ran a network that worked with all the Google services, albeit crawling at 3 Mbps. Networks in Suzhou, Hangzhou, and at the Wanda Reign hotel back in Shanghai were faster, but Google was locked out.

If you love Apple, you’ll find that the Chinese government shares your love. Apple speaks truth to power by disabling its news service entirely in China, even for foreigners connected via roaming. (Tim Cook is not afraid to challenge voters in Arkansas, though!) Perhaps not coincidentally, every Apple service seems to work in China (but you won’t find the Taiwanese flag emoji on the keyboard if you buy the phone in China).

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China proves that one-party rule makes people happier?

I met a lot of people in China who were unhappy with some of the Chinese government’s policies, notably the Great Firewall and control of the media (the stuff that is used to whip up Westerners’ outrage was not foremost in their minds; nobody mentioned the Uyghurs and when I asked the response was that the potential for domestic jihad required some tough policies, the Hong Kong situation was regrettable, but not obviously the government’s fault).

The level of personal bitterness regarding politics was much lower than in the U.S. To the extent that anyone was blamed, it was a handful of leaders at the top of the Communist Party, not fellow citizens. (The Party has roughly 90 million members, or 6 percent of the population, but this includes people with ordinary jobs as farmers, for example.)

Contrast to the U.S. Even in a one-party state, such as California, there is bitterness and hatred. Bay Area Californians, for example, blame the Republican remnant down in Orange County for preventing them from implementing their Socialist dream (somehow a Republican in Orange County is stopping San Francisco from taxing residents to pay for housing for the homeless, universal health care for San Francisco residents, and the rest of the dream? why can’t folks in the Bay Area give up their Teslas and foreign vacations and move the tent people into apartments?).

On a nationwide scale, given the roughly even split among voters, we are virtually guaranteed to have 50 percent of Americans blaming the other 50 percent for voting for whichever party is currently in power (see for example). This does not happen in China. One business executive said “I explain our politics to friends from Texas by saying ‘imagine that the mafia took over control of Dallas.'” Certainly he seems to have little affection for the Party (referring to them as a “mafia”), but he recognizes that there is nothing he can do to change it and that none of his neighbors are to blame for the Party’s control of China. So he concentrates on his business, his family, and his friends, enjoying what he says is a superior lifestyle to what he had in New York City (elite U.S. MBA and job at a top Wall Street bank). He says that there is more practical freedom of speech in China compared to the U.S.: “In China, the Party is clear about what they don’t want you to disagree with publicly,” he noted. “but in the U.S. the boundaries of acceptable speech change from week to week.”

How about freedom of the press? That’s an unqualified good, right? We love the First Amendment, I hope (though we don’t want “hate speech” or anything that makes us and our allies feel unsafe). Consider the New York Times. They run article after article intended to make the majority of Americans resentful of our richest neighbors. These include statistics on inequality that are cooked by valuing the services that a poor American receives at $0. So a person who is guaranteed the lifetime (and often multi-generational) right to live in a $1 million market-value unit in the center of a gleaming city, guaranteed a $30,000/year market-rate family health insurance policy, guaranteed a lifetime of free food and free smarthphone service, etc. is considered to be poorer than the poorest resident of Malawi.

Even if the data were not cooked to the point of absurdity, an article about inequality in the broad economy has no value to more than 95 percent of Americans. Unless they live in a swing state, their vote does not count and they have no influence on national politics. The English-language media in China contains a lot of puff pieces on the good works done by the Chinese government, e.g., flatland Chinese troops who are stationed in Tibet rescuing injured tourists, but the propaganda angle is clear and the reader can ignore it all if desired. Consider how much time Americans spend obsessively tracking the Mueller report (see my recent bookstore photos from Denver), the quest for Trump’s tax returns, the impeachment process soon to be entering its fourth year, etc. Except for those who are in Congress, wouldn’t they have been better off using that time for dinner with friends, reading a book, or learning new skill? Here’s a selection of English news offered at my hotels:

(Note that government control of traditional media has, according to locals, no effect on their practical access to information. “We can learn anything we want about Hong Kong on social media,” said a 24-year-old.)

Maybe the system of government as conceived by our Founding Fathers was a good one (especially since it came with the ability to steal the rest of North America from the Native Americans, which the British had prohibited), but stretched from 3 million to 330 million and combined with a reader-hungry media it results in unhappiness? Or maybe democracy itself is inherently a system in which neighbor will end up hating neighbor (or spouse)? Every government policy results in winners and losers (even building a bridge will harm the livelihood of people who previously operated ferries) and therefore every government policy has voters on both sides. Folks who are harmed by a government policy will therefore inevitably come to hate a majority of their fellow citizens on that issue (since presumably it wouldn’t be a policy if a majority of voters did not support it)? The mutual hatred level gets amped up considerably when people take the position that their vote on an issue is due to their passion for “justice” (a universal) rather than simply self interest (potentially personal).

Not being a Mandarin speaker, it is a bit tough to say whether people are actually happier in China than in the U.S. overall. Out and about, the Chinese actually did seem more content, consistent with the Gallup Global Emotions survey. 87% of Chinese experienced “enjoyment” versus 82% of Americans, an achievement given that the GDP per capita is lower in China; “worry” was at 29% in China and 45% in the U.S. (imagine how worrying it is for a Californian or New Yorker to think about what crimes Trump might commit next!), “anger” and “sadness” were substantially lower in China as well. Despite consuming more opioids than the rest of the world combined, Americans experienced more “pain” than people in China! Maybe we all need higher doses of fentanyl?

Family life in China seems happier. Maybe it is the one-child convention (no longer a law), but it was common to see married couples out with their cherished offspring as a unit of 3. In the U.S., by contrast, Parent A might be with Child 1 at Activity X while Parent B is with Child 2 at Activity Y. (Or the child might have only one parent, incentivized with welfare and/or child support cash, unlike in China where being a “single parent” from the start is simply illegal.)

A 1996 photo series, Standard Family, by Wang Jinsong. From the (awesome) Power Station of Art.

Readers: What aspect of American political and press freedom actually contributes to the happiness of Americans?


  • trust in fellow citizens in China versus the U.S. (63 percent versus 38 percent who say “most people can be trusted”; China is at about the same level as Sweden (certainly Shanghai taxi drivers are a lot more trustworthy than their old-school New York counterparts!))
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China median income tough to adjust for purchasing power parity (PPP)?

Our CIA (a.k.a., “the folks who get everything right”) says that China has a per capita GDP of $16,700 per year (Factbook). Compare to the U.S. at $59,800 or Singapore at $94,100.

But does this attempt simply prove that an economist is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing?

What’s clean air worth to you? In Shanghai this is available indoors to those who buy filtration systems, but walking around in the “fresh air” is not available at any price to residents (an ex-pat friend who has lived there for five years says that the air is much cleaner today than when he first moved in).

How about riding all the way across Shanghai on a gleaming new metro train for $1, e.g., airport to airport? You’re guaranteed never to wait more than 2 or 3 minutes for this train. You can stop into a clean restroom at seemingly every station. This would be a $100 Uber ride in the U.S., e.g., JFK to Newark, and it might take three hours. Can that be factored in? A Suzhou metro ride would cost $50 in the U.S. if the fares had to defray the cost of the infrastructure at U.S. rates (up to $2.5 billion per mile!) and for operation of trains every 3-7 minutes as they operate in Suzhou. Given that the Chinese take a lot of metro rides, do we factor those in as boosting their PPP?

Schools? To send a child to school in the U.S. that offers education comparable to a free public school in Shanghai (World Bank report) would cost $35,000 per year if indeed such a school is available in one’s region. On the other hand, to send a child to a high-quality English-language school in Shanghai costs $50,000 per year(!) according to my ex-pat friend who sends his 11-year-old there (“it is only about $25,000 per year for the international school in Tokyo,” he said, “but the Chinese are willing to pay any price to give their children an advantage so that’s what the market will bear here.”)

Speaking of schools, there is a huge convenient market of after-school activities in shopping malls. These offer gymnastics, dance, English lessons, computer programming, etc. No need to ferry the kids around through ever-worsening traffic in a pavement-melting SUV. Just walk from your apartment to the mall a block or two away. Here was my favorite:

Except for the air pollution, the overall quality of life in the Shanghai/Suzhou/Hangzhou region seems much higher than the CIA numbers would suggest. This is partly explained by Shanghai being richer than average for China (about 2.27X), but not entirely. The relatively high cost of housing in Shanghai alone would absorb most of the income advantage.

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New York Times, CNN, and Apple speak truth to power in China

My visit to China coincided with the peak of the “2019 Hong Kong protests”. How did the U.S.-owned media outlets available in China cover the story?

Apple keeps it simple, whether roaming on LTE, using hotel WiFi, or a VPN:

The company is brave enough to attack shareholders who object to “green initiatives” (Tim Cook speech at MIT) and voters in Indiana and Arkansas (“Guy with a “Whites Only” sign in his conference room tells others not to discriminate”). The CEO is also brave enough to fly a rainbow flag (but not the Taiwanese flag on the iOS keyboard or in text displayed in China).

How about the New York Times? My hotel offered a local print version at breakfast. Our brave fourth estate provided readers in China with a half page about books being reshuffled in a library in Idaho, a column on how much tax they’d pay on tampons if they were to travel to Germany, and some material on Puerto Rico, a Siberian island, and Israel (must be true since it is written by a guy smart enough to marry the daughter of a billionaire). There was no mention of anything unusual going on in Hong Kong.

How about CNN? I flipped it on when it was still early morning in the U.S. and therefore hearings had not started at the U.S. Capitol.

I watched it for one hour and learned that I was watching “history unfolding,” that the people testifying against Trump are not anti-Trump. They are “devoted to the rule of law.” The American experts (how many of them would have been able to find Ukraine on a map a year ago?) explained that the president of Ukraine is lying. Ukrainians aren’t actually tired of the Trump impeachment drama. They’re only pretending to be tired of it so that they can retain bipartisan support for aid to Ukraine.

CNN had time to break away from the impeachment story to talk about the most important events elsewhere on the planet, e.g., that Italy beat Romania in a game of soccer. And they did slip in two mentions of Hong Kong. First was in a multi-city weather forecast: high temperature tomorrow in Hong Kong would be 25. (American reaction: “7 degrees below freezing on a subtropical island?!? No wonder they’re protesting!”) Second was in a puffy filler piece on a 100-year-old company that happens to be based in Hong Kong.

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Hainan Airlines review: Awesome, but bring your own coffee

This is based on a recent Boston-Shanghai nonstop round-trip, about 14 hours each way on a Boeing 787.

Airfare was only $650 round-trip, including up to two checked bags, a sign of the lack of demand in November (probably the ideal time for a tourist visit to Shanghai due to moderate weather and minimal rain), and the plane turned out to be only 2/3rds full. (incredibly boring video, intended for toddlers, of the plane pulling in to park)

Hainan has a higher staff-to-passenger ratio at the check-in counters. Even though I arrived right at the magic 2-hour-prior peak moment, the typical 45-minute line to check in was absent. A helpful Chinese woman whose English was good checked me in and had me on my way to security within a few minutes of arriving at the curb.

Massport invested heavily in signs promoting free WiFi at Logan:

… and then did the usual American-quality job of provisioning to ISDN speeds:

(See below for how this is 1/100th the speed of WiFi at Shanghai Pudong Airport.)

Thanks to the plane being only 2/3rds full, boarding was a lot faster than less stressful than a typical JetBlue or United attempt to board a narrow-body plane with fewer passengers.

The ordinary economy-class seats are arranged as 3-3-3 and have a reasonable amount of legroom (I’m 6′ tall) and a reasonable recline. I had a whole row of three seats to myself (“poor man’s business class”). Even if the plane had been full, though, it would have been vastly better than sitting in coach on a U.S. carrier. More than 90 percent of the customers are Chinese, so the probability of sitting next to a tall obese person would have been low and, as mentioned above, the legroom is at least as good as on JetBlue and much better than what the typical U.S. carrier provides in coach. Chinese kids are generally cheerful, so the chance of being near a screaming child is also lower than on a carrier catering to Western customers.

The flight attendants begin the flight by standing solemnly near the front of each section and introducing themselves as a group, thanking passengers for entrusting them with this voyage, and expressing the hope that their service will bring us pleasure. They then bow to all of the passengers. All of the flight attendants appeared to be women in their 20s or 30s, elegantly attired in a Chinese-patterned dress. In other words, the people on both flights actually matched the flight attendants you might see in an ad for the airline. From a Hainan web page describing the uniforms designed by Laurence-Xu and introduced in 2017:

From the same web page:

At the same time as our introduction of the Rosy Clouds uniform line, Hainan Airlines has consulted with renowned make-up artist Mao Geping to create a new look that is both simple and sophisticated. This new style is fresh and clean, enhancing the natural beauty that is already there rather than garishly painting over it. The sandy color of the women’s lipstick echoes the colors of the cabin interior. The pearlescent eye shadow not only matches the blue and grays of the uniform but also the fabric on the seats. Our beautiful new uniforms paired with the elegant women who wear them creates a new professional image of the Hainan Airlines flight attendants.

Service is much more soft-spoken and elegant than in the U.S. They do use carts for serving meals from trays, but otherwise everything is done with trays including trash collection. Apparently a Chinese customer does not want to see a flight attendant carrying a trash bag down the aisle. Every passenger is provided with a kit containing a sleep mask, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, and travel socks. Headphones are offered at no charge.

The plane was configured to deliver WiFi Internet, but the service was not available on our flight. I am not sure how it would have worked given a route that goes over Greenland, Svalbard, and Siberia.

Food service is calibrated to the non-obese and the sleeping: a light dinner, some self-service snacks, sandwiches starting after about 6 hours, and a medium-sized breakfast. Pitchers of green and black tea are prepared for the Chinese customers. A request for coffee yields a cup made with freeze-dried instant coffee. If you’re planning to stay up for the flight and are accustomed to the American diet, it would make sense to bring fruit, nuts, carrot sticks, and cold-brew coffee.

I was expecting the Boeing 787 to be a whole new world of comfort and quiet and the noise control for a composite fuselage does seem impressive. However, the net result does not seem dramatically quieter than the front portion of a Boeing 737, for example (I neglected to bring my sound level meter, and the iOS ones are junk). Cabin pressure at 33,000′ was 4,650′ according to ForeFlight (3.8 psi versus 12.4 psi, for a differential of 8.6 (compare to 7.8 max differential on a Boeing 737, so I am not sure what all of the fuss is about)). Walking up and down the aisle it is plain that there is a “extra noise zone” near the back of the wing and therefore the engine exhaust. Try to avoid a seat around row 46. Seats farther back were actually quieter.

Seatback entertainment offers at least 100 movies and an awesome “3D Airshow” from Panasonic Avionics, much better than anything I have experienced on a U.S. or European carrier (video of the system’s animation of our route). There are power outlets (compatible with U.S. plugs as well as European) and USB A outlets for all of the economy seats.

I had thought that the weather over the Arctic tended to be smooth, but we hit some turbulence over Greenland at 33,000′ and experienced at least a few bumps for about 1 hour out of 12+. Everything in China was kept a bit warmer than in the U.S. and the Boeing 787 was no exception. I was comfortable in a T-shirt and jeans, but consider packing shorts to change into during the flight.

Arrival in Shanghai involves escalators, hallways, and a train. The distances seem vast, on the same scale as Heathrow, but everything is new and shiny. We arrived at what would have seemed like a busy time, around 6 pm on a weekday, but clearing immigration required waiting behind just one other person and took just a couple of minutes. Unlike in the U.S., the folks who check passports and suitcases are not armed. In fact, I did not see anyone in the Shanghai airport with a gun.

Apple Maps showed that the quickest way to central Shanghai was simply a taxi ($30 for a 45-minute drive despite the evening rush hour; note prices posted above baggage carousel), but I wanted to try the maglev (a fairly long walk from Terminal 2). If you’re on a budget, just take the Metro anywhere in the city straight from the airport for less than $1. That adds about 15 minutes compared to the maglev.

The return journey was equally smooth. My hotel was not right at a Metro station so I just jumped in a taxi for a 40-minute Sunday morning ride. Again arriving exactly two hours before the flight, I went from curb to bag check to passport control to the completion of security in about 10 minutes. China is a bit like Turkey in that passengers who can afford air travel are treated by the airport staff, even those involved with security, with a certain amount of deference and respect. As with the arrival, I did not see anyone carrying a gun. WiFi is fast, but the Great Firewall won’t let you reach Google, Facebook, or Wikipedia so you may end up sticking with roaming LTE (there does not seem to be any restriction on what can be accessed when roaming from a foreign country).

If you’re going to the G gates, accessible via train, keep in mind that there is more variety in shopping and food in the main D section of Terminal 2, i.e., before you get on the in-airport train. Most of the souvenirs that you’d want to buy, including fine silks and hand-made fans, are available at the airport and at roughly the same price as at a nice shop in the city.

Some items to note from the photos below: “Taiwan” is classified as something other than an “International” departure; the bathroom signage is pretty clear on what a “man”, “woman”, and “family” might look like. There are no “all-gender” restrooms. Starbucks and Burger King are available. See if you can find the special lounge for PHP programmers:

The flight back was just as good, but smoother and a bit longer. Again I had three seats to myself. The route stuck closer to the north coast of Alaska and took me back to Gjoa Haven and the heart of the Northwest Passage.

Since it had been around 70 degrees and dry every day in China I hadn’t bothered to check the weather for Boston. It turned out to be low IFR with a heavy rain cell right over Logan Airport during our scheduled arrival time. We were vectored around a bit and then, contrary to Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant theories, the Hainan crew did a perfect smooth landing. I checked the METAR:

KBOS 241850Z 02025G37KT 3/4SM R04R/2000V5500FT +RA BR BKN009 OVC017 08/06 A2911 RMK AO2 PK WND 01037/1847 TWR VIS 1 1/2 P0018

That’s wind from the northeast (020) at 25 knots gusting 37 with 3/4 statute miles of visibility (everything else in aviation is generally nautical miles). Compare to 1/2 miles of visibility as the minimum for the standard instrument approach to Runway 4R at Boston. Runway visual range (“RVR”) was as low as 2000′, variable up to 5500′. Compare to 1200′ RVR as the minimum for a CAT II ILS 4R at Logan. There was heavy rain and a broken ceiling of clouds at 900′ above the surface (compare to 200′ for the minimum on an ordinary ILS approach to 4R). Temperature 8C, dewpoint 6C.

For the non-Global Entry masses, the immigration lines were epic. Back in the Land of Freedom (TM), there were close to 100 government agents carrying guns in the immigration and customs area. The sluggishness of clearing people through immigration meant that baggage piled up on the carousel (passengers not having emerged in time to claim it). I saw more obese people in the 10 minutes after landing than during 10 days in China.

The good news for U.S. airlines is that it would be illegal for Hainan to operate U.S. domestic routes! Certainly this would be a preferred choice for an American consumer.

(Note that if you take Hainan to Shanghai and then need to connect to a flight from the second airport on the other side of the city need to connect across airports in Shanghai, there is a direct Metro line (2) that does this for $1. This should never be necessary since both airports are international and serve most destinations, but it would not be inconvenient or expensive.)

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China versus US debauchery

In “Cuba could attract Americans with sin?” I pointed out that Boston and Havana had pretty much switched places in terms of access to debauchery. I think the same may be true of China, a place that shocked Christian missionaries who arrived during what Professor Andrew Wilson calls “the golden age of commercial sex” in China (I recommend his 24-lecture course, Understanding Imperial China: Dynasties, Life, and Culture). Westerners were responsible for the expansion of opium use in China (history), but then they professed to be shocked at the number of opium users.

How about today? Let’s compare China versus the United States along various axes of debauchery.

Opium use? “The United States makes up 4.4% of the world’s population, and consumes over 80% of the world’s opioids” (source). Most consumption and addiction is funded by taxpayers (previous post). Drugs of abuse are available to some extent in China, but taxpayers don’t fund them and they are illegal.

Need to smoke some medical or recreational marijuana every morning? The U.S. is the place to do it, depending on the state. (see “China Cashes In on the Cannabis Boom” (nytimes) for how China may want to supply the U.S. market)

Need to unwind from demanding college classes by getting drunk every weekend and hooking up with a new friend? America: Yes. China: No. “Acceptance of premarital sex is relatively recent,” said a 50-year-old who got a degree and worked in the U.S. before returning to Shanghai, “but certainly the Tinder culture would never be acceptable for a properly raised young Chinese.”

What if the casual sex results in pregnancy? Will a single mom get the standard American package of free apartment, free health care, free food, and free smartphone (funded by taxpayers if she had sex with a low-income partner; funded by child support revenue if she had sex with a high-income partner in the right state)? “No,” replied my local hosts. “That’s simply illegal. The child will not be recognized by the state and will not be entitled to attend a state-run school or use the state-run health care system. Being a single mom is possible only for the rich who can afford to pay for private school and private health care. Some women will fly to the U.S. or Hong Kong to give birth and then the child can have a legal status in China as a foreigner.”

As in the U.S., prostitution is illegal but purportedly common. (I did not see any evidence of this, but let’s call this a draw in debauchery.)

Supposedly the Chinese now drink slightly more alcohol per capita than Americans (Guardian), but I did not see a drunk person during my peregrinations around Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Nor did I pass by a loud bar, though I was told by locals that I was walking down “the most famous bar street in Shanghai.” If the Chinese are drinking they’re doing it quietly and without having sex with a stranger right after.

How about porn, that cornerstone of the U.S. Internet? It is illegal in China.

Gambling? The U.S. has casinos in 43 states. China proper is home to 0 casinos. Chinese who want to gamble in a fancy casino need to get on a plane and fly to Macau (or the U.S.!).

How about vandalism? If we accept that as a category of debauchery, China comes out as much less debauched than the U.S. There are clean public restrooms in seemingly every metro station in Shanghai and Suzhou. I don’t think that they run security cameras inside the restrooms, so we can’t say that the lack of destruction of fixtures is due to surveillance. I am sure that it exists, but I did not notice any graffiti anywhere in China. Here are some photos that drew a few quizzical looks from the locals:

From a shopping mall (note the child-height sink, very common in China and also the signage giving a more limited array of gender ID options and family structures than you might see in a California restroom sign):

This is not to say that vandalism is non-existent. Here is a sign describing an incident that occurred in the 1960s:

Maybe the U.S. will end up with a sustainable economic advantage as a destination for Chinese who want to indulge in debauchery? We will be the 1920s Havana to 2020s Shanghai.

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