TRAIN STATION HOTEL 68°, GUILIN – There are surveillance cameras everywhere in China.
Above every street corner, on every sidewalk, at every subway exit, over every bus stop, on the buses, in the trains, and along the roads tracking cars.
They even have them in private spaces. Every hostel we stay at has cameras in the common areas. Most restaurants have cameras watching us eat…
I’ve been asking the locals what they think of these cameras. You might be surprised what they said…
Greetings! My family and I are on a two-year family sabbatical. We’re traveling around the world.
We’ve crossed North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Southeast Asia so far. We’re currently in China.
We started our China adventure in the south. Using the high-speed railway network, we’ve made a 4,000-mile arc around the compass… to the west… to the north… to the east… and back to the south again…
We’ve seen mountains, deserts, cities, forests, pandas, and all the major tourist attractions. We’ve stayed in more than 20 hotels and hostels. It’s been an unforgettable adventure.
I’m writing to you tonight from a town called Guilin, in south China. We’ve just gotten off the train from Beijing, a 24-hour ride.
We hit the road again tomorrow. But for now, we just need a convenient place to get off the street and rest our heads.
I booked a place near the train station. The room has three beds and a hot shower. It’s pretty run-down, but it’ll do fine. We paid $17 for the five of us.
(Several) Recessions Ahead
China is the world’s second-largest economy. So while we’ve been moving around, I’ve been looking out of windows, writing journals, taking pictures, asking questions, and spending the quiet times in deep thought… trying to connect dots… fit puzzle pieces… and untangle knots…
I’ve already documented the incredible construction boom in China. I’ve also told you about soaring property prices and the extraordinary growth of China’s banking system.
I’ve explained how no one holds China’s currency – the renminbi (RMB) – outside China. Yet China holds at least $11 trillion in foreign assets around the world (20 years of trade surpluses).
(Catch up on all the above here.)
I’ve also explained my central hypothesis – that we’ve been in a valuations bear market for the last 20 years, and the next (and final) leg down in valuations has just started.
The next decade will see several recessions… and a massive effort from central bankers and governments to avoid these recessions through inflation. But they’re inadvertently going to destroy the world’s current financial structure – based around the dollar – in the process.
In today’s postcard, I want to share another China insight with you. This one’s not as obvious or easy to explain as the other insights I’ve been sharing. But Kate and I both see it…
No Dissent, Just Unity
I’m talking about deference to authority.
Take the surveillance cameras, for example.
When we ask the locals what they think of them, some are indifferent. Others say, “We like them!”
“They are helpful when you lose something,” or “they prevent crime,” or “they make life more efficient” are common answers we’ve gotten.
We see it on the trains and buses, buying tickets or going through security or forming lines. China feels very controlled to us. Everything’s tracked and monitored, including payments and communications.
Just to walk into a train station you need to present ID. Then you need to show it again to get up to the platform. (China is the first country we’ve visited where we have to carry our passports with us all the time.)
The people go right along with it without dissent or complaint. They actually like it!
In the bigger picture, this respect for authority manifests – at least from our superficial perspective – into a strong sense of national unity and cohesion. There doesn’t appear to be any squabbling. Just a clear sense of direction and purpose.
It’s so different from what we see in America and Britain right now.
– Tom Dyson
P.S. We find the Chinese really charming and endearing. For example, they will go above and beyond whenever we ask for help.
If they’re sitting down when we approach, they stand up. If they’re inside, they step outside to point out the route. Sometimes people will even accompany us to the right bus stop or building entrance we need.
Another example: We often don’t have the right change for the bus. The bus driver will usually just wave us on and let us ride for free.
We’ve found the locals to be so kind, humble, and eager to help us. (I wrote more about that here.) It’s really blown us away…
Up first, after Tom wrote about China’s Great Wall, a reader makes a connection to Trump’s wall with Mexico…
Reader comment: To which wall are you referring – a wall “that testified less to the nation’s strength than to a crippling sense of insecurity”? Unfortunately, both walls.
Neither effective, neither cheap, and ultimately both useless and a waste of resources. A truly strong country does not need a wall, but a truly weak leader can fool many to think it’s necessary.
While others want to know more from Tom about traveling with kids (how much will they remember? and is it safe?)… and whether China’s construction boom is just the government’s way of “keeping idle hands busy”…
Reader question: I am enjoying reading about your adventures. I have a two-year sabbatical coming my way and will be doing something similar.
My only concern is whether the kids might be a little young (4 and 6) to get the most out of the trip. Any thoughts on this?
Tom’s response: Your kids are fun ages, and you’ll have a blast with them.
People often ask us how much our kids, who are slightly older than yours, will remember from this trip, and my guess is “not much.” But a) we’ve taken thousands of pictures to look back on, and b) it’s the experience that shapes them, not the memories.
Good luck on your trip, and if you’d like any more help, please write back to me.
Reader question: Have you ever had any safety concerns with the kids during your travels? Enjoy the remainder of your journey.
Tom’s response: Traveling with kids, safety is a deal-breaker for us. So we won’t go anywhere dangerous. It’s no fun feeling insecure. So we picked safe countries only, and we’ve never felt unsafe.
Reader comment: Really enjoying your postcards; many thanks. I’ve been living in the south of China (Nanning, Guilin) for about 16 years now. Yes, it’s a safe, interesting place, and the people are very friendly.
Quick thought about the construction boom… China doesn’t have social security like the U.K., which could lead to social unrest. I wonder how much of the construction is to keep idle hands busy as well as modernizing for the future.
Plans are for a lot of the countryside people to eventually move into the cities, so maybe there’s some method to the apparent “madness.” As you say, though, it’s difficult to know what the plans are, as we’re not privy to all the long-term planning. Keep enjoying your travels.
Tom’s response: I initially thought all this planning and building was madness. But I’ve changed my mind.
Assuming the paper money system gets reset, and you can’t insulate yourself from that because you’re heavily involved in the dollar system, what’s the most rational strategy? You trade paper assets for real assets in the biggest size you can.
Do you have a question I didn’t answer? Please write me at [email protected]. Even if I don’t publish your message, Kate and I read every one.