XIXIN LIANJIU YOUTH HOSTEL, XINING – We were coming home from a day-trip yesterday.
It was a three-hour journey across mountains. So the highway twisted and meandered through the mountains, and there were a lot of long tunnels and high bridges. It was a modern four-lane highway. It seemed pretty new…
Right alongside us, they were building a second highway!
It paralleled us the whole way – with its own tunnels and bridges, and on- and off-ramps. For a hundred miles or more! Why?
(Then, we arrived into the city at night, and we were able to observe all the blacked-out, empty high-rise buildings I’ve been writing you about.)
Greetings from China! I’m writing to you from Xining, a dusty windswept town on the Silk Road between Tibet and Mongolia, 1,100 miles from Beijing, 1,200 miles from Shanghai.
We’re 8,000 feet above sea level. The air is so thin and dry, it chaps our lips and gives us headaches. The locals here don’t look Chinese. They look like they might be descendants of Silk Road traders from Central Asia…
Talking to a local on the Silk Road between Tibet and Mongolia
My ex-wife, Kate, and I left our homes in Delray Beach, Florida, 16 months ago and took off to travel the world and homeschool our three kids…
We’ve been almost the whole way around the planet now. We’ve crossed America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, Thailand, Vietnam, and now we’re in China. We’ve just got to cross Japan and the Pacific Ocean, and we will have circumnavigated the planet.
We’re having a great time. Here we are in our $7-a-bed hostel last night. Except it’s not a hostel. It’s Mrs. Wong’s apartment with some bunk beds in one of the bedrooms. That’s Mrs. Wong on the left.
Miles, Dusty, and Penny eating spaghetti with Mrs. Wong. I found the spaghetti at a convenience store.
I’m supposed to be on a sabbatical. But here in China, I can’t help myself.
There’s no other place like it on the planet that we’ve seen. Especially the construction boom here…
The only other place we saw construction on a similar intensity was in Turkey. And they’re bankrupt.
But this is something completely different. I need to understand what’s going on…
We’ve only been here three weeks, and we haven’t been to any of the major industrial or metropolitan areas. But let’s recap what we’ve seen so far…
China is working very hard on itself. It’s either recently built or in the process of building hundreds of thousands of miles of high-speed highways and railways, airports, train stations, subways, and lots and lots and lots of high-rise condo towers.
A lot of these projects feel like overcapacity. I showed you all those bikes in Chengdu. We saw a ghost city outside Kunming. We saw bridges to nowhere. And like I mentioned earlier, there seem to be a lot of empty buildings.
Meanwhile, residential property prices are rising fast. Our friend Jessica told us her apartment in Xi’an had doubled in price in the last couple of years. It’s the same story all over China, she says.
And finally, China’s banking system has doubled since 2012, from $21.6 trillion to $40 trillion today. To put this in perspective, the Eurozone’s banking system is about $34 trillion, and the U.S.’s is around $18 trillion. The four largest banks in the world are Chinese now.
How does it all fit together? What does it all mean? Why aren’t other countries developing like this?
We’ll be in western China for another week or so. Then, we’ll head east into the industrial heart of China… and we’ll see what’s going on there…
– Tom Dyson
P.S. I write these notes to you in pencil. Later, I’ll borrow the iPhone from Dusty, activate the VPN (which tricks China’s internet censors into thinking I’m not in China), copy this message over to Gmail, and send it to you.
We don’t have a laptop. Only a phone. It’s a bit tedious writing this way, but it’s all I can do…
Reader comment: Love this newsletter. Very intrigued by the whole situation and would love to get more information about how to “sell it all and travel the world with my kids in tow.”
Reader comment: Welcome back… I am really sorry for your experience with depression… Mean stuff… yet sounds like life is coming back. I got acquainted with you while you got Palm Beach Research Group started with Mark Ford in 2011. Your advice and instructional insights helped me.
Reader comment: I admire what you are doing with your family. Homeschool your children with the whole world as your classroom. I wish I had this experience when I was a kid!
Tom’s note: Thanks for all the kind comments. Your messages are an integral part of this project.
Keep them coming – along with your questions – at [email protected]. Don’t worry… I’ll never reveal your identity if I decide to republish your note.