Took a day and a half to get here to Wuhan, but hey, it beats the travel 100 years ago.
That would have taken a month to get here. The flight from Atlanta to Shanghai was
15 hours (after our short hop from Memphis and an hour and a half layover).
Arrived in Shanghai at 1:30pm and caught an express bus to the train station that
took about 40 minutes. We had to wait about 7 hours at the train station as our
train left at 10pm. The trains here are really great though (those commies can sure
keep the trains running on time). We always take the overnight train and book
the sleepers. You get on and go to sleep. When you wake up, you are there. It's like
you don't even waste any time at all.
Shanghai Train Station - Looks impressive, but the A/C can't keep up...
Initial observations. Little has changed since our last trip but that was only 7 months ago. But I have seen for the first time "patriotism" raising it's ugly head here. It probably has alot to do with the Olympics and the earthquake. During the drive here to my wife's parents apartment I saw 3 Chinese flags attached to car antenna's although they were all taxi's. Never in my 14 years of visiting China have I seen ANYONE with a Chinese flag or other symbol of "patriotism" on there cars or homes (with the lone exception of some kind of rally looking car about two years ago which I think was used in competition). In fact, I see more US and British flags on clothes and handbags, etc., than Chinese ones.
Believe me, the last thing this world needs is one billion Chinese becoming "patriotic". I hope this is just a passing trend, but I know one way it can come about is if the US (fiction) and others try to pressure the Chinese people to conform to "XYZ" behavior or policy. If the morons in Washington get in a pissing match with the morons in Beijing, it will push us into that economic collapse that is coming...
We were buying something from a street vendor today and all the vendors began
hurriedly began packing up their stuff and getting ready to "bug-out" as there was a
warning that the police were coming this way. They later decided that it might be a
false alarm and set up theirgoods again. It's funny, but the people here have more
instinct about natural rights (in some regards) than people back home. They have
a natural desire to continue in their business and daily living in spite of so called
"government regulations" that say they cannot do X, Y or Z.
This morning we went to the "monkey park" that is just a short walk from here. On my last trip here I had shared
how we were walking back from there and there was a "mini riot" of sorts there. What had happened is that in
order to create this monkey park the "government" decided that they would move out the inhabitants there and
pay them some arbitrary amount for their dwellings. An agreement was made that so much per square meter
of housing space would be paid. This took a course of several years and some of the inhabitants decided that
since they were getting so much per square meter they would quickly knock together some "extra" home
space to claim extra dollars. The powers that be cried foul and came to demolish those structures. The
people gathered in the street and faced off the police who had come in riot shields and armed with clubs
(I saw no guns of any kind). My wife translated a cry from one of the women in the crowd as she said to get
all the villagers to come out so they could out-number the police and chase them away (ever hear any from
the "home of the brave" dare confront the goon squad?). In the end, the police just went away and re-grouped
hoping there was another solution to the problem.
That was 7 months ago and today all is peaceful there and the people are still in their homes. My wife
asked her parents about it and they told her there are some old people there who grew up in those homes
and they will not leave but just stay there in defiance of the bulldozers. If this had happened back home,
the "cult members" would have called in the national guard and burned out any resisters. The news would
report that it was crazy militia types holed up in their "compound" and the people at large would feel
relieved that the "cult members" had saved them from a potential terrorist organization...
Maybe the people who claim to be "free" could learn something from those who defy a fiction called "communist" with their substance.
Quote from: Porcupine on July 01, 2008, 09:32:43 AM
Of course they're being screwed by the powers that be. There is a government over there, so that is par for the course.
Actually, there is no government, only cult members who BELIEVE in a government. The "powers that be" are simply other men working in concert to further their goals. These MEN have no authority to do what they do, but they have convinced a few hundred million people to join them in a cult belief that there is.
Now if these people became educated in the reality that these men HAVE no authority over them (to some regard they already get it as noted in a prior post) there is no way these same men could control them. This is why they are so strict here on any form of public protest. If another movement towards freedom were to start here, I think it would be way greater than what happened the last time and the masses would be unstoppable. I think we need some liberty manuals printed in Chinese...
Back to observations in China, I've noticed in the past that China is a country with millions of vehicles and more each year as people become more prosperous and yet I had never seen a "stop" sign. I had even had my wife ask a "black market" (read anarchist) taxi driver who we have become friends with if he had ever seen one and he said "no". Well I do believe I have spotted my first stop-sign in Shanghai when we were on the bus from the airport to the train station. I only saw the back side of it so I cannot be sure but a sign at an intersection that is the customary octagon shape is most likely a stop-sign. Probably the only thing rarer in China than a stop-sign would be a driver who would stop for one. It would be so interesting to sit near that intersection an see if anyone would actually stop for it.
My observations about stop-signs in China are used to make a point. When I was young (300-400 years ago) we had very few stop-signs but we had a lot of intersections that had either nothing or a "yield" sign on one street and nothing on the other. People naturally enter an intersection with the intention of passing through without injury so they will naturally use an appropriate amount of caution to make it so. The only purpose of a "stop-sign" is so that the cult members can use them as a source of revenue and as a tool of control. There is no other purpose. I have a driveway that I drive down at least two times a day and it "intersects" with the road that we live alongside. I do not have a "stop-sign" there to keep me safe and yet somehow, miraculously I manage to get through it each time and live to tell about it (I'm incredibly lucky).
These are observations of what can be called "natural" law. People behave in certain ways in order to maintain their self-preservation. In China the cult members do not spend as much as our cult members do on putting up signs and enforcing "regulations". They have, unfortunately learned from our cult members on this wonderful tactic of fund raising and control and they are adding these tools of control more each trip here. Keep in mind that when I came here on my first trip 14 years ago, almost no one had a personal car, long distance phone calls had to be made from a vendor who had that capability and there were very few street-lights. Now most "middle-class" Chinese can afford a car, it seems everyone on the street has a cell-phone and the streets are bright and clean (their streets have become increasingly clean while I've noticed ours at home becoming increasingly dirty and pot-holed). My wife first came to US 17 years ago and she had never been in a car until she arrived here. The phone calls she made to arrange her acceptance in a master's program at a university here had to be made by traveling at midnight several miles to a place where she and her mother could make the call. At that time of night, they could not find transportation back so they had to walk. Her parents were university professors but that was the level of the amenities back then. It is still hard to find restrooms with toilet paper in them, but in the nicer part of town, they do stock the paper. In most areas, the paper will be stolen as fast as you put it in. People are still poorer here than at home.
Another observation on this trip. On the TV news station it's "all-earthquake-all-the-time". There is constant coverage (read propaganda) about what a wonderful job the cult-members are doing taking care of the problem and finding solutions. There are story after story of heroics (probably most are even real) about how rescuers have died in their efforts to save others (even in China, it's human nature to care about others). There are stories about how some unscrupulous builders built schools without a proper foundation and the buildings collapsed and killed hundreds (more "regulation" coming). Now no one is saying that the problems aren't real and the stories aren't real, but guess what the "solutions" will be???
Just happened to walk by the TV that is on the "all-earthquake-all-the-time" news and the talking-head news guy has a graphic behind him of the classic "Iwo-Jima" style group of guys placing a flag but it's a Chinese flag!! They have stolen the well-known "American" propaganda poster and incorporated it into their earthquake propaganda...
I went to my first Chinese "Wal-Mart" today. Really, ours are better. We also went to a Chinese version of "Home Depot" called "HQ" and again, ours is better. We have a much better selection to choose from than the Chinese do. I know from past experience of attempting to get goods shipped to the US for resale that there are so many items made in China that are not for sale in China. Many items are manufactured solely for export and the Chinese people never even see them. The prices are somewhat similar with some things being cheaper in China and some cheaper in the US. Milk, for instance, has not caught on here and is far more expensive in China and only available in about 1 liter cartons. It is almost impossible to find low-fat or skim milk. Diet sodas are also in short supply here. You can find some strange things in here that you won't find in a Wal-Mart back home like frogs and all the pickled things that Chinese like to eat (only logical). At the HQ we could not find a "flapper ball" that I wanted to fix the leaking tank on the in-laws toilet. Here everyone just calls someone to repair those things. My wife's father had tried to fix it in the past and it has string and wire in there holding things together (not very well).
I do plan to ride the mag-lev in Shanghai again next week when we head back that way. I love riding that mag-lev as it (was) the only commercial levitation train in existence and speeds along at 430kph (about 280mph). There are a couple of pictures of my last trip on that thing on my other blog page.
Today a female cab driver gave my wife a plastic card that was the size of a credit card but it was some kind of "falong-gong" good-luck charm. She was openly trying to recruit us into that prohibited "cult" the Chinese thugs are trying so hard to eliminate (guess they aren't doing such a hot job). When we got back to the apartment I told her I wanted it but she was afraid to be caught with it (she's such a chicken). She instead gave it to her mother who advised her that she was supposed to put it under her belt by her belly and then she proceeded to wear it there herself. Guess her mother isn't so scared of the big bad wolf, either.
We are in Wuhan which has a reputation as being one of China's dirtiest cities. I have to say that they have managed to clean it up alot over the last few years. The horrible air pollution that I have grown used to over the years is not evident this trip. There are even some blue sky where in the past you could only see about 5 city blocks. It used to be at night the headlights would make the dust in the air so obvious that you didn't want to inhale. Wuhan is a steel mill city and they burn a lot of coal in that industry. I have to assume that they now have some kind of scrubbers on their stacks. The mills are many miles from here so I cannot see them without traveling that direction.
I've mentioned on past trips my observations about vehicles as I'm somewhat of a car guy. There are no "regular" pickup trucks in China (at least not any I've seen in many trips here). It's strange to think of a country as big as ours (yes, only fiction) with 10 times the people and no one has a pick-up truck. There are some "crew-cab" style pickups here but even those are not so numerous. It used to be that the only crew-cabs were utility vehicles owned by utility companies but in the last year I've seen some of them that must be private as they have no markings of a commercial vehicle and they are newer mid-sized crew-cabs. Until last trip I had never seen a Volkswagen Beetle but on that trip we saw one in Wuhan and one in Beijing (both yellow). This trip we have seen four so far here in Wuhan of various colors (one convertible). This is a big departure for the Chinese as they tend to buy vehicles they can use to haul stuff around in. A Beetle is strictly for commuting and looking "cute".
Mini Trucks- I've seen alot of crew cabs and some flat-nosed single cabs, but no regular or extended cabs.
I wish I had a Ferari...
We are on our way to the farm my wife's father was raised on. The minivan we rented was a new Honda that was built in China. I could not see any appreciable difference to one made in Japan. While I'm sure a quality control specialist from Japan may have spotted some minor differences, this car had all the right stuff. The interior was plush and the seat levers and catches were solid. In the past, joint-venture cars would look identical to the VW or Audi or other brand they were supposed to represent, but the interior was cheaper with less padding on the seats and crappy vinyl fabric. We paid about $100 for the driver and the car for the day plus gas and road tolls (about $30). Our trip was 150 miles. The new modern freeways (and tollways) here are as nice as the states.
My last trip to the farm was 14 years ago was on regular roads through many small villages. This trip was about half expressways and the rest through the villages which now were much larger cities.
We visited with two family branches while there. We first stopped at the farm which had really changed. The little two-room shack that "Ba" grew up in had been added onto by his nephew who now owns the place. attached to the old shack was a new three story concrete structure that is not yet finished. When we asked him about "building permits" he just laughed and said that things are simple in the countryside. If you want it you build it. He said he had the construction done by his brother-in-law for the equivalent of $2000 US plus materials. There were still plenty of kids running around but the place had many new buildings there with other families living there that were not there before. We went from there to the grave site of his parents (a short walk through farmer's fields) where they set off incense and fireworks.
Photo in the new farmhouse.
Although most homes here are built with concrete, some are finished inside with the nicest of material. The next family members there we visited were in the nearby city. These were one of Ba's grand-nieces. Her husband was a professor who is working on his PhD in government, of all things. They have one 13 y.o. daughter. I met these people on my last trip here and I'd met the ones at the farm a long time ago. His apartment was a very affluent three-bedroom top floor unit on a six story complex (no elevator though). Very nicely finished in hardwood floors and trim, granite counter tops, tile, big plasma TV and computers set up in two rooms (one was his study). These kind of apartments were very rare 14 years ago and would only have been owned by the big "rulers" so the conditions have vastly improved in China very rapidly. There are still many people living in poverty though with some areas of narrow garbage strewn streets and cracker-box shacks. I think (and have been told) that in China, the rich are getting richer, and the poor, well, they are still poor. Still, with hard work, one can work your way up. One of the nieces we had dinner with yesterday has a fiance that accompanied her and his parents are street vendors who sell vegetables. He is an "I-T" tech of sorts with his own business of setting up computer systems. Although not rich by any means, he can make a comfortable living.
We asked the driver about drunk driving and were told that it's 15 days in jail and a big fine. I asked if the punishment gets harsher with repeated offenses and he said the penalty is the same each time, but you are on a "points" system and a drunk driving offense is 20 points which is an immediate suspension of your license which you get back upon completion of some kind of education program (wow, they must be taking lessons from our goons). I have asked other drivers about being pulled over by a police cruiser and I guess such a thing is unheard of here. Most tickets come in the mail after being caught on a camera or if there's a traffic cop on foot at an intersection he waves you down and gives you your ticket. I have to say I've never seen anyone "pulled over" by the side of the road with a cruiser behind them. Of course the chances of being accidentally shot by a cop here are nil since they don't carry guns (except for detectives and special arrest squads). All in all, I have to say the cops here are way less threatening than our cops.
Cops On the Beat...
I will try calling into the show (Freetalk Live) in about 13 hours. I know I won't be able to address all my experiences here, but we'll see where the hosts want to go with it...
In the evening, we had a dinner with a family friend who is the “highest” communist party member of a large University (above the dean). The system here has a communist party officer parallel to other offices. If there is any conflict in an office regarding the “proper” route to take, the party member will “advise” them. In this instance, this woman is alongside the dean and will trump the deans decision on any matter that might be considered “political”. So anyway, this woman wanted to cook some fish for my wife so she came over to my wife's parents apartment and cooked the fish here and then we carried this hot pot over to a restaurant nearby that cooked all the other dishes to go along with it. This woman was a friendly and personable woman just like any other. I'm sure that any political discussion with her would have been a dead-end, however...
The comments about the “commies” are to show that all people have the same basic needs and desires. Some people are misguided on how they go about achieving those ends because they have been conditioned to believe in some "tooth fairy" (read communism, democracy, republic, etc.) that will help them to prosper. Of course many realize that all these beliefs are misguided and lead nowhere, but to the "believers" they actually "exist". We must guide these people into the reality that there is no Santa Clause. We must do so gently and with compassion or we run the risk of failing to convert our fellow man. Since we will run into resistance from the cult believers if their numbers are large, it is to our advantage to convert as many as we can. I would say it is imperative that we do so. I will try to educate a commie as surely as I will try to educate a "believer in democracy"...
Now keep in mind that since I can't speak the language, there's not much chance that I will make any difference in the lives of those I encounter here, but perhaps the experiences I have here will help those back home realize what a fallacy this belief in "government" is, whether you label it communist or democratic...
In the evening we ate at what I have to admit is the nicest restaurant I have ever eaten at. My wife had a family friend who loaned them the money to make it possible for my wife to come to the US to continue her education (I owe them an eternal debt of gratitude) and this lady wanted to take us to dinner before we leave China. The restaurant has private rooms that are the size of our family room and include a large round table with a motorized lazy-Susan for the prepared dishes, a seating area with couch, chairs, coffee table, carpeting and plasma TV. The furnishings and room trim are 1st class. One waitress stays as your attendant during the meal and makes sure you have everything you need. Besides the woman who invited us, there were her son and finance. It was a time for my wife to chat and catch up on things. The woman who invited us was very savvy and managed to make enough in her business interests there that she is now comfortably retired at around 50. Not bad for a divorced woman in China.
So today we get our four large suitcases packed up for the over-night train back to Shanghai. We are actually going to stay at a "resort" there through a timeshare that my wife's sister and husband have. As long as I get to ride the Mag-lev again, I'll be happy...
In case there are any Google Earth fans you can see my current position as: 30.5103,114.4269
Leaving in about 5 hours at the train station at: 30.5308,114.312
Arriving 12 hours later at the Shanghai train station: 31.155,121.424
Oh, and on my way over here right before I went to sleep on the train, I recorded a waypoint as: 30.466,120.481 - it's just random countryside, but luckily it was right on the border of some higher res imagery.
I just love my GPS...
Now we're at the Sun Island Resort West of Shanghai. GPS 31.0336, 121.0747.
The train trip was comfortable as always. Since there are five of us (us 3 plus in-laws) we bought 4 bottom bunks and one upper. That put my wife and I in one room and our son with in-laws in the next. The train is usually not full and if you purchase two bottom bunks you have a chance that no one will purchase the bunks above you. This time there were two businessmen in the bunks above us. We went to sleep soon after the train left the station and woke up about two hours before arriving in Shanghai. I showed the guy in our car my GPS system and he whips out his cell phone which has commercial maps with GPS ability built in. He did tell my wife that he has a difficult time with GPS signals inside and I showed him my external bluetooth GPS receiver that I can place in the window so I was able to receive 9 satellites to his 1-2. His maps were way better than mine since I have to scan or capture whatever I can find and then create a matching file with coordinates that correspond to pixels on the image.
View from train window:
This place is a real tourist trap. Unless you get a taxi off the island (or walk, but there doesn't seem to be much off the island either) you are stuck paying about 5 times what everything is worth. The internet access is poor. I have to go to the "business center" in order to hook up via cat5 cable. The business room is about the size of a large walk-in closet with a couple of desks, one computer and a phone. They charge too much for access as well. They pretty much charge for everything here with one exception. This place has a "wave pool" with water slides and real white sand beach. It's very nice but it closes at 6:30 and we showed up at 6:45. We may get a chance to try again in the next day or so. Tomorrow we go to "Su Zhou" which I hear is a flower city. They also have an indoor pool here but they charge a whopping (equivalent) of $20 US each person. This is because the Chinese people (especially the women) hate being in the sun because they don't want to get tan. My wife's best friend from college just returned from Italy and she said that the beaches of Italy were filled with women sunbathing and getting tan but the Chinese girls there all had scarves and umbrellas to keep the sun off.
We didn't do much today as I was feeling a bit under the weather and slept for a couple of hours after we got here.
Cottages at Sun Island Resort:
I have only been able to get on the internet once a day here since I must go to the business center for access. They are in the process of wiring all the rooms, but haven't yet finished.
We rented a van and driver so we could travel to multiple destinations yesterday. We went to Suzhou and we started at a silk factory (31.324, 120.615). Very interesting how those little worms give us such nice fabric. Unlike most textile factories, it was interesting that the workers do not have to wear any dust mask or take any such precautions as there is no dust in the production of silk products. The workers there who have their hands in the water used for extracting the silk fibers have very smooth hands as the worms have very high protein levels that make the water a natural skin conditioner. I tried handling some of the raw silk fibers and my rough hands were like velcro to that stuff. Of course we had to finish our tour by buying some silk products.
We then visited a place nearby which was an example of "Jia Shang" which means fake mountains. These are gardens and landscaping around a mansion of old. This was quite a set up for some old-time politician and it really shows where the $$ goes for those in power. Once a private home, this covered several acres and had many buildings, finely carved furniture, a pond, and "jia shang". These are stones mortared together to produce many jutting shapes with paths winding up, down, and around almost maze like. In order to get to one place just a short distance away, you might have to go ahead, up, left, down and back. This place is around 300-400 years old and unlike back home where you can't touch anything, here you are free to walk and climb all over. Even the furnishings just have a rope barrier that you could reach over and touch things. Of course everyone is snapping pictures and taking video (a no-no in so many places these days).
We got lost looking for a place my wife's best friend who used to live there advised us was a great place to eat so we just ate at a little restaurant and then went on to our next stop, the "water town" of Panmen (31.289, 120.612). This was once the entire town of Suzhou (now it's population is in the millions and has extended many miles from that center). Unfortunately there's not much left due to industrialization and expansion. What is there is 2500 years old and very interesting. They had large granite gates that they would raise and lower from the top of the wall. They had water gates for the canals and also land gates. We went on one of the gondolas which was piloted by a woman (who sang for us).
Last stop was something I noticed on Google Earth when I was scoping out this area prior to our arrival. There's an "aircraft carrier" that is located very close to our resort that someone put a "point of interest" near at Google that said this was an aircraft carrier for the Chinese air force and they built it inland and would have to dig a canal to get it out or some such nonsense. When we asked the driver he said, "Oh that's a park for kids". It turns out this "carrier is a big concrete replica for kids to visit something along the lines of "Space Camp" back home. It's a park that you can visit with lots of old decommissioned aircraft, one old submarine, and the replica carrier. We got there just as the park was closing so I snapped some pictures that I will get online after I return home. So much for the Chinese air forces' new "carrier" (should be the navy anyway).
First stop, YuYuan, Shanghai's Old town (31.229, 121.487). Lots of shops where I bought a microSD card and a backpack. I can really buy these things on Ebay for about the same price, but it's fun to deal with the street vendors. Of course you have to talk them down at least 60%. I've had one or two cuss me out when I won't pay the inflated price they are asking since I'm a foreigner. We had lunch at a restaurant that Clinton ate at when he was Pres (the bathrooms were in horrible shape - don't know if Hillary had to use them...)
Next was "Peoples square" (31.231, 121.469) which is the Shanghai equivalent to Red Square or Tienanmen. Really not much of interest for me. The Shanghai Museum is there and we almost went in to the free exhibit on Olympic games throughout history but the line was too long and the weather too hot.
The Oriental Pearl was our last stop and it's quite a tower. Right in the center of Shanghai along the river and the skys were clear enough that we could actually see for miles. The number of high rise building here is amazing. I don't like the method of construction as they use steel reinforced concrete which I don't believe would do well in a large earthquake. I prefer steel girder construction on anything over 5 stories. I really don't know how high they will go here with that type of construction but I've seen some buildings over 40 stories being built that way. Seems like a lot of weight to be swaying in a quake and concrete cracks and crumbles pretty easily. They do have the newest high-rise under construction right next to the Jin-Bei tower that stands at 88 stories. Jin-Bei is about the same height as the Oriental Pearl tower and this new building is at least 15 stories higher than the Jin-Bei. Too bad it won't open for a while yet.
On the way back to our room, the driver told us about the politics of Sun Island (the resort we are staying at). It turns out the Singaporean owner of this resort was friends with a the highest Shanghai government official who went to prison two years back for corruption and graft. The Chinese cult members usually execute someone like that but he is very popular with the people of Shanghai so they only gave him 10 years to avoid riots. When this guy was in office, Sun Island did a lot of business with government meetings and such but since he was locked up, business here has slowed down. I suppose that is why the owner now has joined one of these timeshare points trading groups which is how we came to get a room here. If it weren't for the lousy internet access, this would be a great place.
Today we scheduled a quick (one hour) trip to an aluminum casting company simply because we always try to do a little research in industry here in case we should ever need things manufactured here. I spend a good 30 years in manufacturing and machining so I tend to think along those lines. The place was not quite what we would consider a good work environment, but it wasn't all that bad. On these hot days, the owner provided electrolyte enriched bottled water for his workers. A good portion of the work force there were middle-aged women. I have never seen any "child -labor" that everyone likes to claim is rampant in China but I'm sure that farmers have their children working on the farm (as do we). I've never seen prison labor either but the driver and my wife's parents say that is expected of prisoners that they work. Some work factory jobs and some work in fields or on cleanup crews.
The rest of the day was spent at the resort. We went to their mini water park here which has three tubes and a wave pool. The water was very warm and it started out sunny, but clouded up and rained. We decided to return to our room for a while and then we rode the go-carts and horses.
Today is travel home day but we arrived at the airport a few hours early so I can ride the Maglev back into town and return again to the airport. At 430kPH it only takes about 8 min. to travel the 30km track (even faster than a Shanghai taxi)...
Birdstrikes on Front of Maglev...
Top speed on short 30km track is 430KpH
Everything's a blur at 280 MpH...
"Back in the USSR”... July 12
Sitting in Atlanta waiting for the connecting plane to Memphis. Just a few impressions now that I'm back. First is the air pollution. China has had very bad air pollution every visit I've made in the past (about 10) but this trip the skies in all the cities I went to were clear and blue. It's a completely different experience being able to see for miles. The mountains and fields are beautiful. China is a very large place and it would take years to get a true knowledge of what all is there. The day we left (15 hrs. ago but still the same “day”) the air in Shanghai was smoggy again. I don't know if it was just clear for a couple of weeks as a fluke or what. I do know that my wife called her best friend from college in Beijing several times while we were there and the air was very bad there. I know that the cult members there are trying very hard to clean things up for the Olympics and that means they have to shut down most manufacturing and they are setting up an odd-even system for cars so that you can only drive your car every other day.
Cars: I've been a car enthusiast since I was young and always check the trend on cars in China. I've already mentioned that the VW Beetle is getting popular there and I saw one of the new Mercedes convertibles (CLK?). At the Sun Island resort two days back I saw a big beautiful Rolls (first I've seen in China). When I asked our driver the next day about it he was very surprised. He said they are extremely rare.
Also as China moves up in style, we are moving down. Restrooms are a good indication, I think. The public restrooms in major areas of China are getting better and the ones here (like the Atlanta airport) are getting to look more and more like a third-world nation. Just another indication of the declining empire...