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SO MANY PEOPLE: China is huge, its middle class is affluent with lots of money to spend, and the country’s an unbelievably lucrative market.

Seeing is believing in China

Commentary: You’re hearing a lot about China. Here are firsthand observations.

Recently I made my first-ever trip to China, and it was a “Wow!” experience. I was part of a humanitarian team working with the poor. But as an ag media person, I kept my eyes open for personal impressions of this economic powerhouse.

The countless high-rise apartment buildings in our “small” southeastern Chinese host city reminded me of a recent caged egg production facility tour. The hens’ cages were stacked many layers high. The high-rise apartment buildings struck me the same way.

I’m told that chickens don’t care greatly about their living accommodations. In a similar vein, I met a young friend, Chung, from Beijing, who lives in a 24th floor apartment. He’s very OK with his lifestyle and was astounded to see a picture of my yard, roughly the size of a football field.

Smiling, he said, “I think we have pretty different lifestyles.”

It occurred to me that if I were a chicken, I’d want to be free-range!

Here are other observations I made about this fascinating country:

People with money to spend. While we worked with China’s less fortunate, a whole lot of people didn’t fall within that category. Chung told me you must win a lottery of sorts to be allowed to buy an automobile. Yet streets were packed with cars, including an astonishing number of high-end vehicles: BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, Audis, as well as Cadillacs and Buicks. Also, there were a surprising number of stores selling jewelry and Rolex watches. 

The food. The food frequently looks back at you. On our last night, we started out with a roast piglet, with the head staring at us, followed by fish, also with heads intact. Then we had chicken, with the deceased chicken’s head setting erect on the platter. We were told later that when Chinese want to honor their guests, they serve meat with the head intact. That was nice … I guess.

No fat people. I saw no fat people. Zero! I don’t know if it has more to do with the food or the chopsticks. Despite numerous tutorials by my new Chinese friends, I concluded I was “chopstick challenged” and never got the hang of it. I lost 3 or 4 pounds.

Agriculture. My observations of Chinese agriculture took place on a four-hour, high-speed train ride to Hong Kong. Most “farms” were very small, squeezed in between low-lying mountain areas. Lots of rice paddies, plus vegetables, some greenhouses, even a little corn. There were lots of duck and fish ponds, plus a handful of cattle and water buffalo. For the most part, it appeared very labor-intensive, subsistence-level. Housing could basically be described as squalor. I’ve read about the exodus of people from rural areas to the cities. Now I get it.

Trade war.  Our team was instructed not to talk politics. At a news stand in Hong Kong, I saw a magazine cover that said it all. It was a picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump. Even outdoing American attack ads, this was by far the most fiendish picture of Trump I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure they think — or the government wants them to think — that the trade war is all our fault.

Final thoughts. What I’ve read about is real. China is huge, its middle class is affluent with lots of money to spend, and the country’s an unbelievably lucrative market. I fervently hope the trade war gets resolved soon, and that we haven’t self-inflicted permanent demand destruction.

Boone writes from Wabash, Ind.

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