These people are just like me
For just over a week I have been leading a small delegation from Donalsonville on a trip to China seeking to leverage the work being done to make our city the most connected rural city in America. What I have learned could fill a small book; too much information for a weekly column. Instead, I want to just give my impression of China and its people.
Like many of you, I grew up in a time when China was isolated. I was a Senior in high school when China was opened up to the world by President Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong in 1972. Neither of them could have imagined how much China would change in the next 44 years.
Although I have read about and followed China’s economic boom over the past two decades, nothing could have prepared me for the economic miracle I have witnessed the past few days. I have already flown through three world class airports since my arrival, including one opened in the past year.
It is extremely easy to travel in China. Most people, especially the younger ones, know English. American brands are everywhere. I even toured two Carl’s Jr. Restaurants, Hardee’s sister company, while in Shanghai. Their burgers tasted just like they do back home. They even had iced tea, though not the sweetened version that Southerners prefer.
The most popular luxury car is a Buick. The number one selling brand is an Audi, followed by BMW. It seems that when the Chinese have saved enough money for their first car, they want a nice car. They often defer that first purchase until they can afford to buy what they really want.
China is as Americanized in their dress as any country I have ever visited, particularly the teenagers. They are all texting on their cell phones, just like American teens. In fact, everyone is on a cell phone here.
I have travelled on a Magnetic Levitation Train. I’ll leave the technical details for another day, but let me just say it travels without touching the ground. Our average top speed was 187 miles per hour.
I have looked across the sea and seen the shore of North Korea, a place where my father fought some 65 years ago. I have seen what may have been the most stunning city I have ever visited, topping even New York, London and Paris.
I have toured research labs showing technology that will change our lives in ways we can’t even imagine. We have been the guests of the second largest company in China while being honored by the Mayor of a city of 11 million people.
Yet my largest takeaway from this incredible trip is the fact that everywhere I turn, we are all alike. The school we toured had the same anxious faces as the children in our own schools.
I have talked with dozens of businessmen and government leaders and find that we are all motivated by the same things. We want the best for our children and grandchildren. We want to provide a better way of life for those we serve. We understand that education is the only path to a meaningful future.
I have visited a Taoist Temple and prayed with Christian Chinese leaders. It becomes mind boggling at how this country has changed and how ignorant the average American is of the China of today.
I have worried that perhaps our small city is dreaming too big. I will leave China in a few days convinced that we are not dreaming big enough. The global world will change with or without us. Amazingly, for reasons most of us don’t understand, Donalsonville has the chance to lead the way for rural America.
Mary Lou, Tony Buczek, Karen Kimbrell and I look forward to sharing what we have learned and the opportunities that exist for Southwest Georgia in the future. In the meantime, I will rest easier knowing that the people I have met halfway around the world are just like you and me.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org