Detroit and Beijing- separated at birth?
True to the caliber of international folks that make up this consortium, I’m writing this column from a hotel room 26 floors up over Beijing. It’s my first time here and the first time I’ve come across a city that, in my view, resembles parts of America so closely.
Walk into Beijing airport and you’re immediately struck by the scale. It’s just incredible. There’s a lot of America I’ve not yet seen, but in what I have, there’s nothing on this scale. It’s vast.
Then there’s the security. By the time you’ve reached boarder control, you’ve been scanned by three different forms of electronic detection. There are Police and guards everywhere. They’re not just stationed at a post, they’re on the shuttle train platform, on the train, off the train, at the exit.
As you drive down the freeway towards the city center (a very American looking freeway with around six lanes), you see high-rise after high-rise shooting up like pop-corn in a microwave. And not just one or two. Fifteen or twenty at a time.
Alongside all this expansion and scale, you also have the desolation and the relative poverty. Extremes of haves and have nots right alongside each other. As I sit on the bed of a rather well appointed hotel room, it occurred to me this place feels a lot like Detroit. It has huge scale, has had a massive affect on the country it sits in, and teeters on the edge between great industrial power and urban wasteland. It’s weird feeling that, as a foreigner to both countries, they’re so close, and yet, so far from each other.
- David Shearer