November 17th, 2006

Guangzhou 2.

Don't have a lot of time to write right now but i wanted to mention a couple of other things.

The fact that business is done in cash has some interesting consequences. For instance, the electric bill was due yesterday. Instead of just mailing off a cheque, my dad had to catch a bus to the market, visit the bank, withdraw a wad of cash, and then go stand in line for half an hour at the property management office to pay the bill. And of course they wouldn't let him pay in advance for future bills; he had to pay the exact amount due. Every month he has to show up at the office in person (two hours maybe?) to do a simple financial transaction. Now multiply that by the number of transactions everyone does... that's a lot of hours burned on what you and i would consider silly inefficiencies.

There is a tremendous demand for higher education here. The population is big and everyone wants to get a college degree. The universities were running out of space, so the government decided to buy out all the farmers on an island in the middle of the Pearl River and turn the entire island into University Town. It's a hugely ambitious project: they've been at it for two years or so, and ten major universities are building new campuses there, for about 25000 students each. That's a quarter million undergraduates! Many of them have moved in already (and i mean moved in — this is a government project on a grand scale, with not only school buildings for all ten universities but dormitories for all the students, shops, roads, shared facilities like libraries, and so on). It's all kind of unbelievable.