NEWS

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July 10, 2009

Reflections on China: A land of efficiency

The following is a missive from Viewpoints staff writer Arieh Smith, '12. He's spending his summer studying abroad with Princeton in Beijing.It’s a little hard to describe the overwhelming speed and efficiency of this country. I’ve been here for a mere three weeks, and I’ve already come to realize that much of the culture shock – which exists, make no mistake – has to do with the simplicity and timeliness you encounter in daily interactions. Your building’s janitor will fix your room’s problem not only in less than five minutes, but more importantly, within five minutes of when you hail him. The cafeteria lady will serve your food and have the price on the screen almost before you order. And your teachers will have your homework, tests, and other assignments graded and corrected before you leave class. There is none of this indulgent nonsense we put up with in the United States – women doing hard manual labor? Under a week to get your room fixed? Goods served quickly? Shocking, really.Nor is this an observation restricted to the Chinese in this country. I have noticed similar tendencies in overseas Chinese in the United States, especially among University of Chicago Chinese teachers, who have the habit of grading all the assignments of everyone in the class in one night and returning them all the following day.Walking and bicycling* are things the Chinese love to do, and they can because most places are within walking distance. (“Walkable communities” is a novel idea in the United States, but in China it is fulfilled. Down with zoning laws!) Everything is extremely convenient; I think because of the incredible density**, the Chinese are forced to maximize efficiency, and it shows. There is no "fast food" in China, because every restaurant beats McDonald's when it comes to speed. The Chinese can't afford to wait. There is no time to be lazy.*This includes things like three-wheeled motorized pickup scooters, odd contraptions the Chinese seem to be fond of. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet. **On some nights, every inch of Beijing is packed with men, women, and children. It’s striking, because even in New York (to say nothing of Chicago), once you leave Times Square, everything gets dark and deserted. How odd it is to see little kids playing in a public square at ten o’clock.-A.S.