Thursday, July 05, 2007

Local Color

It is the children in the villages we pass that are the most interesting to watch. Children can occupy their time no matter where they live and how little they have. I saw a little boy around 3 years old, squatting happily on the sidewalk with a pile of dusty dirt in front of him, using his finger to make a road. Children in these rural villages would be astounded at the piles of toys that our children in the US have at their disposal. These family’s lives are so spartan and without any western toys. Passing through one village, the driver told us it was market day, and farmers were making their way to the lively street market to sell their crops and animals. There were no stalls, just cloth and plastic on the ground, piled with vegetables and fruit. We saw family after family, riding standing up in the backs of old rickety trucks, dressed up and going to market. The children had huge smiles on their faces and you could only imagine what a big weekly event it was. In the afternoon, we again saw these trucks, the backs piled high with baskets of fresh vegetables and fruit.

We were told that beginning this year, China now provides a free education to all children from kindergarten to grade 9. The standards and quality of education varies tremendously from school to school, and if parents want their child to attend a school outside of their neighborhood, they must pay tuition. High school and college admissions is highly competitive. Our driver told us that in the past few years, China has tried to push hard for students to attend college. Many students work extremely hard to get in to colleges with the expectation that an education is the ticket to a better quality of life. Unfortunately, high numbers of students are graduating to find that there are not enough jobs to accommodate all of them. Disappointment, depression and other mental health issues are on the rise. China is finding itself with too many educated and unemployed young people.

We have also learned that in the rural areas, China provides a set amount of land per family member to use in growing crops. The family can choose to plant the land and sell the crops for income, or lease the land and go into the city to work.
The government does not charge the family for use of the land. When one becomes elderly, they will depend on their child to support them. If they have no children, they are eligible for a small government stipend.

We were also told that the real estate market is booming and many people from all walks of life are investing in apartments and making a profit from them. New houses are being built in the outlying areas for residential and holiday use. This is leading to an increase in the purchase of cars, which have dropped considerably in price to make them affordable to ordinary citizens.

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