I was talking to someone who relocated from the US to Sichuan. She works in the transportation industry and was telling me her cultural war stories. Her frustration with the way things work, or don’t work, over there, were fascinating to me (Of course, since I wasn’t the one having to deal with them personally! Although I could sympathize with her). She was the first person I’d talked to who worked in China in my field: transportation. Two things she said that most struck me:
1) “There’s really no transportation planning per se in China, it’s only barely started to take hold. Most planning is done top done, from the central government down to the provinces, cities etc. Also, all the transportation planners are really young, some have studied abroad. But still there are no experienced transportation planners who could mentor them, the Cultural Revolution caused the void of a generation of transportation planners who would have been the current generation of managers”
That really struck a nerve in me, because I never thought about that. Those who were youths/young adults during the Cultural Revolution are now middle-aged. I guess they correspond roughly the Baby Boomer generation here. Here, as baby boomers are retiring in droves, they are leaving quite a void of their experience and continuity in their workplace. I saw lots of middle-aged people in China, going about their normal daily lives, but I guess a lot of them had their education and careers disrupted and thrown off track by the Cultural Revolution, so they could be ‘poorer’ and less ‘successful’ than they should be if they had a normal life course. Some of them could have been transportation planning managers today.
Some of them must have been Red Guards too. I wonder how they feel today about all the mayhem and social violence they committed back then, or do they simply seal off that part of their memories? Some punk who bullied others and vandalized property then, became an ordinary postal clerk, or a taxi-driver. Just like some Nazi guard who tortured prisoners then, became one of many autoworkers in the American Midwest.
2) She was talking to one of her Chinese colleagues about the lack of transportation planning before building. “If you took the time to plan it before your build the transportation project, you wouldn’t have to go back to fix it after it fails.” In China, apparently they’re growing so fast, they don’t have time to plan. When problems arise after project completion, they just patch it up or tear it down and build a new one. Her colleague explained to her,
“Over there (US), you do earthquake prevention/preparedness. Over here (in China), we do earthquake rescue!”
There’s some irony to that, they’re working in Sichuan, which last year was the scene of a horrendous earthquake where a lot of seismically-substandard schools collapse and killed lots of students who were the only children of their parents (thanks to the one-child policy).
I usually am too clueless to feel earthquakes (when Loma Prieta hit, I was walking around campus along Strawberry Creek. Since there was major construction going on at the Life Sciences Building, I thought some clumsy crane operator had dropped a steel I-beam.) But I actually felt the one last Thursday morning. I was in my car, and it shook. I was worried that it was a sign that my car was really ready to breakdown.