If you want to view and experience capitalism first hand, visit Shanghai, China.
Shanghai is often regarded as the center of finance and trade in Mainland China. The unspoken perception for years has been that for capitalism to flourish it must be based in a country committed to democracy.
China has turned this idea on top of its head.
“The United States is no longer the only country people look up to when having dreams of becoming wealthy,” a man once told me in Mongolia.
China is proving it can happen even in a communist country.
At the invitation of my friend LongGen, I was invited to attend a wedding celebration in Shanghai. It never occurred to me to ask where we were going. As a culture, we in the U.S. are fairly ingrained with the assumption that a wedding happens in a church.
On the way to the wedding, it dawned on me that the official political line regarding religion in China is atheism. We pulled into the driveway of a posh hotel, parked the car and followed the lobby signs that pointed to a room where the celebration would take place. At the entrance of the room the bride and groom greeted us. The couple was dressed in complete Western wedding attire: the groom in a jet-black tux and the bride in a beautiful white gown.
Inside the elaborately decorated room we were shown to our table. A 12-course meal started and, like the Energizer Bunny, it just kept going and going.
My personal favorite was the turtle soup. After the lavish meal, the ceremony commenced. The house lights dimmed as the spotlights cut through the darkness to the back of the room. Music blared from the speakers like a Las Vegas show as the announcer broadcast the names of the bride and her father as he escorted her into the room. This continued as both sides of the families filled the stage. Speeches were made and toasts offered.
The bride never spoke.
Once all the talk was finished, the traditional part finally arrived and needed no translation: you may kiss the bride. Blue, red, pink and white paper streamers filled the air. In the corner of the eye of the groom I noticed a tear and concluded love is love, even in China.
It was a marriage made for capitalism, filled with optimism and opulence. It also offered hope that people who can care deeply may also have the ability to find a way to improve human rights in China.
A few days later I was standing in line to buy a coffee.
A young Chinese man asked me, “Where are you from?”
I told him the U.S.
I said Omaha, with the hope that maybe he might have heard of the largest city in the state even though I don’t live there. He paused for a second with a blank stare and then asked, “Which NBA team is that?”
“Sorry bud, we don’t have an NBA team,” I said.
This question actually popped up several times on my trip through China. They relate almost everything through the star Chinese basketball player named Yao Ming who plays for the Houston Rockets. During basketball season, almost everywhere you go there’s a TV with a Rockets game plastered across the screen. Since Nebraska doesn’t have a NBA team, I guess it doesn’t exist in China’s awareness.
I went to China not knowing what to expect and was surprised by the buzz of economic activity. The people were respectful and kind. The police were a bit paranoid. Riding home one night on the crowded subway, I glanced down the corridor created by the connecting cars. People were sending text messages from cell phones, reading newspapers or just standing quietly as they waited for their stop.
Upon closer inspection of a camouflage hat being worn by a man a few feet away, I noticed the word CABELAS sewn across the top. The sporting goods store had made its start in Nebraska.
I took that as a good omen that after 10 months it was time to go home.