4) Comparing China and India
Before I left for India, a lot of Chinese told me there’s a phrase: “at least it’s not India.” This is used if you see something bad in China (trash, corruption, smells) and you want to say that it’s not really that bad. Well, at least it’s not India. And honestly, it’s a fair comparison. China certainly has a long way to go, as does any country. (In truth, what does that statement even mean? Is there some end goal to being a country? The basic function of a nation-state is to survive, so where’s the finish line? I digress…)
The first thing I noticed was that India, too, has thick smog. It’s pretty bad, but certainly not blinding. About a year ago, the Delhi government enacted a temporary law like Mexico City’s whereby people with certain license plates get to drive cars on certain days, and the other half drives the others, so that with fewer cars each day, there’s less pollution. Alas, it had minimal effect on the smog. Certainly I’ve seen much worse days in China, but the difference is that China has heavy industry. They burn more coal (uncleaned coal at that) than the rest of the world combined. There’s a reason, whether you like it or not.
India definitely has industry, but on a much smaller scale, and it’s still a largely agricultural economy. So the haze comes from other places. Burning crops, trash, low emissions standards, holiday firecrackers, construction dust. The lack of absolutely thorough trash clean up (which China has a lot of in the big cities). There’s no car that sprays water to keep the dust down, like in China and Kazakhstan. There’s a palpable difference as well. Chinese eyes hit me only when I exercised; it my lungs and made me sick afterwards. Indian smog has sizeable particles that scratches your eyes and claws your windpipe. It’s harsh.
Another big difference is that China has the means and the willpower to do away with anything unwanted. If there’s trash, the city cleans it. If the streets are dirty, they wash it. And if there’s homeless lining the streets, they will be snatched and placed…somewhere. (That’s a different problem I guess.) India has a lot of homeless. There’s quite frankly an astonishing amount of homeless that live under bridges or on sidewalks, many of which are quite aggressive in their begging. This is not allowed in China(‘s big cities).
Further, I noticed that the homeless basically didn’t smoke or drink. In the US, in China, in Europe you definitely see homeless on a park bench brown-paper-bagging something classy like a Colt-45. In India, there was virtually none. And I even noticed that the general populace didn’t smoke or drink much, at least not in public. There were no cigarettes on the ground (mostly). There were certainly liquor shops that had lines, but they were fairly far and few between. And the drinking policy was definitely different than the Chinese idea of: “if you’re physically capable of obtaining alcohol you can drink it.”
Another (super random) difference I noticed was their attitudes toward rain. In China, especially in Guangdong where I lived, a drop of precipitation gave rise to some pretty ridiculous reactions. Even the lightest rain would absolutely change people’s days. They refused to come to the school (that they paid for), they wouldn’t leave the house for food, they would bail on you at the very last minute if you had plans, and they certainly wouldn’t play soccer outdoors. The audacity! And I mean truly, truly gentle mists. In India, there would be a spontaneous deluge and couples on motorbikes wearing fairly light clothing wouldn’t even bat an eye. To them, rain and air were one in the same.
In short, I would say the difference could be summed up like this: when people ask me about horror stories regarding filth and grime and sewage in China, those questions are mostly about India. (With absolute due respect.)
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