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China: A different story

Generally speaking, the news reports about China have been very negative in the U.S., and usually for good reason.

Government corruption, pollution, religious prosecution, food and product safety problems illustrated by the recent recalls of tainted toys, pet food and baby milk power are just a few areas in the news regarding China.

As a native Chinese, I really feel bad about all these problems.

In my previous columns, I have talked about my life in China, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, about its hardships.

Life was incredibly difficult back then, due to the dictatorship under Chairman Mao, his political movements and natural disasters, too.

But I hope all this didn't give you the impression that China is still a poor country or everything about China is negative.

Today's China is a very different country than the one I knew as a young person. It is totally different from the one I left 22 years ago.

Not long ago, I met a university professor who visited China for the first time. He knew some history about old China, but not much about modern day China.

He told me: "I was so na?ve about China before my trip."

The trip was an eye-opening experience for him.

I am sure most people who watched the recent Olympic Games in Beijing were very impressed by the opening ceremonies and the performances.

I don't go back to China often. The last two times I went back were in 1998 and 2005. I was so surprised by the changes. It was just unbelievable.

Even people who go back to China more regularly see big changes immediately.

Many Chinese families live in Woodbury. When our parents come to visit us here, one comment I have heard more than once is: Minnesota, or Woodbury, is like the countryside.

Minnesota and Woodbury certainly can not compare with places in China when it comes to population, traffic volumes, tall buildings, businesses, restaurants, entertainments, etc.

China is a very vibrant and dynamic country now. The whole country is under construction. Big and tall buildings, houses, highways, railroads, shopping centers and entertainment centers, etc. are being built everywhere.

China is moving from dictatorship to more democracy, from stagnation to growth, from low tech to high tech, from poor to rich.

One can probably think of China as someone in their youth, rapidly growing, while the U.S. is more like someone in middle age, things are slowing down. One is at sunrise; the other is at or past noon and approaching sunset.

While most people still think of China as a third- or second-world country, in some respects China is actually more advanced than the U.S.

Take public transportation, for example.

In the last two or three decades, China has been building its infrastructure. New roads, highways, bridges, airports, railroads, and subways are being built at a rapid speed.

Many roads and bridges in the U.S. are deteriorating. The infrastructure is aging and hasn't been kept up in this same time period.

In the U.S., it could take 20 or 30 years to build a highway or finish a project. But in China, it takes much less time.

China has convenient and efficient mass transit bus systems in cities. One can basically go anywhere on buses.

Bikes are still popular transportation tools, not mainly for leisure like here.

Taxis are everywhere. You can catch one on the street by waving your hand.

Major cities have built or are still building subways. Even my hometown Suzhou (next to Shanghai) is building its own subway system.

China has an extensive railway system. One can travel across the country by train. Railway stations are usually in a busy part of town. Big cities may have more than one train station.

Even though air travel has increased in popularity, travel by train has always been and still is the most popular and economic way of traveling long distance in China.

When I was in college in Beijing in early 1980s, I use to take a train to go home once or twice every year. I think the train ride took a day and a night, in a sitting or standing position.

Now, express railways exist between major cities. The express train between Beijing and my hometown lasts only a night's sleep.

The new high-speed Beijing-Shanghai express railway is under construction. It is planned to be 819 miles long and will be the longest single-phase high-speed railway ever built in the world. Its top speed is expected to be 220 mph, cutting Beijing to Shanghai travel time further down from 10 hours to five hours.

You can travel from Beijing to Tibet by train. It is 2,525 miles and takes 48 hours.

Shanghai has the fastest and largest commercial high-speed maglev line in the world. The Shanghai Maglev Train can reach 220 mph in two minutes, with a top operational speed of 268 mph. It transports people 18.6 miles to the airport in just seven minutes, 20 seconds.

True, China still has a lot of problems. But China has also experienced big changes and improvements never seen anywhere else in the world.

In this vibrant and dynamic environment, you can expect a lot of surprises, some good and some bad.

The media reports about China can easily create a very negative image of the country. To see and experience China from a different perspective, to hear a different story, one should really visit the country.

Otherwise, one could become na?ve about China, just like the professor admitted.