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China

Cars and consumernism

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I used to think Shanghai is very big, until a few days ago I took the taxi from Lu Jia Zhui (the financial district in Pudong) to Jing An Temple in West Nanjing Rd. It’s only 5 km (3 miles) and 15-20 minutes drive during non-rush hour. I remember in mid 90s I walked half that distance on East Nanjing Rd (from YiBai to Bund), and I felt tired. 

Automobiles dramatically changed our perspectives about the distance and our life styles. Shanghai is definitely growing, same as my hometown. While I am glad to see people have more spaces to live (I remember in 90s I shared a room with 3 co-workers in my company’s dorm), more and more people got cars; I also see a few new things from car ownership.

First the parking. I don’t know if I can park my car in those apartment complex or on the street. One has to be very good at “Parallel parking” to do that. A smaller car may make the parking easier. But when I asked one taxi driver what car he like, he said “Buick”. Come on, a few years ago the average Buick drivers’ age is 66 in the States; while here Buick is doing very well because its size and (dare I say), its marketing. On the other hand, the smaller and more efficient VW Bora (Jetta), Golf, and Polo are not selling well.

Cars also helped the spending. When I was in graduate school and got my first car in the States, my friend told me “you will spend money more quickly”. That’s very much true, because you can get to the shopping place whenever you want. The spending is more spontaneous. I remember at one time I got an habbit of driving to Wal-mart after 12am, just to get a few things (BTW, at that time, the gas is about $0.80 per gallon, or RMB 1.6 per liter). Today I am seeing similar behavior from people in my hometown, with the opening of super-market, and shopping malls.

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