I was in China last week for work (2nd visit in a year). There are several things that are fascinating about the country that I observed:

1. Scale – everything is big. The number of brand new skyscrapers either new or under construction is amazing. 16 of the World’s largest 50 metropolitan areas are in China (most of which I have never heard of) – the US has 3 of the top 50. Whereas the NYC to DC flights are average size planes (737s/A319s) that fly hourly shuttle flights, the Guangzhou to Beijing hourly shuttle flights are on Boeing 777s. Again everything is just a lot larger than the US.
2. New infrastructure – there is construction everywhere and so many nice new things (of course interspersed with third world structures). For example, in their current five year plan they are upgrading or building 41 airports. There are new highways everywhere.
3. Scientific prowess – The conference I went to was a biotech conference. China has made it a goal to woo back 500 researchers from the West. I met a bunch who had already come – they are native Chinese and trained at the best Universities in the US. They are now going back. They said that the Chinese government was willing to give them a lot of research funding that is much harder to get in the US.
4. Excitement – whereas in the US, people are down about the economy, I saw and heard nothing of the like there. Everyone is so excited that China is going to take its place as a world leader.
5. Nationalistic – I am amazed at how nationalistic the citizens are. I was talking about politics with a couple of US based Chinese researchers and we discussed a hypothetical war between the US and China. Everyone of them said they would go back and fight against the US.

Ok so what? Well, lets look forward 20 years. In 20 years, China will have infrastructure that will be much newer than the US, it has 5 times more people, the economy will be approaching the US in size (if not bigger), they will have world leading scientists (all trained in the US and paid for by the US taxpayer), they are nationalistic and excited about the future. Hmm, seems in contrast to the US where we like to complain about everything, our infrastructure is aging and falling apart, few Americans want to be scientists, and our nationalism is pretty weak.

It will be an interesting comparison in 20 years…