($) The Age of Not Obvious: China in September 2023
What will happen in the next four decades will look very different than what happened over the last four.
This is premium member only content. Thank you for being a paid subscriber of Interconnected Premium. Below is an essay chronicling my first-hand experience during my trip back to China in September.
Haven’t seen a foreigner in so long! (好久没看到老外了! )
That was a phrase I heard uttered out loud — not once, but twice — during our trip to China last month. It was not directed at me, a Chinese American fluent in Mandarin who can blend in like a chameleon. It was reserved for my fiancée, a blond-haired, blue-eyed American southerner, who ventured into the Middle Kingdom for the first time to see my family, friends, and the place where I was born.
Unbeknownst to her (and me), she stepped into a China that has had the lowest number of foreign visitors since the 1970s. That was China in September 2023 — like we had stepped into a time machine and gone back to the past, not the future. This “past” is not a descriptor of lack of progress or development — that is hardly the case, especially if you go outside of the visibly stagnant Beijing or Shanghai. It’s an intense feeling that for perhaps the first time since the so-called “New China” was founded, what was in the past is better than the present and, quite possibly, the future.