Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Golden Day?

Today is National Day. It was 57 years ago to the day that Chairman Mao ascended those steps at Tiananmen and proclaimed the creation of the People's Republic of China. A three day public holiday has always been in place to mark the occasion but, since 1999, the government has manipulated the peripheral days to ensure that labourers and workers across the country have seven consecutive days off. They do this by combining a weekend, with the three days, adding two extra days on, and then forcing you to work the next available weekend to make up for this time off. The original idea was economic., the intention to increase the people's willingness to get out, travel, shop and (generally) spend. It's worked a treat. In fact, it's worked too well. For this 'Golden Week' as it is known generally means frenzied crowds, noisy, littered walkways and a ruthless price increase. In a tourist town like Zhaoqing, the effects are intensified.

These were the scenes a few minutes ago at Zhaoqing's busiest crossroads. There is a traffic light somewhere in the middle of the melee above. The traffic had long since given up obeying the reds and greens. It was chaos, and the repercussion were felt for several kilometres in either direction. We walked the three kilometres home from a friends house (where we have just eaten some amazing dumplings!) far quicker than we would have done in a bus or taxi. It seems every one of the several thousands new car owners in this city has chosen tonight to go out for a cruise with the extended familiy. Nearly every car has a small child standing up in the front windscreen, marvelling at the view. Car ownership is this country is perhaps one of the most obvious empirical markers of the emergence of a new middle-class, very much in love with shiny new things and consumer products that might mark them out has 'having made it.' Plenty have made it, and they all want to show off on days like National Day when families are likely to gather. It is, frankly, a nightmare.

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