by Peter Freyne
Lot of balls in the air this Friday.
Hey, have a nice summer?
Our ol' pal from the Peoples Republic of Burlington's City-Hall news scene of the 1980s, Mark Johnson, had plenty to say about the latest in the Vermont delegation's trip to China this morning when he called his own WDEV talk show from the hotel in Beijing.
Mark told Eric Michaels on WDEV in Waterbury that the Vermont delegation, led by our Republican Gov. Jim Douglas, has been meeting with folks pretty high up in the food chain in the Chinese Departments of Agriculture and Tourism.
And we in Vermont do like tourists, right?
Their minister for tourism, he said, pointed out that the Chinese have a problem getting American tourist visas.
"In their view," said Johnson, "Americans view them as some kind of security problem."
Even with all the Chinese restaurants we've got?
Travel-wise, he said, 5 percent of Chinese tourists go to visit Europe. Only 1 percent come to the United States. And their most popular U.S. destination right now is, are you ready?
In Beijing, said Marko, "the buses are packed to the gills and everybody takes taxis. The ubiquity of taxis," he said, "is one of the surprises for me."
There's massive road construction underway in preparation for the Olympics next year. As one minister expressed it, "You are the most developed country" on the planet and we are "the biggest developing country."
Mark also said he's noticed the enormous gap between rich and poor. The folks building the roads "make 75 cents-an-hour and live in these sort of little box houses." They are "housed and fed and able to send money back home," he said.
"It's an economy that's like out of the 1920s in America," said the Vermont radio guy. "Everybody knows this isn't real and it can't last forever and it's superheated, but everybody's in because they're worried they might lose out."
And, by the way, there are no labor unions and only "emerging" environmental regulations. [Beijing, he described, as a very polluted city.] And paying off local leaders, said Johnson, "is pretty well acknowledged as a way of doing business here, and I would dare say, even in the United State of America."
"How are you treated?" asked Eric Michaels.
"When I came I was not billed as a journalist," replied Johnson. His business card, a vital tool in China, bills him as a "broadcast personality," he said, "so as to not accentuate the fact I'm a news guy."
He said Gov. Jimbo had introduced him earlier on Friday as a "journalist," and one Chinese official turned to him and said, "We didn't used to like journalists."
"And Gov. Douglas said something like, 'In the past, I haven't either.'"
Later, said Johnson, he suggested to the Guv, "Maybe we ought to lay off the "J" word for the rest of the trip?"
On Saturday morning at 7 a.m. China-time, the Vermonters head out on an hour-and-a-half drive north to see the Great Wall of China firsthand!
Wonder if it could have gotten an Act 250 permit?