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James Hong

Friday, June 23, 2006

China's Infrastructure

I had a previous post about how smoggy China was, due to all the economic "progress" they are making. What's good for their GDP isn't so great for the air here.

So I thought I should highlight some of the interesting positive things i've noticed so far.

China gets a lot of flak for being such a controlled society, but that level of control also seems to allow the government to force standardizations that might have a harder time happening naturally in open markets. For instance, all the various forms of transportation here, public AND private (bus, subway, all private taxi companies, etc.) can be paid for by the use of a cardkey. So many implementations of stored value cards in the US have failed, yet the government here does stuff like force everyone to adopt things, so things sometimes get done here that wouldn't get done back home.

Another advantage in building good infrastructure here is that everything is being built pretty much from scratch.. so there are few legacy issues to deal with, and they can be quite thoughtful sometimes. The city planning in shanghai is quite excellent, and has all sprouted within the last 10 years.

Some examples:

The Maglev train: This train is actually powered by magnets, and levitates over the track. Because it is basically floating over the track, there is no friction, making it extremely energy efficient and smooth. This train cruises along at over 250 miles per hour, and is a very, very smooth ride.

Another example is pretty unnoticable, but is pretty important and effective. All the sidewalks and all the subway stations in this town have little elevated tracks everywhere. For the longest time, I thought it was some sort of wierd design thing, just for aesthetics, but then I realized.. it's for blind people to know which way is straight. they don't need walking sticks because they can rely on these pathways.

Finally, Internet connectivity. I'm told Korea is really the place to see this, but the basic issue is that.. in the US, virtually nobody has broadband. What we call broadband, many countries regard as slow. Why is this? Much of our connectivity is logically being built on top of existing infrastructure: the telephone lines and cable tv lines that were put in the ground decades ago. In many other parts of the world, their entire infrastructure for connectivity is brand new, and therefore.. faster. I heard in Korea, people get 25 Mbps lines to their home (that's about 75x faster than the standard rating for a DSL line in the US). It's a marketing trick that companies in the US call their products broadband.

Although the bottleneck on my slingbox is in reality the upload speed of my DSL line at home, I took a video of me watching my slingbox in beijing, just to show that the lines are no slower here.. even when watching my tv from 8,000 miles away! Check out how good it is (and get yourself a slingbox!). (btw, yes i still watch the real world :) )


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