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I read the financial pages, because they're like science fiction for a freelance writer, and every week someone asks "Should the U.S. be concerned about China?" As if "No, it should just ignore the outside world and Eloi it up forever" were a possible answer. Despite only remembering what money was 30 years ago, China has the second-largest economy on the planet. The U.S. has spent the same amount of time giving China its money in exchange for also giving China its jobs. I'm no economist, which is a relief, because pretty soon describing money in English will be like describing immigration in Navajo.

I'm going to need to see an entry visa and IQUQ, THAT'S A LOT OF GUNS.

China already owns 8 percent of the U.S. national debt. Which I think means you owe them four states. Or one, if you can convince them to take Texas, which would honestly solve all kinds of problems for both sides and create the world's largest situation comedy.

This week on Little China in Big Trouble, Sheng must pretend to approve of firearms in time for the big BBQ Monster Truck Hoedown!

But while business columnists search for the secret behind the second-largest country in the world having the second-largest economy in the world, Cracked columnists shout "Duh" and then do real research anyway. I've been chosen to infiltrate China, because no one would suspect an Irishman of even knowing what an economy was. I've spent the last few weeks learning their financial secrets for the West. And making myself as visible as possible, because I figure if enough of them remember me after repossessing North America, I might get a job as foreman.

... and he gets double rice rations if he does a silly dance!

The Chinese Economy Is Growing Stupid Fast

There are many numbers for measuring economic growth, and in China every single one is spinning upward like a multiball high score.

And for the same reasons: Lots of extra things running around making electronics beep.

The most obvious symptom is how the Chinese have gone on a Viking rampage through their own country with jackhammers instead of axes. Every year they build another city. Joined directly to every existing city. They have metropolii you've never heard of bigger than my entire country and containing many more tiny people with huge fortunes.

Honestly, I'm beginning to doubt Irish economics classes.

In the southeast, their idea of "countryside" is only one cement factory per field. And their idea of "southeast" is bigger than most nation's "multilateral defense alliances." But don't worry, they're showing the exact same regard for human rights and the environment as every other country to ever go through an industrial revolution. They're also merging nine cities to build the first megacity. Possibly because we underestimated the appeal of Judge Dredd in Asia.

2000 AD, Dark Horse
He probably knows kung fu. No one's ever gotten close enough to find out.

Guangzhou and Foshan are already linked by the same subway. The result will be 26 times the size of London, more populous than Canada and the setting for at least 50 near-future action movies.

They Are Prepared to Die to Get to Work

While I'm losing battles of will with my alarm clock, the Chinese are risking death to get to work. And that's when I realized I was already outflanked because my alarm clock was Chinese.


Every single driver has the Mario invincibility music in their head, and you've played Frogger with more care than their pedestrians. China has 1.3 billion lives, and they all act like they know that. Chinese pedestrians take more risks in a single commute than James Bond has in several movies. Every three-way junction is a seven-way game of chicken, with everything moving in both directions and one old man ambling right through the middle, because he's survived Chinese history since 1930 and is now just daring the world to kill him.

Call me back when a fender can destroy and rebuild the country twice.

Weaving through this not-quite-demolition-derby are two contra-flowing Tours de China. Bikes don't just carry people, they carry cargo, children, grandparents -- a single bicycle accident in Beijing could extinguish an entire family line. And that's still not the craziest thing on the roads.

Yosemite, Wikimedia Commons
This is. The mobile version of the Suicide Booth.

A tuk-tuk is a motor-trike with a thin shell of metal and glass. This shell blocks three-quarters of the driver's view, and in an accident the only person it'll help is the street cleaner by keeping the liquidized victim in one easily mopped spot. The only things that could get me into a tuk-tuk are a cybernetic assassin ex-girlfriend and her exploding volcano base, because then it wouldn't be the most dangerous thing I'd been inside.

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A Billion Jobs

China approaches the problem of employing a billion people like Sesame Street: They force people to share, cooperate and flat-out pretend that imaginary jobs are there.

Children's Television Workshop
Mr. Snuffleupagus creates twice as many jobs as Big Bird.

Some restaurants are wallpapered with staff. Many places have entrance lobbies built entirely of women, but they only sell noodles, which can cause embarrassingly graphic misunderstandings. One parking lot had 16 parking spaces and four parking attendants. Though that might just be spares in case some are killed by a taxi. Chinese taxis navigate like Pac-Man ghosts, but without the same understanding of mortality.

Old-Fashioned Values

I went from "observing China" to "learning Mandarin" while eating breakfast. Eating breakfast and watching restaurant staff across the street file out into the parking lot, form into ranks and go through more synchronized physical training than several armed forces. I asked the restaurant I was eating in if we were about to be annexed by Huo Long's Spicy Chicken Empire, and was told no, of course not, because Guang Xing's Noodlery staff trained harder and earlier.

Three chicken, two duck, and get down and give you 50, got it.

Not every establishment does this. It depends on how old-fashioned the owner is, and in China, "old-fashioned" isn't your grandfather saying "We worked on the farm for a living" but "We worked on the state farm during the presumably sarcastically named 'Great Leap Forward' and also, if we were very lucky, continued living." This is a country where man vs. tank isn't a meme, it's something they remember instead of The A-Team.

If you think I'm making jokes about a guy with balls this big, you're a fool.

Millions of middle-aged women still hold nightly communal exercise sessions in the streets. In Shamian, one group was dancing in a square, demonstrating perfect social harmony, while down the street riot police practiced full baton and shield-edge-bashing techniques, in case they ever stopped demonstrating that. And everyone was fine with that. That's a level of community spirit that makes an anthill look anarchist. Every public phone I passed worked and didn't stink of urine. They have solid-steel public exercise equipment installed in public walks and housing estates for anyone to use. Imagine someone leaving that outside in your neighborhood, and what would happen to it, and now stop imagining before you get imagination-hepatitis.

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Human Resources Is a Thing, Not a Department

Where I live, the history of mankind is divided into Paleolithic, Metal-Using and Main Street road works. When pressed to explain why it's taking so long, workers admit they're just stalling until humanity transcends the need to move on the material plane.

Spiritual enlightenment means double pay. Union rules.

Over three days, I saw a Beijing street torn up, disemboweled and resurfaced. The roadway was made whole at Jesus velocity. Sure, during the "sidewalk full of video game style pits of doom" stage, the only warning was a single orange cone, presumably sarcastic, as if to say "In case you didn't notice the voids of death, here's a different color." But that's probably less poor safety consciousness than cunning population control.

No Bathroom Breaks

Many things in China are a couple of feet shorter than I'm used to, including the toilets, which is unfortunate, because toilets are only a couple of feet tall in the first place. Instead of a porcelain throne, there's a sunken squat-hole that couldn't be filthier without including the orcs who first designed it. I know several countries allege that this is normal. I can now confirm that those countries don't actually have magic dick-stabilizing gyros. Adding an extra two feet of vertical drop does for urine flow what flapping butterfly wings do for thunderstorms, and results in similar areas of fluid coverage.

Any mathematical modeler will tell you that chaos theory just pisses on everything.

Squatting becomes a tipping-point problem with one degree between aiming your bomb-bay doors and soaking your dangling pant-edges. This can strike in even the fanciest businesses. It's like being welcomed into a five-star restaurant and being presented with a burnished jade-handled spear to stab a pig they've released into the room. Except, you know, not awesome. Instead of relaxing in peace, it's a sustained effort to be completed as quickly as possible. I'm not saying that all business is defined by the behavior of assholes ...


... but the fundamental shift in business could result from the business of shifting their fundaments.

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No Facebook

Internet users in China face more electronic enemies than the Autobots, and those enemies are just as stupid and even easier to defeat. Because the 27 minutes it takes to trounce Megatron is 27 times longer than needed to tunnel through the Great Firewall.

Sunbow Productions
I told you NOT to stand around aimlessly for 20 minutes after the early success!

It's embarrassingly easy to circumvent the infamous barriers. Anyone with a keyboard and two neurons already knows how, to the point where Google now actively warns people when search terms will trigger "connection errors." Lone computer users haven't outwitted huge shadowy governments so quickly since '90s hacker movies, and the tactics are even more ridiculously simple. We're not talking spoofing ISPs and bouncing off satellites -- it's Googling and little programs that really do have progress bars and ping up little messages with exclamation marks saying "CENSORSHIP DEFEATED!"

Only the laziest can't outwit it. But without the laziest people, there are like five people on Facebook. There are already Chinese clones of every major social service (Weibo, YouKu and KaiXin), but they're monitored by the government and censored. The result is a wonderful segregation -- the only time that phrase has ever been possible -- that filters fools into a local "containment" Internet while those smart enough to bypass the barrier are allowed out to talk to everyone else. And from that alone, the answer to the question "Can the U.S. learn anything from China?" is surprisingly "HELL YES."

Luke almost went insane trying to learn Mandarin in one day, and mocks the Five Jerks You Want to Kill in Every Video Game. He also tumbles and will respond to every single Twitter message.

You can also check out The 6 Weirdest Jobs in China and The 5 Most Insane Examples of Chinese Counterfeiting.

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