Sunday, November 08, 2009

New China, new world

Yesterday we made a trip to Portland Art Museum to check out the new "China Design Now" exhibit. It was ... strange. There were things that were exciting and fun, the kinds of t-shirt and zine covers you see in Juxtapoz magazine. We saw some very fresh and cool products, demonstrating influences of Japan-cool and skateboard culture, the same stuff that's cool here in the US. And there were fine examples of couture and architecture, very hip, very modern, very groovy. Just when I started getting the warm fuzzies for China (the "hey, it's not so bad there, let's go visit!" feelings) we passed a display of projections of different living spaces, with typed quotes from the people who lived there. And I have to say it: China sucks. There were photos of nice homes with plenty of space and tasteful things, but there were also incredibly cramped spaces with a veneer of cheapness that made the Dollar Tree look haute couture. The people who lived in these spaces spoke of long hours and a desperate dream of a better life for their children.

It nudged me into a depressing line of thought. The pundits tell us to look to China as the future of the world. It is a microcosm of the world's problems, compounded in one politically contorted nation. On top of environmental degradation, water shortages, geopoltical struggles and a massive socioeconomic restructuring, the nation faces serious overpopulation. There isn't enough of anything to really go around, and that is true of the planet as a whole.

While my family today enjoys a comfortable lifestyle with an assortment of appealing things, I can't count on that for my grandchildren. Look at the quality of produced goods today, and compare them to your grandparents' antiques. Things are shabbier now. When my daughter has children, those young people will grow up in a world stretched even thinner than today. Once we used wood in buildings. Now we used plywood. Tomorrow, particle board will be the new norm.

It is good to do more with less. But it is sad to think that is all we offer our next generations. We are using everything up so quickly and leaving behind only the dregs. I wonder how long it will be before Portland looks like Beijing.

No comments: