By PINFU CHAJU
SHANGHAI (China Daily Show) – Its economy has grown a record-breaking 300 percent in 30 years, lifting 600 million of its citizens out of poverty.
But as far as one Shanghai resident is concerned, China’s unprecedented boom has had a serious and unintended consequence.
“It’s getting much, much harder to find a cab,” frets Harold Seers, a 49-year-old investment banker who’s been in China nearly a decade, glancing impatiently at his Patek Phillipe watch. “I’ve been here since lunchtime. This would never have happened in ’02. Never.”
Seers has been standing at the intersection of Xizang Donglu for nearly fifteen minutes – a wait he said is now not uncommon. He is now urging Beijing’s economists to reconsider the effect their policies are having on his previously unfettered existence.
“None of this was here when I first arrived,” said Seers, gesturing helplessly at the mêlée of office buildings, shopping malls and vehicles that surround him. “Back in 2002, it was just wide, empty roads and bicycles. Perfect cab-catching conditions,” he sighs.
Former New Yorker Seers confesses to having endured Manhattan’s cab shortages for nearly 20 years, when his daily commute often included an excruciating battle against bad drivers, congested roads and rivals also trying to hail taxis.
“It was like China is now,” Seers notes. “They’ve ruined a perfectly good third world country.”
The pressure took its toll: Seers accepted a hardship posting to China after a curbside NYC cardiac arrest and road-rage incident in quick succession caused him to radically rethink his life.
“The penthouse apartment, the six-figure salary, the maid, the women, the fine dining: none of it meant a damn when I was ruining a new shirt twice a day trying to catch a ride,” Seers recalls. “My bill at Brooks Brothers was large than most people’s apartments. Eventually, I’d had enough.”
For Seers, arriving in Shanghai was “just like starting over. Clear boulevards, empty cabs… I was turning down drivers left, right and center – now I’m lucky if I can find a rickshaw who won’t take less than a couple of bucks.”
Seers blames the country’s economic policies, annual double-digit growth and fierce obsession with Western consumer values for having ruined his commute.
The country’s sudden wealth creation has fueled an automobile boom, overtaking the US as the world’s largest auto market when 2009’s vehicle sales jumped 46 percent to 13.6 million, with nationwide vehicle ownership climbing to 51 million in 2008 from just a million in 1977.
In the last six months alone, Seers has been “cab-jacked” – in his words – by, among others, a mother with child, a group of high-school students and someone he swears was a migrant worker.
The country now has the world’s second-largest number of billionaires and upstreamers – statistics which keep people like Seers awake at night.
“Slow down, China,” he urged. “Or at least, pull over and take me where I need to go. I’m late for an important meeting – again!”
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