October 27, 2003

REPORT FROM CHINA: A while back I posted an email from a friend who travels regularly to China on business who cancelled some summer travel plans because of SARS fears. She just got back and sends this report:

On the mainland everyone was very welcoming - not many westerners have returned to the factories, but they are starting to schedule visits. At the hotels the westerners seemed to be predominately Germans and Indians - and that is a big change. We also met some guys from France, but they were ??tourists?? Not many tourists come to the special economic zones (i.e., factory areas). They said they were from France, and tourists (remember the coneheads?). None of the Taiwanese or Chinese brought up SARS, and the few times that a foreigner said anything, the subject was immediately changed.

There is an incredible national pride in the "space mission," unbelievable Chinese patriotism. I think that there's going to be lots more coming our way from the east. It's such a cliche, but the Chinese are so industrious, and they are accustomed to working toward a common goal. Space is the perfect goal as they are evolving into capitalism - the government was brilliant in pushing the launch. A common goal with so many side benefits - scientific innovation, military development, and a reason to work together for the good of the nation. Geez.

Anyway, when we got back to Hong Kong for a couple of days rest, I saw a woman with a facemask on and realized that she was the first person we had seen wearing one. Usually there are lots of people wearing masks because of the heavy air pollution. It seems that the predominant feeling is one of confidence, or trying to show confidence, that SARS is no longer a threat. The newspapers reported that the government investigating committee on SARS is trying to discover how the virus spread so quickly, and who is to blame. But when the space launch occurred, it overshadowed all other news. Hmm- another side benefit...

There does seem to be some worry that SARS might reappear this fall. And here's more reason to eschew handshakes in that connection.

UPDATE: She sends this postscript:

PS- We were wined and dined on some of the most elaborate meals that we've ever had in China. And there was no exotic meat this time. Remember - we go to Guang Dong Province, where SARS is believed to have originated, in the meat markets. Usually we can count on eel, snake, maybe frog; but this time it was duck, lobster, fish and chicken every time.