English Language and China’s Economy

According to Chinese visitors, businessmen and American ex-patriots in Southeast Asia, the Chinese government is promoting English as the international language to stimulate their economy.

Today in Bangkok a Chinese exchange student told me that English is taught from grade school on... and is practically a must in business. This is a far cry, I explained, from twenty years ago when I traveled China with a backpack and only one in every fifty bus passengers across the nation could respond to my shouted pleas for directions.

An American itinerant expat who's been traveling China for two years told me two days ago that now it's reversed -- he's beleaguered everywhere by young people wanting to practice English and who want him to be a free guide to learn his American mid-west flat tone, which is the most in demand as it’s the most difficult to find.

The expat is a former building contractor who says Chinese construction is booming. 'Every city has five or six cranes swinging over new sites, and the metropolises have dozens.'

I mentioned to him the Crane Indicator as an economic clue - that in 1997 I toured Bangkok by bus and boat counting hundreds of cranes over flyways and buildings, but only about a fifth of them were operating. I rashly suggested Thailand as an investment opportunity to [famed hedge fund manager] Niederhoffer before the Black Monday October 27 Dow mini-crash. Moving cranes are short term; motionless cranes are long, and now Bangkok flourishes under completed highways and skyscrapers.

'That won't happen in China,' he assures. 'The thousands of Chinese cranes are now in perpetual motion.'

The expat is here on a visa run. The procedure for dozens of daily arrivals on Khaosan Road [Bangkok] in the heart of the tourist district is to check into one of hundreds of $8 hotels and hand the manager their passports with a filled visa form and $100 fee, and the next day it's returned with a three-month visa ready for travel (that may be extended within China twice for three months each.) Hence a new visa run on a day train trip from the Chinese border to Bangkok is necessary every nine months.

A former California teacher told me yesterday that I can knock on the doors of a dozen international schools (that teach in English) of every major city right now and every other one will sign me to a one-year teacher contract at 10% higher rates than US, including paid summer vacation, swank apartment and, if I wasn't already on the doorstep, a Skype interview would fetch a plane ticket. His students are English speaking sons and daughters of Chinese businessmen, diplomats and foreign ex-patriots who are in a fever to learn English. 'They are self-motivated and I just dish out the lessons.'

Today an older Chinese businessman on a noon stroll through a park told me that he got his job with Bangkok UPS due to his English. 'Where is China getting the money to promote English and construction?' I asked. He pointed his finger west around the world and replied, 'It isn't' like the old days. Now the stimulus is from America.'

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