"May you live in interesting times" is a curse attributed to the Ancient Chinese™. If this was ever true, the contemporary chinese don't seem to care. For these are interesting times, but whether they are cursed is another question.
"It's a great place and time to make a bucket of cash" says an expat marketing demon. "It's the completion of the Cultural Revolution - the complete destruction of our culture" says a pessimistic Chinese. "It's a golden new era of progress and opportunity" says the optimist, "a cultural renaissance, an economic explosion."
However you analyze it, change is taking place, rapidly. High-rises are mushrooming up in Beijing. It takes a mere eight months to build a high-rise building in China. Pudong, Shanghai, was a swamp with some villages. Eight years later, it looks like Manhattan and is connected to Shanghai proper by the worlds first commercial MagLev-train.
Ridiculously expensive American-style bars have spread out of their confines in Sanlitun Bar Street (close to the embassies) and infected large neighbourhoods around Beijing. Western (and Asian) cinematic culture are instantly available through the collections of illegal DVD vendors. Censorship doesn't apply to illegal dvds - movies that are illegal to show in cinemas are perfectly normal to find at your neighbourhood DVD shop. I've met several Chinese who have mastered English by watching 'friends' or 'seinfeld' without dubbing on pirate DVDs.
Modernization does not, however, allways mean Westernization. Chinese business culture is - for better or worse - unique, replacing the rigidities of lawyers and accountants with basic human trust, but having no safety net if that trust fails. Poor have become rich. Other poor people have simply remained poor. But there's a refreshing modesty to the Chinese working class - no drunken bar-brawls or wife-beating louts. This is, after all, the country that first gave meaning to the word "civilization". And we have the American dream, the idea that anyone can achieve wealth, and a number of people working hard to pursue that dream.
As for me, I'm teaching. Web Design, at the Central Acadademy of Arts. Interaction Design, perhaps, at another university. And English pronounciation. I'm designing (is that a word?). The new website for the Olympic Art & Design Research Centre (where we are employed). A new site for mine & Li Xins studio (name to be disclosed at a later time). And I'm planning, or rather, I'm choosing between the millions of ideas and schemes that seem to float around: a ground-breaking new mobile game, an interface design business, an ethical design company, a book about web design in Chinese - no, wait, a Snapshot of China 2004-2005 photo: Li Xin, text: me. Or PanoptiCorp: the novel. And fifteen different art/design projects to manifest the Olympic Spirit.
Our problem is not to find ideas, nor to find opportunities to realize them. It is to choose, to weed out the very best ideas and the very best of the opportunities that keep arriving. These are, indeed, interesting times.