Thursday, January 8, 2015

A vacation in Italy

I have just returned from a two week vacation in Italy to see my parents. While there I was struck by the decrepit state of some of the Italian infrastructure, particularly when compared to China.

After spending two weeks in the countryside near Rome, two things in particular really made an impression. First of all, mobile phone coverage in the Italian countryside is not terribly widespread. In the house where I stayed, which is located at the top of a little hill in an idyllic rural area, mobile phones simply don't pick up a signal. The same goes for many parts of the surrounding countryside and the nearby village. Driving around, I found that my mobile would only pick up a signal in certain spots. This held true for all Italian providers.

By contrast, in China mobile phone coverage seems to extend to every last hamlet. This may just be my experience, but I have traveled quite a lot in Chinese rural areas, including remote mountainous areas of a relatively poor province like Guizhou, and I have never found that my mobile phone lacked coverage (I use China Mobile). I don't know if this also holds true for the Tibetan plateau, but in most of China mobile phone coverage seems to be universal.

The second thing which struck me is the bad state of many Italian roads. In the area where I was staying, most of the roads seem to be full of bumps and small holes, making any car ride a real strain on the suspensions. Large potholes are unusual, but I did come across a couple of holes which would be big enough to puncture a tire if you drove over them fast. 

Of course in China there are areas where the roads are in an even worse state of disrepair. In fact, some villages still have no paved roads at all. Having said that, I have driven around a lot in Beijing and I can guarantee that the roads throughout Beijing municipality, including its large rural areas, are in quite an excellent state.

Another thing I noticed was how terribly difficult it is to find a parking spot in Rome, something which the locals are always complaining about. In Beijing, on the other hand, I have never had much trouble finding parking in spite of the city's dreadful congestion and traffic jams. I suppose part of the reason must be the underground parking lots which most shopping malls and apartment blocks are equipped with. To be fair, it is hard to build anything underground in Rome without bumping into some Roman remains.

All in all, I got the clear feeling that China's infrastructure has already overtaken Italy's in some respects, at least in the more developed parts of China. Of course Italy still has a much higher GDP per capita than China, and remains a pleasanter place to live for the ordinary citizen. In some ways however it is beginning to feel like more of a "developing country" than China.


justrecently said...

We are all developing countries - always been. The power China is wielding against Taiwan ( a "developed" country by all standards I can think of) and against not-so-developed neighbors make it a superpower.

It is understandable that Beijing wants to be treated as a superpower and as a developing country (always depending on what's more favorable), but it is stupid if we oblige.

Ji Xiang said...

Right, I quite agree.

I put the expression "developing country" in brackets, because it is the commonly-used politically correct way of designing what used to be called "third world countries": poor, underdeveloped countries as compared to the European-American standard. The expression in itself makes little sense, since we are all developing all the time, as you correctly pointed out.

Michele said...

Without forgetting that the Italian roads have always sucked.

Ji Xiang said...

Yes, Italian roads were the same way twenty years ago. The point though is that China is now overtaking Italy in this respect.

FOARP said...

I don't know if Italy is being overtaken - wait to see how all those newly-built Chinese roads look in a few years before passing judgement. It's easy to look at newly-built infrastructure and say how advanced it is, but other countries have legacy infrastructure to deal with.

Great Journeys said...

The quality of Italy roads are consistently the same. China is proving herself to be a faster developing country than Italy. I have been to both the countries and my personal favorite is Italy as it has so many tourist-attractions (at least more than that of China's). If you want to understand Italy better then visit and purchase Italy travel videos, Italy Road Map, Language DVDs. That will help you understand the culture and people of Italy as well.