International Herald Tribune: Chinese goods transform life in Southeast Asia
LONG LAO GAO, Laos: The pineapple that grows here on the steep hills above the Mekong River is especially sweet, the red and orange chilies unusually spicy, and the spring onions and watercress retain the freshness of the mountain dew.
For years, getting this prized produce to market meant carrying a giant basket on a back-breaking, daylong trek down narrow mountain trails that cut through the jungle.
That is now changing, thanks in large part to China.
Villagers ride their cheap Chinese motorcycles, which sell for as little as $440, down a badly rutted dirt road to the markets of Luang Prabang, the charming city of Buddhist temples along the Mekong that draws flocks of foreign tourists. The trip takes just one and half hours.
"No one had a motorcycle before," said Khamphao Janphasid, 43, a teacher in the local school whose extended family now has three of them. "The only motorcycles that used to be available were Japanese and poor people couldn't afford them."
Cheap Chinese products are flooding China's southern neighbors and consumers in Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia are laying out the welcome mat.
The products are transforming the lives of some of the poorest people in Asia, whose worldly possessions only a few years ago typically consisted of not much more than a set or two of clothes, cooking utensils and a thatch-roofed house built by hand.
The concerns in the West about the safety of Chinese toys and pet food are largely moot for the people living in the remote villages here, although some residents complain about quality. As the first introduction to global capitalism, Chinese products are met with deep appreciation.
"Life is better because prices are cheaper," Khamphao said. ...