Why a New York tour guide wants his son to learn Mandarin

Murali Gopalan | | Updated on: Oct 24, 2012

As our bus made its way through New York City, our tour guide suddenly popped up a question: “How many of you would like to move in here?” Some hands quickly went up and he grinned good-naturedly in return.

We were a team of journalists from across the world visiting the US and were on the last lap of our journey in the world’s most vibrant city. It is hardly surprising that people fall so easily in love with New York and why it is the pet favourite for filmmakers like Woody Allen.

The city’s sheer energy is enough to draw you into its fold. Throw in its incredible multicultural spirit and you are hooked to New York for life.

The bus made an hour’s stopover for some of us to walk around and take pictures. I took the opportunity to chat up with our guide and check out his own experiences in the US. He told me he was from Croatia and added wistfully how New York had changed over the years. His son was now getting ready to begin university life in America.

“You know, I will now have to get ready to pay $55,000 each year for his education. And since there is no telling if he will get a job after graduation, I have asked him to begin studying Mandarin,” he said. The underlying message was crystal clear. Our bus tour guide, like most of his fellow American citizens, was convinced the future is China even while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are wooing voters with promises of a better tomorrow. It is also getting increasingly obvious to the average American that the economy is not going to be fixed in a hurry. And this is worrying him to bits because he has never seen anything like this before.

“The World Trade Centre attacks were the first indications that the US was not completely invulnerable. The financial crisis of 2008 only reinforced this belief. Today, a lot of us are staring at a bleak future,” an old friend from India, now settled in New York, told me. Joseph Stiglitz, who spoke to us earlier in the day at our New York hotel, cautioned that there were troubled times ahead.

This was equally true for Europe, the award-winning economist said, where the problems are a lot more acute. Going by these forecasts, this decade could well belong to Asia as the West continues to grapple with one challenge after another.

People like the bus tour guide are absolutely certain that China is the new El Dorado. Little wonder, therefore, that he is already preparing the groundwork for his son’s future with Mandarin.

Strangely enough, he seemed to have no idea about India’s potential even though most of us believe we are the superpower-in-waiting.

I was quickly brought down to earth a couple of days ago by my friend who had just returned from Shanghai. “I was on the 76th floor of this incredible hotel and wondered where India stood in comparison. There is no way we are going to keep pace with the Chinese for the next two decades,” he said.

Published on October 24, 2012
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