It is obvious, but: The wealth. The things. The overall abundance. (And, yeah, well, that you can speak English.) Plus, how clean the air is, and how many trees and birds and flowers there are, and how few unfinished edges -- open ditches, stacks of construction beams -- you come across. Since I'm in Northern California I haven't yet had the cliched reaction of how large the people themselves look. But I notice how sparse they seem to be on the streets, compared with any Chinese town.

The name for America in Chinese and several other Asian languages is 美国, or meiguo, "beautiful country."

I gather that's mainly phonetic -- mei, for beautiful, is how the stressed syllable in "uh-MEHR-'ka" supposedly sounds. ("Mei" doesn't sound very much like "America," you say? Well, it sounds more like it than "Fa" sounds like "France" in 法国, or faguo, "law country." Pinyin, the system for rendering Chinese sounds into Western script, is pretty terrible, but the Chinese system for rendering Western sounds into Chinese is worse. I digress.) But even if "beautiful country" is a phonetic convenience, you see what they are talking about.

I realize an error of logic I had been making. China is so fast-changing, so ambitious, so covered with construction cranes, so on-the-move and on-the-rise, so dotted with localized pockets of affluence and big new projects like its Olympics sites and its giant factories and its "Mag-Lev" trains, that I had begun, without thinking, to assume that it was "rich." Not even close. I am reminded of where the country actually stands.

And by the way, it's probably a good thing that Republican Congressmen didn't know that France was called "faguo," back in the Freedom Fries days.