Some bracing impressions from Jim Fallows, back in the States from a long stay in China:

Once again, the beauty, wealth, polish, finished-ness, natural abundance, cleanliness, order, consumer choice, etc of America’s polished cities is just stupefying. Yes, this was a clear and perfect autumn afternoon in a prosperous capital. Still: my wife and I walked into a run-of-the-mill drug store and stood for a moment, stunned: there was a wider array of stuff on shelves within our immediate range of vision than we’d seen in months in Shanghai, the cosmopolitan pride of China.

Americans read so many reports about the dynamism of China’s industries and the skyscrapers of its big cities that they may begin to think there is some overall comparability between the two economies. No. There isn’t. Not to mention: at the friends’ house where we’re staying, we drank water… out of the tap!

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.