Travel Story 2: Globalization and the Drug Dealer in Beijing
My first brush with how surreal globalization is came in Beijing, China. Despite China’s notoriety for keeping Western hedonism at bay, Beijing has incredible nightlife.
One night I visited a club called Banana with a few friends. I’m not much of a club guy, but Banana was pretty cool. The dance floor bounced up and down in rhythm to the music. Once or twice an hour, the whole club fogged over and dancers descended from the ceiling.
But finding crazy nightlife in a communist country is not what I found most shocking about how globalization has affected China. On the way to Banana, we stopped to ask a man if he knew where the club was and ended up chatting with him for a while. His name was Minkah.
I assumed Minkah was a tourist and asked, “where are you from?” He said he had grown up in Ghana, but has been living in Beijing for over ten years. I was surprised. This trip to China was my first time outside of the West; in hindsight I know this was ignorant, but I never expected Africans to be living in China. I was intrigued.
I asked how he wound up half way around the world from where he grew up. Minkah explained that fifteen years ago, his village in Ghana was self-sufficient. Most of the people grew food and traded. Some worked local jobs. Though people were not rich, the economy there was relatively stable.
An American factory was built near the village.* He explained that about half the village got new jobs and started making a decent income. The people who did not get jobs in the factory began to suffer. They had no one to trade with and there was a shortage of food. The local economy was disrupted.
Minkah was one of the unfortunate people who didn’t manage to get a job at the factory. His family grew very poor. He heard that the Chinese economy was growing and borrowed money from his friends who had factory jobs, and used the cash to buy a one way ticket to Beijing.
Minkah has been living in Beijing ever since, and working nearly every day. He said that he has a decent life in China and that he makes enough money to support his family back in Ghana. He sends money home twice a month, though he has not yet made enough money to go back and visit them.
Though I had read books on globalization and followed the world news, I never truly understood how small and strange our world was becoming. I was captivated by Minkah’s story.
“So what do you do for a living?” I asked.
Minkah looked over both shoulders and quietly admitted, “I’m a drug dealer. That’s why I hang out near the nightclubs. The cops have chased me a few times. As an immigrant, there are no other jobs I can get. I don’t like it, but I have no choice.”
This was eye opening to me. Here I was, an American visiting China, speaking to a man from Ghana who left his home to support his family by selling drugs in Beijing, all because an American factory destabilized the economy in his village.
I still get the chills when I think about the complexity of that situation and the complexity of the world that my generation is quickly inheriting.
*Though he never specified what type of factory it was, I would guess that it had to do with the cocoa industry. Cocoa is one of Ghanna’s largest exports.