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Make our lives happier, healthier

Updated: 2013-02-21 19:39
By Harvey Dzodin ( China Daily)

The Chinese Year of the Snake is here and so too is the anniversary of my decade-long China adventure.

Having lived here for longer than most foreigners, milestones like these get one to thinking about some things that would make our lives easier, happier, safer and healthier.

Beijing traffic is horrendous and getting worse, along with increases in unhealthy pollution and road rage.

Ironically this is happening at a time when subways are popping up like mushrooms. While the government is considering congestion charges like in London to make it expensive to drive in the city center, I think that this will raise revenues and tempers, but little else.

I believe that Beijing and other large cities need to bring bicycles back in force. I remember my first visit to China in 1988 when there was hardly a car to be seen amid an endless flock of Flying Pigeons. Sure there are bike lanes now but they are frequently terrorized by devil-may-care drivers whose vehicles shouldn’t be there and who often scare the living daylights and too frequently kill or maim those who are just trying to get from point A to point B.

Beijing needs real bike lanes inaccessible to all but bikes and emergency traffic. This seems to me to be a real win-win solution all around, good for people and the environment.

Even though there seem to be more cars on the road than ever, subways are also making a difference. More and more people are riding even the newest lines. One of the things I loved about New York was the 24/7 subway service. Subway stations and cars there are not pretty and there’s no cell phone service in the tunnels, but they were generally reliable for going anywhere in the Big Apple. If people knew that they could rely on service any time of the day or night, the subways could be an even better alternative to cars. An added life-saving benefit would be to encourage people who had one too many drinks to take public transportation late in the evening, which is now not an option.

I can’t tell you exactly how many times each week I get a junk fax or a nuisance call from a real estate agent or salesperson. Twenty times a week seems like a realistic, conservative number. In the United States we have long had laws in place that forbid such practices if people join a registry to opt out of receiving these calls or faxes.

These laws, which are aggressively enforced, carry large penalties and are no mere toothless paper tigers. Life would be closer to blissful in China by merely preventing these pests from harassing us on a daily basis.

Spitting has also long been a disgusting and unhealthy practice here.

I don’t want to get too graphic but saliva hosts a variety of diseases and infections. It seemed like this problem was getting better for a while but now is quite evident again. A public service campaign might remind people to stop.

Now spitting has been joined by another scourge: dog poop.

The number of dogs as pets has skyrocketed in recent years and so has dog waste. While many dog owners properly clean up, many do not. Stepping in dog poop is disgusting enough but that’s the least of the problem. Many parasitic diseases such as round worm are spread by dog poop and these pathogens can remain in the soil for a year or more. Children and the unborn children of expectant mothers face the most serious harm. If cities like Beijing and Shanghai want to be considered true world cities, they will have to address this issue. Other cities faced with this problem have enacted pooper-scooper laws, and required dog owners to pick up dog waste and enforced these laws so that they have become community norms.

Another problem is people smoking in public places. Despite a nearly two-year old national ban, many restaurants are so full of smoke that they resemble the terrible foggy pollution that we endured recently and in terms of health consequences may be even more dangerous. And it’s not only our health that is damaged: putting laws on the books, often with much fanfare, and not enforcing them can seriously weaken respect for law.

Also, China still lacks Good Samaritan laws that shield those who come to the aid of those in need from malicious ne’er do wells, who feign injury or take advantage of good-natured people. In spite of many high-profile cases where accident victims were left to die in the road, many good people are afraid to do anything for fear of getting sued. This fear is real as some judges have even said that nobody would come to the aid of a victim merely out of human decency so that it must be the case that they were motivated by guilt for the injury that they caused.

Similarly, China still lacks an income tax that encourages people to be charitable.

In 2011, Americans contributed $298 billion to charities and NGOs. Many did so because our laws lower the tax amount based on charitable contributions. It’s a form of social engineering that empowers people. China faces many challenges. Changing the tax laws here would help address these while encouraging people to help each other more.

China is a fascinating and sometimes perplexing place to live. I hope that some of these suggestions can be adopted to make life in the years to come here even better.

The author is a senior adviser to Tsinghua University and former director and vice-president of ABC Television in New York.