There have been no posts because I just finished up a Korea/China trip. My experience in Korea consisted of more of an introduction to the life of western expats teaching English (they drink a lot) than it was an education in the life and economic system of Koreans, so I'm going to focus on China.
Since this was my first time in China, it doesn't really help me understand China very much outside of giving me a rough understanding of what their GDP per capita, adjusted for purchasing power parity, looks like in real life*. Still, there were some interesting things that I learned on this trip.
1. Traffic - it looks almost like a first world country, but then there are some notable differences. People on bikes seem to feel like they have a right to go wherever they want to without regards to any kind of traffic laws - kind of like the critical mass people in the US but as individuals. They are often going the wrong way in a two way street, so looking both ways is always important. There aren't very many pedestrian walkways without bikes, and sometimes cars, honking at people to get out of the way. Taxi's are also ruder than in the US - I've seen numerous taxis with their available lights on reject passengers for apparently no reason. People don't look at their blind spots when the merge, but thankfully they also avoid driving in the blind spot of other cars. There seem to be way more cars than parking spots.
2. Paying for things. First, there are no tips - this makes it hard to get better service unless the person is intrinsically motivated to provide it, while at the same time when this is combined with no sales tax it makes paying relatively easy when the final cost is the listed price. The exception was when I had to haggle. Sticking close to someone who looks Chinese and can speak the language definitely helped, since it implies that there is someone who knows the scene who is looking out for their friend. One of the shop keepers even mentioned that they find it hard to get good prices when there is an Asian person helping a white person shop. Otherwise, everything made in China was really cheap, which made certain imported goods like wine seem ridiculously expensive. I would be surprised if China ever develops a market for rented videos while people can still buy any DVDs they want to see on the sidewalk for the equivalent of 50 cents.
3. Food and drink: McDonald's delivers 24/7. It seems like no one drinks anything like tap water**, nor do they like to drink anything cold. Only places expecting foreigners will have cold drinks. A restaurant with a poor beer selection in the US would have an amazing selection if it were compared to the restaurants in Korea and China. Perhaps because of the lack of cold beverages, there is a much larger selection of cold dishes than I've seen in the states. Chinese restaurants will have one menu per table, and often they will have items on the menu that are expensive and that they don't stock because they don't expect anyone to order. These expensive items are also there because there is huge income inequality in China and these restaurants want to capture as much of the market as they can.
4. Brands*** seem to have a lot more value in China. It seems to be one of the main ways they can differentiate quality. The premium brands are really expensive, which is part of the point. They see sales as a betrayal - they buy the brands precisely because the brands are expensive and therefore exclusive. This extends beyond products into the job market. Most people would prefer to work at a company that their parents have heard of, regardless of whether or not it is a better opportunity than a small growing company.
5. Real estate. Rents are ridiculously low relative to the prices, as many people have pointed out. I was more intrigued by the policy that makes it illegal for people in certain areas to sell or rent out their homes. They are living in poverty when the real estate they own but can't sell is worth millions of dollars. In the middle of Beijing it didn't seem like vacancy rates were absurdly high, but this is the type of thing where an anecdotal visit does not give very much useful information.
In China, there were a lot of ridiculously poor people working at very low productivity jobs such as taking the subway into the city each day to set up little shops on the sidewalk. There is definitely room for them to move up the value chain, the question is whether or not their human capital and overall economic system will be flexible enough to allow these people to move to higher productivity jobs.
*The main surprise in Korea was getting a glimpse of what poverty can look like in a homogeneous population. Also, as I walked down the main market area into the poorer sections the things for sale got progressively weirder.
**Not drinking the water is important for foreigners, so it might also be a good idea to be careful when ordering hotpot.
***There are counterfeits, but they are obviously much lower quality.