Things to love about Beijing…

It’s hardly an exhaustive list and is mostly based on observations and experiences from the past week or so, but I thought I’d jot down a few of my favorite things about the ‘Jing.

  • Beijing parks in the early morning.  Jingshan, Beihai, even tiny Nanguan…parks all over the city are bustling at 6:00 a.m. I’m certainly not a gerontologist, but there has to be a significant mental and physical benefit to seniors who participate in daily group exercise.  And the variety of activities is something to behold–dancing, tai chi, calligraphy, bird walking, one fellow who bends at the waist, legs straight, and walks on all fours for the length of the park (try this sometime, you won’t make it 10 yards).
  • The variety of great food available for less than 10 RMB.  Snacks, breakfast, lunch, noodles, chuan’r…you can live in Beijing and spend anywhere between 15 and 1500 kuai on dinner, and some of my 15 kuai dinners have been the better than a few fancy banquets I’ve attended by a long shot.
  • I like the new metro lines. The trains are comfortable and the two giant xiangqi boards built into the floor of the Dongsi Line 5 platform are a nice touch.
  • Hutong living.  YJ and I just moved into a small pingfang in a yard with about 19 other families.  The yard itself is cool and I love our little house, but the best part about living there are the neighbors.  Within a week of moving in, we’ve met just about everybody and it really seems like the residents all look out for each other.  (By contrast, we lived in our loufang for nearly two years and never exchanged more than a forced ‘ni hao’ with the yuppie across the hall.)  It’s also been fun sitting in the middle courtyard with the neighbors after dinner shooting the shit about whatever.  Good times.
  • Basketball.  You’re never far away from a court in Beijing and once you’re on the court, it’s easy to get into a game.  The skill level varies wildly among the local players, but the enthusiasm is always consistently high.  Generally speaking too, people are pretty good sports.  There will always be exceptions, but it’s usually a friendly atmosphere without a lot of egos getting in the way of a good game.
  • So many people are into history.  I love it when random interactions with strangers or passing acquaintances turn into 45 minute discussions of military strategy during the Ming-Qing transition.
  • Good move on the part of the municipality to go to odd/even days for cars.  It hasn’t really had any effect on the air quality, but it’s made the streets a lot nicer for bikes and pedestrians.  Personally, I wouldn’t have any objection to making the policy permanent after the games.
  • Ding zuo. You can have just about anything custom made in Beijing. Dining room table in the showroom too short? We’ll build it taller.  Need to hide the ugly refrigerator in the middle of your living room? Custom-made Qing style cabinet with no floor or back and an extra-wide door.  Good suits. Leather shoes. Whatever.  If you can draw a picture and give some idea of what size and color, somebody can make it for you.
  • The music scene. They’ll never get on the radio, but bands like Joyside, Snapline, Buyi, Brain Failure, and Second Hand Rose (to name only a very very few) play good music with passion.  Sure a lot of the bands might not have the greatest chops and some of the songwriting lacks polish, but the level of enthusiasm with which the music is performed makes up for a lot.  Besides, when was rock and roll ever about polish over passion?

What’s on your list?


Christian Science Monitor Olympic Blog

Sure there are a ton of journalist Olympic blogs out there, but in my (semi-biased) opinion, one of the better correspondents in Beijing is the CSM’s Peter Ford. He’s a journalist who has covered stories in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, and the Soviet Union and he has a knack for getting a story without needing to tart it up or sensationalize the issue at hand.  In the PRC, Peter’s articles are frequently translated/mangled for the Cankao Xiaoxi and the Global Times among other party rags.

The fact that YJ works for the CSM may skew my opinion slightly, but Peter has been linked to enough in this space by Richard and other writers that I feel comfortable plugging their new blog: Olympic Glory.   Check it out.


Sichuan Earthquake reports recommend buying parents’ silence


This is the likely conclusion of reports produced by at least local Chinese administrations in regards to the May earthquake – if indeed any of the promised investigations were ever held.

China buys the silence of grieving parents

“We were rounded up and ordered to sign the contract if we wanted to collect the government’s gift of free life insurance,” Liu explained. “They also said we would get £5,000 in cash as compensation for our dead children.” Some parents were already signing their forms.

“How do we even know if it is real life insurance?” he said. “If we accept the cash, my wife and I want to use it to take the local government to court over the death of our daughter, but we’re afraid it is not enough to cover the legal fees.

“If we don’t sign the contract, we are afraid we will be left with no children and no money to look after us when we grow old.

“We’re thinking about having another child to safeguard our future. Eventually that child will also have to go to school and we’re afraid if we don’t cooperate with the government now they will cause problems for the child later on.”

If the central Chinese government wants to say that the parents are taking the money willingly, they are suggesting Chinese people put a cash value on their children that can supercede a fair and open investigation into their death – would this be the “modern China” the CCP is building? Personally I would suggest the authorities are coercing parents into agreeing to take hush-money through lies (such as “everyone else is going to sign, so you can achieve nothing by yourself”) and threats (“take the money or you get nothing, and if you protest you will be arrested and beaten/imprisoned for causing unrest”).

The “official” report that was disclosed in relation to Hanwang stated that the school had collapsed purely because of the earthquake.

On Monday, the parents from Hanwang met for the fourth time with the deputy mayor of Deyang, which administrates Hanwang. The deputy mayor, Zhang Jinming, verbally delivered the conclusion of the government investigation – that the school had collapsed solely because of the earthquake – and declared the case closed, parents said.

Although some areas were very badly hit, in others it was the case that other buildings in the area were left standing when the schools collapsed. Will investigations be held by the central authorities and published in full, giving the honest answer as to why in a number of areas schools (especially those frequented by the children of poor families) were hardest hit? I would say “we can only hope”, but judging by past form it is likely that even if some people are made examples of, the central government will then seek to bury the matter by saying it has been dealt with and not hold a full, open inquiry. After all, the local authorities cannot instigate national censorship of a news item, such as gagging the official media.


The following is an extract of a BBC report in relation to the earthquake.

A Chinese teacher has been detained for posting images on the internet of schools that collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake, a rights group has said. Human Rights in China said Liu Shaokun had been ordered to serve a year of “re-education through labour”. Mr Liu was detained for “disseminating rumours and destroying social order”, the group said.

The 12 May quake killed nearly 70,000 people. Many of those who died were children whose schools collapsed. The poor condition of the school buildings has become a sensitive political issue for the government, and grieving parents have staged numerous protests demanding an inquiry. Many have accused local officials of colluding with builders to allow them to get away with cheap and unsafe practices.

“Instead of investigating and pursuing accountability for shoddy and dangerous school buildings, the authorities are resorting to re-education through labour to silence and lock up concerned citizens like teacher Liu Shaokun and others,” said Human Rights in China Executive Director Sharon Hom.

Who thinks that the central government is going to ride to Mr Liu’s rescue? Because if it doesn’t then it’s another sign that at the very least it approves of the local/regional governments’ actions in suppressing reporting/calls for fair investigations into why so many schools collapsed. Indeed the central government is in many ways responsible for this and other similar human rights violations because it keeps “re-education through labour” legal – an administration that really cared about human rights would abolish it, or at least make it a punishment that can only be handed down by the criminal court.


Waiting at the Gate to Greatness

The next great superpower? Pomfret has always said “no.” He backs it up, at least to his satisfaction, in a new article offering plenty of statistical evidence and several examples of the monumental challenges China faces.

Personally, I think China is going to do okay, and probably even better than okay. But the road to superpowerdom will be a long and winding one. (Oh, how profound. As mentioned, I’m only putting up short posts for the time being, more like linklets than posts.)


My Olympic ticket story

The following is a guest post from my friend Bill, an old-time China hand who’s been here nearly 17 years. He is an affable fellow who many of you know. No China basher he. His story appears to be verified over here. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of this site’s owner, who was not there.

Today I was an active participant in what was without question the most barbaric episode of Chinese history I’ve during my past 16 years living here. Waiting in line, outdoors in 35c swealtering heat for Olympics tickets.

I was quite impressed with the previous on-line ticket lotteries. Whoever decided it was time to have an olympics’ tickets free-for-all off-line during a Beijing summer deserves to face the Party (and possibly the UN) for his crimes against humanity.

It was announced on the local news this week that the final 700,000 tickets would be sold on July 25th in Beijing at the ticket counters of the respective venues where the events were to be held starting from 9:00 a.m. I knew it would be a little crazy, but at least thought that a.) the crowds will be spread out to the different venues and b.) this is a unique opportunity to make friends out of shared comraderie. You know, like we do every week when our flights are delayed and no indication is given as to when or if it will take off. So, what the heck I trampsed to the Bird’s Nest at 5:00 a.m. only to learn that all tickets were to be sold from the Asian Games (AoTi) venue.

I got to AoTi and did a quick poll from the upper part of the line to learn some people had been there since Wednesday. Not a good sign. Anyway, I took my place at the end of what seemed like a 10 kms wrap-around line and soon met my two new “best friends,” Chen Laoshi, A Tsinghua University professor of management and Xiao Wang, a UIBE student of accounting. These are numbers guys, so I figured if they’re going to wait this out my chances are pretty decent to get tickets. Had they been art students, I would have been off like a prom dress.

I’m not sure exactly how many people were in the line(s), but a rough guess would be at least 20,000. Thinking 700,000 tickets divided by 20,000 folks waiting ahead of me, in the worst case scenario if I wait it out I’ll at least get to see the Albania vs. Chad Women’s beach volleyball preliminary.

How could I have been so bloody naive? Seven hours later, nearly at the strike of noon, an almost 18-year-old PLA soldier came by and told us they have finished selling tickets for today, but we can stay in line to wait for when they begin selling these tickets the next day at 9:00 a.m. HELLO! Who volunteers to be a refugee in Darfur?

I should mention in more detail, there was no general announcement to the throngs of people waiting and profusely sweating in line. I had been pinching cigarettes from that PLA boy and rewarding him with RMB 5 notes throughout the morning which is why he came to inform me & my numbers guy clique of the news. The masses before and behind us were not informed to my knowledge, at least not in an formal manner.

Mr. Management and Mr. future CPA (unrelated except for meeting in the ticket line) decided to cut their losses and go their respective ways home. They were long gone before I could ask how to say “Gimme Shelter…” in Mandarin. I felt like this barbarious situation needed some screaming and yelling, but I was just too self-absorbed at the thought of returning home for a cool shower, some AC and a chance to pee. Yes, there were no WC’s available to the masses. God knows how the Wednesday arrivee’s were faring.

The subject often comes up whether such sudden development in China is good versus the “simpler way life was before.” And, a popular dinner topic among certain long term or returning expats is similar. Hai gui friends have the same conversation but on different levels. It often ends with people trying to reinforce their opinion that before we did not have these traffic jams, this fast paced life, the intense competition for jobs, etc.

Today’s experience is my end-all to that topic. Though, I have always reminded other foreigners and returnees living here that life for a Chinese person sitting in their car in traffic in Beijing with their heat in winter or air conditioning in summer is a great leap foward versus being on a bicycle. Ok, Ok, …same for the new public transport options.

So, lining up for anything which can otherwise be booked on-line truely ‘serves the people’ and if anyone argues with me on that point, I welcome them to enjoy this Green Beijing summer in a line for Olympic tickets now.

The CCTV news this week informed Beijing residents, “The last day to buy Olympics tickets is July 25th.” How many hours in a day?

Update by Richard. I wanted to move a remark I made in the comments into the actual post: “To the less hysterical readers, I don’t blame the ticket buyers for this, but the bureaucrats who allowed it to happen. The entire thing was a recipe for chaos. Sure, I’d like to see some improvement in line-waiting etiquette, but that’s happening – compared to 2002 there’s been huge progress.”


Pre-Games update

Another morning quickie. Observations from the front:

Street Traffic. It usually takes me a full hour to 90 minutes to get from the CBD to Shangdi up in Haidian. Lately I’ve been getting there in 30-40 minutes. It’s like a dream. The air seems cleaner, too.

Censorship. A lot more Web sites seem unblocked nowadays. How long will it last? I even heard that China Digital Times was open for a while (seems blocked again).

Broadband speed: Lately the Chinese Internet has been hopelessly constipated. Everyone I know has complained about the slowdown, and the accepted truth is that the government, in its hyper-angst over terrorism and disharmony, is filtering every single syllable as it flows through their censorship funnel. I know, that sort of contradicts my second point above. Loosening up on censorship while clamping down at the same time. But then, as we all know, China is “a land of contradictions.”


The 8 “Don’t Asks” When Dealing with Foreigners During the Games

A morning quickie – this is probably all over the China blogs right now but is too interesting to pass up – a post that translates Olympic propaganda posters teaching the Chinese people how to interact with outsiders flocking into the city in the weeks ahead. The 8 Don’t Asks will soon have quite an audience, having made it onto Yahoo’s top 5 stories today, which is where I saw it.

The 8th rule is particularly useful.

Lastly, there was one rule on a poster about proper behavior for commuters and pedestrians that seemed a bit odd:

When men and women are walking together, men should generally walk on the outside, and the person carrying things should normally walk on the right. Men should help women carry things, but must not help women carry their handbags. When three people are walking side-by-side, elderly should walk in the middle. Where there are many cars around, men should walk on the side of the sidewalk closer to the street. When four people are walking together, it is best to walk two-by-two.

It sounds to me as if the people are being asked to mobilize into tactically advantageous walking formations, so as to maximize protection for women and elderly against rough and rowdy foreign hordes which will soon be threatening the safety of Beijing’s streets and sidewalks with unchecked groping and thieving. To sum up, it seems the message behind these posters is “Smile, but don’t let the foreigners get close.” Beijing welcomes you, indeed

To avoid any confusion and misimpressions, this post is not making fun of the Chinese people nor is it racist or hateful. This is a funny post (there are 7 more of these rules, so read it all), and the butt of the joke are the propagandists writing this drivel, not the Chinese citizens who pay their salaries. Your tax dollars at work….


Rumors and Racism


I seriously hope this is just a hysterical rumor run amok…but then again I have seen people of color refused service at Beijing bars before while Chinese and caucasians continued to be served, so I guess anything is possible.  That said, I agree with The Shanghaiist: even by Beijing Olympic standards, any official who actually went around telling people this stuff would have to be mind-boggling, gobsmackingly stupid.

UPDATE: As suspected, this has the strong whiff of a rumor that went out of control.  Beijing nightlife guru Jim Boyce was on the case immediately and came up empty.  Closer to home, crusading journalist YJ was also calling around, talking to several owners including Huxley, and similarly came away empty.

I’m guessing that this is a “somebody said something to somebody else” game of telephone that ran amok.

It is an open secret that various levels of discrimination do exist at Beijing’s nightspots, we’re just glad that it hasn’t become official policy.


Bound feet

So, so sad.


Qingdao algae cleared – remaining Olympic doubts


The BBC reports that the algae that was causing considerable worry in regards to the Olympic sailing events.

The Chinese government has successfully cleared tonnes of algae that was blocking the Olympic sailing course in the eastern city of Qingdao. A special protection zone was set up using a boom and netting. But in other areas the thick bright green algae is still polluting the beaches.

My fear was that all the algae couldn’t be cleared – which may well still be the case when the sailing event starts next month. But because the sailing area has been successfully cordoned off that won’t be a problem for the athletes and their supporters. So may the best sailors win – if they can deal with the potential for light winds and (so I have been told) fog.

But I still have doubts about the Olympics. Not so much over the events at Qingdao or even the Beijing Olympics as a whole. There are concerns over many matters regarding 2008, such as air pollution and the increasing suppression of human rights in China – as opposed to the promise that they would improve (who actually believed the CCP would willingly co-operate on this?) – in order to promote the public image of a “harmonious society” to the world. No, it’s the IOC.

Whenever there’s a problem with the Olympics in terms of delivery of the Games, it is the host nation that gets the blame. Sure that is usually justified because they have years and years to plan and build facilities. But the IOC’s role in choosing the hosts in the first place is rarely focused on. Why is it that Beijing was selected given its pollution problem even back when selection took place? This was only going to get worse given China’s growing economy even under the most optimistic projections. Similarly selecting Los Angeles in 1984 was questionable. Back to China, an argument advanced was that awarding the Games would encourage China to improve its human rights. Why? The CCP has repeatedly demonstrated that it sees power in China as a right, not a privilege. Indeed it believes it is the organisation making the “sacrifice” because without it the country would fall apart because no one else can rule. Well, sure, if you suppress a free media and other political organisations that would make it difficult to find alternatives to govern a nation.

Really I do not think that there should be any more competitions to award the Games. The idea of it being rotated around the world is essentially a way for the IOC to exploit international competition in getting cities (and essentially nations) to promise to offer more than their rivals. In London the IOC demanded a fleet of limousines and dedicated car lanes, as it wasn’t enough to have special buses and coaches laid on (only the little people use buses, they would say). As a result IOC members get an endless supply of freebies and are treated like royalty wherever they go. There is probably still a certain about of bribery going on as well.

This could all be stopped by having the Olympics happen at fixed locations. If the Olympics used to be held at Olympia, why not have a complex built and maintained there or somewhere else suitable in Greece? Or indeed re-use facilities at the location of a previous Olympics – maybe rotate between a few cities at most. It would save an absolute fortune. But the problem is the IOC only cares about the amount of money that it can generate from the Olympics and little else.

We already have the site of the 2012 Olympics agreed upon, and it is highly likely that 2016 and 2020 will be finalised through open competitions. Will we ever live to see the Olympics become an event focused on sport and mutual respect rather than money-spinning and petty nationalism? Maybe not, but one can only hope.