Archive for March, 2007

The Olympics are fast approaching on the horizon

March 28, 2007

Countdown for Olympia
Only 499 days and some hours left.

It’s only 499 more days until the Olympic games in Beijing will be declared open. Just in time for the 500-days-to-go-mark everywhere in the city big countdown signs were set up. Just last weekend during the night working crews were still working to set them up at Beijing’s high traffic streets, it’s probably impossible to do this during the day, because it would instantly cause traffic jams.

Even in our block right next to a little sports field is one of these countdown signs. The sports field itself contains three ping-pong tables, some equipment that can be found in European or American fitness centers and a square where groups gather for Tai-Chi or all kinds of dances (I even have seen South American dances there). Most remarkably, there is a sign for the Olympics, so it seems to be an official training area…

Sports field with Olympic logo
Sports field with the Olympic logo.

There are also large billboard advertisements for Olympia 2008 all over the place, motivating the people to be a proud host of the games. So far everybody was happy the games are hosted in Beijing, but most Chinese also expect their team to keep a lot of gold medals in China. These expectations might not become reality and an article by the state owned news agency Xinhua warned Chinese not to be overenthusiastic.

Beijing itself is experiencing a makeover: Trees are planted along roads, Hutongs in the tourist areas are polished (although that way they are losing some of their atmosphere) and construction is going on everywhere. A major project is to extend the subway net, currently consisting of only three lines, none of them going to the Olympic park.

The Olympic park itself will be located less than 6 kilometers (or 4 miles) east of our home. It is located on the same axis as the Tiananmen Square and the forbidden city. I’ve already seen the shape of the Olympic stadium on my first day in Beijing: On the way from the airport we passed the “bird’s nest” as the Chinese are calling it because of its shape.

Once I was taking a cap the driver was listening to some tape recordings in English. It was to train the cap drivers, who often do not speak English, some basic vocabulary to communicate with international guests. For example, the piece I listened to, the driver explained that the customer will need a little patience because of a traffic jam. Obviously Beijing will not be able to solve its traffic problem until 2008…

Billboard for the Olympics
Sign reading “I participate, I am devoted to it, I am happy”


Bike trip on 双清路

March 26, 2007

Last Saturday I did a little bike trip along Shuangqing Lu (双清路) , a street close to my place. Actually I started at the subway station Wudaokou (五道口), west of this station are some bars, pubs and consequently a large amount of foreigners…
The subway is above the ground and the station is build in a futuristic architectural style. Right next to the subway tracks pass all northbound trains that leave at Beijing north train station. If you are having bad luck, the officers will lower the barriers just in front of you. In that case you will have to endure the noise that the alert system is making until the train finally arrives. The street is usually blocked for at least two or three minutes so everybody is trying to slip on the other side quickly once the alert starts before the street is blocked.

A train is passing at Wudaokou
Waiting for the train to pass.

There is another railway crossing a little north of Wudaokou which usually is a little more chaotic. Once I passed the two modern multi-story houses east of the railway, the architecture drastically changes: The houses are only one story high and the side streets are much narrower. On my cycle trip I have not seen a foreigner north on these building, they obviously stick to the area around Wudaokou.

I followed the street in north-east direction, and soon arrived at the bike shops that I had seen earlier. The larger ones are on the right hand side of the street, but minor repairs are done on the left side of the street, as well. Men are simply using the space between the wall and the street to set up temporary shops.

Bike shops
Bike shops on 双清路

After a little while I got to a street crossing. On the left were small Hutongs, all kinds of goods were sold here. On the right are a lot of small stands selling vegetables and fruit. Some of the goods were sold right from the floor. Especially during the time when the Chinese are getting home this area gets really busy. The street is then filled with bikes, honking taxis and people who try to sell food.

Vegetables stand
Vegetables stands along the road.

A little further I saw a backyard that was used as a garbage dump. Garbage was separated by hand in piles for paper, plastic bottles, Styrofoam and other materials. The garbage was brought there by bicycles, as well.

Garbage dump
Garbage is sorted by hand.

So far I followed the street but then the street bended to the right towards a huge street crossing with Beijing’s “fifth ring street”. I just went on, and got to some smaller streets. Under the bridge some young Chinese were playing pool, their pool table was outside, probably because it was to big to get it into the small house where it stand in front of.

Outdoor pool table
Outdoor pool table.

I finally reached a channel, on its banks were small paths were people were biking of taking a walk. Because it was sunny and a little bit of wind (that way the channel did not smell…) there were quite a lot of people.

The bike really seems to be the best way to discover Beijing!

A channel in Beijing
The channel was the end point of my little bike trip.

Beijng Opera

March 25, 2007

Scene during Beijing Opera
Beijing Opera performance.

Yesterday evening we went to see a Beijing Opera, or 京劇 in Chinese. Before we got there, we had been warned that this performance will be noisy, boring and that old people and tourist will be the only ones in the audience. Actually in the show we saw, I did not even spot many old Chinese, probably it was not an authentic piece, but rather made for tourists.
A “normal” version of Beijing Opera can easily last three hours whereas ours was only about one hour in length. I also think that the acrobatic part of the show was stressed in the tourist version, because Westerners can more likely admire performances that they are used to from Western shows than a rather boring singing of old Chinese stories that are not easy to understand.
Actually I did not understand them either, even though there were “sub”titles above the stage in Chinese and English. Furthermore, the content of the stories was briefly rolled out by an announcer beforehand. The Chinese announcement only contained the title – I don’t know whether they expected the Chinese audience to know the piece or simply did not want to annoy the tourists by a lengthy explanation in Chinese.

Audience during Beijing Opera
Some people in the audience did not enjoy the loud music and used some protection…

The story also does not seem to be played by the actors but is told the audience by the songs the actors are singing. Besides singing each character is performing a set of gestures and dances, only during the acrobatic part there was some “action” in the play.

Fishergirl during Beijing Opera
A fisher girl with her fishing rod.

Seeing this one Beijing Opera performance was probably enough for me for this semester, but I think if you go to Beijing for several months, it’s one of the things on your on you list of places you have to go to. And as the Chinese saying 百聞不如一見 says, one seeing it is telling you more about something than hearing about it one hundred times.
It was also interesting from the perspective of how the Chinese use their culture to meet the demands of an increasing number of foreign tourists coming to Beijing. These tourists obviously don’t want a three hour show with a lot singing they don’t understand, but they think Beijing Opera, Beijing Duck and Beijing historic sights have to be experienced on a trip to the Chinese capital.

A video taken during the acrobatic part of the show.

Pay the water fees

March 21, 2007

This morning I did not have classes so I decided to pay the tab and waste water fees. About two weeks ago someone checked our meter and some days later we had a bill telling us to pay 14 RMB, about 1,40 Euros. Actually they were due last Friday, but neither me nor my roommate was volunteering to go to the bank to pay the fees. But it obviously is not a problem to be a little late, I did not have to pay any penalty whatsoever.

This morning I finally had the chance to go the the “Bank of China” (中国银行) to pay the water fees (交水费). At least I had been in a Chinese bank before when I changed my money to pay my tuition. So I knew that I was supposed to get a number when I entered the bank, but I did not see the machine where to get a slip of paper. Finally someone from the bank came to me and silently pointed to the machine – I guess he did not expect me to speak any Chinese because I seemed to be confused (because I did not know where the machine was). The slip I got told me that I was customer number 1062 and there were 15 people ahead of me. The bank only had three counters for private banking, so it took quite a while. Most of the time there was no customer at one of the three counters for business customers, but the “private banking service” did only take place at the counters designed for private banking.
It seemed to take forever, so I was happy that I had expected to have to wait, so I brought my study book and did some homework. Then everything suddenly went really fast: Two costumers in front of me did not want to wait, so number 1060 and 1061 were announced twice but nothing happened. Obviously the bank employees just called the next one if the customer is not at the counter after being called for twice. So I was surprised that my number was announced just a moment after 1959 left – I appeared at the counter with the study book in my hand.

The payment itself went really quick, the employee asked for the money, stamped all the three receipt (for me, the bank and the water company) twice and everything was done. I’d say it’s quite an inconvenient way to pay 1,40 Euros to the water company but what should I do? Not pay and risking the water to be cut off?!
Apropos cutting off: Two days ago the heating was finally cut off. Our landlord had told us that the heating period in Beijing only lasts until March 15, no matter how cold the weather would be. Actually a few days ago the temperature was only a few degrees above the freezing point. But today it felt almost like spring: It was sunny, not too cold and the trees in front of our faculty building have started to bloom.

Library at Beida
One of the rare sunny days in Beijing.

I nearly missed dinner today

March 20, 2007

I just had dinner, a large sweat potato that one can buy in the afternoons and evenings at one of the numerous vendors in the streets. These vendors always seem to form a group: The goods to be sold in nearly all of these groups are pineapples, closely followed by the sweet potatoes.

Pineapple vendor
Mobile pineapple vendor.

Today I had planned to get such a sweet potato for dinner, but the problem is that the heater for the potatoes is usually installed on the bike of the vendor. So you cannot always buy them at the same spots, but after a few weeks in Beijing I got a feeling where to find them in my area.
Once I finally found one, I did buy a potato using the Chinese way of “drive thru”: I just chose the one I wanted and paid while I was still sitting on my bike, just one foot on the ground.

So far I had assumed that the vendors sell them from the back of their bikes because that way they can easily get to the spots where people coming from work are passing by. But today I learned that here is another good reason for the vendors to be mobile. Just after I had chosen my potato, had paid and while I was still busy getting the plastic bag with the potato inside into my backpack, I heard yelling and suddenly the whole group was started to move. A moment later I saw why: After the vendors had left me alone (I was still trying to manage to get my potato into my backpack…) I saw a grimly looking police officer staring at me. Well, he could not do me any harm, but nonetheless I took my bike and followed the vendors. Once I caught up with them, I asked the potato vendor why they had run away. He didn’t quite answer, but was giving me in affirmative laughter after I asked whether he left because of the police. I guess that they did not have a license to sell goods – but I was happy that I did not come one single minute later to buy dinner, that way I would have missed a delicious sweet potato…

Beijing Bicyles

March 18, 2007

Bike at Tiananmen
My friend’s bike in front of Tiananmen.

“Beijing Bicycles” is the title of a 2001 movie, but bikes are also the most important means for Beijingers to get from one place to another. There might be fewer bicycles and more cars and motorbikes as well as electrified bikes now compared to some years ago, but the bike remains dominant in a picture of a typical street.

There are all kinds of bicycles: Old ones that you would not expect to be ridable, new ones that need more than one lock to not get stolen, small ones with really small tyres and large ones that can transport large amounts of goods.

Bike shops
Bike shops near my place.

New bikes can be bought from 300 yuan, about 30 Euros. But there is a large market of second (or third) hand bikes although it is forbidden to commercially sell used bikes. Next to the university is a street with several bike shops. When I got my bike there it was not problem so get some changes made very quickly. The man who sold me my bike was a really good repair-person: He changed pedals, adjusted the breaks and shifting as well as the saddle in just a few minutes.
At his shop were also his wife helping him. Their about four year old son was playing between the bikes, the shop itself was heated with coal, that was heated up outside, then brought inside once it was hot enough.

It does not make a lot of sense to buy a bike that is new and too expensive because stealing seems to be very common. According to former students of ECCS, as well as to Chinese students currently enrolled at Beida, there was virtually nobody whose bike has never been stolen – so I simply hope I can use my bike for as long as possible so I can use the faster way to get from home to university.

Bike shop
My bike is being prepared for sale.

So far my blue bike has been a great help on the way to classes because I save a lot of time and money because I don’t have to wait for a bus or pay a taxi. But it’s also fun to ride in the city, although it’s probably not very healthy (because of the bad air)… Today I rode my bike to Tiananmen together with my roommate, it took us quite a while, but we chose small side streets and we discovered a lot of Beijings hutong streets.

Remember what I was writing about the chaotic traffic with the constant sound of honking? Actually I still think that it sometimes is really chaotic, but at the same time you see the traffic from a different perspective once you become a participant. Although the “rules” known in Europe are often ignored, you get a feeling when a car will make a turn or where the cars and buses are going to and whether you need to wait or whether you can cross the street even you have a red light.

Bike in Beijing
Actually this biker was going in the wrong direction when I took this photo, but it’s also common to use the wrong way of the road if you don’t need to go very far.

Indonesia motions for…

March 17, 2007

Delegation from Indonesia
Me with my fellow co-delegate representing Indonesia.

For the past few days I’ve been really busy – I did not attend any classes, but the AIMUN conference. AIMUN is a model United Nations, so students are representing a country and the county’s opinions in different committees. For example, I was in the ASEAN 10+3 committee, representing Indonesia. Although this is not an official UN committee, it was simulated at AIMUN. Compared to other committees like the General Assembly’s DISEC committee, the ASEAN committee was relatively small, so everybody needed to play an important role.

The simulation follows the rules of procedure of the “real” United Nations. So delegates are setting up a speakers list (including determining speaking time), vote on when to suspend the meeting and when to have “caucus” with other delegations. When you first start with such a simulation, it seems to be very formal, because everything needs to be voted on: If one delegation wants to suspend the meeting so that delegations can use the time to talk or work on a draft resolution, it needs a simple majority to pass this “motion”. I was really glad that I had participated in a “rules of procedure” training in Tübingen.

Motions raised by the delegates from different countries.

All delegates were dressed in business style clothes and every delegate was fighting hardly to get its country’s opinion into the resolution to be passed. In the end we finally reached consensus in our topic, the creation of a free trade agreement between the ASEAN member countries and China, Korea and Japan. Before that, we were discussing high-tech goods, agricultural products and other issues where countries differ in their point of view.

In between we had a “crisis” situation. We were confronted with the incident at the Krue Se mosque in Thailand, and had to find a joint announcement on how to react on the situation. In this conflict Thailand and later Myanmar were threatening to temporarily leave ASEAN, other countries considered to withdraw their investments from Thailand if the unrest was not stooped fast.
Indonesia was concerned about the situation of the refugees that left Thailand towards Malaysia, and the safety of the (Muslim) population in the southern provinces of Thailand. We worked closely together with Malaysia to amend the announcement by a clause that would ensure our interests to be recognized in the statement. Therefor we intensively used notes that were passed to the addressed country by the AIMUN staff, unfortunately our seats were really far apart, so I felt sorry for the person carrying our messages…

unmoderated caucus
Formulating a resolution during “unmoderated caucus.”

During this conference there have also been some social activities: One night we went to Houhai, the Chinese called it “Houhai bar street”, I think this description fits very well…
Yesterday there was another party at the university, it was fun to meet people taking part in AIMUN. Most of the delegates came from different Chinese universities, but there where some from Asian countries outside China, Europe and the US, as well. As some of these Chinese universities are located in Beijing, I actually might have the chance to see some of the students again. Their English generally was really impressive, and as English was the working language, it was not a problem at all to understand what people were talking about. Only sometimes during unmoderated caucus, some delegated switched to Chinese to accelerate the process of negotiation…

I really liked being a delegate, and enjoyed the atmosphere at the conference. However, it seemed that some of the other students were much more familiar with the situation in south-east Asia than I was…