Archive for the ‘Beijing’ Category

Wenchuan Earthquake

May 12, 2008

Nature has not been good to Wenchuan: Last year there were some rock slides and now it was hit by the strongest earth quake that has hit China for more than 30 years. According to Xinhua the epicenter was some 90 kilometers northwest of Chengdu, Sichuan’s province capital, and Chinese news agency Xinhua has called the natural disaster “汶川地震” (Wenchuan earth quake).

Last year on my way from Jiuzhaigou to Chengdu I passed Wenchuan and Dujiangyan, those two cities largely effected by the quake. As a matter of fact, when taking the 12 hour bus ride from Jiuzhaigou to the provincial capital, I met a student from Wenchuan who was just coming back from Jiuzhai to Wenchuan as her college was closed before because it had been hit by a landslide. For some pictures taken after the quake, see here.

Street in northern Sichuan
Mountain roads making it difficult for rescue teams to enter the villages, soldiers are reported to advance on foot only.

I have just talked with a Chinese friend from Chengdu (who is studying in Germany now) and she said that it was hard to get a hold of their family since the cell phone network broke down due to too many phone calls. While everyone of her family in Chengdu was fine, she told me that nobody had heard from their relatives in Wenchuan yet. The problem the rescue teams are facing now are quite big: Many roads in this mountain area have been destroyed by falling rocks or landslides – and there is also heavy rain in some parts so that helicopters could not even check out the situation. And while there is no way in for the rescue teams – there is no way out of the area for those who live in the small villages. Because houses there often are self-made, they are not very solid and many could have elapsed during the quake.

A problem in Sichuan now might be that there are many people without housing, either because their homes were destroyed or because people are afraid of going back into their homes. On the pictures above one can see homeless people gathering on the streets or setting up temporary tents.

The quake was even perceivable in Beijing, some one thousand kilometers away. A friend of mine was in a job interview in the 15th floor of a high-rise during the quake and that that the building started shaking.


Foreign students banned from Beijing during Olympics?

April 18, 2008

China is not only making it hard for Chinese students to enjoy the Olympic games, there is also a yet not confirmed but widely circulated rumor that foreign students will be banned from Beijing, maybe even from China altogether, during the games.

Student Visa of the PR China
Student Visa of the PR China

As German newspapers like Die ZEIT and Süddeutsche Zeitung both report, there will be not student visas issued for July and August, a time where universities typically hold summer courses. In this time no regular classes will be held and students who only stay for one semester but according to the articles students who are going to continue their studies in the winter term need to leave for Beijing for games time. There are estimates that about 10,000 students would be affected by this measure.

And even if students do not need to stay over the holidays to proceed with their studies in Beijing afterwards, I think a lot of students like I myself would like to lengthen in China to watch the Olympics or feel its atmosphere if ons is in Beijing studying this or the coming winter term.

While the statement by a spokesperson of Peking University was quite clear, it nonetheless is not confirmed by the authorities yet. Robert Heuser of Cologne University assumed that the students are seen as potential troublemakers and are thus unwanted in the proximity of the games, he argued in an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Olympic Games at Peking University

March 10, 2008

In August, the whole world will look at China, Olympia will be visible all over Beijing, but at some places probable more than others. Besides the Olympic park and the newly renovated tourist sites that will be filled with visitors, I think that universities will much be influenced by the games. Thousands of the volunteers are students, so the spirit of the games will be carried out to the universities.

There has been a fierce competition about becoming a volunteer, I know one student who was lucky enough and will be working at the Olympic village helping foreign journalists and VIPs to check in.

Beijing University - The new tabletennis gym
Students in front of the basketball court, the new table tennis court was constructed behind it.

Some competitions even are hold on university campuses, the table tennis competition for example will be held at Peking University. Therefore a new sports complex was set up last year, and I already started imagine how it would be to go to see the games after class… However, I think that the main problem would be to get tickets for the event. Since the ticket prices are fair for Chinese, there was a run for tickets and it seems that all events are sold out by now, so it is unlikely that students can attend the competition after class.

After all, there will be summer holidays in August, some students are planing to leave Beijing for their own good because they say that Beijing will definitely be over-crowded, others are being asked to leave for the games to have the dorms available for other people to sleep there. A friend of mine is graduating this year and is planning on attending a masters program at Peking University after the holidays. But since he won’t be enrolled during the summer months, he might be expelled from campus: “We won’t have a place to live after graduation, maybe I even have to leave Beijing. Very tragic.”

Demolition of Sanjiaodi

November 13, 2007

I had earlier written about this central place on the Campus of Peking University, Sanjiaodi, a triangular space that has been focus for several student activities in the past. Actually I by myself have profited from the existence of such a place for announcements when I sold my bike before leaving Beijing. I had a Chinese friend write a note that I would sell my bike and just a couple hours later I had found someone interested in buying. But now, the stands for posters on the square have been demolished.

Students of Peking University have obviously a history of being not always in line with the state’s opinion and students have taken part in the set off for the Cultural Revolution from here and part of the protest at Tian’anmen Square were planned there in 1989, as well. This might be a reason to shut down this place, as indicated in a blog post by Beijing Newspeak, another one might be the declining number of users. Instead of posting news there, it is more likely that those kind of news, announcements or other kinds of “publications” are made applying present-day technology: The internal network of Beida students has tons of posts and news can be spread even faster there and gain a greater audience. It is no wonder that students prefer this way of sharing news as is is more convenient to them.

Update: Just two days ago I received an e-mail from a Chinese friend telling me that they protested the cancellation of English classes for their third and fourth year at university on their school’s BBS. Unfortunately without success, classes are to be held on the weekends only and there is a charge for the students.

Major changes in Beijing’s traffic system?

October 5, 2007

Everything is becoming more expensive in China right now, analysts calculated an inflation rate of close to 6 percent, much more than China had in the past years. Especially prices for food have gone up steeply in the past month, the prices for pork and eggs have risen dramatically. I personally have felt the price acceleration of entrance fees at tourist attractions, some prices have doubled since my travel guide was published in 2005.

Recently the city of Beijing announced to reduce the fare for its subway to a 2 yuan (about 0,20 Euro) flat fee per trip, including limitless times of transfer. It is not as much a step to fight inflation, more is it an attempt to fight traffic congestion. Beijing’s traffic it well known for its common traffic jams and the city is doing various efforts to reduce the number of cars in the streets with the upcoming Olympics. Since the subway was opened in 1971, it is the first time that the tickets are undergoing a price cut. A reduction of subway prices from 3 yuan (or from 5 yuan for change to line 13 respectively) will hopefully bring more people from their cars into public transportation. Other measures that will come into effect during the games was the ban of ca. 50 percent of cars that was already tested in September.

Traffic at Wudaokou
The new ticketing system is supposed to reduce traffic congestion in Beijing.

The new fare system was chosen on a meeting with city officials and traffic experts. There was an alternate plan to introduce a fare depending to distance traveled. However, the majority was favoring the flat fee that is also cheaper for consumers since the alternate plan’s proposal was to have a starting price of 2 yuan and have a maximum fare of 4 yuan. One reason for this choice might be that since many tickets are sold individually as single trip tickets, the administrative need to sell and check different fare tickets is much bigger. Beijing’s subway tickets are not yet sold at vending machines and paper tickets are used so the distance would have needed to be checked when getting on and off the subway. There is also a electronic traffic card, but there are still lines in front of the ticket counter at some times.

The new system was decided on in late September and is going to come into effect as early as October 7. This is also the date of opening the new number 5 subway line that will run in north-south direction. I have already seen the new stations Yonghegong and Baixinqiao in early September, but at that time the line was only performing test runs. Other subway lines are going to follow, mainly to ensure better transportation during the Olympics.
It seems a little strange to me to introduce the new system just after the “golden week” of nationwide vacation after October 1, the national holiday. At this time many tourists from all over the country are coming to Beijing and would have enjoyed to use the new subway line.

Xizhemen subway station
Will the reduced fare make the subways even more crowded?

What impact might the new system have? It is hopefully reducing traffic and the lowered fare might be an incentive for more people to not use their private car and switch to public transportation. The subway line will also make it possible to cross the city from north to south faster than before.

However, there are still some remaining problems: At present, the subways in the city center are already at their limits during rush hour and new customers might increase the number of peak hour passengers. It is unclear whether the frequency of the heavily used, but relatively old line 1 and line 2 subways can be improved. Another problem is that at the moment many people are preferring the bus that is much cheaper; instead of a 3 yuan subway ticket it only costs as less as 0,4 yuan when using the Yikatong card. When reducing the price to 2 yuan the cost for a subway ride will reduce 31% percent on average, according to a calculation by city officials and traffic experts. I assume that more people are switching from bus to subway now as the price difference has been reduced so more people might be using the faster subway instead of the buses that often get stuck in traffic jams. On the other hand, many people who are using a private car in Beijing are rather rich people who can effort a car and are not going to be considerably willing to switch to the subway just because it reduced the price one yuan. For them the car is a status symbol and the subway’s biggest incentive towards them is that it is faster then overground traffic during rush hour, not the price.

Germany – a far away country

September 22, 2007

It takes only a little more than nine hours in the plane to get back to Germany, so some of my journeys within China have been much more time intensive, like the 12 hour bus ride from Chengdu to Jiuzhaigou or the 18 hour train ride from Guilin to Kunming. Although places inside China are not the all same either, there is still a huge difference of traveling within China and going back to Germany. In a recent post I already mentioned some of differences that Liu Yang points out in her artwork that just too true – and now I had to cope with them by myself.

After a very nice flight (left Beijing around 2 p.m. and had daylight outside for the whole flight) I got back to Germany, a little colder than Beijing, but the air was much cleaner. I’ve been to some places in the mountains with very clear air, but even after being in Germany for a few days, it still surprises me to see the crystal clear sky between buildings. On the other hand I am back to German bureaucracy and unfriendliness. While waiting for my luggage at the Frankfurt airport I could once again experience how German custom officers behave when checking the luggage of a foreigner who barely speaks any German.
When I in China, people seemed happy with me speaking Chinese (even so with errors) and were typically very eager to help me. Of course, at some places I have been to during my journey, I have was somehow standing out at places where few foreigners come to. But in general this only made Chinese more friendly and the locals were trying to show us something about their village. In Germany I am not special any more, but I like it that way…

One of the big differences is the price gap. Things are so much more expensive in Germany, especially food! Even prices in China have risen in the past months, it is still much cheaper to go shopping in China. And there are a lot of things that I simply cannot effort in Germany because they are too expensive for me: While taking a taxi every now and then in China was not a huge expense, a single trip tram of bus ticket in Kassel costs more than a 4 or 5 km taxi ride in Beijing.

When I got back to Kassel, I went to the documenta, one of the world’s most important exhibitions for contemporary art. This year there was somehow a focus on Asia, or maybe the works by Asian artist were simply more outstanding for my eyes. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) who is also involved in the 798 factory was one of this year’s documenta’s stars. He brought 1001 Chinese people to Kassel with his “Fairytale” project, making it possible for very different groups of Chinese (farmers, students, a designer, …) to come to Germany. Today I watched a movie that was shot during the project, total length was about eight hours so I only saw part of it – I missed the part of the Chinese actually being in Kassel, but I saw them preparing their journey. So many of there customs and habits as well as the surroundings were familiar to me…
Another work by Ai Weiwei is the “Template”, a huge gate made from old windows and doors that were once used in Hutong streets that were tore down.

Ai Weiwei’s Template
Ai Weiwei’s “Template” was built from doors and windows from old Hutong streets…

Old doors are used as fence in Shanghai Hutongs
…so the artwork reminded me on the doors used as a fence in a Shanghai Hutong area.

Another artwork of the documenta also is dealing with the aspect of changing cities in China and the vanishing Hutong streets in the capital. Beijing based artist Lu Hao (卢昊) had made a 50 meter wide drawing of Chang’an avenue to the left and to the right of Tian’anmen. He used the a painting style from old Chinese paintings but actually draw the street as it was in 2005. Even by now, I could notice a little change to the street in 2007 here and there.

Lu Hao’s drawing of the Xinhua gate of Zhongnanhai
Lu Hao’s drawing of the Xinhua gate of Zhongnanhai

Xinhua gate of Zhongnanhai
…and a picture I took there on my last day in Beijing.

Back to Beijing

September 17, 2007

I got back to Beijing and it somehow was a little bit like getting home: After having been on the road for more than a month, when I got back to the Chinese capital I was familiar with how to get around, the language the people are using there (Beijing Hua, 北京话) and all the little things that are different in other cities.

When I was in the southern part, my travel partner and me sometimes were a little frustrated when we did not understand people although there were using Mandarin to talk to us. We were afraid that we were already forgetting the words we had learned during our studies at Beijing University, but as it turned out, it was just the accent that made us not understand some people. As soon as we got back to Beijing, we once again understood what people in the streets are saying.

Painting ornaments at a temple
Construction is still to be seen everywhere, but  it seems Beijing will get ready until the Olympics next year.

Although I was not in Beijing for only about a month, the city is in such a fast process of transformation that even after this month of absence, the city was not the same: Construction sites had been moved or completed, others had been opened. At the Xizhimen subway station we even went in the wrong direction because the passages had been changed.
At Beijing we stayed in the Youth Hostel near the Lama Temple. I had last been to the area in July and the changes made to some buildings were significant and the Beixinqiao subway for one of the new subway lines seems to be ready for the opening of the number 5 subway line.
At the subway and bus stations we also noted a difference in how Beijingers enter the trains and buses: They lined up “civilized”, just as promoted by the propaganda posters scattered in the station. Well, it was September 11, the official day to promote lining up properly, so there were plenty of stewards making sure that everyone is in line. There were much fewer stewards the next days and by September 14, everybody was back in the old scheme of pushing oneself into the subway as quick as possible in order to get one of the rare seats…

I only stayed in Beijing for a couple of days before returning to Germany. Thus, the main focus was not to do some sightseeing (although I still managed to get to Tian’anmen once again and had a look inside the Great Hall of the People) but to see some friends and get my baggage ready to meet the 20 kg limit for the flight to Germany.