Sunday, April 27, 2008

a pictures post

here are some pictures i've taken recently. that's it for this post, though i do want to mention something very strange i've noticed: all the paper in my office is slightly bigger than 8.5" x 11". and i mean only slightly, in that i noticed it only when i printed out some .pdf files, and at the top there was about half an inch of white space on each page. at first i thought it was just some mistake in paper selection on print options, but then i compared it to all the other handouts and whatnot i was given and noticed they were the same size. my project for next week: see if all paper in china is bigger.

the view out durrell's window. in the foreground is worker's stadium, the tall building in the background is china world trade center phase two or something, right near where i work.

the roofs of some old buildings below durrell's building. he claims they are going to be leveled to make a parking lot for the olympics then turned into phase two of his development.

the third ring road south of the CBD

unnecessary quotes? you be the judge

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

the seedy underground of beijing

the beijing subway is surprisingly clean and organized. nevermind that it is packed at all hours, and especially during rush hour. they are just installing ticket machines (right now you have to buy tickets from tellers, if that's the right word). so all the stations are full of machines that read "out of order." of course i didn't know that this past weekend when i wanted to put money on my subway card. so i wandered about, thinking what a coincidence it was that all the ticket machines in three different stations throughout the city were out of order.

my first exposure to the subway during rush hour was not great. it was raining, which apparently drives lots of bus riders into the subway. so i hop on at the stop near durrell's swinging pad and it's crowded but what i expected during rush hour. for those who live in washington or san francisco think of the metro or bart when they have to offload a train during rush hour. two stops later i hop off to change trains, head downstairs and encounter a truly wild scene. you know those videos of tokyo trains during rush hour, where attendants are pushing people into the cars so the doors can close? the only difference here was that it was just other people on the platform pushing people into the train. the communal spirit is strong here.

but on a normal day, and i'm going to assume, and hope, that my last two days riding the subway are normal days, things are pretty bearable. the trains in the morning are either totally packed or mostly packed. the difference is really how hard you are pressed against the people around you. the way people ride trains here is they mostly wait for people to get off (this is definitely a new development in the last three years, by the way), then rush on while people on the train who want to get off soon push toward the door. a kind of equilibrium is achieved and then the doors close, hopefully with you on the train.

the trick, i found, is to stay close to the door. the best way to do this is to make sure that you get on the train last, then at each stop do the step off to let people off and hop back on (you probably will be the only person doing this). otherwise, you run the risk of getting pushed back into the center of the train, where you may as well resign yourself to the fate of not getting off until you get to the dusty, windswept plains past the fifth ring road.

the newer train cars, which i tend to be on in the evening on the way home, have tv screens that seem to constantly show some special olympic programming. my best guess, since there is no sound, is that these shows are teaching people about the lesser known olympic events, like trampoline, mountain biking and beach volleyball, which is ever so popular among the male riders. they will show clips of competition, often with chinese athletes winning, and then pause and highlight some aspect of the court/course. for example in volleyball they would give dimensions of the ball, the height of the net and draw diagrams of players' positions. is that all really necessary? i mean, how many hard core football fans know how heavy the regulation football is?

one final thing i'll mention is that riders are by and large very polite. if you're standing near the door and they're pushing forward to try to get off, they'll actually ask "are you getting off?" perhaps the response to some government pre-olympics politeness campaign. in the us, it's more like "out of my way, i'm getting off." oh and also, my new favorite thing is on the packed trains, when it starts up suddenly is hearing from way down the car 50 people at once going "woah!" as somebody forgot to grab on and started to fall over. that is the true communist domino effect.

Friday, April 18, 2008

titles: my greatest weakness

So I'm in Beijing now. My flight was uneventful, though my reservation for a window seat was apparently more like "here's a teaser for what it would be like if you were actually reserving a seat right now, but you're not." So I ended up with an aisle. Which was nice. I sat near some guys sporting leather vests, who were in Fremont selling Bluetooth devices, gloves and something else unrelated I don't remember.

Where I'll be working.

So I've been running around getting stuff done, and spending even more money. I went to the Beijing quarantine office and waited in various lines with other foreigners (mostly Korean), to get blood drawn (fingers crossed no syphilis), an ECG, a chest X-ray and an exam. I also went to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB) station to register. I was a day later than I should have gone, so I received a less-than-stern warning in lieu of a sixty dollar fine. I opened a bank account and bought a cell phone. Apparently with the pre-paid SIM card I have, if you enter in 12593 before you dial any number, then it's only half the price to make a call. Whatever. I also met my friend Andy from summer school for lunch at a Serbian sandwich place near the embassies, followed by gelato.

The new CCTV building near my office. The sky bizarrely almost looks blue in this picture.

Things seem to have straightened out a bunch in the three years since I've been here. Maybe it's just the areas I'm in in the city, but it seems cleaner (not garbage blowing everywhere), people by and large wait in line, I don't get stared at and people aren't shocked that I can speak Chinese. Also it's not cold as hell, I'm almost over jet lag already and am staying with foreigners instead of Chinese students I can barely understand. In other words, it seems like it's gonna be a lot more pleasant in Beijing this time around.

My sweet new wallet.