Impressions of Beijing

Trip Start Jul 20, 2004
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Trip End Jul 20, 2015


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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

3 months of teaching, 2 months of traveling around China; 5 months in China alltogether. Haven't gotten used to the country yet; its somehow very different from any of the places I have visited so far. I long for a quit peasant village with people who have never seen a foreigner.

I am reading Traveler's Tales China, a wonderful insight perspective from various travelers who have lived, studied or worked in China. Each traveler's personal experience in China is unique and fascinating and at the same time "illuminates the astonishing charater and adaptability of the Chinese people." In the last 15 years, China has been changing with blinding speed. That's one reason why I decided to spend a year in China. It is indeed mindboggling to see the changes, and with changes I mean structural changes, not mental changes of the people which will take much longer. But these changes come at a huge sacrifice to the environment and the people. For example, as Beijing is reading itself for the 2008 Olympics, construction is omnipresent, from new office and apartment buildings, to roads and subway lines. Now, China has a labor force of about 1 billion. Many construction projects are done by manual labor, and they are done by migrant workers. These guys come from China's poor provinces and are treated as second class citizens. There accomodations are miserable, their pay, if they actually receive it, is low, their hours are long and they pretty much work 365 days a years with the exception of the Spring Festival Holiday when they go home to their families. China uses cheap and abundant labor to move fast forward into the next millenium. I wonder about the building standards though; imagine a poor peasant working on high rises or subway lines. With no education, qualification and probably very little training they are like ants running back and forths building anthills all over the country. But how safe are these anthills?

The shopping malls are full of merchandise, the newest cars, computers and telephones are readily available. What's next? A cure for AIDS? Men on Mars? Maybe, as I just read in the newspapaer today that the first Chinese business man paid about $200.000 for his trip into space in 2008. Anything is possible. Nothing that happens in the world's most populous country, a place with an average annual economic growth rate of 8% over the last 25 years, should surprise us. China is working hard on forging political and strategic alliances with countries all over the world. However, there is a darker side. These exciting advances come with some very worrisome problems: "the rapidly increasing gap between the rich and the poor, rampant government corruption, and a frightening unemployment rate, and large scale environmental degradation, to name a few."

China lives and dies on coal; factories and power plants spew smoke and dust all over the country. If I blow my nose, the tissue is streaked with black grease. I always leave my window open which means i have to clean my floor every 2-3 days (but I only do it once a week). I don't like to hang my clothes on the balcony anymore; I hang them up inside. Noise is even more annoying than the dirt. Most of the noise comes from car horns, drivers all over China honk a lot. Drivers honk at other cars, pedestrians, whenever they passed somebody or whenever they were being passed themselves. The other annoying noise comes from the contruction crews who work until way after midnight. Thanks God for earpluggs.

But there are a lot of pleasant things to do in and around Beijing. I went to Tianjin where I stayed with Ama, a HC member from Indonesia. I also explored some of the Beijing sites, such as Badachu mountain, Xiang Shan mountain, the Temple of Heaven, and some of the Hutongs. My colleague and I ventured out into the Beijing nightlife which is less enjoyable now as it is getting very cold here. I also went to the French Cultural Center to take in some African documentaries. Our next adventure is attending a theater performance, if we can get tickets below 600Yuan, at the Capital Theater in Beijing. Winter is the time to explore the museums and art galleries of Beijing and once the first snow has fallen, I will make another trip to the Great Wall. So, these are some of my first impressions of Beijing.
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