I’ve been back in Minnesota for a week now and today is the first time it even seems like Minnesota., thanks to an unusually warm winter. The grass has been green, and this morning it even rained. Yes, folks, it’s December 21 and it was raining! I was not amused. One of our main claims to fame up here in the northland is our cold and snowy winters, and if we don’t have that, the very reason for Minnesota’s existence could be called into question. Really, what’s the point? Well, we finally got a reprieve and restoration of our identity this afternoon with a snowfall. Not like that blizzard that hit Colorado yesterday (I would have preferred that, thank you very much), but at least it was something. And now, finally, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Sunday morning dawned clear and cold in Beijing. It was gorgeous. The sky was blue. The mountains were out. At first it seemed that it would be a carbon-copy of Saturday, which was actually glorious! But alas, it was not meant to be. By noon, a thick fog/smog/haze/whatever had descended on the city, nearly swallowing it whole. I prefer to call it "acid fog." Sunday was nasty. Monday was nastier. And by Tuesday one could hardly see across the street. Highways were closed. Flights delayed, and the old and infirm were urged to stay indoors. There was something downright sinister about this blob enveloped Beijing. There was no escaping it. Even safely tucked into bed at night, the toxic smell lingered in the air. Some people wore masks, but that just seemed silly to me.
Yesterday the local papers reported that Tuesday was one of the most polluted days in Beijing’s history. Ever. The State Environmental Protection Agency (excuse me while I stifle a snicker) measures things in the air. They use the term ‘particulates’ but I uset the term ‘gunk.’ Their scale is 1 to 500. A glorious day is 20 (20 particluates (gunk) per some unit of air (however that is measured). A bad day for Beijing is 200. Well, Tuesday, it hit 500, which means of course that the air was so thick we could chew it. Oh, and it should be pointed out that they don’t include dust in their counting of particulates. So that was 500 bits of toxic stuff in the air. If they counted dust particles, it probably would have it 10,000, at which point I suppose it would have ceased to be air.
I’m heading to Minnesota tomorrow for a couple of weeks. I fully intend to stand outside for 30 minutes every day and just take deep breaths—to clean out my lungs. Hope it works!
The South China Morning Post reported today that the president of China (Mr. Hu), in response to thousands of petitions from angry dog owners in Beijing signed a decree calling a halt to the the dog crackdown that has been terrorizing the residents of this city, both canine and human, since October. Apparantly he was also becoming increasingly concerned about all the attention that this was getting in the west, and the negative image that China was projecting. There’s canine joy in Beijing tonight. The 2 month reign of terror appears to be coming to an end.
This week the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s largest English language newspaper had a great article on the battle between bikes and cars in Beijing. I could relate since I’m one of those who still tries to ride my bike where ever I can. And in this city that sees 1000 new cars added to the roads everyday, it is getting increasingly dangerous. It certainly isn’t the bicycle friendly city that it used to be! Unfortunately, the article is behind the Post’s subscription fire wall, so I can’t link to it. The article, written by David Eimer, is called "Pedal Power." I’ve pasted it in below.
The course for the Beijing
Olympics cycling road race was announced last week and the world’s top
cyclists are in for a torrid time. After starting from Tiananmen
Square, the route heads through the northern suburbs before reaching
the Great Wall. That’s when it gets nasty, with the riders covering
five punishing circuits of nearby hills.
But at least the
cyclists won’t have to cope with the Beijing traffic. The roads will be
cleared of cars, just as they were for the recent China-Africa Forum,
when government vehicles were banned for the duration of the
conference. For the 2.4 million Beijingers who cycle to work, that’s a
though, is more like a nightmare. It’s a daily round of dodging
incompetent car drivers, footpath-shy pedestrians and of navigating
blocked cycle lanes.
In Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall, the diehard New Yorker famously said that the main attraction of Los Angeles is that you can turn right on a red light.
Well, you can do
that in Beijing, too, and it’s just another of the pernicious
advantages that car drivers enjoy over cyclists in the capital.
Beijing’s drivers think nothing of turning right without looking, which
inevitably results in riders screeching to a halt as a car comes within
centimetres of crushing grounded toes. With 2.7 million cars on
Beijing’s roads, a number growing by 1,000 a day, it would be easy for
cyclists to give up the struggle.
But some of us are fighting back.
A survey of Beijing
cyclists last month found that 90 per cent felt their rights were being
ignored or infringed on. We pay taxes too, was the refrain, so why
can’t we have car-free cycle lanes? It’s not much to ask for, not when
bike lanes have shrunk to a mere couple of metres wide as roads are
widened for yet more cars.
Last week, one
commentator described the capital’s cyclists as being treated like
"unwanted step-children". In April, Liang Congjie , a member of the
Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, put forward a
motion calling for "concrete efforts" to restore proper bike lanes.
Even Beijing’s municipal government has taken a step in the right
direction by lifting the ban on electric bicycles.
Some, though, feel
more direct action is needed. In late October, a brave foreign woman
took a stand. Frustrated by the presence of cars in the cycle lane, she
got off her bike and blocked the traffic. One car driver was so
incensed that he got out and hurled her bike away.
him, the incident was filmed by a passer-by and swiftly circulated on
the internet. The resulting publicity saw the driver forced to make a
grovelling apology on Beijing TV.
If car drivers won’t abide by traffic laws, then maybe public humiliation is the only way forward.
Let the bikers arise!!