I’m back in the Twin Cities now, and enjoying one of the activities that I miss the most while I’m in China: driving. Nothing quite gives the feeling of freedom and independence than crusing around in one’s own dark green Honda! I especially love the roads here. Where are all the cars? And look, there are stop signs. And drivers actually stop for lights. And no one backs up on the freeways. Or drives on the sidewalk. Like I said, it’s all so very tidy.
Unlike Beijing, my adopted hometown. On Tuesday, the Asia Times Online had an interesting article about the traffic problem in Beijing, and how the government might deal with it during the Olympics. There are some alarming statistics:
With a sharp increase in motor vehicles and lagging behind in infrastructure construction, traffic jams have become a daily headache of Beijing residents. In 1949, when the communists took power, there were only several thousand motor vehicles in the capital. Forty-eight years later, in 1997, Beijing announced it had a million automobiles on the road. At that time, officials and experts predicted that the number could grow to 2 million by 2010. But their prediction proved too conservative. The number of registered motor vehicles in Beijing hit 2 million in August 2003, when many excitedly hailed "the coming of the automobile age". According to the Beijing government’s statistics, by the end of 2005 there were 2.15 million registered civilian motor vehicles in the city. Taking into account military vehicles, which do not need to be registered, the total could be more than 2.3 million. And given the growth rate, the number of vehicles in Beijing could reach 3.5 million by 2008. Compared with other major metropolises, such as Tokyo and New York, the number of cars in Beijing may still be small. However, road construction and traffic management in the capital city lag far behind because of the faster-than-expected growth of car use.
It’s like I often tell taxi drivers in Beijing: "Beijing has become the world’s largest parking lot!"
I’m back in The Twin Cities of Minnesota now, and my friends keep writing and emailing me with the question, "how’s Minnesota?" Well, after a week here, the on word that keeps popping into my head in response is TIDY. The houses are tidy. The lawns are tidy. The streets are tidy. The stores are tidy. Even the sky is tidy, with puffy white clouds in a blue blue blue sky. It boggles my mind. How can a place be SO tidy? I don’t get it.
After their television debut this week, Li Zimeng and Kang Hui may be on their way to becoming household names like Katie Couric and Brian Williams — in China. Ms. Li and Mr. Kang are the youthful new anchors of China Central Television’s half-hour evening news broadcast, the first fresh faces in more than a decade on a program that is watched nightly by an estimated 140 million people. Mr. Kang, in his mid-thirties, and Ms. Li, 28, made their unannounced appearance on Monday, delivering Beijing’s official line on current events in a cheerful manner that departed from the dour demeanors of CCTV’s rotating group of six other newscasters…… The addition of Ms. Li and Mr. Kang reflect the reshaping of China’s media and the government’s approach to propaganda as new, livelier avenues of information flourish in the country. The duo is part of a broader but cosmetic effort by the state-run broadcaster to add a touch of personality to its programs and woo viewers and advertisers — but without allowing editorial independence…… First broadcast in 1978 in a format similar to its current form, the evening news program is the core of the government’s official message machine. Anchors — a man and a woman — read the news each night at 7 p.m. in a humorless manner, looking only at the teleprompter or the scripts on their desk. There is virtually no banter. The show, called "News Relay," generally leads with reports on the activities of the country’s top leaders in order of the officials’ rank in the party hierarchy. That formula has been followed so strictly over the years that political analysts often try to determine who is up and who is down based on how much air time each official gets. Recognizing TV’s power as a propaganda instrument, especially among the country’s largely peasant population, the government promotes state TV, even installing satellite dishes in remote villages. About 400 million households now have TVs.
To say that the nightly newscast is dull would be a vast understatement. 20 of the 30 minutes are devoted to reports on meetings, where we the viewers are treated to endless shots of party faithful dutifully taking notes while cadres drone on and on. I’ve long thought this newscast a plot by the folks in charge here to keep order by making sure the people are bored to tears. What’s more, at 7pm, nearly every station in the country is required to air the program, so channel surfing at that time will only find that one show. The only escape is the "power off" button.
I don’t watch the show often (too painful), but did happen to turn it on Monday, and was surprised to see these two new faces. I thought maybe a wrinkle had occurred in the universe. In the universe of the party propaganda machinery, I guess it had. They were smiling. They were perky. They actually looked at the camera. Unfortunately, the content was the same old same old.
Today was a very strange day in Beijing. It was not only clear, but there were clouds in the sky—real clouds, the white puffy kind that are common on a summer day in the midwestern US. Almost made me feel like I was at home. This happens but once a year so I grabbed my camera and headed to the CCTV Tower, which stands guard over the west side of the city. On a day like today, and far above the grit and grime, it’s actually quite an impressive city.
This is looking east, over the park (can’t remember the name just now).
Again, looking east, towards "downtown." The green area is The Forbidden City.
"The Hood." I live down there in one of those towers. Can you guess which one? The lake to the north is the Summer Palace.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, people in China (especially women) have an aversion to the sun. They will go to any length to prevent the sun’s rays from touching their skin. These ultimate visors are the lastest fad. We call them Darth Vader Hats. And they’re especially effective when accessorized with the "batman wings" over the arms.
This lady, perhaps, can’t afford the visor, so she settles for the black scarf around the face. Look at this photo too long and you’re bound to have nightmares!
A friend of mine who is the Executive Director of a company in Shanghai sent me an email this morning with a copy of message that his secratary had sent him. It reads as follows:
I was just informed that the "Six Countries Congress Meeting will be held in Shanghai from 14-18 June (Wednesday – Sunday), because of that most of the roads will be closed. The China Government suggested that companies close on the 14 & 15 (Wed & Thur) and replace those work days on the 10 & 11 June (Saturday and Sunday), and also announced that 16 June (Friday) is a public holiday. What would you like to do?
There they go again, moving days around.
I think this is a sneak preview of what we can expect in Beijing when the Olympics come to town. We too will get a notice from the China Government and it will say something like this: "We suggest that your company close for the month of August, and that you replace those work days by working every weekend for the next 6 months. Thank you for your cooperation."
Some friends are visiting from the US, and staying at a hotel nearby. It’s not a western chain, but a very nice Chinese 3 star hotel. When they checked in, one of the gentlemen noticed that his room smelled like smoke, so he called the front desk and asked if he could have a no-smoking room instead.
Ten minutes later, someone from the houskeeping staff showed up and collected the ashtrays sitting in the room. There, now it’s a no smoking room!!!