Ski the Bird’s Nest

A few months ago I wrote about Beijing being one of the finalist cities in the bid to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. Today, during an afternoon walk around the Olympic Park to clear some of the jet-lag induced fog out of my brain, I came upon this make-shift ski hill that has been set up outside the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium. Could this be, I wondered, a future Olympic venue?

Bird's Nest ski hill

Mostly I think it’s proof once again that we have not, in fact, seen everything!

Silly Season

With the big meetings “Silly Season” is in full swing now in Beijing. Earlier in the week I wrote about some of the silly new regulations that have been enacted to keep the city harmonious for the next three weeks here: People’s Republic of No.

Shortly after I wrote that, the government sent word to all taxi companies that they were to disable the back seat windows. Under no circumstances are passengers to be able to open them. Apparently they are afraid of people throwing anti-government leaflets out of the window. Of course, this has never happened here, and I don’t know a soul who would even think of doing such a thing, but I guess you can’t take any changes.

Yesterday I rode in 4 different taxis and had the chance to see the implementation of this rule up close and personal. In each case I climbed into the back seat, and lo-and-behold the window handles were not there.

 missing handle

I decided to play ‘dumb foreigner’ (not a tough acting job, mind you) and ask the driver about it. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Mr. Driver, why are the handles to operate the windows gone from the doors back here?

He: Because the Party Congress begins next week. We were ordered by the government to remove the handles so the windows can’t be opened.

Me: I’m sorry. I am a dumb foreigner. I don’t understand the relationship between a government meeting and a taxi window.

He: It’s a security measure.

Me: Security measure? Security against what?

He: It is to prevent people from throwing anti-government leaflets out of the window.

Me: What? Has there been a problem with people throwing anti-government leaflets out the window?

He: No. It’s a preventative measure. If someone wants to, this will prevent them from doing so.  The government has said they have a goal of “an incident-free meeting” and so we all have to do our part. We aren’t just trying to prevent someone from doing something; we are trying to stop them from thinking about doing something.

[I’m sure there was some logic in that statement somewhere, but for the life of me I couldn’t find it.]

Me: I’m a foreigner. I’ll never understand.

At that he chuckled.

In addition to the window handles, the government also banned toy airplanes and helicopters and yesterday notified pigeons that they are not to fly above a certain height.

The silliness has not gone unnoticed on Chinese social media sites either. Tea Leaf Nation translated this post on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter:

Yao Bo (@五岳散人), a well-known social commentator, tweeted on Sina Weibo: “The people in charge of People’s Daily and CCTV [China Central Television] are afraid of leaflets. The people in charge of the military, para-military, local police and urban law enforcement are afraid of kitchen knives. The people in charge of armed vehicles are afraid of taxis driving near political centers. The people in charge of stealth fighter jets are afraid of toy planes and balloons. Bro, am I living in Alice’s Wonderland?”

I know you think I’m making all this up, but be assured I am not.  It’s the fun thing about China. Reality trumps anything a wild imagination could dream up. Every time.

Some perspective, however…. I was here in the run up to and during the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and many of these measures were put in place then as well. Not the windows, thing, though. I guess that was all just a dress rehearsal for this event.

The Wall Street Journal has a good slideshow of all the fun.

Literary Journey – the 2000’s

Here are the key books I read in the first decade of the 21st century:

Turning Bricks into Jade, by Margaret Wang. This book is a collection of 'critical incidents' of misunderstanding between Chinese and Americans. Perfect for use in a cross-cultural orientation program, it presents the miscommunications, followed by a detailed analysis/explanation of the cultural assumptions at play on both sides. It's an excellent way to get some practice at figuring out what's really going on in cross-cultural communication events with Chinese.

The Good Women of China, by Xinran.  This may be one of the most difficult China books I've read. Xinran used to be the host of a call-in radio show in Nanjing for women. Every night she would hear heartbreaking tales of sorrow, exploitation, and downright abuse. This book is a collection of some of those stories, and paints a bleak picture of the plight of women in contemporary Chinese society.

Rivertown, by Peter Hessler.  This is another book that caused me to smack my forehead and say "I wish I had written that!" In the late 1990's Hessler went to a city on the Yangtze River to teach English at a small university. He writes about his students, his (successful) attempts at learning Chinese and the unique rhythms of a city that is on the verge of being submerged due to the Three Gorges Dam.

Oracle Bones, by Peter Hessler.  OK, I admit it, I'm a Hessler fan.  Any of book by Hessler is worth your time.  In this one, he explores the direct links between ancient Chinese systems of thought and contemporary China.  Despite all the changes that have taken place in recent years, there are more connection points than one would think.

Jesus in Beijing, by David Aikman. If you're looking for a good overview of the development of Christianity in China, particularly during the reform era (post-1980's), this is a great starting point. It's gives excellent historical background, as well as the structure and role of both the registered churches and house churches in China.

China Road, by Rob Gifford.  Since I am a great lover of road trips, this remains one of my all-time favorite China books.  In the early 2000's Gifford (NPR correspondent in China at the time) hitch-hiked across China from Shanghai to the Kazakh border, along the way chatting with everyone from glamorous party members to truck drivers to Amway salesmen. This book is an excellent 'starter' book for those who don't know much about China and want to get a good overview of the complexity of modern life in China.  I wrote a review of the book, which you can read here.

Last Days of Old Beijing, by Michael Meyers.  In the years leading up to the Olympics in Beijing (2008) Minnesota native Meyers moved into an old hutong neighborhood of Beijing to experience and document the last days of an ancient neighborhood. It's a good reminder that in the midst of China's high-speed development, history is being destroyed and lives altered.

Factory Girls, by Leslie Chang. Ever wonder where all your 'stuff' comes from? Chances are it comes from a factory in southern China where millions of young people from China's countryside work.  Chang (wife of Peter Hessler) follows the journeys of three young women who migrate from their villages to the factory town of Donghuang in search of their dreams. You'll never look at your iPod the same again.

(NOTE: If you purchase any of these books by clicking on the links above, I will get compensation from Amazon. Think of it as a way to support my work in China. Thanks.)