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.

Hurtling Across the Countryside

Ok, I have a new favorite way to travel — in a first class seat in a near-empty compartment while hurtling across the countryside at 302 kph. That was my morning and I loved every minute of it. 4 hours and 55 minutes to travel just over 800 miles. Imagine going from Minneapolis to Denver by train in 5 hours.  That’s it. I love it.

Here are some of my random observations from the trip down:

  • Departures and arrivals were on time, down to the minute. We stopped twice — in Jinan and Nanjing — for exactly 2 minutes each.  Not even long enough for the few blokes on the train to jump off and have a smoke.
  • The “Let’s Learn from Lei Feng” video that was playing on the monitor seemed a bit out of place in this 21st century train car. There he was, lifting the old truck off of the granny and dashing about the country doing good deeds.  Meanwhile, everyone on the train was staring at their smart phones or sleeping. Sorry, Mr. Lei….you just can’t compete anymore.  That video was eventually replaced with a 1980’s variety show. That was odd too.
  • The train would be a great way to see the countryside if only the air weren’t so foul. I don’t think I ever saw more than a half mile out beyond the tracks.
  • Just 50 minutes south of Beijing, the fields had a hint of green on them.  Of course, by that time we were almost 200 miles south already!
  • It was fascinating to see the physical and human geography change so rapidly. As we sped south, there was more green, more hills, and less ice on the ocassional bodies of water that were visible. The villages changed as well. Southern villages are more compact and most homes are 2 stories, and tend not to be surrounded by courtyards.
  • 302 kph is FAST — in fact, it’s a bit higher than the speed required for an airliner to take off!
  • It’s pretty tough to take a picture out the window at that speed.  The camera’s brain sort of melts down as it tries to figure out what’s going on.

Here are a few photos of the journey:









The “first class lounge” at the Beijing South station.  People were actually paying money to sit in those poofy chairs.











That’s my gear for a month of traveling.  Pretty impressive, eh?









My”Harmonious Train.” The back end, actually.









Proof! (and that’s just 10 minutes after departure)

Tomorrow:  some observations of Shanghai.

Have you been on any high-speed trains in China? What has been your experience?