The Beijing Diaries, Days 4 & 5: Random Observations

November 13, 2012 in China, NBA, Travel

The added security is a hassle — unless you have a press pass

November 9 & 10

The 18th National Congress is officially underway, and my days generally involve running around between my hotel and the media center at the aptly named Beijing Media Center Hotel. You would think they’d put the media center somewhere convenient and close to the Great Hall of the People. but it’s about 6 subway stations away.

The rich international news agencies generally have their own cars and drivers or get special shuttle buses directly to the venue from their hotel, but cheap news agencies like the one I work for force us to catch the subway.

On Friday, I moved back to the hotel I was originally supposed to stay at (but was cancelled at the last minute). It’s part of the same chain but it’s more convenient, newer, brighter and cleaner — although it’s also a little smaller.

Anyway, not much to blog about since I’ve been spending most of my time attending press conferences and writing articles, so I’ve decided to share some of my random observations of Beijing.

Here goes:

  • Beijing’s subway system is utterly insane. Off-peak here is like peak time in Sydney and Taipei. I’ve never had so many bodies pressed against me at once, and definitely never so many bodies that smell like they haven’t showered for some time. People have to prepare about 2 stops in advance to make their way through to the door so they can get off.
  • Red lights don’t count for cars here for some reason. Everyone seems to have accepted this fact, even the traffic cops and pedestrians.
  • Red lights don’t count for pedestrians either if enough people can cross the road at the same time. Dozens of people just naturally form groups of their own and cross together at the same time, blocking cars that should have the right of way. Strength in numbers. It’s awesome.
  • Taiwanese people have got nothing on the Chinese when it comes to picking their noses on public transport.
  • I am always thirsty in Beijing. I have about 4 litres of water a day and I’m still thirsty.
  • The Oriental Plaza Mall across from when I am staying is huge — it stretches between two subway stations (Wangfujing and Dongdan). Think about that for a second.
  • There is a serious phlegm problem in Beijing. People are constantly hocking phlegm wherever I go (in fact I can hear it outside my window as I type this), though to their credit there are significantly less spitting noises that follow. It must be something in the air or the food because I’ve been experiencing a significant rise in phlegm myself.
  • There is no concept of lining up in China. I often see massive crowds of people and I think something must be going on, but they’re actually all just trying to get to the ticket machine at the same time. Years of fighting for survival can do that to people.
  • The Beijing Media Center Hotel really sucks. The internet there is slow and many websites don’t work. The wi-fi is completely unreliable. I would believe it if someone told me that the Chinese government giving foreign journalists shit internet on purpose so they can’t send their articles back home to get published.
  • Security is heavy right now at subway stations and near tourist spots in Beijing but you can get away with most of it if you have a press pass (they just let you through without checking most of the time). Makes me worry that someone is going to make a fake press pass. They fake everything here, so surely a press pass is not that hard.
  • I can’t get out of my head the recording of the English announcer’s voice from the escalators at all subways stations on line one. “Please stand firm, and hold the handrail,” she says. But it sounds like “Please stan-fer, and ho-de-han-ruil” — with a Frank Constanza kind of halting rhythm. I love it.
  • Beijing (and I assume all of China) has really awesome NBA coverage, with multiple live games and replays throughout the week. The best part is that during timeouts and breaks they almost always show highlights of other games around the league. It’s one continuous NBA-rama here.
  • From my very limited interactions with taxi drivers in Beijing I have concluded that they are the nicest in the world. The other night I had real trouble getting a cab to go to a journalist function, and I finally managed to hail one down — but it was heading in the wrong direction. The driver was so apologetic that she would have to find somewhere to do a could of U-turns and despite me saying it was perfectly fine since I was the one that chose a cab in the wrong direction she just wouldn’t stop apologizing. And when I arrived at my destination I tried to give her a one yuan tip, but she wouldn’t take it no matter how hard I tried. Are they polite or just crazy?

Random Graduation Thoughts and Observations

October 15, 2011 in On Writing, Study

I've attended three graduations and we've never done this

I’m back, baby!  I am slowly settling in after the big move and will hopefully be able to post regularly again.

Lost in the mayhem of recent weeks is the fact that I finally graduated from my writing degree.  It was my third graduation and I guess my excitement level was not as high as it should have been as I have become a veteran at these types of events now.  Nevertheless, graduating from anything is an achievement in itself, and it was a good opportunity to catch up with some friends I met throughout the course.

However, comparing this particular graduation to the first one around 6 years ago (also at the same university), it was interesting to see how some things have changed drastically while others have remained the same.  Here are some random thoughts and observations.

For starters, this time, I had to freaking pay a fee to attend my own graduation.  Isn’t that outrageous, egregious and preposterous?  Was it to pay for the gown hire or the venue or the guests?  Doesn’t really matter because there are no excuses for this atrociously dick move by the university.  One would have thought after the thousands of dollars in exorbitant fees collected from students they could have allowed those same students to attend a ceremony that is supposed to celebrate their graduation.  Just sayin’.

Secondly, everything is done online now.  You have to register online and even enter the phonetic pronunciation of your surname so there are no embarrassing mishaps on stage — no doubt a common occurrence with the plethora of overseas graduates.  And did you know that many universities now also have graduation ceremonies overseas as well?  That’s insane.

Thirdly, this particular graduation took place off campus at a function centre.  Renovations may have been the primary reason for the relocation but it felt strange to be graduating away from the place you studied.  No complaints from me though — it was a much better place for photos.

Speaking of photos — man — they are another rip-off scheme.  Most packages are hundreds of dollars and only include a few photos and no frame.  I of course went with the cheapo option and chose an online package where they send you the photos online and you choose which ones you want to save and print.  I’m still waiting for that email…

A lot of universities now also have a semi-compulsory student survey they force you to fill out as soon as you step out of the gown fitting room.  There’s a dude standing at the exit and you pretty much have no choice but to do it on the spot, in exchange for a piece of chocolate of your choosing.

As for the ceremony itself, not too bad.  I expected myself to doze off at regular intervals but for the most part I remained attentive.  I always find the occasional speaker quite boring, and this time it was no different.  I started wondering how much the man got paid for the gig, and whether it was something that deserves more research — surely he must recycle the same speech from ceremony to ceremony, from university to university.  It could be quite a lucrative thing to do.

And what is the deal with the students?  Prior to the ceremony they always have this mini-rehearsal there they tell you where to line up and where to stand once you get up on the stage.  You only need to pay half-attention because you just have to follow the person in front of you.  There are visible markings on the floor so it’s not all that difficult, and all you have to do is tip your hat towards the chancellor or whoever when your name is called — and yet for some inexplicable reason some morons always get it wrong and either stand too close or too far away from where they are supposed to or forget the hat tip.  Makes you wonder how they managed to graduate in the first place (well…let’s face it, it’s not that hard…most students I see when I walk past the computer labs are on Facebook or YouTube anyway)…

Lastly, there is one constant that I have noticed throughout all the graduations I have attended: I have a massive head.  One look at me and the fitters head straight to the last rack of hats, and usually it takes a couple of fittings to find the right one.  And often they are still so tight they leave a V-shaped mark on my forehead.  This time I took the liberty of telling the dude upfront that I had a massive head (like he couldn’t tell) so he got me a cushier one.  Still left a tiny mark though.