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?

Observations on ‘New China': Part III – Spitting

April 14, 2011 in China, Misc, Social/Political Commentary, Travel

Strangely I did not see any such signs in China while I was there

I mean this in the nicest possible way, but China is a land of phlegm throwers.  If there’s one sound that I heard more than any other during my short trip to Shanghai and Hangzhou, it’s the sound of someone clearing their throats and hocking and spitting phlegm.

The strange thing is that this type of behaviour is completely acceptable.  It’s become so common over the years and so engrained into the culture that no one thinks much of it anymore.  After all, having a clogged throat is an awfully uncomfortable feeling.

Ordinarily, the act of hocking and spitting phlegm is only seen and heard at homes and in public toilets (at least in my experience), but in China, it’s everywhere you go.  Not just on the streets but also at touristy places such as temples and museums, and even in the lobbies of five-star hotels.

Once I was waiting for a lift in a hotel and a man just walked by, generated some phlegm, and spat it right into the corner against the wall.  I was the only one that cringed.  Everyone else just pretended it was normal behaviour.  Another time, when we were at the top area of this Buddhist temple, a guy hocked for a good twenty seconds, then launched a massive ball of phlegm (I’d say almost golf ball sized) over the railings — and into a sea of people below.  I could almost visualise someone getting concussed after getting hit by one of those bombs.

(It also reminded me of when I went to Macau a year or so ago and stayed at the Venetian, which was overrun by Chinese tourists.  We took a gondola ride in the fake canal and my mother tried to put her hand in the water, only to be stopped by our guide, who reminded us that the Chinese tourists have a tendency to spit in them.  Sure enough, a second later, a massive loogey comes floating along.)

I was actually kind of fascinated by it all in a bizarre way — why do people have so much phlegm in China?  And why is it, judging from what I can see sprinkled all over the footpaths, is it so thick and creamy?  Is it the pollution?  The diet?  Shouldn’t someone conduct a study into this?

 
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