Beijing Rain

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Sunday morning and it’s raining. I figure I’ll give it an hour to stop or calm down before I give up and head out anyway. I neglected to pack an umbrella. However I bought one easily enough at a little convenience store down the street. It was 26 Yuan (about $4) which struck me as a trifle expensive, but when I opened it I discovered it was actually a really large, solid umbrella, of the sort that sells for $20 or more in the states, not one of the cheap $3 umbrellas that magically on every street corner in Manhattan as soon as the rain starts.

Prices here are quite cheap. A couple of days ago lunch was an amazing duck sandwich from a little hole in the wall bakery in Shicha Hai for 4 Yuan (about 65 cents). A couple of times I’ve known I was getting a bad deal (a 10 Yuan Diet Coke, a $100 Yuan one hour cab ride), but I haven’t bothered to haggle because the price was at worst in line with New York prices, and usually cheaper still. If you bother to haggle at all, the price drops fast. If you don’t like haggling, just look for stores that use scanners on major streets. Then the price is whatever’s been entered in the computer, not whatever the clerk thinks he/she can get away with.
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Fox News China

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

The Chinese-language television channels in our hotel seem to be split into news, music, and various historical dramas. The dramas are roughly half Kung Fu, half soap opera. The only modern drama we’ve caught is one that we could best interpret as Chinese Law and Order; but otherwise China does seem to prefer drama set in the pre-revolutionary past. Whether this reflects the preferences of the viewers, the producers, or the government censors, I don’t know.

At least one of the dramas we caught came from Hong Kong. It took me a few minutes to figure out why the actors’ lips were as badly out of sync as in any Saturday afternoon Kung Fu movie on WGNO: this was a Cantonese movie from Hong Kong! Only this time it was dubbed into Mandarin instead of English.

The one English language channel at our hotel is CCTV 9, which brings new meaning to the motto “Fair and Balanced”. This is like a Chinese version of Fox News, only without the entertainment value. Right now they seem to be obsessed with two stories: the class system in Tibet before China “liberated” it in 1955, and the various protests against Beijing hosting the Olympics.
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Visiting China’s Other Great Wall

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

English Wikipedia is mostly available from here in Beijing but there are some notable exceptions:

The connection to the server was reset while the page was loading.                                     *   The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few           moments.      *   If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network           connection.      *   If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure           that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.

I’ve also noticed that although I can get through to some parts of IBiblio, I can’t reach others, including Cafe au Lait and Cafe con Leche. I can get e-mail from IBiblio but not use SFTP (which explains why those sites are fairly static at the moment.)

I knew I should have set up that VPN before I left the states.

Behai Park Wildlife

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Orange cat relaxing on manhole cover
Felis catus
Behai Park, Beijing, 2008-04-18

Wanted: A Course in Pidgin Mandarin

Friday, April 18th, 2008

One thing this trip to Beijing has brought out is just how useful it would be to speak even a little Mandarin here, even if one can’t reasonably converse or understand spoken Mandarin. Maybe a week’s worth of basic vocabulary and phrases:

  • Yes
  • No
  • I don’t speak Chinese.
  • Cell phone
  • Too Expensive
  • No meat
  • Duck
  • Chicken
  • Beef
  • Rice
  • Noodles
  • Water
  • Tea
  • Coffee
  • Diet Coke
  • How much?
  • Skim Milk
  • Hello
  • Goodbye
  • Thank you
  • Not now
  • Maybe later
  • I don’t know
  • I understand
  • Turn right
  • Turn left
  • You’re going the wrong way
  • Down the sidewalk!
  • Oh my God I’m going to die and I still haven’t seen the giant pandas!
  • etc.

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Beijing Day 2

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Today I spent doing a lot of the standard tourist things in Beijing: The Forbidden City, Beihai Park, Hutongs, and Jianshan Park; and the most interesting thing I noticed while doing this is that Beijing is not a tourist city.

Even in the Forbidden City, Caucasians were greatly outnumbered by Asians (all Chinese as near as I could tell). After I left the Forbidden City, it was over an hour before I saw another Caucasian and that infrequency repeated until I got to the Jade Islet late in the day. There were several tour groups wandering around the Hutongs, but they were all Chinese.

This did mean I stuck out more than I’m accustomed to, and was a target for every single person making their living off tourists: waitresses trying to lure me into tea shops, vendors hawking water bottles, “Rolex” salesmen, and rickshaw drivers looking for a fare. These were the most persistent. They’d follow me down the street, and just as one would give up, the next would jump in. You think they might have realized that I could not have possibly gotten halfway down the block without already refusing half a dozen of their competitors. I’m not sure why they thought I’d be different, but maybe they were desperate. There were hundreds of them, and not many potential customers (though most of the people I’ve seen actually riding in rickshaws are Chinese.)
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