Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More messages

Here's what our paper cups have to tell us at the moment. I hope they will make us better people...

Western Indulgence

I had a bit of a treat today as I went to see Harry Potter at the cinema.
It was good fun, and made a change from the old routine here. I'd never been to a cinema in China before, but I was pleasantly surprised, it was as clean and comfortable as a western cinema. The only difference was the patrons, who didn't think twice about talking all the way through the movie, and answering their text messages...

Monday, November 28, 2005

It never rains

Does bad luck really come in 3s? Well, disaster number three has happened this week, with over 150 miners being killed in an explosion, which has also rendered many trapped. Things aren't looking so great for safety in China.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


CCTV (China central television) 9 has claimed that the UN has praised China for its swift action over the pollution matter, and for its quick provision of detailed statistics...

Seems quite a different tune from what we've been hearing in the Western media, no?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Serve the people?

The whole Haerbin river water pollution episode has become more and more like the communist China we used to know in its whole undertaking.

It's been revealed that no one along the river between the plant at Jilin and Haerbin was told about the pollution, and that the people have been using the water from the river as normal. The Telegraph talks about how the population surrounding the petrochemical plant were not told for 10 days about the disaster (the Times puts the explosion at Nov 13th, which tallies nearer with my memory of it first being broadcast rather than the dates that we were being quoted this week). The reporting of news on TV channels days after the event is unsurprising here - it could actually be the norm. The articles goes as far to say that one government employee who was interviewed admitted that the water had been cut off from one town (Song Yuan), but the residents were told that maintainance was being done - increasing the likelyhood that water would be drawn from the river.

Furthermore, the citizens of Haerbin were then told that there would be a shutdown for repair work with little notice. This caused panic, spread by mobile phones and the internet, that there was to be an imminent earthquake. People rushed to leave the city, causing the tickets to be sold out, and stock-buy bottled beverages (which we have been told sold out within an hour or so throughout the city). At the time, the state run CCTV 9 (an english channel) provided us with a very, ahem, balanced article which concluded with the sentiment that although some people were trying to leave and were panicking, most citiznes just felt "inconvenienced".

The state has admitted there was a cover-up, and allowed some controlled media attacks against those responsible, but they were soon told to stop lest it create greater resentment and unrest. Now soldiers have been drafted in to speed up the clean up and support work.

An article in the Sunday Times today cites one Harbin resident's scepticism of the water that the government has brought to the city in tankers. He says that the government tells them that this water is safe and from deep wells, but how can he trust what they say after this week's events? A tough place to be in.

The state Premier Wen Jiabao visited yesterday to bolster morale and deliver a rousing communist speech - but will this effort be enough to placate the people? We've all seen the lack of speed with which China reacted towards SARS, bird-flu and now this; the great cover-up machine takes a long time to get moving before the people can be told what they 'need' to know! It seems like the behaviour of a young child who is ashamed of having done something bad, and who covers it up, trying to make it seem like they have done less. This isn't the behaviour we need from an international government - let alone the government of such a large and important nation.

Finally I'd like to point out that this was a state owned petrochemical plant.

Earthquake There was an earthquake in Jiujian, Jiangxi province yesterday. the internationla media were told immediately it seems - you can't hide an earthquake from global seismic stations. However no-one here yesterday mentioned it, and it was not in the newspapers yesterday. We'll see about today though. More on that later...

Friday, November 25, 2005

The NE

As you may or may not be aware from the international news, a few days ago there was an explosion at a petrochemical plant in the city of Jilin. This plant was (and I suppose still is...at least in part) handily situated by the banks of the Songhua River. Consequently, a large dose of chemicals was released into the water, which has been slowly meandering its way north towards Haerbin (Harbin), the provincial capital of Heilongjiang - a city of some 4 million people.

Now Haerbin is without water, as the supply has been shut off to avoid contamination, and it is apparently impossible to buy a ticket out of the city - no one can leave fast enough! And quite rightly too, with Benzene levels at over 10 times the safety level in the river...

Now the 80km slick is heading towards Russia, through which the river flows before it reaches the sea. Russia's not too happy.

What long term effects might this have? Well, Haerbin is famous for its Ice Lantern Festival, and much of the city's winter economy is driven by the income from tourists throughout the festival (Late Dec to late March). If this is treated with the usual suspicion from the people that greets such disasters in this country, I predict a quiet season! This paranoia is created because of a lack of information - and rumours here really fly.

Will the ice festival (which is built on the frozen river) be thawed out? Only time will tell...

EDIT: here's a handy link from the BBC .

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Beijing Bulletin

More news from the front...

We went to Dashanzi, the art complex, again this weekend as we ahd heard that it was being slowly demolished. Having scoured the site, we couldn't see any damage to the principal areas - so unfounded rumours abound...

It was odd - seeing it a second time, it had lost much of its magic. Some of the work we had seen previously wasn't as special as I had once thought. There were lots of new exhibits though and they were interesting.

I've discovered a new form of pollution! :o Something we're not experiencing in Britain at least - and this is it:

Stair pollution? No, look closer! Many pavements, busstops, lamposts well basically anything that you can reach and is not private property, are oft covered in small advertising stickers. These stickers carry a telephone number and a few characters telling the viewer what they might get, e.g. rooms to let, cheap tickets, cheap tube pass etc. Obviously this isn't an eye-catcher, so they make up for lack of graphic design with sheer numbers!

Things are being done though - frequently you can see a couple of people scraping away at these tenacious little plastic stickers with a wallpaper scraper and some detergent. however, the numebr of sticker adherers outnumbers the sticker scrapers, so there's no real winning against them.

Another thing I've noticed recently are the paper cups in which we get our coffee (well something resembling coffee that has been reconstituted from powder). Each of them is blessed with a cute image and a (sometimes suspect) English motto; all of them reinforcing the fact that you should be doing your bit for the environment. How on earth did this get tied into paper cups though? Are these small, one-shot paper vessels really going to help us overcome carbon emissions and turn back the deserts? Or is the picture there to make us feel guilty about not having brought our own mug to the shop? I'll leave that one with you to decide...

Friday, November 18, 2005


I think I've stumbled on on part of the reason why I get so cross with China. I am fully aware that it is a developing country, and so shouldn't expect perfection, but I believe that it is because of the very nature of its development that I get this way with it. Maybe it is a trait of all humans, but the willingness to observe adn learn from others' mistakes does not seem to be an overriding concern here. Debating the question of "Pollution first and rectification later?" should be a no-brainer when looking at the development of the west and the way we behave now, yet it is still on the cards here (and while it is being discussed the pollution continues). I wish that China would actively seek to avoid the mistakes of otehr countries, be it coal consumption in industrial revolution England (err Black Country anyone?), or deforestation in contemporary Brazil, yet for all the talk from politicians and government officials - what is happening?

China's making great strides with the negoatiations about the N.Korea nuclear program, and is leading by example there having seen that otehr parties attempts and attitudes haven't paid off as well as had been expected, but why isn't it doing so on other fronts, especially environmental ones, where their contribution is so critical on a global scale?

(that was a long sentence...I think I need to rest my fingers)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Still Autumn

It's officially the longest, warmest autumn on record in Beijing - and there's a mild winter forecast. The news on CCTV 9 proclaimed this a great thing because it prolongs the growing season and reduces heating bills, but also warned of a possible increase in respiratory disease. If you have any issues with that line of thought, email them, not me!

Having blogged about coal use yesterday, I was amused to see greenpeace dumping coal at the entrances to Downing street. I think that's brought coal use back to everyone's attention. I hadn't realised that coal use ahd increased 20% under Blair's rule; that's not a great statistic to have created!

I hope this winter isn't so mild that we don't have snow - that would be very sad.

Monday, November 14, 2005


It's November the 15th, so public heating gets turned on officially today. Unofficially, people having been plugging their own heaters into the mains for a while anyway - yet still it's 'on' day. The system here is quite unusual, as many flats have no hot water boiler; in many areas hot water is heated centrally in centralised plants. these coal fired beasts are dotted around the city and are now happily consuming their coal ration heating the homes of the people of Beijing. The hutong houses though have no centralised central heating whatsoever - they have to burn coal bricks directly in stoves in their homes. Providing heating for all of Beijing's 13 million people (municipal district pop.) takes a fair amount of fuel as you can imagine, and the heating won't go off until spring.

The heating's on just in time too, as it's getting colder and colder at night. The humidity's plummeted too, and there's no precipiation forecast for a while, so no chance of snow or snowy pictures for the meanwhile. Fingers crossed for soon though.

Small things that make China nice

It's amazing how a seemingly small an insignificant thing can make life here in this oppressive city much more bearable. One item or occurrance can make my day, and change my outlook quite dramatically!

*Chocolate Fish Waffles - fish shaped waffles, not too big, with a lump of molten chocolate hiding in the middle. 1 Yuan. :D

*Affordable ice-cream - Magnums for 3 Yuan, that's 20p, amongst other asssorted frozen treats.

*Haws on sticks - as mentioned before.

*Calligraphy classes that go well...

*A day with blue skies - see previous entries!

*Shop staff/taxi drivers who are nice and talk to you, and treat you like a real person and not a walking wallet.

*People who don't push into the lift/underground carriage when people are trying to get off.

*Being told there's no post for me without asking!

*Listening to radio 4 on the other side of the world.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Antiques Road Show

Yesterday we visited Panjiayuan antiques market, where there are many vendors of, erm, "antiques". Paintings to furniture to pottery can all be got here, though I doubt if nay of them are older than a few months! It's a very interesting place, though sadly only open at the weekend. We did this en-route to seeing Melissa's dad, who is in beijing for a week on a visit, and who was staying very nearby. even though Panjiayuan is rich in antiques, it's not so rich in restaurants, so we hopped in a taxi and drove half the city to No-name restaurant in the Hutong near Houhai. No-name again served up a delicious Yunnanese style meal for us, and everyone was very happy with it.

Today though is homework day. No fun! :(

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Residence Permit

Have a look at this article on the beeb. It's all about the proposed abolition of the Hukou or residence permit in some provinces. This is the bureaucratic device that has created the huge separation between the villagers and the city dwellers. Ironically, for a government that came to power for the peasants and in the name of the peasants workers and soldiers, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) hasn't exactly treated them as the respected members of the proletariat that they claim they are. Forced to stay in the countrside because of this residence permit (enforced since 1953) they have remained in a relatively undeveloped state, and are still extremely poor to this day - especially compared to their city dwelling compatriots. With this residence permit, the peasants cannot leave their local area to work - they cannot work in cities at all, although they are free to travel (if they can get the money! Though every day we see tourist parties of peasants looking at Beijing's famous tourist sights).

What will the effect be of this partial lifting? Well, an influx from the poorer areas to the richer for sure, but will it affect Beijing and Shanghai? They are not on the list of hukou-free zones, though I believe it will be impossible to stop people coming here to look for work when the lawas are relaxed. Presently, there are still many migrant workers who come here from the countryside illegally to try and get some of the ecomonic action. This law will not stem the flow, but can only increase it. This is going to pose new questions in terms of accommodating all the new workers, finding work for them and raise problems with security (what do thoe who don't find work do?).

On the positive side, I guess they have found a new way of filling up all these huge empty tower blocks that have been constructed and left void...

Making things clear

Just a quick note to say that although there have been supposed terror threats against luxury hotels in China/HK, the FCO says there is no evidence to support these claims as yet. For the meantime i'll cut down on the number of nights i spend in 5* establishments.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Smog update

If you thought I wass being harsh on the climatic conditions here then this article may change your mind! http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Newsroom/NewImages/images.php3?img_id=17087
On the day we saw fog inside the shopping centre, the highest ever levels of pollution in Beijing were recorded. Why am i still breathing this stuff? Apparently, the government warned people to stay indoors and avoid all outside activity; though somehow I never saw or heard these warnings, and neither, it seems, did the thousands of other people going about their daily business in the city!

Sunday, November 06, 2005


Beijing's air is realtively breatheable today, thanks to the immense winds we had last night. It was getting pretty gusty when we went for dinner to Lush in Wudaokou, the wind even tore a 1 Yuan note out of Alex's grip and sent it hurtling down the street! The two were never reunited.

I am especially glad that there were such strong winds last night because yestrday's pollution was so awful. It was a real pea-souper, with visibility very limited. The sun appeared as a pale disk in the sky, and did not hurt at all to look at (not that I endorse looking at the sun at all - don't do it children! :p ). After the photo above was taken (3.30ish pm, Jishuitan Tube Station), the situation got worse, and visibiltiy fell even more. After it turned dark, the winds picked up and the smog dispersed. But where did it go? Ah well, not our problem any more...just some poor Anhui province peasant's problem when all his donkeys and sheep develop respiratory diseases and die.

Being in need of some creature comforts, the need having been brought on by the pollution, the thousands of mannerless Chinese peasants that seem to have flooded the underground system, the traffic (etc. etc.), Melissa and I went to Wanfujin to get her a new novel and let me browse around a couple of camera shops. However, on running inside the Malls at Oriental Plaza (their catchy name, not mine) to escape the pollution we were shocked to find that the smog had beaten us to it. Despite the conditioned air, the grey haze could still be seen floating up and down the walkways between the shops. It was ghastly! Fortified by a cup of Starbucks (yes I know, poor show....), we pressed on and completed our mission; though my camera browsing was cut short due to the fact that we couldn't bear contemplating a walk along Chang An Jie to find another shop. Well, you would have thought so too with the weather as it was (see pic)!

Today we took advantage fo the clear air and strolled around the Hutong around Houhai, Qianhai and that area. We wanted to visit Prince Gong's Palace, but found it's shut until Feb. next year :( Still, I took lots of pictures as the light was pretty good for Beijing!

On another pollutive note, when I returned home from my walk, I found quite a few small coal smuts on my windowsill (and all over my books and calligraphy that were lying there!). It seems that the winter heating season is starting up again, and the centralised central heating boilers are warming up for the big chill. Which means blacker windowsills and greyer snow for us all :D

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Exams in China

Firstly, thanks to those of you who have emailed me the non-spam comments on my blog: despite rumours to the contrary, the site is still firmly blocked from the connection we have here and i can't read any of them still. I'm amused to find that there are links to sexy lingerie pages hidden in spam posts....

Anyway, this week i've been quite quiet here because of exams! They are a farce. two of our teachers told us exactly what was going to be in them (remember to look at p 55 excercise 3 before you go in....), which renders the exams fairly pointless. Our oral exam was more a memory test than a test of our oral capability: "so what happened in chapter 3 then?", which is also pointless. Our listening exam I had few complaints with, except for that it was multiple choice (1 in 3 chance for each question) and the one section that wasn't could hve been memorised (yes you guessed it) from the text book. Only one more to go - but i know exactly what will be in it.

If this is a reflection on all Chinese exams (and those I've taken here before have been exactly the same), you do wonder about all the quallifications that people have here. Does this reassure you about the skills of the next Chinese doctor you're going to see?

Tonight we're off to Wudaokou to celebrate the end of exams en-masse with the rest of my class. Korean BBQ and Karaoke are on the cards. However, due to the slightly strange eating habits of my classmates we're having dinner at 5pm. Ah well, nothing for it but to have lunch at 11.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Film and Fridges

The film was processed OK - not perfectly but good enough for sure, and nothing that photoshop can't redress in terms of contast or levels! I'd be quite happy to go back there when i've taken more film - but i'm waiting for the snows...

This morning I woke to find my fridge had stopped working in the night and consequently my yoghurts all warm and inedible. I asked at the front desk if someone could come and look at it, however when they came, this afternoon, the accursed thing had started up again. Still, i explained the situation to the woman they sent, who said to me in perfect seriousness : "well you don't expect it to be cold all the time do you?"