China - Bejing: The City (Translated by Irina Novikova)
Let’s begin the story about China. I am dividing everything in two parts (two albums for each part) – in the first part there will be Beijing, in the second – island of Hainan. Right away I would like to turn your attention to the climate. The trip took place over New Year holidays – all in all about two weeks, beginning at the end of December. At this particular time of the year in Beijing there is real winter (-3°C..-9°C, wind). However, because pictures lack snow and have lots of sunlight, everyone for some reason thinks that it’s summer there. :) On Hainan, the situation is quite different – tropics, so it’s always warm. From Beijing to the island the flight took around 2.5 hours. Well, enough about the weather. Let’s move on to the main point of our discussion.
The flight from St. Petersburg to Beijing – about eight hours long. The airplane is new – TU-214.
The first one of these was released in 1991 or 1992. It does not require additional fueling, but fits as many people as TU-154.
The airplane belongs to the company “Rossia” (“Russia”) (more precisely “Pulkovo,” which is now part of it).
On the photo – we are flying either over Mongolia or China. Similar landscape stretches on for a long time and only partly without snow.
The airport in Beijing is new and quite contemporary. However, Chinese themselves think it rather small – for the Olympics they plan to build another one.
Tiananmen Square is considered the biggest square in the world (880x500 meters).
Here in 1989 the government quite brutally suppressed a public demonstration, thus preventing our destructive scenario and making the process of transition to capitalism possible to control.
The analog to our Perestroika began in China during early 1980’s.
As far as “Cultural Revolution” and Mao Zedong, I heard from Chinese the following, seemingly official interpretation: “He was 70 percent right and 30 percent wrong.”
So, it is all pretty simple for them here. They were building socialism and then decided to build capitalism. One gets the feeling that the population wasn’t particularly surprised. As in what’s the difference – since it’s been decided, then we’ll build capitalism now. :)
Don’t let the red flags, starts and similar emblems leave the wrong impression. In China, there is real capitalism. Moreover, it has gone much further there, than in Russia.
So, the word “communistic” isn’t applicable to today’s China in any way. Certainly, in power is the party, which calls itself communist. But the name isn’t as important here.
The second most noticeable thing about the square (after realization of the grandiose scale) is the somewhat pushy street traders selling hats with read stars.
Atypical Chinese woman :)
This is an exception. Probably a consequence of historically atypical pneumonia and bird flu. Now people in protective breathing masks are rare on the streets.
The Gates of Heavenly Peace.
In the center – portrait of Mao Zendong.
Young ladies in China like to dress up fashionably.
But in Russia it is somewhat more noticeable. There it isn’t on as big a scale. :)
Beijing is being built up quickly and in disorganized manner to watch European, American and Russian cities. Skyscrapers, trading centers of glass, tight city planning.
As a rule, all cars on the street are of popular models but of Chinese manufacturing (the name is written in Chinese characters).
The cheapest new car of purely Chinese (as in without license) manufacturing costs $4,000. Generally, it is still a lot of money for the Chinese.
In China a language barrier is a serious problem. No one knows Russian or English, and one can’t just learn Chinese in a matter of few days. Especially, with their demand for the exact pronunciation of words and precise writing of characters (otherwise, they don’t understand at all or understand incorrectly :).
The words in Chinese consist of one or more characters, most of which are difficult to write and remember. In two weeks I was successful in remembering (or rather recognizing) around 20. However, all together there are thousands.
On the photo to the left is a menu in Chinese. Their vodka by the way is 53 percent alcohol.
Beijing is large city. As stated by the locals – total stretch is around 100km, with over 15 million people living there. The combination of these two facts may have something to do with the fact that there aren’t as many people on the streets as one could expect in China – in spite of tales (from the same series as that “in Vladivostok over half pedestrians are Chinese” :), the number of pedestrians is similar to St. Petersburg or Moscow.
With that however, there are a lot of bikers. Biking here is hardly entertainment, but, typically, method of transportation for those that don’t’ have enough for the bus, subway or a car. Therefore, most bicycles look quite simple and somewhat exhausted.
Some living quarters are old, pre-perestroika (there’s a lot). And, of course, there’s new, which with a sense of urgency gets built all over the city. The new complexes look respectable and clean.
As for the old, it is mostly worse than in Russia. Buildings are a lot alike, however of different models. With that, renovations and repairs are done rarely. Out of curiosity, we walked into one of the old-style buildings. Inside is the unlit staircase, self-crafted doors without eye hole. Complete darkness. Garbage and trash lie all over.
From the back the view is much worse than in front. We also have these, but not quite as many. I suppose, we haven’t caught up yet.
First story windows are barred almost always, second and third floor – quite often. On the upper floors one can often see a type of development (see photo) – probably for those that didn’t get a balcony, but need room for their stuff :).
Let me call your attention to the holes in glass through which stick out some sort of tubes. It would be interesting to know, whether it’s an air conditioner or ventilation outlet.
Also common, put up small pieces of glass in the window, as in the photo.
Conditioners are in all more or less normal buildings. In the summer it often gets very hot here.
There are plenty of two-three level traffic turnouts.
Of public transportation there are buses (modern-looking and go often) and subway (more about that below).
There are a huge number of taxies as well.
Much construction is going on for the upcoming Olympics in 2008..
Amusing method of installation of the cell-phone tower – the entire thing is on the roof of the building. I saw this a few times.
City air is often hazy. Later I was told that it is smog, that in Beijing population is very high and it’s often difficult to breath. Don’t know – I didn’t notice that there was anything wrong with the air itself.
The haze looks a lot like in Pyongyang. And there is definitely no air pollution.
I’d like to say a couple of words about the impression that the Chinese themselves left on me. Mostly we communicated with those that spoke Russian (minimum 10 people), and work with foreigners. Therefore, strictly-speaking, the impression is somewhat one-sided. On the other hand, I did not notice a sharp contrast with the behavior of ordinary Chinese.
Main problem is their clearly outlandish logic. It is almost impossible to receive a true answer to any question. For that one needs to apply special effort, ask over and over (better if different people and then compare), rephrase question, so that the answer was necessarily full.
Serious problem lies in the fact that the answer of type ‘yes,’ ‘yes, OK,’ typically doesn’t mean anything. As in, it’s not an affirmative. It is more like “yeah, I hear.” “No” or “don’t know” isn’t used at all. Over the whole trip I heard this answer only a couple of times and even felt special respect for those that said it. :)
The second element, which seriously surprised us – they do not ask any questions. They showed quite a sincere lack of interest in us. That’s just unnatural in a way. I remember even North Koreans, with all their restriction, were always asking something. When heard an unfamiliar word or saying – asked to repeat it or write it out. But here – nothing of the sort occurred. Because of that it is difficult to maintain a conversation.
One episode stuck out. During a visit to the Buddhist temple, the guide could say little about Buddhism. Either didn’t know or couldn’t explain in Russian. And one of the ladies from our group decided to politely step in. Clearly, this was out place. As soon as she started talking (didn’t even finish a phrase) the guide demonstratively turned away and left.
Somewhat uncomfortable is a display of friendship and “joy” from the meeting. Memorized phrase about “USSR – the older brother of China” pronounced almost instead of the greeting, seemed to be a frequent automatic response.
With that, people were very reluctant to meet half-way even in smallest things. To find out anything, one needs to persistently ask, even insist on answers.
At the same time, with all the places where they take tourists there are contract of transportation back. When we tried to leave the tour of some “pearl factory” to take a walk, quite literally they grabbed us by the hand. Desire to use the subway or walk instead of taking the car is taken negatively.
First few days we thought that we are saying or doing something incorrectly, however with time, especially when a couple of times they tried to quite simply ditch us (the guides were middle men in the process of paying a couple of bills) – much became clear.
I am still intrigued – whether such behavior is typical only of those working with tourists or is an attribute of most Chinese? Unfortunately, without knowledge of the language this isn’t easy to understand, especially in such short time.
I had a strange feeling, that let’s say drivers (not taxi!) ages above 40 – more or less adequate and knowledgeable. Also, we got a good impression from the village population in the south (somewhat removed from the tourist routes). In any case, Chinese treat each other quite well, otherwise they couldn’t survive.
Man directing traffic. He came by bicycle. This person is part of the police force, judging by the symbol on the sleeve.
We did not observe anyone drinking in public.
Young people are typically calm.
The streets on Friday nights aren’t especially different from other days. There are a few clubs and other discotheques.
Beijing subway was built in 1970’s…80’s.
It’s far from covering the whole city and is smaller than ours. The subway here consists of two sections, one of which is above ground.
As a result, the ticket from the underground costs 3 Yuan, for both – 4. (4 Yuan * 3 = 12 rubles)
Walls are covered with advertisements. Subway trains are not exception.
Subway trains are unlike the ones we have. I believe, Germans helped Chinese to build the subway. Interesting fact – in subway trains we observed only young people. From indirect observations and after several attempts to find out the reason, it turned out that the price is too high for the elderly.
Indirectly this explanation rings true as the high number of elderly bikers (and this is in the winter, at negative temperatures!).
Stations are not very deep (without escalators), build based on similar principle.
Entrance into the station is by a paper ticket from which the station clerk tears off the end. For the automated entrance I noticed only one turnstile.
As a whole, the impression is that subway was not renovated since the beginning of reform. Tickets, judging by the automobile of type “Chaika” (“Seagull”), weren’t either.
In the city the entrance to the subway can be recognized by the emblem (upper left – like letter “D” in the circle).
I’ll say a couple of words about the level of living for general population.
The gap between rich and poor is gigantic here. (It is also much more noticeable than in Russia).
For example, near the blocks (built as if during imperial rulers) live people that are obviously not poor, for which parked automobiles is the evidence. And at this very spot, visible through a slightly opened door, how a woman by the light of the kerosene lamp puts an old tea pot on the stove warmed up by burning fire wood. In addition, the interior – rags, trash, and uneven floor surface – paints a wholesome picture. What a place to make a film…
The streets are narrow. In places questionable food is sold in colorful boxes with uneven printing on labels.
As far as I know, the concept of government pension – does not exist. This was left up to the person’s place of employment.
Consequently, in the country the pension isn’t issued at all, in the city – only a few are lucky. Judging by the above-mentioned absence of the elderly from subways, I suspect that few realistically receive any benefits at the old age.
As in any respectable large capitalistic city – there’s plenty of traffic jams. And they aren’t exactly small ones either – despite five highway turnouts.
Here we are on the central streets of the city.
In underground crossings there aren’t any little shops/news stands. This is true at least for the city center.
This picture is taken on the same street. Possibly train station.
We visited McDonald’s for comparison purposes. Without asking, they put a bunch of spices on hamburgers, as in Bangkok (but at least there they asked first). On the Chinese menu, there were a few variations that aren’t available in Russia. For example, they serve a hot drink, which looks like tea, but is made of fruit.
This wide and busy pedestrian street is full of shops and trading centers. Compared to Russian stores, China has more available products. And most important isn’t the number, but the assortment. The selection is expansive – impresses. And that includes cheap, as well as, quality and expensive goods. Buying electronics isn’t sensible – prices aren’t approachable and everything is in Chinese.
As far as bargaining in China – that’s a complicated question. Let’s just say that bargaining isn’t appropriate everywhere. In places with many customers – the seller often simply doesn’t want to spend time (what’s the difference if you don’t buy, there’ll be crowd right behind you). But sometimes it is the other way around – they bargain. I just couldn’t figure them out.
In the morning right before the flight to Hainan it suddenly began to snow. Locals say that this happens here very rarely.
Everyone immediately began to clean up the snow.
Please notice - there is no snow only in front of entrance to the store.. :)
The flight was cancelled, due to the weather conditions. But they provided a meal.
Then they added around ten symbols to the information board under “reason for delay,” from those I was able to identify only two, meaning Beijing. And then they fell silent.
Chinese passengers after some time took off somewhere. But we just sat there. I tried finding out what happened from the lady in the uniform. I pointed at the board, asking her to translate to English. She refused, sending me to the superior. He too did not want to translate anything (must have been encoded Chinese secrets :), but said that the delay is lengthy and everyone will be transported to the hotel. The bus came, we boarded. Several hours at the hotel and here we are on our flight to Hainan. But we will talk more about that later. For now – let’s see the attractions of Beijing.