Beijing Bits and Errata After Two Weeks

Other things notable things I’ve observed include:

1) “Chinglish” is everywhere.

I’d guess that about 1/3 or more of the printed English you see on any sign or product qualifies as Chinglish. As I’m writing this, I’m drinking out of mug that has a cute cartoon drawing of two pigs on a bicycle-built-for-two, with the inscription, “I love you, even you are a pig!” My other pig cartoon cup has another porcine couple, with the male saying to the female, “Marry to me!” My walking route to Allison’s dorm at People’s University brings me by the “Coral Polyp Internet Bar,” and a sign in her dorm room proclaims that efficient executions are the best, and asks guests to be “booked up.” Another sign with a cop’s photo says, “Punished Severely All Sorts of Crimes,” and I’m unclear what’s meant by it. Is it that this cop is being cited for having helped to punish severely all sorts of crimes, or that the cop himself is being subject to public ridicule for corruption, thus finding himself punished severely for all sorts of crimes?

2) Attitudes toward alcohol are far more like Europe than America.

I remember being shocked to see beer being sold in the McDonald’s in Germany. Well, here, beer is sold in vending machines. I kid not. There’s just such a vending machine in Allison’s dorm building, where beer is being sold for about the same price as coke. If there is a drinking age, it’s clearly not enforced at all. The same machine also serves hot cans of coffee and tea, and restaurants will typically give you a cup of hot water if you ask for water. They may charge extra if you want ice. I don’t know if there’s a reason for this, but in a city where the running water is not potable if you haven’t boiled it first, it’s probably not a bad idea.

3) Smoking is far, far more common here than in the US or even Europe.

Most men here smoke. But relatively very few women do, as Allison’s former roommate explains, because only nasty women do that. It’s just different when it comes to men, she said. And smoking bans are rare. It’s like the complete opposite of Madison. People smoke in the coffee shop I’ve been frequenting, in the hallway outside my apartment, in university classrooms and offices (or at least, professors do – I don’t know if they allow students the same privilege).

4) The Olympics are a big, big deal to this country.

The government here is really, really getting into the Olympic spirit, and people here are clearly proud that Beijing will be hosting the games this year. There’s a countdown clock I often pass, and almost as ubiquitous as the good Colonel are the Fuwa. They were mentioned in Reason magazine sometime back. They are five cute little mascots, whose names, when put together, say in Chinese something like “Beijing welcomes you.” I only know the names of three of them – Bei-Bei, and Jing-Jing, the panda, and Ni-Ni. One of the Fuwa is a Tibetan antelope, which has a pretty clear political meaning, that being a not-too-subtle reminder to the international community that Tibet is part of China. Regardless, they are on posters and merchandise throughout the city. All in all, you can tell that there’s a lot of nationalism afoot, especially the kind you see associated with national inferiority complexes. Many Chinese, especially politicians, see these games as a chance to show the world that China has arrived as a 21st century economic superpower. Of course, locking up all its dissidents before the games to make it look like the country has no dissent, and that it really fits Hu Jintao’s conception of a “Harmonious Society” is sure to backfire. It’s not like the world only knows what it sees in the pageantry of the games, and China’s crackdown on civil liberties is already common knowledge, only confirmed by such actions.

5) Yes, the air is very polluted. And the city has a very “dirty” feel to it.

I saw thick smog from the plane the day I arrived. And not too long after, I developed a cough and sore throat, and only just now seem to be getting over it. Many days, the sun is barely even visible through all of the smog. The weather is, well, boring otherwise – no snow (at least here, the south is a different matter), stable temperatures. Pretty cold, but warmer than Madison.


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