In Beijing, Just Before Olympic Games

I am in Beijing now. I am here to attend a meeting. Today is July 30, 2008, just 9 days before the Olympic Games. As we waited for this date for more than 7 years, and we are really going to see it with our own eyes. What does Beijing look like these days? How do I feel as a unprofessional reporter who happen to be in this city? Here is my report.

Over Impression – Bad

The Game has not started yet. I hope it will be better after August 8, 2008, and as I always hoped, the joy of the Games and the big economic boom after that will help Beijing and China a lot, but currently, what I felt is, bad.

Why?

Weather

The weather yesterday and today are still terrible. I am not talking about pollution since I don’t have any data – or to be more exact, I don’t have TRUSTED data. I am just talking about the weather itself. It is pretty foggy and visibility is very low. The sky is some kind of color between gray and brown – full of clouds. There is no blue sky at all. It is very humid and hot. Just now, heavy rain came and I hope this will help to drive the clouds and dirts away.

I was told the last week before I came was even terrible. People call it water-steam weather – it is just as being in the bath room and taking a bath.

How about the next few days? I don’t think anyone will report positively about this weather. To be fair, these are among the worst weather I saw in Beijing myself in the last few years. But it can be the first impression for many people, especially with the pre-caution of the bad pollution in Beijing. Anyway, weather is not such a big deal. Even it is reported 41% rain possibility at the opening ceremony, weather is just weather. To take it too seriously can be a problem.

Traffic Control

Beijing implemented traffic control. Cars can use the road alternatively. Cars with even number plates can only run on the road on even days, and so do the odd number cars.

I had dinner with my friends, and they really complained about it. They mentioned the Olympic Special Lane, which is the inner lane in many roads.

A: “Have you tried to use that lane?”

B: “I hate anyone who are on that lane, and I will be very embarrassed even if I have a permission to use that lane”

The reason is, many roads were reduced from 3 lanes to two, or from two to one just because of the special lane for Olympic. Although cars are reduced in half, roads are also reduced.

Hmmm.. Just one of the opinions people in Beijing have for the Olympics, despite of unified support voices.

Stopped Work

Many companies will be on vacation during the Olympic, and even for companies still work, there are not many thing to do. My friend at dinner who are in media industry told me they don’t need to report anything during this special time, and they have their personal vacations arranged in this time slot. One of them will fly to Europe, the other to Korea, and anther one I know will fly to Sri Lanka.

It sounds to me that it is very special time for many people. The excitement of Games have not arrived yet, but people’s life is completely taken up-side-down.

Volunteers

The two most visible thing in Beijing are 1) Banner of Olympic 2) Volunteers. There are volunteers everywhere with their unique blue T-shirt.

They are not on duty yet. I just find out they are hanging around on their way to the Olympic village, or just leaving. I didn’t try to go to that area, since it is a restricted area already.

Foreigners

Foreigners? Where are foreigners?

I didn’t see many – my impression is, I felt Beijing is more internationalized in my last few trips than this time.

It should because of the same reason – the game is not coming yet. Let’s be patient and wait.

However, hotels and rented apartment also show the same thing – they are still empty these days. I talked with a broker about the Olympic rental. They told me, the business is even worse than normal days. Many of them have closed office for vacation during the Olympic period since even normal business rental or residential rental were paused during the Olympic period but demand for Olympic Rental didn’t show up at all.

People’s Reaction

I talked with many people, including hotel servant, taxi driver, and my friend.

My over impression is, they feel depressed because of all the restrictions. They just feel the “interference” of the Game is beyond that line.

My Hope

I just record what I see and hear during my one day short stay. I hope it can be of some value. I never thought I can be a complete or even objective observer of anything, but at least the small part of world I see from my own perspective can help to add more information to pain the “Elephant” .

I just hope Olympic is successful. I will be very happy to see all the cost people paid for the game can get a wonderful game.

I also hope we can see blue sky during the game.

Crossing Over with Hong Huang

Today I joined Hong Huang on the talk show of Crossing Over on ICS, talking about Baixing.com for quite some time, and also talked about a topic I don’t have too much idea – sexual harassment.

Hong Huang is one of my favorite star – her movie Perpetual Motion was completely different from any movie I saw, and was astonishingly unique. To be more exact, Wendy is a bigger fan of her.

During side chat, Hong Huang’s comment on Baixing was confusing. I said: how come! It is such a simple business model and such a simple website. She mentioned she saw many painting ads in one of the category labeled “Home Delivery”. I said she was lucky (or unlucky) since we are doing the category change during the time, and she saw a very short window of category disorder. Sorry for that, and now it is OK.

The talk show of about 1 hour will be on air sometimes during the Olympic on ICS.

“Are you the exclusive talk show guest for ICS?” Wendy asked.

“#$^%&$#&….”

Olympic Paranoid

Although no body claimed that, China, especially big cities like Shanghai, already entered into a special emergency period. The security of most of government buildings, including TV station, which is surely part of government, if not one of the most important one, has been dramatically tightened.

I reported the security measures in Radio and TV station before, but this time, it is far more than that. Instead of asking you to wait in the lobby of the building to wait to be “claimed” by someone working in the building, they stopped all visitors at the GATE of the whole area. It is not a pleasant experience to stand on the Weihai Road under the Sun and watching taxis running around.

Besides that, the photo ID is scanned using a old style scanner (which means it is really slow) at the gate. I thought it replaced the requirement at the service counter at the lobby. I was wrong. I still need to hand in my national ID to replace it with a badge, so I can use it to enter the building.

The last step is a scanner that was used in airports. You have to put all your belongs in the scanner, and enter the magnified gate by yourself. It is said that scanner is very tough to get in China these days since it is equipped everywhere.

I didn’t see a torch, and I don’t have plan to see an Olympic game, but I did feel the pressure everywhere because of the game. Hopefully, the joy and safety of game will compensate all the trouble.

Lost Passport and Found it

To prepare the trip to US in Sept, I was looking for my passport for more than one month. My bad – I just forget to put things and always spend pretty high percentage of my life looking for things. This time, I was completely feeling desperate. I don’t want it to be the second time I lose my passport.

The Previous One

I lost passport once at the end of 2002. The re-issue process was a nightmare for me. I struggled for more than half year to get a new one, including visiting many police stations, forced to lie to the stations to get the “lost claim”, paid for classified on Wen Hui newspaper, and waited for 3 months after the lost claim appears on the newspaper, and spent another one month to get a new passport.

I tried very hard to find my old passport, and avoid to get a new one. My experience showed that it may take about one year or so.

The New Process

Yesterday, I went to the Exit and Entry Administration Ministry of Public Security in Pudong. To my great surprise, the process has been simplified so much. Here is the new process:

1. Get the lost claim from local Public Security – you just go there, and claim your passport is lost, and they give you that paper.

2. Fill in a form – the same form for new application of passport, or re-issue, or lost, or damaged passport.

3. Stick a photo and hand in additional two passport standard photo – they have the service at 30 RMB and 1 minute.

4. Prepare photo copy of the Hukou Booklet (a.k.a Residency Registry), and ID card (with original copy)

5. Give all the materials to the official, and you can get your new passport in 10 working days – basically the same day two weeks later.

That means, if I have everything, the new passport is ready on Aug 11, 2008 for me.

Wow. I told the story to Wendy and she said, the society is improving itself, anyway.

I Found Mine

I was unlucky (or you can say, I am lucky from today’s point of view) that my National ID just expired one week ago, so they rejected my application, and my new ID card is available next week. I thought I can get back to them again when it is ready.

But today, I found my passport! It is hidden in the pocket of my suite in my home! I was so happy that I jumped onto the bed – I still have a valid US visa on it. It save me much time. The passport application process is much easier, but the US visa is harder during the last 5 years.

So, my suggestion is:

1. Don’t lose your passport

2. If you lose it, don’t worry, not as big a deal as before.

Beijing Apartment for Olympic

From time to time, I am posting small “ads” for my friends, and for things I feel of great value.

Olympic Game is coming to Beijing in 14 days. Housing can be a very hard problem for visitors (visa is another one). Hotel has reached to ridiculous price, like 1000+ USD per night for hotels like Hilton in Beijing, and higher for more fancy hotels. The problem is, even with the high price, not many hotel still has rooms available…

I am sharing one apartment from my friends, and think it is best for a family stay in Beijing in August.

Location: Sanyuanqiao

It is just at the San Yuan Qiao area, the east and north corner of the 3rd Ring of Beijing – the backbone transportation line.

It is just at the terminal station of the Beijing Airport Express – take the Airport Express and you can directly get there.

The Building

I have some photos of the building:

The Room

160 sq meter, 3 bed rooms, 2 living rooms, and 2 restrooms, on the 11th floor of the building. Well equipped with gas, broadband, cable TV….

Contact

Please send email to sarilalala AT gmail.com

Swim in River in Shanghai

Shanghai has been highly polluted. When I came to Shanghai more than 10 years ago, I thought people can swim in the Huangpu river, then I just find out to swim in the Huangpu River is just impossible.

Meanwhile, some serious effort has been put into some of the rivers (just very few that I can name). To my greatest surprise, I started to see people swimming in the natural river today.

It is at the Zhangjiabang River, just besides the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Actually three persons were swimming there. Based on my observation, the quality of the water has been good enough for swim – I even think it is a good idea to swim just in the river.

Congratulations! A good sign for the natural protection and recover started to show the result. Among all the worse and worse situation in rivers and lands, I at least can name one example river in Shanghai that is suitable for swimming now.

Ironically, people swim in the “good for swimming” river, despite of “No Swimming” sign everywhere. Maybe this is the few places in Shanghai that actually need the sign – people won’t swim in other rivers with, or without the sign anyway.

Update August 17, 2008

Here is the photo I took today to compliment with this article:

Photograph by Jian Shuo Wang. Taken at Zhangjiabang River near the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

Data Center “Sealed” During Olympic

Many days ago, I received an email from Hotsales, since I have a personal home page space with Hotsales, who hosted their servers in China Telecom data center.

The official order came from the above about the “sealing (or blocking) of all data centers”. The order reads like this:

Dear Customer,

Greetings!

According to regulations related to national Olympic logistics, the following “Network Blockage” will be implemented.

China telecome: August 1, 2008 to August 25, 2008

China Unicom: July 20, 2008 to August 25, 2008

China mobile: July 20, 2008 to August 25, 2008

Requirements:

1. Customer staff are not allowed to enter data center.

2. No equipments can be added or removed.

3. If during the “network blockage”, your website is hacked, or changed to anti-government content or has other security problems, the data center will cut off the network connection immediately, and inform the related people. Please cooperate with our further investigation. All servers shutdown must wait until the blockage period is over. During the period, it will not be resumed.

Many IDC (data center) has required their client to close BBS, or anything people can post information, and ask for indemnity if their client fail to do it.

My Two Cents

OK. I feel that Olympic is really coming! Welcome! I am super excited.

Monday, Tuesday, … Olympic

A normal Monday.

In the morning, when I wanted to turn right onto the Xianan Road at my residential area gate, it is already full of cars, and for the first time, a policeman stood there helping to guide the traffic.

This is due to the recent accident on the Jinxiu Road, where the metro construction or the Shanghai Expo Electricity Power Tunnel (who knows which project) caused the road to collaps. All the traffic to Jinxiu Road and Chengshan Road was detoured to the other side of the road, making it so hard for everyone. Roads are roads – they require maintainance and sometimes, collaps… :-(

It is just three weeks before the Oympics in Beijing, and people are counting down for it. However, the recently, most of the news is about restriction, instead of celebration.

In Shanghai, it is still OK. Just saw more policemen on the street, and the Shanghai Stadium Area was closed to public. Shanghai, as one of the co-host city for Olympic, does not have too much sign of the coming Games yet.

The only major thing I observed was the traffic signs.

On the elevated highway and expressways from the Pudong Airport to the Beijing 2008 Hotel – Huating Hotel, the big sign to Huating Hotel with “Beijing 2008″ logo on top of the signs are along the away and are at all the key turning point. Besides the Huating Hotel, the Shanghai Railway Station, and the Pudong Airport are other two locations with similar signs everywhere.

Other than that, what is the difference? Let me think – think hard, and we really don’t have too many change so far.

Today is Monday. Tomorrow is Tuesday…. Soon, the Olympic will come. It really will come.

Brought Yifan to Gymboree

After talking about it for weeks, Wendy and I finally brought Yifan to Gymboree, the early-education center. Yifan and Wendy went there for once before, and this is the first time I am with them.

Yifan didn’t show particular interest in the group activity. He enjoys playing with the slopes, and stairs by himself.

English Education?

Something I observed is, they are mainly using English as the instruction language – the songs, the introduction and almost everything. I don’t feel very comfortable in an environment where everyone is Chinese, and they use English to educate my kid at the very beginning. What is the point to do it when the kids don’t know any language yet. It is OK, but I don’t think it is an advantage for a training center to use English to teach than others.

English is important. But to experience so many parents play and dancing with their child and singing everything in English just seems strange to me.

The cost for a 12 classes package is 2880 RMB, pretty expensive.

We finally decided to give Yifan more free fresh air in parks, and our time, instead of sending him there.

How A Young Couple and a Kid Live in Shanghai

Living in Shanghai for most people is not easy – the continuous inflation, and increase of cost of almost everything (housing among the big part). For a family, it is also not easy. Let me share the real problems a couple with a kid (like Yifan) will face.

Both Wife and Husband Work

In Shanghai, very few family can be really independent. In Shanghai (and in China), for most families, both the husband and wife work. Maybe as a good sign of equity between women and men, Shanghai demands exactly the same thing for women and men. That means, it is really rare for wife to stay at home to take care of their kids. Me, for example, I only have one friend who arranged his wife in home – they came back from the States and get used to have one person stay in home. Except him, I don’t know any of my friend who have the “wife-at-home” arrangement so far. Not to mention an arrangement to have husband at home while wife works.

The recent 50 years transformed China so greatly that in the last few hundred years, women never work, and was not encouraged or allowed to have access to education. In the recent 50 years, the society treat women exactly as men, and there is no such a thing to have wife stay at home.

And a Kid? Quite a Challenge

Everything is fine before the kid. After the baby was born, the real challenge is, who should take care of the baby.

This important, have-to-face problem ties bigger family with small family. For most of my friends, grandparents play an irreplaceable role. Many family has to involve their parents to take care of their grandchildren. It is almost take for granted that infant to baby period of childcare is the responsibility of the parents.

Even with parents, (or without parents), couples need help from outside. That is the nanny business. People, like us, hire 24 hour nanny to stay with the family to take care of the baby, while parents or at least one person the couple can trust must be with the nanny to make sure the safety of the baby. Although people need nanny so much, the trust level is still low. From time to time, newspaper report nanny kidnap or just bring the baby away. It is pretty rare in the whole city, but considering how big the risk is, parents need to be very careful.

Kinder garden?

The current allowance for vacation after having the baby for wife is 4 months. After that, although the baby and the mother is still in the breeding period, many have to cut it off when the mother gets back to work. Many kinder gardens start to accept children as young as 18 months, and many even have full time plan, in which kid get to the kinder garden on Monday mornings, and leave on Friday afternoons, and stay with the school in between.

Most of the other kinder garden start to get children from the age of 3. This does not solve the problem well, since they are often dismissed as early as 4 PM, while most of the working time in Shanghai ends at 5PM or 6PM. Again, a nanny or grandparents are needed.

How to Handle That?

I know it is tough for the young couple – Wendy and I was experiencing it and will experience more. We are pretty OK on the financial side, but how about people who really don’t have too much to spend on nanny? No wonder some of my friends send their kid back to their home town for one year or two so they can be raised by their relatives outside Shanghai, or some even quit, and went back to their hometown just because of the kid. It is not easy to raise a child in Shanghai, really not easy. It has more to do with money, and time…

P.S. Competition

Just a side note – competition starts from kindergarden. Recently, I even started to worry whether Yifan can pass the entrance exam of a good kinder garden. It sounds ridiculous, but really good kinder garden receives 3000 applications while only can get less than 300. They have strict interview process to ask the 3 year old many questions, that have to be answered correctly before they are admitted. They have to be the top 10% in all the other 3-year old kids. OMG! I started to get advertisement newsletter in my inbox promoting their course to help my kid on how to perform well in the “kinder garden entrance exam”! It is really outrageous. But…. can I just ignore and take it easy and send my son to a “so-so” kinder-garden? I don’t think it is a big deal, but I realized the competition adds up from 3 year old – many primary school choose candidates according to which kinder garden the kid is from…

If you say China is a very competitive market, you may learn the reason. With so many people and so rare resources, it is really hard to handle, and the only thing to do is to compete hard, from 3 year old… BTW, this is another evidence about how little the resources on education and health care the government is putting tax dollar into – I didn’t feel the pain only after I have my own child.

Seek for Some Guidance

Recently, I feel that I am too much far away from this city and far away from my reader community.

The business was almost the whole part of my life, and Yifan is another important part. Even Wendy and I didn’t get any time to get together to watch movie…

I feel far from the city because, I just realized that I didn’t take metro for a long time – I just drive, and I didn’t take bus in the last few months. I am far away from restaurants, and from friends these days.

For my reader’s community, I feel I am more disconnected than before. Do you feel the same?

I just want to seek for some guidance from the readers of my blog, whom I trust a lot, and sometimes may understand me better than myself.

What is your suggestions or observation?