Saturday, June 20, 2009

And Then There Were None (Bicycles, That Is)

Are you ready for this one?

It all started with a small bicycle crash. The light turned green, and I slowly pedaled my way across the street. All of a sudden, there was an electric moped coming up on my right side. (I have heard these scooters referred to as "silent killers." Now I know why!) Our bikes banged into each other. In my estimation, it was no big deal. Neither one of us got knocked down or anything like that. It struck me as the kind of accident that happens all the time when there are so many people and machines on the roads, and when there is relatively little obedience of traffic rules and customs.

I uttered some pleasantries to the operator of the moped, along the lines of "no harm, no foul." I was reassuring him that I was fine, that he did not need to compensate me or anything like that, and that I would be on my way. I had no doubts about his condition, as he was on the bigger vehicle.

As I turned to go, that's when I realized he had different ideas and interpretations. He ordered me, in a strong voice, not to leave. He then pulled out his cell phone and began going through the contents of whatever it was he was carrying on the back of his moped.

I quickly decided I wanted no part of this action. There was no way anything he was transporting was damaged, and there was no way he was going to try to extort me for damages or something like that.

As I headed away from the scene, I could hear him yelling behind me. It was then that I realized he was actually chasing me...And getting angrier by the second. Before long, there he was in front of me, blocking the way. When I tried to go to the left, he stepped to the left. When I tried to go to the right, he stepped to the right.

It was then that I decided to push past him. Well, this did not deter him, as he grabbed my right arm in a tight grip. Now, he was wearing these gloves that are common among couriers, taxi drivers, and anyone who operates a motor vehicle here in China. I told him to let go of me, and yanked my arm out. This was successful in gaining my freedom, but it left a nice little rope burn on my forearm.

As I continued away from the scene, he decided to grab my bicycle. There we were, me holding on to the handlebars, him holding on to the rear rack. As we struggled, I decided it was just not worth it, and let go of the bicycle.

Turning around once again, I strode away from the scene, expecting him to be not very far behind. This time, though, I heard or saw no more of him. I never looked back, so I have no idea what happened next. Did he just throw the bike onto the side of the path? Did he confiscate it for himself? Frankly, I was just happy to be out of there.

As I walked, I asked myself questions, questions that are still running through my brain. Was I at fault in this accident? I mean, I had the green light, but should I have waited longer? Should I have behaved differently once things took a turn for worse? Should I just have waited there to see what would happen next?

Yes, I lost another bicycle. (That's two for those of you keeping score at home.) But I still judge a bicycle to be a small price to pay, when weighed against the violence and anger I was encountering on the street and my own uncertainty about where things might have ultimately been heading.

~Steve

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blowing Candles Out On Yiheyuan Lu

Courtesy of Wayne and a few of Beida's finest! Happy birthday, Des!

~Steve

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Time It Was Snake And Squid

And I even had a willing Wangfujing partner!

~Steve

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Health System Reform Survey

One aspect of our lives that has gone under reported (in this case, thankfully I'm sure!) is all of those days I spend sitting at my desk in my office on Zhongguancun Lu. There is nothing really remarkable to document...Just the normal mixture of conducting research and preparing lectures.

One project, though, that deserves a little mention is what I am calling the health system reform survey.

Last fall, the Chinese central government published on the Internet its proposal for reforming the country's health care system. (A really important issue given the lack of health insurance among China's citizens and the byproduct of unusually high savings rates as families plan for expensive medical emergencies that must be paid out of their own pockets.) It also offered interested parties one month to offer comments on what had been proposed.

As part of a study of this online consultation process, I am preparing to conduct a survey of a number of the 27,000-plus individuals who submitted feedback through the comment process. This is all possible thanks to the generous support of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University. The survey itself is going to be administered by Peking University's Research Center for Contemporary China, which is perhaps the leading survey research organization in the entire country.

Hopefully, the end product of this work will be a small contribution to understanding the evolving relationship between government and civil society in the making of public policy and how the Internet is playing a role in this evolution.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

~Steve