Friday, March 02, 2012

Photo Session At 798, Beijing

Today's photo of the day over at China Digital Times is one I snapped last summer in Beijing. It was an outing to the 798 art district, a trendy place for both foreign tourists and young Chinese alike. While the rest of the Balla gang was inside a particular shop or gallery, I sat outside, watching the beautiful people pass me by. This handsome young couple came up, with a duo of apparently hired photographers in tow. Right in front of me, they set up a shot of the two of them, arm in arm, looking into each others' eyes. The scene, complete with the photographer in that classic Chinese squat, struck me as one little moment in the life of a China that continues to change and produce bewildering visuals. So I jumped up, got my own camera in place, and snapped away. Desi, Julie, and Z came back out, and off we went, continuing our own mashed-up old China, new China lives...

~Steve

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Occupy Men's Toilets!

As reported in Financial Times...

Chinese Toilet Campaign Falls Foul of Censors


By Rahul Jacob and Zhou Ping In Hong Kong


A Chinese campaign for more women’s toilets has fallen foul of the country’s censors, in another sign of official skittishness ahead of this year’s leadership transition.

References to the protest, dubbed Occupy Men’s Toilets, have been blocked on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. China’s internet police have also deleted information on the group’s next planned protest , scheduled for Wednesday in central Henan province.

On Sunday, activists occupied men’s toilets in Beijing, preventing their use and demanding that twice as many public facilities be built for women. Authorities pledged to increase the number of women’s toilets in Guangzhou, capital of southern Guangdong province, after a similar protest there last week.

The protests were organised by a 23-year-old woman, who uses the pseudonym Li Maizi, after she was stuck in a long queue for the bathroom at a conference in Guangzhou. According to Ms Li, Sunday’s protest in Beijing was well attended by local media but generated no subsequent coverage.

“The event itself is not politically sensitive. I have no idea what is going on,” Ms Li said, adding she and other activists were phoning and texting people about Wednesday’s Henan protest – and others planned later in the cities of Wuhan and Xi’an.

Chinese authorities are alert to signs of social unrest ahead of its once-in-a-decade leadership change, expected in October. Censors have been particularly active since last year, after an anonymous online appeal for a “Jasmine Revolution” inspired by the Arab spring. While the call went unanswered, online references to the flower were blocked and police harassed bewildered florists.

Undaunted by the scrutiny, Ms Li is still pressing her original demand that Guangzhou should build twice as many public toilets for women as men. They have so far promised to build three female facilities for every two male facilities.

The protest was inspired by similar demonstrations in Hong Kong and Taiwan dating back to the 1990s. “It’s 2012 and it’s time mainland women fought for themselves,” Ms Li said.

Guangzhou students have organised several other innovative protests over the past year, targeting what they said was wasteful lighting of the city’s riverfront buildings and unnecessary refurbishment of public transit platforms.

~Steve

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A New Beijing Airport?

Here's one that strikes me as a bit weird...The Chinese government has announced plans to build a new airport in Beijing, just a few years after Terminal 3 at Beijing Capital International Airport opened up in time for the 2008 Olympics. Mind you, at the time, Terminal 3 was the largest in the world, by itself bigger than all of London's Heathrow.

I naively assumed that Beijing was now good-to-go with airports, especially as the capital city's period of ridiculous expansion appears to pretty much be over. But, apparently, even spacious Terminal 3 is at capacity, which shows how little my eyes perceive in the area of transportation. For our part, we have always enjoyed having plenty of space, really having the place pretty much to ourselves.

As for the new airport, it is supposedly slotted for a 2017 opening, and will be located to the southeast of the city, toward the populated part of Hebei Province and the city of Tianjin. Along with the airport, there will be a need for roads and rail, a transportation network connecting to the center city what right now must be a pretty sleepy area of farmland. A summertime expedition, Balla family?

~Steve

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Friendly Warning To Harbin Visitors

In this winter without snow, I've been thinking about a misadventure we had a few years back when leaving the Harbin Ice and Snow World. I'll never forget getting out of that little silver van, and starting to walk across the bridge over the frozen Songhua River...


Here was the scene as we left the Harbin Ice and Snow World earlier this evening (right after a rousing chorus of fireworks that added even more color to the evening)...

All along the side of the parking lot and road were taxis and private cars, lined up to ferry people back across the river to the city proper. "Great," we thought. "No problem hitching a ride to the hotel."

As we were having this happy thought, we were interrupted by a series of hawkers, presumably owners of those ubiquitous little silver vans, offering to drive us back to town. Duo shao qian, I inquired. Wu shi kuai, came the response. Now, keep in mind that it cost us 22 kuai, in a metered taxi, to get out to the park. So, I didn't even slow down for a second when receiving offers of 50 kuai for the return trip. One persistent driver chased after us and lowered the price down to 40 kuai. At this point, Julie suggested that we just ignore these drivers and hail a cab.

Upon reaching the main road, that's just what I did. The driver rolled down the window and made an offer of 40 kuai. "How about you use the meter?" This inquiry/suggestion was met with laughter. It was a good idea, Julie. It's just that even the taxi drivers are looking to get in on some of the action come ice festival time.

Now, at this point, one driver was still chasing after us, and his price had come down to 30 kuai. Now we were at least in the ballpark. And it was an offer significantly better than what anyone else had come up with. So into the van we jumped.

The only problem? We didn't actually start going anywhere. Instead, the driver began to troll the side of the road for a couple of other passengers. You see, there were still two empty seats, and I guess he was determined to fill them before making the trip into town. At one point, he jumped out of the van altogether, his hunt apparently getting more and more desperate.

We then decided to force the issue a bit. When he was maybe fifty yards down the road, working the crowd at a bus stop, the four of us jumped out and began walking down the road. At that point, he came sprinting back. I yelled out to him in Chinese, "We can get there quicker if we walk!" That seemed to do the trick, and off we went.

The whole first half of the trip, the driver tried to convince me that we had to add money to the 30 kuai price, because we were his only passengers. Then, at one point, I noticed that he seemingly wanted to go in a direction that was not where our hotel is located. My suspicion was that he wanted to find a closer, more central place to unload us, so he didn't have to go all the way out to where we are staying. When I began to point out his "error," he changed tactics yet again. Wo zhidao, he said over and over again. "I know where the hotel is. I know better than those taxi drivers." And sure enough, he got us home lickety split.

His last gambit? As I was paying, he used a really whiny Chinese phrase...xinku. It's kind of like saying, "Oh, this is so bitter. I've taken you all the way out here. Can't you pay just a little bit more for my arduous and earnest effort?" Needless to say, I didn't go for that line. I do, however, have his business card. There is the ride back out to the airport in a couple of days to think about...

~Steve


PS: Speaking of the airport, you may want to negotiate the price to your hotel before jumping into a taxi when you arrive. And always keep an eye out on the meter, to make sure it is working, but not running too fast...