Boinging around Beijing

Jeez, what a day. I have completely collapsed in my hotel room north of city after an evil hour long cab ride from the Haidan District, the Silicon Alley of China, up here to Huilongguan, a sort of no-man’s land on the way up the Badaling Expressway towards the G-Wall of CN. Cabs are cheap — at least compared to their NYC counterparts — but they are just about as impossible to hail during rush hour on a Friday before a big holiday. The city was shitty with traffic when I walked out of my last appointment at Sina.com and flagging down a cab was an endless jaywalk, off-sidewalk, walking from corner to corner, dodging buses, bicycles, mopeds, more bicycles, bicycles ridden by the “surgeons” (the one’s with the gauze masks), bicycles that were loaded down like trucks, and insane cabs already filled with luckier people, while my buddy and guide, Liu Liu, told me: “Wait here.”

And then Liu Liu vanished into the seething masses with my hotel key and my only record of where I needed to be. The sun was setting. I was screwed if he didn’t come back.
Beijing is defined by its intersections. One can roll down the expressway, admire the view along the boulevards; but come to an intersection and everything changes into a rush for the lifeboats. They say the most dangerous occupation in Beijing is that of a traffic cop. These poor guys get run over on purpose, or beaten up for issuing tickets.
When your interpreter and guide tells you to Wait here you feel very, very alone. The Chinese writing looks like Klingon. The restaurants have big pictures of food never seen in nature (to be fair, when has anyone seen good pictures of food?). Street signs, even with Western writing, are unpronounceable. You look around, the tallest guy for miles, staring into the face of 20 million commuters headed your way and you think:

I want my mommy

Liu Liu returned. He is a senior at Beijing University studying finance. Tall, bespectacled; he isn’t into sports, loves movies (obscure Russian movies, which means he’ll get along great with my son), lives with his parents, is an only child, and wants to work in film. He likes gin and tonics, hanging with his buddies in the quiet cafes around Hohai, and the noisy rock and roll joints on Drum Street. He is immersed in World of Warcraft, lives on the Internet, reads lots of blogs, but doesn’t feel comfortable blogging himself yet.

Here were the learnings of the day in the order in which they were learned:

  • I am blessed with patient, nice colleagues in here in China. They are forthright, share what they know, don’t pull punches, and face completely different, and amazingly similar challenges that any online operation does anywhere.
  • Everyone has a humidifer that looks like a frog in their cubicle. Big plumes of fog over every desk. This place is dry. Like ten bottles of bottled water per day kind of dry. Chapstick is your friend.
  • Everyone is younger than me. China is young. You see a 40-something in the office and you notice.
  • James Ding at AsiaInfo is smart. He’s got a Long Tail Internet TV company — UITV.com — to do niche channel streams and PPV. I liken it to cycling.tv. His partner, Edward Tien, wired the country for broadband in the 90s and is the man behind China Netcom.

  • Old Beijing, the hutongs or traditional one-story neighborhoods and alleys north of the Forbidden City, is my favorite part of the city. Funky and lively.

  • When two opposing cars meet, the one with the white license plate and the man in the green Army uniform wins.
  • Not knowing how to speak Chinese makes me feel stupid. I have to speak slowly and clearly and not use idioms. I feel like a text-to-speech reading machine.
  • Blogs on WordPress.com are inaccessible from China and that pisses me off.
  • I discovered Rebecca McKinnon’s blog on China and think it is smart. She is at the Harvard Beekman Center.
  • I can tell a cab driver how to find my hotel in Outer Mongolia with sign language and extreme grimaces.
  • A noise like “Doo-way” means “OK.” Answering the phone with “Hway!” means “Hello” and thank you is “Shay-Shay.” I do not know the word for “no.”
  • Cashing a 100 RMB bill is like trying to break a $100 at a convenience store. And it’s worth like $12. If it has a hole — a pin hole — no one will take it.
  • It is fitting that there is a BMW and a Jaguar dealership in the lobby of the Sina.com building. Gauging from their IPO performance, this is sensible and a better idea than Starbucks.
  • Jeff Young at ZDnet needs to see China before slagging it.
  • There was something called the Sexy Weather, where the weather lady started at the north in Harbin wearing a fur coat, and stripped by the time she got to Hainan in the south.
  • Sexy girls are a big deal on Tom.com.
  • All traffic numbers here are staggering.
  • There is a cell phone called the “I Chocolate You”

  • I counted 36 construction cranes when I looked out a window this morning.

  • I want to come home. Work week is done. Some tourism this weekend. Big old jet airliner on Monday to S.F., then Phoenix, then RTP, then home on Friday night — one week to go.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Boinging around Beijing”

  1. What fun! Any sweet and sour chihuahua in the ration yet? I love small Chinese dogs. Good for the Long March and for the small Wok!
    Your blogs have been brilliant. it’s amazing how many people’s views of China are out of date or not based in reality.

    Have fun, David. Just think how much you’ll enjoy the 11 hour flight back to SF. Was Fish’s travel warning on “things to bring” accurate?

    best
    Boardie’s son,
    JimF

  2. What a fun blog!
    I live in Beijing a good part of the year, and I can vouch that your observations are almost all correct over time.
    Some of your stuff is downright hilarious!
    Thanks, man, for sharing your insight.
    A few comments:
    * XieXie for “thank you” (pronounced more or less the way you sounded it)
    * Bu for no (pronounced “boo”), or “bu fam bian” (which means, “not convenient”)
    * Due for “yes” or “indeed” (pronounced “doo-ey”)

    Come back often in BJ!