From March 2007

Subway Cave-in

On Wednesday morning the underground subway station, which was under construction, next to my hotel (in Haidian district) collapsed trapping six migrant workers who have still not been recovered as of today (Friday). Instead of alerting the rescue authorities the contractor apparently tried to cover it up by sealing the site and confiscating remaining workers mobile phones, only reporting the incident 8 hours later.

Beijing Subway Collapse

Experts fear there is little chance that those trapped have survived and although there will no doubt be an investigation it calls into question again whether safety is being sacrificed in order to speed up construction in time for the 2008 Olympics. Beijing plans to add 84 km of new subway lines by August next year.

Beijing Subway Collapse

The Beijing organizing committee for the 2008 Games said recently that none of the tens of thousands of workers had died during the construction of Olympic venues.” This says just about everything you need to know about the transparency of the CPC, let alone the callousness of the constructors.

China Subway Collapse

Photos from AP.

Temple of Heaven

Conceived as the meeting point between heaven and earth, with the emperor being the intermediary, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing is highly regarded as one of the best surviving examples of Ming design. Set in the centre of Tiantan park the temple itself consists of a number of beautiful buildings all adorned with striking dark blue tiles. These include:

  • The Earthly Mount – a platform on three levels of marble stones, where the Emperor prayed for good weather.
  • The House of Heavenly Lord – a circular building, built on a single base of marble stone, where the altars were stored.
  • The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests – an outstanding triple-gabled circular building, built (without a single nail) on three levels of marble stone base, where the Emperor prayed for good harvests.

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If you’re wondering why it looks like it was just painted yesterday then you’d be right – in 2005 it was given a makeover in time for the 2008 Olympics at a cost of around 47 million yuan (approx 3 million GBP). Whilst it looks stunning it does make you wonder if it’s new appearance is in keeping with its actual age, having been completed in 1420. I guess restoration is always a balance between maintaining the aged look whilst preserving the underlying structure.

If you’re in Beijing this is definitely not to be missed!

Bejing’s Underground City

Few guide books mention it and even less locals know that Beijing hides beneath its streets some of the most elaborate bomb shelters in the world. Built in 1969 during the cold war on Mao’s orders by reportedly over 70,000 workers the tunnels stretch for over 30km and cover an area of 85 square km at around 20m below the surface – ironically this would never be deep enough to protect against nuclear attack. Allegedly the tunnels link all corners of the city but the structure is unknown and many of the tunnels have become unsafe to enter. It is claimed to have had over 90 entrances originally although today only a small “approved” section can be visited legally by tourists (locals are discouraged from entering and some web forums suggest that they are not allowed down altogether).

Beijing Underground City

Finding the entrance on it’s own is not an easy task as it’s located in the middle of a run down Hutong and you’d have difficulty finding anyone who can tell you the way to it (the address is 62 West Damochang Street, Qianmen for the adventurous!). On arrival I was disappointed to be told that photography was not allowed, however, this didn’t stop me covertly taking a few shots with my mobile phone camera set to silent… until I was caught and given a harsh telling off in Chinese by someone dressed in military fatigues… oppps!!

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Walking along the dark tunnels feels very much like stepping back into 1970s communist China with the walls lined with decaying pictures of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao with many of his comrades along with slogans calling people to “dig deep, prepare provisions and oppose hegemony” and photos of grand military parades. In reality it must have been a pretty grim job to build in the first place, especially considering the futility of its design, let alone the possibility of a large population living down there.

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More information can be found at these places: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. My photos here.

Ping Pong

Last week I played in our (partner) company’s Table Tennis tournament. Given that the national sport of China is Ping Pong (even though it originates from England) I probably should have put in some practice first… it was fun but sufficed to say our team lost. Badly. Next time however I will not be such a pushover; I have resolved to practice at least 15 minutes everyday next week until I can at least put up a half-decent fight! Something tells me I’ll never be able to hit it as fast and accurately as they do though!!

Ping Pong

Whilst we await this forthcoming miracle here’s something a little more fun from these shores…

If that wasn’t crazy enough for you how about this – the Chinese have just unveiled the world longest bus. At 25 meters long it has “five doors, 40 seats, carries up to 300 passengers and, according to a driver, “is flexible when cornering.””. I’ll be sure to be looking out for this one of the Streets of Beijing! Follow the link for photos of what must be the most insane transportation vehicle to be legally on the roads!

Yiheyuan (Summer Palace)

It can be hard to describe the magnificence of some of China’s ancient architecture, whether it be for it’s sheer scale, dynastic elegance, or the artistic harmony with which it blends into the surrounding landscape; it cannot fail to impress. Amongst these places I would have to include the Summer Palace (or Yiheyuan in Chinese), an imperial garden in Beijing, which I visited last Sunday.

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Surrounding the extensive man-made Kunming Lake lie a number of multi-eaved halls, bridges, pavilions, and walkways (the longest travelling over 700 meters and covered with more than 8000 paintings!). Having been extensively restored after multiple attacks by Anglo-French invaders in the late 1800’s (a point which is continually repeated!) the site is in remarkable condition and contains some fascinating artefacts lucky enough to survive its turbulent history.

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For me the most impressive part was Foxiangge (Tower of Buddhist Incense), a three-storey octagonal pagoda which stands near the top of the hill with an amazing panoramic view of the entire park. Standing here you could imagine how the ruling Emperor/Empress must have felt surrounded in such magnificence… pretty powerful atmosphere.

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View over Paiyundian (Cloud Dispelling Hall)

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Marble boat on the north shore (no, not a real boat!)

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Seventeen-arch bridge leading to South Lake Island

All-in-all a great place to visit on a sunny day, although best to go early to avoid the crowds! Lots more photos in the usual place.

On a lighter note… I went to the cinema at the weekend to see an American film that had just come out, thinking it would be a nice way to spend a Saturday evening, only to find they’d dubbed the film into Chinese!! Having been thwarted by this I ended up spending the evening scratching my head wondering what it had all been about! I don’t think it was all that good anyway so perhaps not having any understandable dialogue was a bonus 😉

Carrefour

The French owned supermarket chain Carrefour has a big presence in China with stores in all the major cities. On visits to branches in Qingdao and Beijing I was surprised at the variety of living and dead animals (part & whole!) available… half a ducks head or chickens neck anyone? Yum…!

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Squashed dead piglet for dinner?

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You can’t keep these things as pets in the UK, let alone eat them!!

Check here for some more culinary delights (will update with more as I go!).

Bad Manners

A few articles caught my eye in Beijing recently, thought they were worth sharing for their comedic value 😀 …

War on Chinglish

Beijing has vowed to clean up all awkward English translations in public places in an eight-month campaign launched last week.

The government will no longer tolerate notoriously bad translations such as “deformed” instead of “disabled”. The campaign will require all translations to be correct in terms of grammar and choice of words.

So far, Beijing has replaced 6,300 road signs that were poorly written, and is busy recruiting volunteers to hunt errors in public places. People can log on to www.bjenglish.net.cn to report their discoveries.

Information Times

Please never approach the animals or they will hurt you
Just one of the many mistranslated/funny signs you’ll find in China – more here & here!

Spit it out

There will soon be a 50-yuan (£3.34) fine for people who spit and litter in the streets of Beijing, an official said last Wednesday.

After deciding that the 11th day of each month was Queuing Day, during which people should queue in an orderly manner, Beijing has now adopted a different approach to help people quit bad manners as the 2008 Olympic Games approaches.

The officials said 50 yuan could buy 16 subway tickets in Beijing, so it would be an effective reminder for people who spit and litter.

www.chinanews.com.cn

On a slightly more sober note here’s something you probably wont be reading about here:

The longest recorded piece of graffiti was painted by a student in the toilets of his college at Changsha, China in 1915. It consisted of over 4000 characters criticising his teachers and the state of Chinese society.

After completing this masterpiece the student handed himself in and was paraded in front of the school and threatened with expulsion. The student was a 22 year old Chairman Mao. A graffiti artist who later founded the People’s Republic of China and was responsible for the deaths of over 30 million people.

…yet here he is still portrayed as a saint-like figure who was deified as “the Sun on the East” – interesting article about his image here. Of course there are other ways one might *deify* him, but I would never stoop to such vulgar levels!

Yonghegong (Lama Temple)

Situated in the north-east of Beijing lies the Yonghegong temple and monastery of Tibetan Buddhism, being one of the largest and most important in the world. Having also survived the Cultural Revolution it’s now open to the public and on a bitterly cold Sunday morning last weekend I ventured there to watch the hordes of people coming to pay their respects on the final day of the Spring Festival.

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Containing five elaborate archways and five main halls which house many Buddhas of various sizes (one being 18m tall!) and works of art, the temple courtyards were filled with the smoke of burning joss sticks (made of incense). Today around 70 lamas (Buddhist monks) still live in residence but how much of their time is split between tourist and spiritual activities I’m not sure! Surprisingly having huge buckets of flaming sticks right next ancient wooden structures, some dating back to 1694, didn’t seem to phase anyone.

Hero

Combined with snow covered rooftops and the slow dripping of water from their tapered edges it was reminiscent of a certain scene from Hero (minus flying Jet Li!)… how about that for a bit of cultural vandalism?

In Jean Baudrillard’s book “Simulacra and Simulation” (highly recommended) he talks about how a copy of something can eventually transcend the original. In the case of China one might ask if pseudo-historical fiction has replaced historical reality in popular culture? Turn on the TV here and you’d certainly this so… something I’ll save for a later discussion 😉

Freezing in Beijing

Last weekend brought with it a change in weather for Beijing – on Saturday it rained all day then overnight it snowed bringing with it white rooftops and freezing cold conditions in the morning. When I say freezing I don’t just mean colder than usual, I mean sub-zero frost-bitten fingers cold (around -8°C)!!

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Looks a bit grim and in fact was a bit grim! A good day to stay indoors you’d imagine? Not for yours truly – stay tuned for how I nearly froze to death in the name of culture and foolhardiness!

Tor

As many people know the Internet is fairly heavily censored in China. This can be annoying when you want to catch up on the news, look something up in an online encyclopedia or even just search. Of course there are plenty of ways around this, even for those with little technical understanding. My favourite is to use Tor, which consists of a network of virtual tunnels which bounce your requests randomly around the world (using distributed onion routing) providing both unfiltered access and anonymity.

Tor Network

Installing and setting up Tor is dead simple – check out the guide for instructions. You’ll notice that web pages take longer to load when using Tor due to the pages being sent via a “twisty, hard-to-follow route” but it’s better than a blank error page! I use the FoxyProxy extension for Firefox which allows you to setup rules for which sites are viewed over Tor, it will even try to automatically detect which pages are blocked and then route the connection appropriately – pretty cool stuff!

N.B. This technique not only applies to China but can be used anywhere in the world, so whether you’re in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan Uzbekistan, Vietnam or just the UK it should still work.

P.P.S. For everything you could ever want know know about Google’s self-censorship check out this FAQ.

Happy uncensored surfing ^_^

Blocked Randomwire

Update (08/03): According to this site my site is blocked from China… actually it isn’t. Another good reason not to believe everything you’re told!