Photos and stories about my expat experience in China, currently in Bejing.
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Monday, March 30, 2009

Another walk through a Beijing hutong/slum

Near the subway station of Da Zhong Si (大钟寺) in North West Beijing is a hutong that doesn't look like all the others. It seems to belong to a different place, time and culture. We had spotted the area from the elevated line 13 subway on our way to Wudaokou (五道口), a popular student area with many coffee bars and cheap restaurants, and decided to have a look.

After a walk of about 20 minutes through an industrial area and passing huge sky scrapers that were only half finished, we came upon this curious place.

The small houses are connected by their walls like in other hutongs, and thus forming long walls and a maze of small alleys. The walls of this hutong were all painted in attractive ochre. The people that live there are not used to seeing foreigners, as they all stared at me and called their friends: "Hey hey, a foreigner! Look!" and pointed at me. Other parts of Beijing are so saturated with foreigners that nobody looks up anymore.

The area is full of garbage, and looks more like a slum than like a normal neighborhood in some places. Inside many houses I saw piles of recycled paper, cardboard, plastic and glass bottles. The people walk around the city, collecting these things so they can sell it (for around 10 cents per kilo). This is China's efficient garbage recycling system and works remarkably well. The streets are clean (well, not really, but they are a lot cleaner thanks to these people who collect paper and bottles)

Railroad tracks run straight through the hutong, and some locals told us that sometimes even trains pass by. As usual, surrounding the hutong are huge sky scrapers, but the shacks on ground level are built from wooden boards and old bricks. Cooking pots are standing outside on the ground, and the laundry is hanging out to dry next to it.

Remember the Olympics? The figure on the plastic screen is "Huang Huang", one of the five cartoon mascottes. This piece of plastic once probably hung proudly along the route of the torch relay last year, but has now found its way to better use: preventing the rain from pouring in.

A lot of activity was going on: people selling vegetables, luring big bags filled with plastic bottles around, and kids playing everywhere. Old men were playing Chinese Chess on the street, and dogs and cats were sleeping in the gutter.

School had just gone out (around 4.30 PM) and kids with colorful hats and school bags were swarming around the place.

An old man collecting paper and card boards
The characters on the fence (中国) mean China

Two funny kids playing with their masks

Some discarded traffic signs and a pile of garbage

This bicycle taxi is for sale.

A big contrast between the wide and long avenues of modern Beijing. These little alleyways were small, dark and quiet. I wish I knew more about the background of this place, but perhaps it is better to leave it as a mystery.

Monday, March 16, 2009

A sunny weekend in Beijing


This weekend the weather was fine, and so it was time to go out! On Saturday we discovered that Tiantan ('the temple of heaven') is actually just around the corner from our house. It is surrounded by tourist markets where mostly fake designer clothes and jewelry is sold. A line of tour buses stood outside the park, waiting.

Outside one of the markets (called Pearl Market)

Around the temple and park are hutongs, which are always a lot of fun. This one still was traditional and full of activity: old men playing cards and Mahjong, markets and little shops.

These goldfish cost 1 Yuan each (0,10 Euros) so we bought a bunch.
We also bought a big fish to eat (2.3 Euros per kilo) It was more than fresh; the vendor hit it on the head a couple of times with a blunt stick and then cleaned it in front of us.

In the Hutong.

Also in the hutong

For some reason hutongs are always full of cats.

Some more dead than alive ;)

Hutongs are like a real-life museum


Another Su
nday afternoon. Another trip to '798 Art District' to make more photos. *sigh* The weather was good; warm and sunny, and so we decided to take a bus there from our house. By subway it would take approximately 1 hour, but by bus nearly 2 hours! It was nice to see some of the city from above the ground though, for a change.

Some 'interesting' signs along the way
(it's more funny in Dutch)

Inside the 798 area, there are lots of old things laying around. The place used to be an industrial area, and at some places there are still pipes that spit out clouds of steam, piles of coal and old machines and materials are everywhere.

...such as this abandoned room with 1 chair in it.

These buildings are famous and only just finished. They stand on 'xizhimen', a busy business intersection. This picture was taken from the bus window. We boarded a doubledecker bus and stayed there for two hours, as we circled the entire city of Beijing (cost 0,04 Euro).

The Beijing Sunday traffic & a lovely old lady playing the violin on the street

Roadside ping-pong place;
anything to keep you busy on a Sunday afternoon...

A sneak peek through the window of one of the empty factory halls in 798, the works of art are either stored here, or an exhibition is being prepared. There was no one around.

Strange modern art using strange modern photography techniques

When we got tired of walking, we took a rest in an Italian restaurant called Saizeriya. It's a Japanese-owned place that sells cheap and decent Italian food and even real Italian wine! Dinner for 2, including pizza, a bottle of wine, starters and ice cream for desert, cost a mere 8 Euros.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A visit to the Beijing Olympic park

On Sunday afternoon we took a subway to the Olympic park. It was a sunny day, and we took (purposely built) subway line 8 to get there. It was like stepping onto a movie set. The subway was nearly empty (used only by tourists now), spotlessly clean and security guards were standing every 10 meters.

Once out of the underground, there is a huge park, built kind of in the middle of nowhere. The main two 'sights' of course are the 'Bird Nest' and the 'Aquatics Center'. These two buildings cost millions to complete, and are indeed amazing to watch up close.

The 'park' (several square kms of paved surface) was full of people. It reminded me of Tian'anmen Square! Crowds of tourists swarmed around the place (including the tour groups with their red or yellow uniform hats).

The park is surrounded by tall sky scrapers in the distance, but because of its size, there was a strong wind blowing. I tried to imagine what the fireworks show during the opening ceremony must have looked like.

One can see how China has tried to impress the world by building this park. So much money was spent, and nothing was left to chance (signs with street directions in French, for example)

Opposite of the Bird Nest is the 'National Aquatics Center'; an equally magnificent building. The details of both buildings is what makes them so special. They look different from every angle you look.

This is the entrance to the park, with the stadium to my back. Most tourists started shooting photos (mostly with their mobile phones) when they were still in the subway!

At the other side of the park, things were a bit more quiet. This man is flying a kite.

Across the street of the Olympics area is a very unusual park. It is full of 'historic' buildings. I'm not sure if they are authentic or not, but it looked absurd. Next to these pagodas was a sort of mosque, with inside a restaurant and shopping center.

Viewing tower in the Olympic park

This statue is named "sea wind" (hai feng). All around the park are sculptures and works of art. I thought this one is quite ironic; due to the massive construction and wide avenues, it feels like there is now a 'sea wind' in Beijing...

Friday, March 06, 2009

More Chinglish

Of course the nine pictures of my last post were not enough to please everyone, so here are a dozen more.

Chinglish can be literally found everywhere around China, and in the most unusual places (such as in the coffee bar I had a coffee today). I decided to bring my camera everywhere I go (including bars, supermarkets and public toilets) in order to capture the poetry of Chinglish.
See for yourself:

Truly huge bill-boards surrounding construction sites. They are all the same (most likely all licensed by the same company); in broken English and literal translations, they try to convince the passers by that their project will create an 'utopia', or 'paradise' and above all, a 'harmoneous society". They do this by putting these incredibly entertaining boards with English translations up all around the scaffolding.

"To bring the wealth in the untouchable way"
- "OK OK, if you insist!"

"I told them: NO STRIDING, but they wouldn't listen!"

"Vigorous Instruments Co., LTD
What on earth could those be?
SOD shampoo ~ no comments
(can be found in between Olive shampoo and Vaseline cream in most neighborhood shops)
A card that was slid under our door at night. We get one every night; and now have a pretty collection of 25+ of them. Last week we received the first one in English though. "baby service" is not the literal, as you might have guessed...
At least it is safe, private and fashion
;....(see below)
This is the back of the card. Each of our stack of collected cards has a different 'lady' on them. Mind you that prostitution is strictly forbidden in China, and so these 'businesses' operate quite undercover, sliding cards under people's doors at nights.
Just a super slogan ;) ?
I just love my comfortable notebook and wouldn't have any other!
No touchy touchy! This sign was pasted on the wall of a museum
At least they state who their target group is, as clearly as can be...
If you look careful it says: "INartificial shampoo" ~ what a relief!
(this picture was taken by my good classmate from Helsinki Business Polytechnic in 2005)
...Imagine printing 1,000,000 labels before noticing the spelling mistake... ouch!~
"I'd love a bugger with chips & salad, some garilic bread and a Spenich mushroom, please"
Look carefully at the menu, under "maracont"...

by the way, be careful for the "Soya bugger" because it'll catch ya!

(I found this menu in Nepal, not China, but it fits in the 'Chinglish' chapter just the same, I guess)

BIMBO ~ what a brand name! :)
More BIMBO cookies (not donuts but donitas; so clever!
Lovely literal translation: Chinese - English (using a thick old dictionary)
Now, to be honest, this banner can be found in the '798 art district' (Google it if you don't know) of Beijing so some people must have noticed it and taken it there to exhibit it as a piece of art. It is beautiful Chinglish poetry just the same. Literal translation from Chinese to English and it sounds beautiful when read out slowly:

"Manages well the transportation hand in hand,
creates the civilized heart linked to heart"

When I can't sleep at nights, I try to unravel the meaning of these cryptic messages.
It's a bit like Indiana Jones, isn't it?

Here's another one:

"Chaoyang you and me to build a harmonious,
I share your civilization traffic"

(btw. Chaoyang is a district in Beijing)
"What is civilization traffic?" My friend asked me...