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drawingbeijing

In the middle of an eastern whirlwind

Category Archives: Expat Life

The main reason staying for a long time in Beijing is hard, is the pollution. For everything else, there is some sort of a solution, a strategy to devise, a plan to undertake. The pollution however, is unavoidable and can be so unrelenting, it takes the edge off of you.

Now, I have heard that the french news went into conniptions recently because the capital had the unbelievable PM10 count of 180 during one single day which caused various newsmedia to liken the conditions in Paris to those in Beijing. That made me laugh. That was kinda cute.
It also made me grit my teeth. This tells you what the airquality in western Europe normally is like, and moreover, what europeans expect it to be, if one day of 180 PM10 is meted out in world news!

The truth is, I cannot explain what the kind of airpollution one experiences here, in the northeast of China (I am not even mentioning the water, the land and thereby in extenso the food) feels like, what it does to you, how it permeates everything in your life. People who have not lived in these circumstances simply do not know. No one in the west has lived through this kind of airpollution, has never experienced anything like the scale or composition that this modern chinese phenomenon has reached.

Beijing based businesses and organisations are sometimes having a hard time getting through to their bosses abroad that yes, they need extra funds for airfilters, extra holidays, that this is no place to be for families, especially those with young children, and, yes, occasionally, it is better to have their office crews work from home rather then brave the streets. Far too often, such complaints and requests are waved off as ‘whining’ because they cannot imagine what this is like.

Only people who have never breathed any kind of pollution can wave it off as whining. If the Beijing expats are whiners, then what are Parisians?

This is not to say that days like the one Paris recently experienced are okay and people should just accept that kind of pollution as a given, certainly not. Nor is this to say that those fighting for better air in Europe aren’t fighting for a just cause or that they are overreacting. Pollution is a slow poison that is too often overlooked and underestimated, far too often waved away as ‘whining’

Let me try to make a bit clearer to you what the pollution here is like, what it does, to me personally, and suspectedly, to other people.
Let’s start with the facts and the numbers.

So what am I talking about when I mention ‘PM2,5’ or ‘PM10’ or, as those who follow me on FB have seen me do often; ‘AQI’?

Technically, airpollution is a relatively young phenomenon. Nature also produces airpollution, mainly through duststorms, woodfires or volcanic eruptions, but the near everpresent blanket of haziness that makes breathing in developing cities sometimes literally a pain has only been around since 1860 or so, since industrialisation.
Science has therefore not really a full overview of what pollutants are nowadays being produced and which are more and which are less harmful to us.

For instance, lead was once a big problem, produced by vehicles, but the refining of fuel has since then developed such, that lead is, even in China, no longer a concern. Cars still emanate plenty of pollution of course, but lead pollution is no longer one of them. Likewise, there are new chemical components in modern pollution science has yet to do sufficient research on, as well as the suspicion that ‘ultrafine particles’ those even tinier then pm2,5, are more dangerous then the pm2,5 were recently discovered to be.
And those ultrafine particles aren’t even measured yet.

The pollutants science so far has the most extensive picture of, are also the particles that are measured by the two most common measure systems currently used in Asia. These pollutants are:
Ozone, which is an unstable form of oxygen. This ozone is not the same as the ozone layer that surrounds the earth at stratopheric levels that protects us from the radiations of the sun and the universe.
Carbon Monoxide, which is estimated to be emitted for 75 to 95% by combustion engine driven vehicles.
Sulphur Dioxide, that is produced by burning coal or oil, and can be found near power plants and refineries. It causes what we call ‘acid rain’
(Acid rain was a big thing halfway the eighties in Europe. Nowadays, I hardly ever hear nor read about it. Does this mean it is no longer a problem, or maybe no longer deemed a problem or that it is no longer in the collective consciousness?)
Nitron Dioxide, a byproduct of both vehicles and power plants (burning oil or coal) which, apart from it’s own toxic characteristics for human and animal life, will produce the bad ozone I spoke of above when hit by direct sunlight. (So clear days are not necessairily healthy days, alas)

And then of coure the particulate matter. Dust. Which we all are made of and will return to, but some dusts are better than others. Our bodies are able to filter dust out of our breathing systems, it is the reason why we snot, but this system was designed for particles the size of fine sand and the like, not for the very fine particles that combustion produces.

(Kitchens are for that reason not the healthiest spaces in the house, since cooking, too, produces fine particles, but the amounts of these being produced by normal day to day cooking are not large enough to cause real longterm problems like airpollution can. Though I know from experience that frying some dried chillipeppers can nearly choke you!!)

Fine particles are categorized according to their size; PM10 is dust equal or smaller then 10 microns, but bigger then 2,5 microns. PM2,5 is any particles as small as or smaller then 2,5 microns in diameter.
Ultrafine particles are those that are smaller then 0,1 micron. Viruses fall within this range.
PM 10, when inhaled, typically reaches till the upper parts of our lungs, to the level of the bronchii. PM2,5 reach all the way down to the deepest levels, where the alveoli are, and can pass through the membranes there that the oxygen also passes to reach our bloodstream.
PM2,5 is classified as a cancer risk by the WHO. The more you breathe it, the longer you are exposed to it, the higher the risk you run to develop cancer later in life.

pm-deposition

To put the size of these harmful particles in perspective: a human hair is usually around 100 micron in diameter. A cell measures between 6 and 10 micron, a bacteria measures around 1 micron (and therefore falls in the PM2,5 micron range) Molecules are no bigger then 0,03 micron.
pm2_5_graphic

There are two accepted ways to translate the measurements of the above mentioned pollutants into a general pollution number: the Air Quality Index (AQI) as used by the United States’ environmental protection agency, and the Air Pollution Index (API) used by the Malaysian authorities. Both systems measure the pollutants I mentioned so far, and their respective readings differ only a bit from each other. But the conclusions and classifications they turn out are wholly different.

In China, the local governments of most cities use the API system and have the results available to the public on various websites. The Chinese state television, aptly named CCTV, displays the numbers.

This is actually a huge thing. I mention it casually, as I am already used to having an app on my smartphone that tells me hourly what the pollution reading for Beiijing is according to the Beijing government, and setting off the US embassy data against it, but the fact that these data are available is a huge difference to the situation when we arrived here, a mere two and a half years ago. Back then, there was no data available.

Well, no, that is not entirely true. The Beijing government did give out a pollution number. Just the number though. No measurement data whatsover, except the PM10 measurement. Just that. The numbers were generally about a third of what the US embassy posted on their website. The US embassy published, as they still do, the PM2,5 measurement and the overal AQI number along with the categorization that this AQI corresponds to. So if the US put up ‘170’ which is considered ‘unhealthy’ according to the AQI system (General AQI advisory at ‘unhealthy’: “Avoid all outdoor activities, particularely for infants”) the chinese website put up a number near the 50’s, calling the air ‘good’

We were in our second week, when the haze was so thick, it even made the tower of the prestigious merchant’s bank just opposite the street of our building hazy. We visited some friends in town, and when we came back, we both had to lie down because we didnt feel well. A feeling that is very similar to car sickness: nauseous, headache, and so, so tired.

The US embassy reading was 500AQI that day, maximum reading, the number above which, at the time, machines could not accurately measure the concentration of pollution in the air.
The american embassy put out a statement in which they said the Beijing airpollution was ‘just terribly bad’
Irritatedly, the Beijing government, that had put up a 200 something number calling the circumstances ‘mildly polluted’, blocked the US embassy website and demanded apologies from the Americans for ‘blackening the image of China to the world’
Those westerners, all they want is speak badly about China, they are just jealous, they are just always whining!

The US ambassador did not apologize, as far as I know. The site was unblocked however, but now displayed “when exposed for 24 hours at these levels” under every AQI number and interpretation. The Beijing official numbers meanwhile, stayed at roughly a third of what the embassy was reporting.

When we asked our driver or our ayi about the pollution and the haze, they smiled nervously and said that ‘the weather today is not so good” Or “yes, there is often mist here, in Beijing” The word pollution they simply pretended not to hear nor did they never use that word themselves, not in english nor in chinese.

But for mist, one needs humidity. And humidity, Beijing sorely lacks 9 months out of the year. Only in may, june and july, when the big rains come, can one experience actual, real mist in Beijing.

Then, one day, I do not remember exactly when anymore, about one and a half year ago, the Beijing government started publishing the official API numbers. With all the separate measurements listed under it.
In my pollution app, there appeared a map with all the API numbers on it of all the individual measure stations China possessed, showing an interesting array of multicoloured numbers all over the country, from which one could easily deduce where the heavy industry was located and what the wind was doing. The numbers published for Beijing were still laughably low.
As time progressed, measurement stations were added all over the country and all over Beijing. And as time progressed, I also saw the chinese numbers slowly creep closer and closer to the US ones.

They still differ, but do so now in such a way, that I suspect this has more to do with differences in interpretation, as well as the Chinese API number for Beijing being a general number composed of many measurements taken all over the city, from the far east to the far west. In less than two years, not only have the Chinese installed an impressive network of measure stations, pollution has been lifted out of the taboo sphere, and placed itself on top of the political agenda. More and more Chinese are wearing masks on bad air days. The US embassy is no longer chastized for publishing air pollution data, on the grounds of ‘mingling with the business of another sovereign state’ The driver and the ayi no longer smile nervously, but frown, when they say ‘the pollution today is very bad’ And note that they now use that very word: pollution. Both in english and in chinese.

This change I think we owe to the airpocalypse of last year, january 2013. The month where pollution reached truly unthinkable levels. The US embassy measurements, now able to detect concentrations higher then 500, (another indication of how fast development is going) reported numbers above this maximum, the so called ‘beyond index’ for a whopping four days in a row, days that fell within ten continuous days that were classified as either very unhealthy (AQI of 201-300) or hazardous (AQI 301-500) Do realize, that from 400 AQI onwards, the PM2,5 reading and AQI reading are the same.
One of these beyond index days broke the 800 AQI. The next day saw the 1000 AQI breached.

Not even the Chinese government could pretend any longer that pollution was a minor issue taken out of proportion by the whining west.

I wasn’t in Beijing during that time, but my girl was, and she told me her eyes hurt when she went outside, and she could physically not breathe properly on those two horrendous days.

In Japan, where I was having a snowboard holiday, the layer of snow deposited in the week after the airpocalipse was brownish, and clearly visible in the snowpack.

So now you have read plenty of numbers, but what do these numbers actually mean? Without perspective, how are you going to know what it means, when I say the AQI is 170 today? (which is a fairly normal day in Beijing I’d say) What do you balance this information with? What kind of AQI or PM readings do European cities have, generally? What exactly is the WHO limit for airpollution? What does a number like that feel like, breathe like, look like?

There are actually two different limits set in (and by) the west.
The EU has set the limit for PM2,5 on a maximum of 25.

Per year.

Together with a limit of no more then 40 PM2,5 per day.

The WHO goes further, setting the maximum for one year at a count of only 10 PM2,5. A count that, I am sure, many European cities also cannot avoid exceeding.

Let’s assume the WHO is whining. Let’s assume the EU is also whining. Let’s say that actually double the numbers the EU advises, are just fine for human life. That would mean that a general measurement for a full year should not be higher than 50, and no more than 80 on any single day.
Let’s not be whiners and take double the EU limits as standard. Where does that leave us in Beijing?

Still shitf*d, that’s where.

According to official reports, the amount of days that the airquality can be considered either unhealthy, very unhealthy or hazardous (with an AQI of 160 or over, double the ‘non whining’ standard I just set above) is 220 days per year in Beijing.
22 days out of the year (as measured over the past few years) the measurements exceed the WHO limit a whopping 50 times or more.
The amount of days per year in Beijing that fall within the official WHO limits are 20 days. Just under three weeks. Even if we count according to the ‘non-whining’ option as mentioned above, the amount of days in Beijing that would be considered ‘okay’ according to daily measurements would be a mere 100 days. The yearly totals are bad no matter which limits you choose to measure them against: average daily pm2,5 level in Beijing is 90.

So now we’ve had a load of numbers which paint a very dark picture. In comparison, in the Netherlands, parliament asks the qovernment questions about what measures to take when the airpollution due to rare weather conditions, reaches over 60 AQI in the south of the land for one single day. In London, brits go berserk because they witness a few days of 160 or above (which, by the way, is indeed pretty bad!) Compare that to the Beijing numbers and you might come to understand the enormous differences. But that doesnt mean you actually know what the difference is like, what it feels like.

Many tourists do not notice much of it. The effects airpollution has on a single individual differs enormously. There are people who are sick when the AQI hits 300, there are those that bike to their work whistling all the way. -with a mask on, I should hope- I am someone whom it effects a lot. My girl however, hasn’t had much of a problem these past three years. I suspect that smokers have less problems with it in general. Their bodies are used to a daily dose of airborne poison. And, as one smoker smilingly said; I am breathing the same kind of shitty air. But I at least have a filter with it!

Tourists generally aren’t here for long enough to ‘appreciate’ what the northeastern chinese pollution is like. One can, after all, get lucky, in Beijing. There are good weeks. Or weeks that have many days hovering around the 150 level. Not good, but also not so hazy or choking that it would impact your holiday. For those busy wandering through the hutongs, the temples, the forbidden city, they might not even notice it was a 180 AQI haze above them that made the light so distorted and contrastless. Being in that air for two or three weeks will most likely give no problems beyond a mild rash and a cough, both of which will dissapear as soon as you are back in a healthy(er) environment.

This is the only comparatively ‘good’ news the researchers can give us about air pollution: the negative health effects of airpollution will, provided you go (back) to a healthy environment, diminish over time. Given time, your body recuperates from air pollution. Slowly, but surely, your chances of getting cancer diminish.

Therefore, the best you can do, so urge the Beijing based US doctors of the SOS clinics, is to limit your exposure to airpollution. Wear well fitting masks (and the “well-fitting” is imperative here: badly fitted masks are no use at all) Do not do outdoor sports on days with an aircount over fifty (So say goodbye to biking, hiking or anything else on all but three weeks of the year) Do not even go outside on very bad days (In unfiltered houses, the air can reach up to two thirds of the count outside, depending on how often doors and windows are opened..) Take as many holidays in healthy environments as possible, to give your body the time to recover.

It is a slow poison. During daily Beijing life I do not notice the effects that much, mainly because the effects are there every day. One forgets. Only when I return to Europe, or go to Japan, and stay there for two weeks or longer, do I feel the difference. It startles me. The difference in stamina, which is huge, even when untrained. How much more deeply I sleep, how well rested I am in the morning. The difference to my skin, that is without rashes when in healthy environments. I cannot wear jewelry when I am in Beijing, for instance. My skin grows red and itchy almost immediately. After two weeks back home, I can wear jewelry without problems. (The dryness in Beijing surely doesn’t help, either) After two weeks in a healthy environment, I look ten years younger then I do while in Beijing. My cough disappears. After a week, I realise I have no headaches anymore. And my mood is so much more uplifted. These effects of a healthy environment last on a little while after I’ve returned to Beijing: the first two, three weeks after a getaway to Europe I feel good still, strong, unfettered. This slowly gets eroded away. Beijing pollution doesnt kill anyone fast. But it is unrelenting. As the Beijing years draw on, and the amount of pollution heaps up in my lungs and my blood, I notice these effects more and more.

Everyone who lives in a place where the light diminishes in winter, knows the depressive feelings that the dark months of january and february can bring. Here in Beijing, one can experience something much alike, as in wintere there are days and days on end that the haze envelopes the city, allowing the sun to be only a pale white disk in the sky, the light low and dispersed, the sunset already glowing red at half past three, the sun already dissapearing at four. Not because the sun has sunk below the horizon, but because the sun has sunk below the pollutioncloud that hovers over Beijing.

china-pollution-space
The pollution as seen from space. Image taken by the international space station. The dark grey is smog, the white is clouds. Also clear is the edge of the mountians, that keep the smog locked in over the plains of northeastern China. To escape the smog, one has to drive at least four hours north or northwest from Beijing.

Sometimes, when flying to Beijing, you can see it: as the plane descends , the clouds shift from white to brown, the border marked by a darker layer of soot.

Had the pollution not been here, or not been this severe, living in Beijing would have been a great adventure. Now, it still is an adventure, a wonder on many days, an exciting time of learning, but it is a much darker, unhealthier one, one that tires you out, one that every so often, I just need to hide from in airfiltered rooms. One that I need to leave behind to go breathe fresh air, to recover from in a healthy place, much like tuberculosis patients were once sent to the mountains to recover. An adventure that requires you to grit your teeth and hold your breath and count the days till the wind turns towards the north and brings fresh breathable oxygen. Beijing can be great, ugly and gritty and sandy, overwhelming in it’s size and scope, the sheer magnitude of what is happening here and at what speed, exciting and contagious and just great, if only, if only, if only the pollution would not be there.

pollutionblog01

The view from our balcony to the east, on one of the few good days. (for the careful observer: mind the brown-yellowish haze close to the horizon on the left. If the day falls within WHO limits, the mountains at the horizon can be seen. This particular day does not fall within WHO limits, it is AQI 60 or so. In Beijing, that is a great day)

pollutionblog02

The same view at 5 am on a july morning. This is what an ordinary Beijing sunrise looks like. Count is around 180 AQI here. A fairly “normal” day, that one gets about 160 days per year of. Already 50 times beyond the WHO limit for daily dosage of pm2,5 and pm10..

pollutionblog02A

The same view on a mid march morning, around 10 am, AQI at 300 or thereabouts. This is what the sun will look like the rest of the day, till it dissapears at 4 pm. Whole weeks can pass by like this in winter, and it is a drag on the mind.

pollutionblog04

Looking up around noon on a 300 AQI day in winter. Yes, it is sunny out there, somewhere.

pollutionblog05

When the count hits 300 or more, I trade my flimsy plastic totobobo mask for this heavy, absolutely airtight one. Just to make a statement. Luke…. I am your father!

pollutionblog06A

A screenshot from the airquality app. Note the pm2,5 count. Note, also, the difference in interpretation. On the map, one can clearly see where the industry is. And the wind is southerly, pushing it all up against the mountains north of Beijing…

pollutionblog07

The view from our apartment to the south, february 28th, 2013, at 7 am. AQI 500, beyond index. Note that the sun is already above the horizon, it has just come up, but it cannot pierce the thick smog..

pollutionblog07A

Same view, the next day, after half a day of a northerly near storm. Northen wind is the thing to pray for here. It will blow all that sh*t over Korea to Japan and the pacific.

pollutionblog08

..For this is what the northernwind can do: note the graph. The wind turned to northerly around 3 or 4 am. at 6 am, the count has fallen down from a near 300 (which it had been for three full days prior) to a pristine 13. A sigh of relief indeed! (Well, actually I hollered instead of sighed…)

One of the IQ air filters, after a little under a year of use. This is the first filter, the one that filters out coarse particles

One of the IQ air filters, the new one still pristine white, the old one black, after a little under a year of use. This is the first filter, the one that filters out coarse particles.

IMG_0289

IQ air came to the Beijing offices to inform everyone about pollution and the blessings of their product. They gracefully lent us their particle meter, with which one can measure the amount of fine particles down to the size of 3pm. So we checked our house. This is in the (big) living room, where there is just one machine, and the door to the balcony has been opened multiple times.

IMG_0294

This is the reading done on the balcony. That is a nice amount of fine particles per cubic meter indeed! (AQI count close to 300 at that time, but I do not remember the precise number)

IMG_0295

.. and the reading in the bedroom, which had it’s door closed and the airfilter in it on 5 (second fastest setting) for about three hours prior. Now that looks better!

 

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Images from the capital of the middle kingdom, snapped throughout the past year. No point, no grand story, no artistic intentions, just images of moments lived here.

Transformers are popular in China.

And one wouldnt believe sometimes..

..the loads one sees on anything that has (a) wheel(s)

Sometimes, roads get blocked for no reason but every single driver being an %ss…

mostentimes roads get blocked because there is simply too much traffic. This is what the third ringroad looks like every day from 4 pm till 6:30 pm.

Weather forecast: after the rainstorm, blue skies and sunny. A rainstorm can clean up the air quite thoroughly. This is a particular good day and rare view from our window..

..more often, the same view looks like this. The weatherforecast for this day: blue skies and sunny. pollution count: 420. 2.5 pm particle count: 250 (!!! instant cancer, all for the better gdp!)

In black and white: Beijing in 1956. (Though if you had told me it was 1930, I’d have believed you) The little colour insert is a picture from the same spot, last year.

in one of the many temples where old times linger

New fish, old fish. Fayuan temple.

What a rich home’s door looked like a few centuries ago (now a poor home)

What the door to a fancy disco/club/restaurant looks like nowadays

If you want to be classy, you can buy yourself some copies of western classics here

What does it take, to make a brand new China?

What does it take, to make a brand new China?

Nice piece!

Nice piece!

Music by an american to honour the revolution. Seen at the exhibit in Soong Ling Ling's house (former wife of Sun Yat Sen)

Music by an american to honour the revolution. Seen at the exhibit in Soong Ling Ling’s house (former wife of Sun Yat Sen)

What is strange about this poster?(Hint: two kids..)

What is strange about this poster?
(Hint: two kids..)

Someone once said: 'In China, one doenst need to make art, it's just there, on the street' And he was right. This is in Song Zhuang, an unintentional installation. Brilliant. The white plastic bag is the last detail that was really needed to make it perfect.

Someone once said: ‘In China, one doenst need to make art, it’s just there, on the street’ And he was right. This is in Song Zhuang, an unintentional installation. Brilliant. The white plastic bag is the last detail that was really needed to make it perfect.

Bread and play, is that liberation?

Bread and play, is that liberation?

In Song Zhuang, there is some serious cooking, as this kitchen exhaust shows..

In Song Zhuang, there is some serious cooking, as this kitchen exhaust shows..

A small town just west of Beijing

A small town just west of Beijing

Train  viaduct soewhere in the mountains west of Beijing

Train viaduct soewhere in the mountains west of Beijing

A cute bubble bike.

A cute bubble bike.

Snow in Beijing.

Snow in Beijing.

Snow in Beijing.

Snow in Beijing.

Zhong Guo.

Zhong Guo.

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Well, I suck at blogging.

And no, I did not make a new year’s resolution about it. I will continue to suck at blogging in 2013, soon to be year of the snake. I apologize, but I am afraid that is the way it is. I suck at blogging. That said, happy new year to everybody.
I am back from a quick christmas holiday in my homecountry, and now back in wintery Beijing, whose morning greet us at a nippy -16 on the balcony, and whose drought and airpollution cracks my skin.

I have a studio now, in Song Zhuang, the art village just outside of the sixt ringroad to the east. It is unmercifully cold in there since about halfway november. The building has general heating, meaning there are heating pipes running through the floor, which indeed prevent the place from actually freezing. It is about 6 degrees celcius there now. Which, I must admit, helps with keeping my paint fluid for a long time. It also helps a lot with procastrinating. It is only so much fun to hold a brush while shivering, and after a few hours, the skiing underwear and triple sweater combo I am wearing does no longer suffice.

But when I go, I go there in the morning, after the driver brought my girl to her work, he brings me to my studio, making me undoubtedly one of the few, if not the only, artist who is driven to her studio by a chauffeur in a fancy car. To balance it out, I go back to Beijing by bus. I stand waiting at the dust ridden, windswept busstand with the rest of Song Zhunag people on their way to anywhere in Tongzhou and Beijing. I walk over the dirt strewn sandroads and wobbly sidewalk towards that busstop, hopping over a part of the sidewalk that has fallen in, probably a sweage pipe that collapsed -as happens frequently throughout China, one can’t be sure here wether the ground uner one’s feet will or will not suddenly give way- shielding my eyes for the dust that the trucks passing by leave in their wake, and ducking for the stray strand of steel wire that still floats halfway over the new road. You see, the crossroads that the busstand is on, was recently renewed. Song Zhuang has been named the new hotspot in town, and the village is in a building spree. Naturally, the roads need to be renewed to mirror the grand imaginings of their political caretakers too, so they get widened, to make for even more dust and wind.

These crossroads were widened too, but somehow, no one bothered about the electricity wiring nor the poles the wiring is on, so there still is a pole with a bundle of wires that stretches till roughly halfway the crossing, some broken and dangling down -hence the strand I duck for- with one electricity wire plunging into the asphalt right there, in the second lane for the traffic that travels north. Of course, one day, someone is going to see that too late and will not be able to swivel around it in time. But so far, since the traffic going north is not that dense, it has been going well and the wires remain there.
Welcome to the China outside of it’s shiny modern city interiors, so eagerly displayed in the business and travel folders…

I did not jest when I remarked that the ground in China might just give way under your feet. Sinkholes are, by now, an almost normal occurence in China. Here is a collection of pictures from sinkholes that got in the news from all over China: 7 are from last year alone, 2 are from 2011, one unknown. And there are more out there, even.. shoddy construction is rife, a direct result of the corruption that cripples this country.

Changchun, may 2011

Changchun, may 2011

Guilin, june 2012

Guilin, june 2012

Harbin, august 2012. The bridge had just been opened, but already, the local government could no longer 'find' the construction business that had built the bridge. Corruption, anyone?

Harbin, august 2012. The bridge had just been opened, but already, the local government could no longer ‘find’ the construction business that had built the bridge. Corruption, anyone?

A bridge collapse in Beijing province, juli 2011. The truck trying to cross it weighed 160 tonnes, the bridge was once built to withstand 55 tonnes maximum.

A bridge collapse in Beijing province, juli 2011. This one, I cannot chalk up to corruption. The truck trying to cross it weighed 160 tonnes, the bridge was once built to withstand 55 tonnes maximum. This one, I chalk up to the general unwillingness to heed and control the rules. Though that phenomenon in turn has something to do with corruption, yes.

Found on a chinese site, place and time unknown.

Found on a chinese site, place and time unknown.

Taiyuan, december2012

Taiyuan, december 2012

Nanjing, november 2012

Nanjing, november 2012

Xi'an, may 2012

Xi’an, may 2012

Shijiazhuang, september 2012. A gas pipe in the hole exploded, to add to the suspense..

Shijiazhuang, september 2012. A gas pipe in the sinkhole exploded, to add to the suspense..

Beijing, april 2012. The woman was just walking over the sidewalk back to work from her lunchbreak. The sinkhole was caused by a leaking hot water pipe. She was boiled to death. Literally.

Beijing, april 2012. The woman was just walking over the sidewalk back to work from her lunchbreak. The sinkhole was caused by a leaking hot water pipe. She was boiled to death. Literally. The company responsible has vowed to mend its ways: they now put up danger signs at suspected spots. So at least they cant be sued anymore.

I get onto the bus, I swipe my public transport card past the machine that the busconductress is leaning over, and walk as far back as I can go into the bus. Sometimes there are still seats to be found, old indented seats with ripped blue fabric over older yellow fabric next to windows that sit loose in their frame rebates, resulting in deafening rattling with the bus is navigating the roads still under construction in Song Zhuang. Sometimes there is no seat anymore, so I squeeze into any quarter square metre still free and hang on to the seatposts. The conductress chases lingering passengers further back, making sure that the bus is filled up to the very brink. Yes, 120 people really do fit on a 60 persons coach. Leave that to the busconductresses, thats their job and they have years of experience. They also sell single tickets, chat up the old folks, and stick a little red flag out of the right window when the bus wants to veer right to get to the busstop.
The trip leads past the poorer parts of Song Zhuang, hutong like streets lined with single storey houses painted gray, with every now and then the black coal smoke rising from the general heating building. Rubbish lies everywhere. Bikes, car parts, old furniture, toys, everything just lies in a jumble outside, in an intriguing showcase of desorganisation and carelessness. Every street facing house has a big sign with blaring characters, the wares stacked up behind the greasy windows. Then we pass a bridge, over the grand canal -yes, THAT grand canal- and there is a compound for the very rich. American style portico houses bare;y visible behind carefully groomed grassy slopes, an unexpected green sight amidst the dusty grey, and then the entrance lined with a waterfall tumbling over a terraced wall, a display of extravagance in this drought riddn part of China. There are guards in long black jackets with white gloves standing next to the entrance, and I wonder which wealthy chinese have made their homes here. That it is established through corruption is as obvious as the sky is blue. No officialdom in China does anything without corruption and it is China’s top problem, though the lack of (clean) water is a close second.

Then the bus wobbles through Tongzhou, once a town outside of Beijing where the grand canal ended. Now it is part of Beijing, but it has grand plans for itself, as proclaimed on the billboards a the decidedly fancier busstands here: a modern cityscape is shown, with glistening glass and roaring high concrete, against a backdrop of lakes (water? here? which water?) and snow covered mountains that rise higher then the treeline.

Tongzhou's grand dreams: A quick snapshot from the bus, unfocused and dark, but note the white toppped peak there, which doesnt exist, the canal filled to the brink, the lake to the northwest of it that either has yet to be constructed or is also just an embellishment.

Tongzhou’s grand dreams: A quick snapshot from the bus, unfocused and dark, but note the white toppped peak there, which doesnt exist, the canal filled to the brink, the lake to the northwest of it that either has yet to be constructed or is also just an embellishment.

This is what Tongzhou's grand dreams look like. Is this the chinese dream?

This is what Tongzhou’s grand dreams look like. Is this the chinese dream?

Someone ordered a fancy building with western fronts and columns. He should have advised them to use a ruler when carving the roman lettering though... (the colums are now all painted gold btw)

Someone ordered a fancy building with western fronts and columns. He should have advised them to use a ruler when carving the roman lettering though… (the colums are now all painted gold btw)

That always makes me roll my eyes in China. The billboards. The display of a total disregard, a deliberate ignoring of what the reality looks like. There is no water in Beijing. There are no lakes except the reservoirs behind the dams in the mountainous area that surrounds Beijing, of which none rises above the treeline. Even in summer, when the rains fall heavily, the riverbeds do not fully fill up. Yes, during the rainfall itself they do, and the streets flood, because the whole province that is Beijing is by now covered in asphalt and there aren’t any decently working sewages anywhere, but after the rain, the water seeps away as swiftly as it came.

The resort of Wanlong, where we went to february last year, has started a PR offensive to lure the rich chinese and the western expats. They made a promotional video, in which they blithely show knee deep powder, pictures from alpine resorts and even a picture of what looks like a british villgae in cornwall somewhere, proclaiming that this is what Wanlong either already looks like, or will look like in the future. A thing which is nary impossible. But that doesnt matter, it seems. It is about the beauty of the image displayed, not about showing things for what they are. After all, when one does the latter, one will not sell much.

Then the bus takes the highway into Beijing, past the fifth ringroad, past rows upon rows of towerblocks, many of them still being built, cranes rising everywhere. I get out at the subwaystop of Guo Mao, in the middle of the CBD, the financial district that Beijing flaunts to prove that yes, China now belongs to the modern world, while rows and rows of people wait to board the buses that will take them out of fancy Beijing back to the suburbs from which I just came, where rents are still within reach, and the towerblocks not all glistening.

China is building like there is no tomorrow. Back in summer, just after the heavy rains, we went to Wulingshan, a mountain just over the northeastern border of Beijing province in Hebei. It is a beautiful mountain that supports it’s own special ecosystem that is wetter, and therefore lusher then the lands that surround it, so local government was quick in declaring it a ‘place of scenic beauty’ which means that there is a fence around it, a gate that extorts a hefty fee, even to the european mind (46 euro’s for one car with two people) a road leading through the park so you can stay comfortably in your car while gaping at the ‘scenic beauty’ stopping only at the foodstalls or the concrete path that will lead you to the top of the mountain. All paths there were, alas, concrete paths, completed with stairs and railings over the steeper sections. Even though outdoor sports have just begun to boom in china, the concept of going out into nature in order to find area’s as untouched by humans as possible is still very alien to the chinese mind. Our driver, when he once drove us, on our directions, to the beginning of a footpath into the hills, could not understand why we wanted him to do that. The village where the path starts off from, has a famous restaurant, so he naturally assumed that we wanted to go there to eat, and lounge in the shade, after which we would return Beijingward with a well filled belly, as any other normal Beijinger would do. The fact that we didnt want to eat, but walk (on a diet of just -gasp!- a mueslibar or two) over the mountain, thereby exerting ourselves, was incomprihensible to him. Crazy folk, them foreigners. Exerting yourself when you don’t have to! And not eating? Inconcievable.

Though the visit to the Wulingshan scenic park was interesting, and beautiful, even with concrete paths and hefty fee, the ride home where we got lost, was far more interesting.
It is easy to get lost in China. There are no good maps.

There are maps available, but rarely are they more detailed then 1;100000 (excepting the city maps) and the details, like the billboards, are not like reality. They are close to reality, but not reality. For instance, we have two maps that cover the whole of Beijing province: the city itself, and the mountains around it. One is a chinese map, with only chinese characters on it, bought in the bookstore on Wangfujing street. The other is a western map, with only english or pin yin (the chinese written more or less phonetically in roman letters) bought in a the hague map shop. The western map is far clearer, far better drawn, but the chinese map, cluttered with characters and lines as it is is somehwat closer to reality. So we end up using both at the same time, checking the western names with the characters on the roadsigns and the chinese maps, and finding that, as often, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The new highway that we took to get to Wulingshan is at the right of a river in the western map. It is to the left of a river on the chinese map, which is right, but it isnt nearly as close to the river as the map states.
We also have a navigation system in that fancy car, of course, but that one came with the car, and is last updated four years ago. Which renders it useless in China. They might have moved whole cities in four years’ time!

Unfortunately, it is impossible to get a real good map of any chinese territory. There are no climbing maps available. If you go about with a GPS mapping the terrain for yourself, as one unfortunate westerner tried to do last year, one runs the risk of getting detained by the army on the suspicion of spying.

So one gets lost from time to time. And so it was we drove through lush valleys -one expat stated that the summer of 2012 was the wettest he’d seen in all his 9 years in Beijing- where fancy lakeside houses were being built for the wealthy looking for their western village dream, and past the city of Xing Long, where whole neighbourhoods were flattened all at once to make way for yet more concrete and glass.

The ravages in Xing Long.

The ravages in Xing Long.

Xinglong02

The modernity approaching.

Xinglong03

Rubbish one just drops where one stands, in China.

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Cranes to the horizon..

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..and more cranes after rounding every bend..

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What modernity looks like for the VIPs of chinese society.

So this, then, is the chinese dream?

So this, then, is the chinese dream?

And so it was we ended up on the third airport highway, one we didnt even know existed, that took us in between terminals one and two, and over a laughably ill concieved conjunction between that highway and the main road to the famed ‘airport highway’ (of which we erronously assumed there was only one) that has one driving past and around roadblocks made by haphazardly placed stones in the middle of the road, only to come eye to eye with a driver that navigated the block of stone from the other side, searching his way to the other highway, the one we’d just excited.
And mind you, this was not a temporary solution because they were still building. This was just the way the conjunction of these two roads was organised. In that typical chinese way of ‘ooh, it’ll work like that too, whatever’ way. Resulting in a traffic bungle that one can only encounter in China. An intriguing display of both unorganisation and carelessness.

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In Beijing, spring has come. It comes slowly here. Temperatures do go up, till about 10 to 12 degrees celcius, but it is too dry for the trees to sprout until the first rain arrives at the end of april. It is solid rain, real drops, for almost three hours straight. For me, a dutchie used to daily wetness, a huge relief after near 5 months of no rain at all. Shortly after this, it rains for a full day. A full day! Having waited for this signal, all the trees pop out their blossoms and leaves all at once. Within a few days, the park in front of our house turns from brown to green.

Then the sand comes. Not a storm as such, more a sand-drizzle. I only noticed after looking down at the balcony floor and realizing the sand had made pretty windpatterns on the tiles. The roads turn yellowish brown. The buildings turn yellowish brown. The cars turn yellowish brown. Then come the windblown seeds from the willows that grow all over Beijing. So many, that often it looks like it is snowing.

Then come the southern winds.

Temperatures go from aforementioned 12 degrees up to 22, then straight on to 30, all within a mere two weeks.

The southern winds block the plain that Beijing lies in, surrounded by a half moon of mountains to the north and west, which means the pollution gets locked above the city and the days turn bleakishly white. Sometimes, one sees the sun, but it stays orange the whole day. Sometimes the mist darkens to a mid grey, and that usually means there is rain coming, from clouds invisible as they meld into the smog.

Beijing municipality is monitoring the smog. Environmental goals are announced in the China Daily, new laws passed for industries to clean up their work processes.
China has the most environmental laws in the whole world.
Unfortunately, as long as any industry captain, a member of the party of course as all major industries are party -and therefore government- owned, can buy him or herself out of these laws, progress is going to be slow. Undeterred, the China daily counts the ‘blue sky days’ that Beijing experiences. Last year the newspaper triumphantly announced that, in the new year, Beijing had already had 250 blue sky days! An impressive feat indeed, given that it was only the first of may.

Time has raced by. It is truly, in Beijing, that time moves twice as fast here. As if this asian continent has loosened itself from the rest of the world and shifted into a different gear.

We had our first visitor around, at new years, and we stood on the balcony, the three of us, at exactly midnight, heaved our glasses in the middle of a city that did not care one bit about western newyear. Our brave “happy newyear!” shouted from the balcony on the umpteenth floor dissapeared amidst the sound of traffic. What a difference that was compared to the festivities of the chinese new year, that marked the beginning of the year of the dragon, a happy, strong as well as ominous sign. There were fireworks throughout the day, but at midnight the whole of Beijing just blithely exploded. 18 million people blasting all they could afford into fire in the sky.
I saw more fireworks in one hour on that balcony then the 30 dutch newyears (!!!) I saw before it. And that, indeed, is saying something.

We went skiing in Japan. The differences between China and Japan are enormous. From chaotic indifference to stiff civilness. From brutal pushing to immaculate waiting lines in front of the train that the British would be proud of. From haphazard skyline trying to emulate greatness in the dust to a scene straight from a science fiction movie with white mountains as a backdrop. So much lights flashing in the city of Tokyo my eyes grew weary after a couple of streets.
The Japanese mountains were awesome. The japanese resorts a flotsam and jetsam of western styles: french, austrian, swiss chalets with american patio’s and english timbered houses that look like they came straight from the setting of a shakespeare play. A perfect copy of a little austrian church. Even the ridges of mountains have german names. And, of course, the belltower chimes the melody of the Big Ben.

I wonder how many towers in asia chime the melody of the Big Ben. And if there is even one of those that actually has bells heavy enough to come at least a little bit close to the original.

The locals were complaining they hadnt yet gotten a real snowstorm yet. That the snow didnt reach to the roofs yet. Those 20 to 30 cms they got every night didnt count. It was, apparently, a bad winter and I had the best powder I had in five years. (Two weekends after we left, they had their real dump: 3 metres in one weekend!!) Business was slow in the resorts. Japanese tourism has fallen a stunnning 60% since the tsunami.

We went skiing in China, which I wrote about further down. We had lantern festival and Qing Ming, we walked over the ice of Kunming lake next to the summer palace, we got invited to a chinese hot pot over at the house of a chinese friend. Grey winter days came and went. It took ages for spring to arrive.

Now it is may, it is a solid 30 degrees plus during the day, cooling to a 27 or 28 with a mild breeze in the evening, when the city comes to life. Games are played on the streets, in the park, people dance everywhere. Whole groups of people practising a studied dance together, accompanied by a portable record player (with old fahsioned tapes, yes!) creaking the music into the mild summer air. Every weekndnight there is a kite let up from chaoyang park, just opposite our balcony, with strings of lights attached to the kiteline. Gently the lights sway above the light and smog of the city, the lights of the rows of cars slowly moving, honking, the deep roar of the big trucks that are only allowed to drive at night, people’s voices, the sound of the bank’s fountain down below, drowned out every now and then by sirens.
Beijing city spring nights.

I have chinese lessons. Two times two hours a week. Only now, after 10 of such sessions, does the utter frustration abide a bit. I start to hear some difference in the tones, even though I still mix them up, especially the second and the fourth tone. A quarter of the time. I start to correctly say them myself. A tiny quarter of the time. Chinese people on the street and in the shops actually start to understand my Chinese, which is the surest sign of progress. It melows their reactions enormously, they smile widely when they hear me mutter my barbarian chinese, and repeat the words so I’ll learn them correctly.

Some semblance of logic emerges, where before, everything sounded just the same to me and most sounds uttered in the chinese language are something I broke my tongue over, especially if uttered in a complete sentence consisting of more then three words.
I have to diligently do my homework though, just like in the old days at school, to be able to remember most of the words I learn. A few days of procastrination invariably get punished by an utter blank mind the next lesson.

I asked my teacher to also teach me some characters. To my surprise, there is a set stroke order. One cannot just start anywhere and produce the character one sees. If you dont start with the right stroke, and do not write the next strokes in the right order, your character is not deemed good. Even though the one you just wrote looks the same as the character you were told to write, and even though anyone who knows that character can read it and discern it’s meaning, it is still ‘not right’ I asked why this was important, if I could write a character that other people can read, what difference does a stroke order make?
The answer was that, once the characters get really complex, if you do not abide by the set stroke order, you mix up the lines and dots and get lost.

I have the suspicion that everything in chinese written language was meant to make it impossible for the layman to master it. It is a scripture one can only learn by diligent study. Unlike the roman script, where once one has learned the alphabet of a mere 26 letters, one can read and write words. Bar spelling mistakes, one can then get oneself at least understood.

If you want to learn to read Chinese, you have to learn by heart all these characters. Thousands of them. Four thousand to be able to read the newspaper. And the character itself will not tell you which tone you’d need to pronounce the word. It has been the privilege of elite all over the world in all times to be able to read and write, but in China, this privilege is exceptionally hard earned.

It is funny to see young western boys here (its predominantly boys) who are exactly what one would expect of a western nerd: walking around in crumpled but fashionable shorts, sneakers, quirky t shirt, apple computer in front of them, working on their internet project they either got hired for by a chinese company here or they try to set up their own company here in Beijing, since space and employees are still within the reach of an upstarters’ budget in China. They sit here in the western hip coffeebar amidst the western clad hip chinese, but the chinese workattire is strictly suited, immaculately ironed and demurely black or grey. Even the young chinese that are not in worksuit, carefully assemble their attire, and rarely have even one hair out of place. The studied neglicence that the western boys display is lost on the chinese office employees, that are so seriously working on their career.

My girl gave a speech at an university for a hall full of young promising students, kids of privileged parents, who could afford to go to priviliged schools. Many of them will be in high positions later on. She said it was the best, most fun speech she had done so far in Beijing, because the atmosphere in the hall was so palpably excited, eager and positive. She held her speech about how the framework of any society needs the rule of law to make that society work, to make it strong. How from that follows that institutes like the UN are inevitable, as the framework of an international society needs rules and laws as well.
The subsequently published university paper called the speech ‘brilliant’ and even though I know the chinese language is prone to using exaggeratingly poetic sublime words -it is in the words, in the language itself, and one uses these words because the culture prescribes it, because using more moderate words would be deemed an insult- they meant it. My girl told me how enthousiastic the students were, how eager, how excited and serious at the same time. How open and earnest their questions, questions on many things that are censured in China, and they didnt even blink asking them. How the atmosphere in that hall was permeated with a sense best described as a ‘Yes we can – and we will!’ spirit, a spirit that the west has lost and for the moment cannot regain. They know they have a future, they know they are going places, they will not lead the lives their parents led in relative poverty, let alone the lives their grandparents led, in pure famine (the last serious famine in China only ended a mere 50 years ago after all. Every young Chinese has grandparents that lived through and maybe died in, the great Chinese famine that cost anywhere between 15 and 43 million lives)
Now China has come back on top, as they believe is where it should have been all along, and they want to go ride that wave and make an impact on the world, they expect to be doing so, and they can’t wait till it happens.
But they do know things are seriously wrong in their society and they do want to put it right. And they emanated the excitement of going to do exactly that.

There is no telling if and how they will, how much of that excitement will die in the daily grind, the long walk up the ladder. How many of them will be swallowed by the system, or which one, if any, will be at that place or time where history takes a turn. There is no telling how much real influence any of these kids will have on that. But the will, the enthousiasm, the sincerety, is surely there. They believe in progress, and they want to make it.
This, too, is China.
An exhiliarating, exciting and intriguing China.

The challenge they face is a many tentacled monster. Corruption is China’s greatest adversary. That, and the inability to see things in perspective (these two characteristics blend into each other and are an important part of all the diverse problems that plague this gigantic country) There is no greater danger for China then China.
Not many people in the west know that China is floating on an housing bubble of chinese proportions. Some searching found a film on youtube, a documentary produced by journeyman.tv about the strange but true phenomenon of gigantic ghost cities. The biggest of those are Ordos, in inner Mongolia, and Chenggong in Yunnan province near Kunming. These are cities built at amazing speeds, sometimes in less then five years, meant for literally millions of inhabitants that never move there. Street after street empty, surrounded by expensive apartment blocks, shopping malls, fountains, sportfields and schools. Ordos even has a state of the art modern art museum – that cost 79 million US dollars to build – and it’s all empty. The apartments are invariably for the wealthy, and are invariably empty as for most, they are either too expensive or just simply too much out of the way. In the case of Ordos, there is no economic activilty in the empty city, so no one goes there except the few thousand state workers that were ordered to go there. I wonder how their daily life is, driving over empty streets through an empty city out there on the mongolian grasslands.

The total of empty high end apartments reaches 64 million all over China and it takes an exceptionally hopeful mind to think that there will be enough wealthy middle class to fill those up anytime soon enough to avoid the bubble bursting.

The most stunning part of this whole story is, that it seems these projects were solely made in order to boost up the GDP numbers of China to please the world bank.

How many times do I have to tell you guys that you simply cannot rule the world with numbers? That this world does not fit in numbers? That reality can’t be caught, explained, controlled or tamed by numbers? Is there really any leader anywhere in this world still left who actually realizes that?

Suddenly, the bleak emptiness I saw in Songzhuang makes sense. The high end gallery buildings in the middle of nowhere. I remember the enomous deserted lanes in Zhangjiakou, the rows of apartment blocks painted brightly red. I remember the apartment blocks of ‘the Davos of the east‘ the spa resort with is sparkling new highway, and I realize they all fit in the same story of overbuilding.

Someone characterized China as ‘a supertanker travelling at the speed of a speedboat”
That is an apt description.

I was also told once, that it is a Chinese custom, to wish someone one doesnt wish too much good the following: “may you live in historically interesting times”
And boy, these times are so interesting, historically and otherwise, my head is spinning with it.

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This voice is on repeat and on repeat and on repeat and on repeat the whole day. From 7 am till 11 pm, this is what you hear in the IKEA Beijing parking lot.

This country is heaven for those who appreciate the absurd.

Directions one must take..

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Once you start you notice, Chinglish is everywhere. It is in the translations of the descriptions the tourist guides post up about themselves (“Showing Beijing to you with my sincere smiling service”) all over the rules and regulations who may and who may not take the cable car up to the great wall at Mutianyu (those who have “customary abortions” for instance) it is in the roadsigns, in the advertisements, advertisements that sport, apart from weird translations, another remarkable thing: when advertisement in China depicts succesful men, then they are more often then not white men. Chinese people one sees as well, but mostly in the role of the happy middle class family. Chinese men (let alone women) depicted as succesful businessman is still a less common sight in advertisements.

That will no doubt change.

Apparently, sites dedicated to chinglish  are blocked on the chinese internet (like this one: http://www.chinglish.de/ by the producer of the two chinglish books I have seen so far, and probably also this one: the chinglish pictures pool on flickr, where people from all over share their pictures of found chinglish. So if you cant have enough of it, here are some other fine pictures to browse. Like “stampede point” or “cream of screw powder” and that superb one of a sign near a cashier that says: “Please send money to be considered clear enough”) The chinese government is a bit embarrassed by chinglish. They think it is a disgrace.

(I personally think it is a joy)

I often wondered why there is so much english on their signs. The explanation is given in this article about chinglish that can be found here: an article on marketplace.org

But the biggest reason for the whacky translations is the way Chinese language is built up, what words they use to describe things, how they make new words by combining two shorter words into a new one, and then google translate picks the meaning of these two words separately, instead of the meaning the words have when combined. That, and moreover, the knack they have to describe something as being good in the tallest superlatives one can think of. Somthing is not ever just ‘good’ in written chinese -do remark that in spoken chinese, it is a different matter!- things are either harmonious, heavenly or perfect. Saying it in any lesser way is the same as saying you didnt think much of it at all.

A particularely nice example of chinglish I found on magicseaweed, a site dedicated to surfing, that recounted a trip to Taiwan:

Throughout Asia a common occurrence is the mistranslation of phrases, shop names and public notices. In the literal sense I suppose they’re correct… kind of. But it’s always a funny thing to see — here are some top Taiwanese examples I’ve seen around the place.

Happy Joy Smile Wedding Shop – A Bridal Boutique.

Secret Garden of Your Charming Smile – A Dentist.

Delicious Breakfast Is Always In Beauty Castle – Breakfast-food Shop

Travel of the love story meets the soft love in the snow-white world. Tight dependence this instantaneous eternal – Printed on a box of white tissues.

And my favourite, posted in the elevator of a friend’s apartment block.

The club swimming pool will go to from November first next year to close the pause to open the usage on March 31th.

…And I swear I haven’t changed a word of this.

But on the flip side can you imagine trying to translate anything into Chinese?

Taken from: Magicseaweed

Here are a few of the pictures of Chinglish I encountered while in Beijing. Just a few. The collection is evergrowing.

A note to the last picture: It is the picture of an ad in the subway. Notice the young chinese behind me who wanted to get in on the picture, and did, in the reflection of the glass. Maybe he realized why I took the picture, knowing english much better then the previous generations do. I wouldnt be surprised if it turns out not to be a disgrace to him at all: He is chinese, and the chinese are back at the top of the world, where they are supposed to be. That is the atmosphere that one can sense in Beijing. It is palpable, it flows in the air amongst the wealthy Beijinger: the most distinctive sense of “yes we can! -and we WILL!” I have felt in my life thus far.

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These pictures of 798 art district were taken at various visits to that part of town, in autumn as well as winter.

Relevant links:

Ullens center for Contemporary Art

798 Space

Beijing Commune

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