Peeps from Peking – November 2008

February 25, 2009

Sports fans in the capital city had one more opportunity to showcase their national pride after the close of the Paralympics. The first World Mind Sports Games, which include competitions in chess, bridge, checkers, Go and xiangqi (Chinese chess), brought together 3,000 mind athletes from more than 100 countries seeking WMS gold last month. Since doping controls are now de rigueur at any international sporting event, physical or otherwise, bridge and chess competitors underwent the same strict tests as Olympic and Paralympic athletes. It was a formality. No one has yet been caught cheating, and as one official said, performance-enhancing drugs couldn’t conceivably help a mind sports athlete. Still, WMS organizers have bigger aspirations — making it under the IOC umbrella — and if they want to play, they’ve got to comply. There’s no word yet on the possibility of a posthumous test on Bobby Fischer.

 

Shenzhou VII blasted off last month amid much hoopla, and Chinese around the world eagerly awaited word from the three men aboard the space shuttle. Xinhua jumped the gun in providing the news, printing a statement from the airborne taikonauts prior to liftoff. The state news agency immediately retracted the statement, chalking it up to technical problems. At least the glitch didn’t come at the expense of the actual mission, as was almost the case with China’s first moon exploration project in 1970. Sun Jiadong, who headed the project, said workers manufacturing the components let their patriotism interfere with the designs — with nearly disastrous consequences — when they etched Chairman Mao’s likeness on the surfaces of many of the components. The designs were so large and elaborate that they unevenly redistributed heat on the surfaces of the parts. Political currents at the time made it difficult for Sun to speak up, but he eventually steeled his nerves and approached then Premier Zhou Enlai about the problem. The Dong Fang satellite was thus saved from a fiery ending, and the Asian space race was officially on.

 

Wet nurses are raking in the dough in the wake of the melamine-tainted milk scandal. Chinese mothers unable to nurse, and with money to spare, are appealing to agencies for surrogate breasts from which to feed their infants. Wet nurses in Guangzhou were commanding 20,000 yuan a month, up from the previous rate of 6,000 yuan, in the weeks immediately following the revelations. Beijing’s own household management agencies have reported a surge in interest, despite the health risks that abound from the practice. Nutritionists warn that just any old breast milk won’t do, and advise mothers to breast feed their own babies if possible. Families of many of the potential wet nurses are also less than thrilled at the thought of their loved ones entering into this type of service, and some husbands have threatened to bar their wives from nursing infants other than their own. But if it was good enough for Puyi…

 

Milk wasn’t the only thing poisoning Beijingers in October. Air in the city returned to pre-Olympic pollution levels for three successive days at the beginning of the month, with the pollution index reaching 126 the day after National Day. City officials are working quickly to reverse this. Trial driving restrictions beginning on October 11 peeled a couple hundred thousand cars off the road each day. Under the new plan, a revised version of the popular even-odd system used during the Olympics and Paralympics, private cars are banned from the roads one day a week, depending on their license plate numbers. Cars with plates ending with 1 and 6 are banned on Mondays, 2 and 7 on Tuesdays, and so on. Government cars are also included in the ban this time, albeit under separate rules. The pilot ban, in place until mid-April next year, has not met with the same approval as the temporary restrictions in August and September, and the addition of new subway trains to ease the load on perpetually packed subway Line One has done little to ease the outcry.

 

Those who think the subway dauntingly crowded can now spend their unused metro card credits on taxi fare, thanks to the new card swipers with which every taxi is now supposed to be equipped. During the Paralympics, taxi options also expanded to include London taxis outfitted to pick up handicapped passengers. Only a handful of the iconic taxis are currently cruising the streets of Beijing, but this, too, could soon change. Geely and London taxi maker Manganese Bronze struck a deal early last year to set up a new manufacturing base in Fengjing, a city near Shanghai. Though the majority of the 40,000 LTI TX4 taxis to be produced annually are not destined for the Chinese markets, due to their prohibitively high cost, there’s no guarantee that more of the vehicles won’t find their way to the capital over the next few years. A ride in a roomy TX4 beats one in an exhaust-filled Citroen any day.

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