Wednesday, August 6, 2008
The government of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, has banned divorce applications on Friday to make way for the 1,000 couples expected to tie the knot on 08-08-08. Eight is an auspicious number in China (unlike four, which, mispronounced, sounds like “death,” and is thus omitted as a floor in many buildings), but couples are even more interested in celebrating Olympic anniversaries until death or divorce breaks up their marriage. Of course, since it is clearly a lucky day, both of these outcomes are unlikely.

In a similar vein, pregnant women around China are trying to schedule their deliveries to coincide with the opening ceremony so they can have Olympic babies. Some couples are so set on this that they consulted calendars last year to find the best day to conceive. One doctor refused to let a woman only seven and a half months pregnant schedule a C-section on August 8, on the grounds that her desire for an Olympic child shouldn’t override considerations for the child’s health. Better a live baby than a dead Olympic one, dui ma? Mothers who are actually due on Friday, more concerned with their comfort and that of their unborn children, are scheduling C-sections, too – for today and tomorrow, to make sure they will have beds in the hospitals.

And Voice of America is reporting that human rights protestors have already found a way around the tight security at the Olympic Green. A group of activists scaled an unspecified structure near the main Olympic venues and unfurled a large banner with the words “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet.” Details on this are sketchy, and are likely to remain that way for the foreseeable future. CRI certainly isn’t reporting it, at least until the official denunciation is out. Though I disagree with the protestors, I hope they managed to escape before the guards bundled them away. This town could use a little excitement that deviates from the current constraints on fun.

Posted by A. Eldridge at 10:48 AM 0 comments

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Tidbits from around the Empire

Here’s a roundup of odd news this week, courtesy of the plagiarists at China Radio International. The original sources are a multitude of Chinese-language publications that I can’t read.

“Emulational” guns have been banned following a pseudo-stick-up in a southern Chinese city last week. A man in a BMW was almost sideswiped by a bus, so he cut it off, then proceeded to “hold up” the driver and hysterical passengers. His wife begged him to back down, but it was too little, too late. Now, small Chinese boys all over the motherland will be deprived of the thrill of playing with lifelike AK-47s.

A third bus explosion went off in Kunming yesterday, but this one is being kept under wraps by the state media. This went unreported at CRI, and I found the story courtesy of Danwei.

A KFC on Gongti Beilu, one of the main entertainment districts in Beijing, was evacuated on Sunday after someone reported a bomb scare caused by two unattended suitcases. The Ghanian native who returned to claim the bags some minutes later was promptly detained, and his fate is yet to be determined. His friends say he has asked the KFC guard if he could leave the bags there, as they were too heavy to cart around. In this case, lost in translation means he may end up lost in China’s prison system.

Officials in Beijing are putting up walls to cover up neighborhoods deemed unsightly in the last week before the Olympics. This is occurring primarily in southern Beijing, though the hutong next to my apartment has also been treated with concealer in the past couple of weeks. ‘Tis a shame, as I certainly enjoy walking through them. I’m sure many visitors would concur.
Posted by A. Eldridge at 12:49 PM 0 comments

Sunday, July 27, 2008
No Power Hour

Our power is out, and my roommate and his visiting ex-girlfriend went to bed by candlelight last night. I begged shelter from a neighbor with strong air-conditioning and hurried home at nine to take care of the power situation. Electricity, water, and Internet here are all prepaid on IC cards, which can be recharged at the bank whenever they’re running low. Our ayi has always handled this, so I’ve gotten into the habit of not checking the electricity levels. After three trips to the bank (and three Chinglish exchanges with the clerks), I discovered that the electricity card was missing. Calls to my former roommate and ayi yielded the missing card — in Jiao’s purse, in Tianjin, where she was caring for a friend recovering from a car accident.
Jiao is now on the train, my roommate is recovering at brunch, and his friend is touring the Olympic venues before she flies out. I’ve set up camp at the Mac store, something that seems to have become a recurring theme in my life. I think I’ve logged enough hours here to qualify for a staff position.
At least our houseguest is getting the authentic Beijing experience. And I now have two years’ worth of credits on my gas card.
Posted by A. Eldridge at 12:42 PM 0 comments

Friday, July 25, 2008
Beijing Battens Down the Hatches

Pre-Olympic crackdowns have been occurring at such a rapid-fire pace that even the international heavyweights are having trouble keeping up. My friend at AmCham got a call yesterday a New York Times reporter trying to verify details about the new ban on F (business) visas. This news, to the best of my knowledge, had yet to be officially released within China at the time, and my friend spent the next 20 minutes scrambling to find information that in an open society, AmCham would have known immediately.

Another friend was one of the first victims of the ban. Over dinner that night, he grumbled over the immigration bureau’s refusal to reissue his visa under a tourist designation. Because he is listed on the July employment roster of the investment bank at which he interns, authorities were suspicious that his claim of wanting to watch the Olympics was a ruse to continue working. He will leave, bewildered and disenchanted, when his visa expires in 72 hours.

Rumors currently abound about everything from racial profiling in bars and bans on live music to restricted access to restaurants the CPC has not officially deemed appropriate for foreigners. The majority of dissidents are either in jail or under house arrest until at least September 20, despite the efforts of their families, China’s small but growing contingent of civil rights lawyers, and international advocacy groups. The migrant workers who have spent the past seven years constructing Beijing’s lauded Olympic architecture were unceremoniously kicked out of the city in the last “cleaning” push. Bands of nervous-looking security personnel man the X-ray scanners that sit unused at the subway entrances, and the guards at my office building have been quicker to halt employees lacking an ID badge in plain view. Internet access to many Web sites, including some banking sites, is now sporadic, at best.

The Chinese government has long made claims that run counter to its actual actions, but touting its stated Olympic goal of embracing China’s friends around the world while denying black people and Mongolians entry to entertainment venues and kicking longtime foreign residents out of the country is goes far beyond being offensive.

The Los Angeles Times ran an article today that offers a better summary. Read it by linking through the posting title.