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Beijing Olympics

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Reviews

Olympic Food

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One day while dining at a café in Haidian district, we chatted up the friendly waiter who told us that he was really happy to have the job, so that he wouldn’t have to go home for the summer and could be in Beijing for the Olympics instead. He told us that the café was planning Olympic-themed food to be launched closer to the Games, which include onion rings (multi-colored maybe?), “Olympic soda”, and Olympic set meals. Quite a McDonald’s-esque move to pull. If this is what regular restaurants are coming up with, I can’t wait to see what the fast food joints pull. [more ]

Olympic volunteer corps

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I recently heard from a friend that he would no longer be traveling to Beijing for the Olympics this summer because his application to be a volunteer at the Games had been rejected. I don’t know about the requirements for male candidates, but I remember reading in the papers late last year that female volunteers had to meet stringent physical requirements, including having a “standard body shape” that would not stand out in a crowd (and presumably also fits really well into a qi pao). She basically cannot be too tall or too shapely, or too short or too un-shapely. I thought it was interesting how the organizers turned Olympic voluntarism into a pageant, essentially trying to ensure that any “regular” Chinese person that would appear on worldwide telecasts would be good-looking and fit the stereotype of the diminutive Asian girl. [more ]

New electronic subway tickets

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Just last week Beijing introduced their new electronic subway ticketing system. I remember the litter that the old paper system caused, with long lines at the ticket booth (that were not really lines because people constantly cut in front of you), and ticket stubs strewn all over the place. When we walked past the still-wrapped-up electronic ticket feeder machines we always thought that they were saving those to be unveiled as close to the Olympics as possible, because things show wear and tear really quickly in China and the machines would be dirty in no time. Looks like the new system is up and running faster than we thought. The Beijing subway charges a flat rate of 2kuai to all stops. It may be hot and crowded, and switching trains is a pain, but it does get you where you want to go. [more ]

Misuse of Olympic Logo

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One of the problems plaguing the Beijing Games is undoubtedly the copyright of the Olympic logo. As we all know, copyright issues are not new in China, but the authorities are really trying to clamp down on the abuse of the Olympic logo and mascot. Despite repeated warnings, threats of legal action, etc, on the streets it still seems like the law has failed. Everytime I walk down Wudaokou the street vendors have an array of merchandise with the Olympic logo and the five panda mascots plastered all over them. Stationery, keychains, coloring books, stickers, there’s no shortage of people trying to make a quick buck out of the Olympic franchise. And judging from the number of times I’ve seen little kids with Olympic pencils and soft toys on the subway, people are not averse to opting for cheaper pirated merchandise, either. [more ]

Get your visas fast (but not too fast)!

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The sheer number of people wanting to go to China these days is astounding. With the imminent arrival of the Olympics, it seems like the Chinese embassy is the place to be. I went to apply for my visa today only to be informed that they had changed their entry requirements and length of stay. You now have to enter the country within 9 days of your visa application, and can only stay for a maximum of 15 days. You also need to produce your flight details and a confirmed hotel reservation. In January there were no lines and I was done in 5 minutes; today I lined up for almost an hour only to be turned away. Plan your visa applications well! [more ]

Air Asia to Tianjin

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I was on the Air Asia website buying my ticket to Shanghai when I saw that the next new route to be introduced will be Kuala Lumpur-Tianjin, which is essentially Beijing because it is 2 hours away by bus. Does anyone at all know when they start flying this route? I scoured the internet but all I could find was “coming soon”. They announced this route at the same time as the KL-Guangzhou route, and that is already up and running, so maybe this will just make it in time for the Olympics? Then again with the way the airline industry is looking these days I will be lucky to get a flight to Beijing at any price at all. It is worth noting, though, that trains are excellent in China and will get you practically anywhere. [more ]

Doping Fears

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Watched a foreign sports program online that was discussing China’s doping history and the government’s efforts to ensure that these Olympics stay clean. Obviously this sort of discussion would never make it to Chinese TV, which only shows Chinese athletes working super hard to qualify for the Olympics on merit. Who can forget the 1998 World Swimming Championships scandal when practically the entire Chinese team was disqualified for drug use? There are fears that the doping will continue, but China has rushed a new legislation that promises a life ban from all competition for athletes who test positive. [more ]

Olympic qualification

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China has been hosting intensive Olympic trials to select their athletes, and the trials are broadcast over television for everyone to see. I feel like in some sports China has such a saturation of talent that it makes picking representatives almost arbitrary. Like China’s 2nd tier athletes in ping pong or diving could easily bring home medals for the country, and certain athletes have realized that they will never make the Chinese national team, and so they take up citizenship and represent other countries. A lot of ping pong and badminton players for example are Chinese born, regardless of the colors they are wearing. [more ]

Paralympics

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Besides the Olympics, Beijng is also hosting the Paralympics simultaneously. Needless to say the Paralympics are not getting even half the publicity as the Olympics, but the Chinese government seems to be trying to fix that. Billboards have been going up all over the place featuring disabled athletes, and sometimes there are programs on TV highlighting a good Samaritan taxi driver who specialized in ferrying disabled people. I think it is the government’s intention to just raise awareness about disability in general, seeing as Beijing is a very inconvenient city for the disabled. On the most superficial level, a lot of tourist attractions require you to climb many flights of stairs, and there are no elevators at all, so the disabled would just have to give them a miss. [more ]

The Olympic Song

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Turned on the TV and saw the music video of the official Olympic theme song. It is an emsemble song sung by various singers from the Mainland and Hong Kong. I was able to recognize many many faces of singers that my parents used to listen to, and the newer crop of artistes. They even have a Singaporean singer in the mix. Some lines of the song are in English. I found this interesting because usually the theme song is just in the language of the host country, and maybe there is an English version, but I feel like the incorporation of English into the song is again part of China’s effort to increase the lure of the Olympics – and by association, the country – to Westerners. [more ]

Tower of Babel

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Everyone is learning Chinese these days, whether for the Olympics or just in recognition of China’s up-and-coming role in global relations. There are so many foreign students at Peking University that I have heard French, Spanish, Russian, Portugese, etc being spoken all around me, everywhere on campus. I was speaking to my supervisor about the possibility of a summer internship, and he told me that he was getting an inordinate amount of internship applications this year from foreign students. I guess the easiest way to see the Olympics (and get paid!) is to intern in Beijing over the summer. This way you have an excuse to rent a super-expensive flat and not get kicked out of the city by the authorities, and get to share in on the Olympic fun. [more ]

Changing Times

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I watched a news documentary on CCTV5 the other day about the changing cityscape of Beijing. The reporter took a day tour around the city with a taxi driver, and got her to speak about some of the changes in the city. What I found most interesting was when she said that a passenger once asked to be taken to the Olympic building, and she said she didn’t know where it was. When the passenger gave her the address, she thought that the site was just a piece of empty land, but she drove there anyway, et voila! The building was right there. I figure that was a good indication of how fast things are changing in the city if even a taxi driver whose job is to know the city inside out, cannot identify a prominent location such as the Olympic building. [more ]

The Pandas are in Beijing!

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8 endangered pandas have just been transported from the panda research center in Wolong, Sichuan Province, to the Beijing zoo, as part of the Olympic countdown activities. I guess this is just as well, being that the center was heavily affected by the May 12 earthquake. It’s a wonder all 8 pandas made it alive, but if you get the chance you should definitely go see them! I saw them in Sichuan and they are just adorable. I don’t think they shipped in any of the red pandas (they look like raccoons) but those are super cute as well – maybe they already have some existing ones in the Beijing zoo. [more ]

Ticket Scalping

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A friend recently told me that she had decided to be part of the Olympic cheer after all (she had been resisting for quite some time until she found out that she was going to be in Beijing during the Games), and had started looking for tickets to the games. Needless to say the opening ceremony tickets are completely sold out, and the only way to get them is from scalpers/re-sellers. She said that the cheapest tickets she could find online were 2000 euros. Presumably you will be able to find cheaper tickets with the local Chinese scalpers, but that would also depend on whether you’re a foreigner. Speaking Mandarin might help, but the general rule here is that foreigners are automatically wealthy and should expect to pay more for things. [more ]

The Crowds

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Despite the Beijing authorities’ concerted efforts to keep the population at an acceptable level, throngs of tourists have descended upon the city to share in on the Olympic excitement. The newly-constructed highway that overlooks the Bird’s Nest Stadium has not even been opened to traffic, yet everyday taxis and tour buses stop for tourists to clamber up onto the highway to take pictures of the stadium, because that is where you get the best view. I have been in many taxi rides where the driver has slowed down as we drove past the stadium, telling me “that’s the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium!” However, I am sad to say that due to the hazy Beijing skies, I have yet to see a crystal clear view of the stadium, even though I have been less than 50 feet from it. [more ]

Airport Madness

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I almost missed my flight out of Beijing because in the 2 short months since I had last been to the airport, they had built a new terminal about 20 miles from the old ones, and my airline, along with most international airlines, were now based in the new Terminal 3. Not knowing this, I had the taxi drop me off at the old terminal and proceeded to get desperately flustered, before hopping into another taxi and spending a lot of extra money to make my flight. Found out from the driver that they were expecting to double the passenger flow during the Games, but he didn’t think the new terminal was a good solution. You use the same highway to get from the city to the airport, but the road forks leading to the two sections, so eventually all the traffic gets congested on the highway again. He also said that he wasn’t sure what would happen to all the extra space after the Olympics, but maybe since China is booming, they’ll get more and more visitors anyway. [more ]

Construction Galore

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Everyone’s erecting new buildings or renovation existing ones for the Olympics. A friend took us on a campus tour of the Beijing Foreign Language University, and half the campus was shrouded in scaffolding, with dust and grime everywhere. He explained that a lot of university dorms were being used as Olympic housing, and some universities were even hosting sports (Peking University is the site of the ping-pong event), so everyone is racing to get things ready by August. The Olympics have definitely infiltrated campus life. All three campuses that I visited in Beijing had official Olympic merchandise stores, and Peking U even has 2 of them. An American friend met a local student who wanted to be his language exchange partner, and was given a gift of the mascot keychain as a gesture of thanks. [more ]

Rules and Regulations (2)

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10 Dos and Don’ts of the Olympics (loosely translated by me)

Do respect the intellectual property rights of the Olympics
Don’t buy pirated, illegally produced or fake goods

Do abide by the Olympic village protection rules
Don’t misuse or abuse the Olympic flag, song, and symbol

Do remember traffic safety rules well
Don’t cross guard-rails, run red lights or speed

Do obey directions and orders while lining up
Don’t clamor to be ahead and push and shove

Do beautify the city and protect the environment
Don’t spit everywhere or set up stalls by the roadside

Do treasure the capital’s cultural sites
Don’t dirty, damage, draw or post flyers on sites

Do take care of sporting and stadium facilities
Don’t make trouble or create a scene

Do maintain order and safety at competition venues
Don’t litter or bring your own drinks

Do strive to be civilized and law-abiding
Don’t gamble, bet, or obstruct safety precautions

Do increase awareness of Olympic rules
Don’t break the law and affect the country’s image [more ]

Rules and Regulations

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One day as I was speeding merrily down the 3rd Ring Road (actually, that’s a lie because speeding is not possible on a road that is perpetually congested, even at 2am), I noticed huge signs with equally huge bright red characters erected all along the street, right next to the sidewalks. Faced with the daunting task of getting 18 million Beijingers to behave during the Games, the authorities had come up with the “10 Dos and Don’ts of the Olympics”. (Translated below) No concrete data on how effective the signage has been, but when I asked my co-workers, they were only vague aware of the billboards and many had just walked past every day without bothering to read them. [more ]

Media Blitz (2)

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The three most prominent figures in the Beijing Olympics advertising campaign are Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, and Liu Xiang (perhaps least known internationally but is China’s world champion hurdler, and probably the most attractive of the three). Jackie and Yao Ming feature in the Visa ads, and apparently in China women swoon over the prospect of Yao Ming treating them to a candlelight dinner with his Olympic Visa. I still don’t quite understand this, but even before the Olympic fever began, Yao had already been endorsing a ton of products in China and makes sports headlines in the country almost daily. Liu on the other hand turns out more classily, usually in ads related to cars, or aftershave, or snazzy sports gear. It’s odd that China’s very outstanding female athletes and celebrities are nowhere to be seen. [more ]

Media Blitz

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It takes an hour on the subway to get from my university dorm to downtown Chaoyang District for my internship every week. During the subway ride, the trains are too packed for passengers to read, or talk, or do anything else except stand squished in your little corner of the cabin.

To alleviate the tedium of the ride, television screens have been installed along both sides of the train where practically every passenger can see them, and lately the screens only feature a non-stop stream of Olympics-related information. To date i've seen short documentaries on the construction of the olympic stadium and village, introductions to sports events and Chinese athletes, and a barrage of Olympic-related commercials. It's a wonder that the Chinese people are not yet bored/fed up of the Games; on the contrary, they seem to be pretty excited about the arrival of August. [more ]

Day off!

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My colleague at the law firm told me that they had all been given a day off on Friday, the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Don’t know if this applies to the entire workforce (I don’t imagine so, because the country would essentially shut down on opening day as if it were the first day of Chinese New Year), but it is a really nice gesture on the part of my boss. She said she had been planning to go home as early as possible anyway, or at least meet up with some friends at a nearby café so they could watch the live telecast of the opening ceremony. But now that they have been given the entire day off, they can take the opportunity to soak in the Olympic festivities in the city. [more ]

Carrefour in Trouble Again in China

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Carrefour is the latest culprit in the crackdown against the unauthorized use of the Olympic logo by non-official sponsors of the Games. Earlier this month, authorities had removed billboards of huge international brands that were not officially affiliated with the Games, and big losers included Nike. This time, Carrefour were taken to task for displaying their logo side-by-side with the Olympic logo all around their stores. Carrefour says it is to show solidarity with China during the Olympics, but with the official sponsors and OIC breathing down their necks about intellectual property controls, China is unlikely to let this one go, even if it’s just to show that they are doing something to prevent Olympic piracy. [more ]

Only Tourist Visas

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An amendment to my earlier blog post about visa regulations being relaxed: I have been informed that as of 24 July, all Olympic cities (including Beijing and Shanghai) have stopped issuing business visas to foreigners, at least until the Games are over. Foreigners wanting to enter the country can only apply for tourist visas, and only for whatever length of time is allowed for passport holders of a particular country. This means 30 days for citizens of the US and EU, as far as I know. My visa extension in Shanghai was ultimately quite painless, but that could also be because I am ethnically Chinese and could speak the language/I didn’t have a US or EU passport. Not sure what the procedure is like now that we are so close to the games, but good luck to those of you who are still trying to get in! [more ]

Of Security Checks and Long Lines

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Everyone taking the subway has to go through some form of security check these days, whether by machines, guards or dogs. This creates a delay and more of a hassle in the daily work routine. The fact is, if you woke up at 5am in order to get to the subway at 6 and work at 7.30, the last thing you want to do is stand in line to get your belongings checked. And when you get off the train after watching an hour of Olympic filler on the subway TV, there’s another round of checks waiting for you. The subway looks like a US airport on a particular bad day now. Obviously this is merely a formality for the majority of people, and they are putting up with it in the spirit of the Olympics, but they are hardly approaching the security inspection tables with glee. [more ]

Funny Story

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One of the questionable perks about living in a foreigners’ dorm is that we get free copies of the China Daily everyday (and in some of our Business and IR classes we’ve been instructed to look to it as our main source of research). Today’s China Daily headline reads: “IOC: Air is safe for one and all”. It looks like even the IOC has finally thrown in the towel and is now standing in solidarity with China in a effort to make the games successful. I guess that is one way to counter the negative press, when you are having trouble breathing outside, you can see past a block and a half, and you come home with dirt under your fingernails, only to be told that “haze doesn’t mean poor quality air”, you have to wonder who to believe. [more ]

Restricted Protests

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Beijing authorities have designated three city parks for protests during the Olympics, provided the protesters comply with protesting rules and obtain a permit from the authorities, which to me effectively means that they will only be allowed to protest things like the lack of taxis, or how dumplings are losing their authentic taste. It reminds me a bit of Malaysia, where the government always insists that public gatherings are allowed, you just need to get approval and a permit from the authorities. The permit are of course never granted for anything remotely politically-related, and are almost never granted to opposition or anti-government groups. It’ll be interesting to see what kinds of protests, if any, actually happen at these parks.

Update: As expected, there weren't (and still have not been) any protests held. [more ]

Lessons Learnt in Chinese Visa Application (continued)

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3. If you don’t speak Chinese, bring a friend who does. Or have someone you can call to translate.
4. If you need to collect your visa in less than 5 working days, produce a compelling reason. Often this means only confirmed international flight itineraries.
5. If you need to fly domestically while the PSB is holding on to your passport, bring an extra photo and they will stamp your receipt in such a way that allows you to go through airport immigration.
6. As a last ditch attempt, at the Shanghai PSB, the chief officer handles special and emergency cases at the last counter (counter 15 I think) at 1.30pm every day. Go and plead your case if all else fails. The chief speaks English.
7. All these new restrictions are apparently only in place until after the Paralympics in late September, but as always, remember that every rule is enforced depending on negotiation skills. Good luck! [more ]

Speed

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Sorry for all the allusion to Hollywood movies, but day to day life here has felt increasing like a set on blockbuster action flicks. There are guards at every bus stop, as well as on the buses themselves. When you’re sitting in a bus and there’s an armed man in uniform walking up and down the aisle with a stoic look on his face, it’s hard not to imagine there’s a bomb attached to the bottom of the bus that will detonate if it so much as slows down. The guard told a raggedy-looking man that he could not board the bus, giving no reason. The man, in his discretion, didn’t ask for one. China has a population that is by and large very obedient, and so it has had an easier time than most in terms of law enforcement. For now the Chinese have chosen to take everything in stride for the Olympics, but it’s anyone’s guess what comes after. [more ]

Rain Rain, Go Away

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On a lighter (non-political) note, the meteorological centre has said that there will be overcast skies with the possibility of thunderstorms in Beijing on the 8th of August. Say it ain’t so! They hope that the storm will be over by the time the opening ceremony gets underway at night, but after all the trouble that Beijing has gone to (including the leaked video footage) to eradicate all human error from the operation of the Games, it would be a shame for plans to be ruined by nature. The organizers undoubtedly have a contingency rainy day plan B, and the Olympic spirit is not going to be so easily dampened by a little rain, but I for one really want to see the golden phoenix swoop down from the sky and light the Olympic torch! [more ]

Underaged Gymnasts

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The latest controversy to hit the Olympics is that some of the gymnasts that are representing China at the Games are actually underaged and their ages have been wrongly reported to the Olympic committee to enable them to participate anyway. China has of course steadfastly denied fabricating the ages, but I noticed that the denial was very carefully worded. The official said that the ages had been recorded according to personal identification and birth certificated provided by the athletes, but made no mention of whether any measures were taken to authenticate these personal identification documents. China has always been a formidable team in gymnastics and any disqualification of their athletes would have a huge effect on their medal tally. [more ]

Lessons Learnt in Chinese Visa Application

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1. If you are not staying at a hotel, you HAVE to have a temporary residence permit for them to even consider your application. Just get the lease agreement of your building, passport and copies, and head to your local police station (find out which one). If you are staying in a hotel, you just have to bring your confirmed hotel itinerary.
2. Often the permit is the only thing you need, but it’s also a good idea to bring your bank statement showing that you have an average of US$100 for every day you are staying in China. I have heard that the official requirement is a Chinese bank account but international bank statements have been known to work as well. [more ]

ID for Travel

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Travelling into and out of Beijing has just become really difficult. Travelers are now expected to provide identification while buying their bus and train tickets, and their names will be on the tickets. They will also have to provide identification when they are boarding to facilitate tighter security checks. This is a big hassle to anyone who has been on a train in China, because previously you could just show up, buy a ticket, and board during non-peak hours, but with the new rules you have to make sure you have everything ready for inspections, and you have to show up and buy your own ticket instead of getting someone to do it for you. Plan for lots of travel time! [more ]

Shooting in the Dark

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Read a pretty funny article today about an Olympic-bound archer who has been training in Beijing in preparation for the Games…in the dark. He says that after training for a few days outdoors and having trouble seeing the target due to poor visibility, he had taken to training indoors under stimulated poor-light conditions, in order to familiarize himself with the polluted Beijing outdoors. He thinks training himself not to see the target will give him the final advantage when he’s competing and actually can’t see the target. What next, are sprinters going to run behind smoke-emitting cars? It’s incredible how Beijing weather has forced athletes to deliberately handicap themselves to gain advantage during competition. [more ]

Friendly Superstition

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A co-worker at my internship told me an interesting story about the Olympic mascots today and their link to a superstitious belief about the disasters that have befallen China this year. Olympics aside, this year has not been good for China, and some Chinese have attributed the bad luck to the five mascots, each supposedly representing one of the five elements (earth, water, fire, etc.). China has had five disasters so far connected to the five elements (earth for the earthquake, water for the typhoon, etc.) but they have apparently all happened and so now it should be smooth sailing until the Olympics. She said that if this were the case, then at least the Chinese people will not have suffered in vain because they will ultimately have a successful Games in a less than successful year overall. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (7b) – Victory!

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The next day, I sped off to the police station first thing in the morning, only to be informed that I needed to show the lease agreement of the house where I was living, as well as the passport and work permit of the friend who was putting me up. Undaunted, I hopped back into a taxi and went home, got all the documents, and headed back to the station. The lady must have taken pity on me, because she didn’t ask me to pay a fine (you apparently have to register within 24 hours of entering the country, and I had waited 17 days), and I got my permit within 15 minutes. Went back to PSB, rudely skipped some lines, and in 5 minutes I had a receipt to collect my passport next week. YES! [more ]

Renegade Taxi Driver

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I remember getting into a taxi instead of taking the subway after finally getting my visa extended, feeling completely exhausted from all the effort of dealing with the bureaucracy. The taxi driver asked if I was applying for a visa, and when I told him my sob story, he decided that since I was not local he could feel free to express his anti-government views to me. He said that the government should listen to the people more, and that the country needs a healthy opposition to be able to form a strong government, instead of the system it has now whereby people are not allowed to ask questions or to do anything else except quietly obey orders. He actually even said that “harmless” movements like the Falungong were unnecessarily condemned without even being given a chance. That was the first time I had heard anything anti-government from a Chinese, and until now that taxi ride stays with me. Just a side note that taxi drivers in both Beijnig and Shanghai are extremely good at what they do: they practically know where any place is, no matter how remote, if you give them the address in China. When in doubt, take a taxi. [more ]

Pollution is Back

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Just days before the Olympics, smoggy skies are back and look to be here to stay in Beijing. There have been rumours flying around of people circumventing the new license plate rules by having two license plates, and apparently the enforcement officers are still susceptible to bribes. Whatever it is, the haze has definitely not left Beijing, and the visibility is particularly bad today. You can barely see two blocks down the road. I don’t know how much of this information is going to filter out to the international press, but I don’t see how this can be good news for Beijing. Despite the authorities’ best efforts, we’re coming up to a week before the Games and the pollution problem persists. Looks like it’s time to seed the clouds maybe? [more ]

Olympic volunteer corps

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I recently heard from a friend that he would no longer be traveling to Beijing for the Olympics this summer because his application to be a volunteer at the Games had been rejected. I don’t know about the requirements for male candidates, but I remember reading in the papers late last year that female volunteers had to meet stringent physical requirements, including having a “standard body shape” that would not stand out in a crowd (and presumably also fits really well into a qi pao). She basically cannot be too tall or too shapely, or too short or too un-shapely. I thought it was interesting how the organizers turned Olympic voluntarism into a pageant, essentially trying to ensure that any “regular” Chinese person that would appear on worldwide telecasts would be good-looking and fit the stereotype of the diminutive Asian girl. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (7a) – Victory

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I am FINALLY getting my Chinese visa extended! This is wonderful news, especially after making the rounds at practically every Chinese law enforcement agency, and in the process racking up enough in taxi fares to pay for the visa itself. Adamant to adhere to the porous Chinese legal channels, I went back to the entry and exit bureau again, determined to get my story heard. After waiting for 3 hours, the lady told me to obtain a temporary residence permit from the local police station before she would grant me my extension, but she wrote “no need to line up” on my form so I could get things done speedily once I had my permit. [more ]

New Uniforms for Taxi Drivers

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Coming from the airport to the city, one of the first new things I noticed about Beijing was that the taxi drivers now all have new uniforms, consisting of an orange-ish shirt and a striped tie, that are provided to them for free, in lieu of the individual company uniforms that the drivers have always worn. If they don’t wear the uniforms, they face a fine. Looks like they also have to spruce up their external image in addition to learning English. As a side note, though, I’ve found that Beijing taxi drivers are a lot more personable than Shanghai ones, and a lot of them are eager to practice their English with you, unlike Shanghai drivers who clam up once they realize you are foreign. [more ]

“Green” Olympics

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Looked out of the window today only to be greeted by the same smoggy skies (ok, maybe not so smoggy by Beijing standards). It’s weird because when the sky is smoggy in Shanghai, you know it’s got something to do with pollution, but a lot of is also just coastal weather. When skies are gray in Beijing, it is definitely all carbon monoxides and toxins. Organizers are touting this Olympics as the “Green Olympics” which to me is kind of an overly-ambitious proclamation. If neither Sydney nor Athens marketed their Olympics as “green”, then Beijing should hardly be the city to stake this claim. If anything, I look out my window and see comparatively fairer skies, all I can think about are the workers who lost their jobs because their factories were forced to shut down, and if efforts to curb pollution couldn’t have begun earlier and claimed less last-minute victims. [more ]

Doping Fears

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Watched a foreign sports program online that was discussing China’s doping history and the government’s efforts to ensure that these Olympics stay clean. Obviously this sort of discussion would never make it to Chinese TV, which only shows Chinese athletes working super hard to qualify for the Olympics on merit. Who can forget the 1998 World Swimming Championships scandal when practically the entire Chinese team was disqualified for drug use? There are fears that the doping will continue, but China has rushed a new legislation that promises a life ban from all competition for athletes who test positive. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (6)

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I received an email today from the consulting company about my visa. Bill told me that they could extend my visa for about 18-23 days, but that it would cost me SEVEN THOUSAND YUAN. That is to say, around US1000. Needless to say I am not taking him up on the offer. He also told me that since I only need to extend it for 3 days, I should just head to the nearest police station and get the emergency extension. It is going to be a long arduous process because they are going to ask me a lot of questions and make me sign a statement but at the point I don’t know what else I can do. Attending the Olympics opening ceremony is not worth US1000… [more ]

Consider a Bicycle!

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If you want to beat the Beijing crowds this summer and really immerse yourself in city life, one thing you could consider is to rent a bicycle and cycle around town. Besides saving on lots of transportation money, you will also have a constant wind in your hair, another plus towards beating the summer heat! (Ignore the pollution for now) Bicycles are literally everywhere in Beijing, and it’s perfectly normal for people to bike up to an hour to get from home to work. There are bike rentals everywhere, usually found out the pavements where there’s a row of bicycles that all look the same, and an old lady with a straw hat sitting at the end wait a log book. It’s only 20 yuan per day I think. A tip: pick the rattiest looking bicycle: bicycle theft is rampant. [more ]

Weather Issues

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Speaking of the weather and athletes, several national contingents have decided to skip the Olympics opening ceremony for the possibility of staying away from Beijing longer, and thus performing better during their events. Australia and New Zealand, in particular, have been making the news for their decision to stay at their base in Hong Kong instead of letting their athletes march at the ceremony. The athletes are disgruntled, but understand the rationale of the national committees. Earlier in the year the newspapers failed to mention the issue of face masks. Some countries had raised the idea of athletes wearing masks to stave off the pollution, but the plan fell through because they felt it would be disrespectful to China. [more ]

Changing Colours

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China has been hosting intensive Olympic trials to select their athletes, and the trials are broadcast over television for everyone to see. I feel like in some sports China has such a saturation of talent that it makes picking representatives almost arbitrary. Like China’s 2nd tier athletes in ping pong or diving could easily bring home medals for the country, and certain athletes have realized that they will never make the Chinese national team, and so they take up citizenship and represent other countries. A lot of ping pong and badminton players for example are Chinese born, regardless of the colors they are wearing. The best example of this was the women's table tennis semi-finals, where three out of the four countries (China, Singapore, USA) were represented exclusively by Chinese-born players. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (5)

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Just saw ad linked from gmail (must be all those angry emails that I have been writing to everyone, ranting about the visa injustice I have been facing) by a visa consulting company based in Shanghai, offering “guaranteed visa approval” for any type of visa request. I was worried that this guarantee would be outdated, given the new regulations, but a little blurb on the site saying that they could still definitely process visa extensions and renewals despite the Olympics (how, I do not question) was very reassuring. I immediately filled out the questionnaire and must admit I sounded very desperate. Now I will just have to wait till the next working day for them to get back to me. I’m happy to share the link with anyone who needs it. [more ]

Road Measures (4)

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On the way to Guomao (World Trade Center area) from the Beijing airport today, the taxi driver told me that he was foreseeing a surge in business due to the car ban, which meant more people might resort to taking taxis. He liked that the Olympic rules were working in his favor, although he expressed fears about the temporality of these measures. I think the government should consider making some of these new laws permanent, especially the car ban, which has seen an increase in carpooling and usage of public transport. Surely this can only be good for the country? Who knows how an economist would look at this, but to me, Beijing needs all the environmental help it can get, and this would be a big help indeed. [more ]

Burning Up in China (2)

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Looked up some Olympic write-ups on Sina, and it seems like Beijing has been steadfastly assuring the world that the weather will be under control during the Olympics. The authorities seed the clouds during excessively dry or polluted spells, “making rain” so that life becomes easier again for everyone. Nevertheless, if the rain I have experienced in Beijing is anything to go by, Olympic visitors should expect a muddy encounter, if that is indeed what will happen. Due to the dust and grime, Beijing rains mud instead of water. Once, after it had rained for two days, I was in a taxi and heard the radio announcer tell people not to wash their cars yet, because more rain was expected. [more ]

The Olympic Song

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Turned on the TV and saw the music video of the official Olympic theme song. It is an emsemble song sung by various singers from the Mainland and Hong Kong. I was able to recognize many many faces of singers that my parents used to listen to, and the newer crop of artistes. They even have a Singaporean singer in the mix. Some lines of the song are in English. I found this interesting because usually the theme song is just in the language of the host country, and maybe there is an English version, but I feel like the incorporation of English into the song is again part of China’s effort to increase the lure of the Olympics – and by association, the country – to Westerners. Too bad that during the closing ceremony the attention was too focused on the 10 000 dancers to actually see the diverse group of singers that were performing the song. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (4)

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…and the saga continues. Spent the whole morning and afternoon at the entry and exit bureau in Shanghai today, only to be told that they would absolutely not renew my visa for the reasons I had provided, and that my only recourse was to head to a police station within 5 days of my visa expiring to apply for an “emergency extension”, or face heavy fines/deportation. Now, I feel that this is a harsh consequence for a student (who at the point only wants to stay for as long as she can get on the earliest flight home) to face, but according to the family friend I am staying with, “Shanghai is a very obedient city and will obey the rules unquestioningly.” Looks like it’s bye-bye Olympics for me. [more ]

Road Measures (3)

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Apart from removing half its cars from the road for the Olympic season, special “Olympic” lanes have also been designated on roads in Haidian district near the Games venues. Apparently there are high-tech surveillance cameras monitoring traffic on those lanes at all hours, and regular motorists who have nothing to do with the Olympics who drive on that lane will be heavily fined. There have been some complaints that even though there are less cars on the streets, the Olympic lanes have taken motorists by surprise and a lot of people don’t know if and when they are allowed to drive on them. Most people have chosen to fear the law and stay away though, which is rare in Chinese driving culture. Maybe people have realized that the government is indeed serious about Olympic-law enforcement. [more ]

Burning Up in China

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It is HOT here. Hot, to the extent that it doesn't even cool down at night, and men walk around sweaty and shirtless. The family friend whose apartment I am sharing tells me that he now takes a taxi to work, which is a 5-minute walk away, because if he walks he arrives at the office drenched in sweat. My tour guide in Hangzhou and i got into a discussion about the unbearable heatwave that characterizes a Chinese summer, and she said that as hot as it is now, it will only get progressively worse, peaking in late August. I wonder if the the athletic performances at the Olympics will be affected, remembering how Sydney changed the Olympic dates to avoid its own sweltering temperatures. Anyway, June-August is most definitely NOT the best time to visit China… [more ]

Olympics on Youtube

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If you are travelling but want to follow the Olympics (and you’re not in the US), you need to look no further than Youtube, which will have its own Olympic broadcast channel for the duration of the Games. The channel will be accessible from 77 countries, but not the US. The IOC has definitely jumped on the online bandwagon with this one, opting to embrace web broadcasting instead of waiting for grainy taped footage to surface on Youtube anyway. It’s too late to remedy the leaked opening ceremony rehearsals, but at least everyone can look forward to crystal clear online broadcasts of events now, regardless of the time difference. [more ]

Red Arm Bands

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Anytime I see a piece of red clothing in China, it reminds me anew not to be deceived by the skyscrapers and blatant consumerism. It reminds me that China is at the heart still a socialist state, and that the Communist Party’s authority is not to be challenged under any circumstances. Each Olympic host faced international terrorist threats, but had never resorted to the levels of security that Beijing is now deploying on that pretext. I can only assume that the bulk of these cameras and patrolmen and volunteer corps exist more to quash domestic rebellion than international ones. According to international media, Muslim restaurants have been asked to shut down citing health concerns, and there has been an elevated scrutiny towards the China’s ethnic minorities. There are now 30 000 more people with red armbands walking around, so has life become more dangerous for some people? [more ]

Tower of Babel

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Everyone is learning Chinese these days, whether for the Olympics or just in recognition of China’s up-and-coming role in global relations. There are so many foreign students at Peking University that I have heard French, Spanish, Russian, Portugese, etc being spoken all around me, everywhere on campus. I was speaking to my supervisor about the possibility of a summer internship, and he told me that he was getting an inordinate amount of internship applications this year from foreign students. I guess the easiest way to see the Olympics (and get paid!) is to intern in Beijing over the summer. This way you have an excuse to rent a super-expensive flat and not get kicked out of the city by the authorities, and get to share in on the Olympic fun. Come to think of it, this is probably a good way to attend any large international event -- get paid to travel! [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (3)

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Finally got into Shanghai, armed with a 15-day visa and full of resentment for the powers that be. 15 days will only allow me to stay until July 20, which is absolutely ridiculous. I have spoken to a few sympathetic people who have shared stories with me about how even a valid olympic ticket will not get you a visa. Still, at least a 30-day visa would have been a lot more reasonable. My current plan is to head over the the nearest tour agency and ask them for visa advice, as well as get them to secure me an extension. It seems like you need a lot of connections to "oil the wheels" in China, and I don't have them, so I have to leave it to the professionals. Hopefully I will have good news to report soon. [more ]

Increased Safety Precautions

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The Olympics may be farther up north, but Shanghai is a well-known port of entry into China, and people here – locals or travelers – have not been spared vigorous scrutiny ahead of the Games. Starting Monday July 21, Pudong and Hongqiao airports in Shanghai are conducting an additional first round of security checks at the entrances, and have warned passengers to arrive much earlier in anticipation of delays. Security checkpoints have been set up at all entrances and all bags will be scanned. After making it to the inside of the airport, passengers will go through all the usual security, but also be screened again just before the board the plane. China is definitely leaving no stone unturned security-wise. [more ]

Free Wireless during Olympics

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Despite the horrible internet restrictions, large parts of the city (mostly within the 5th ring road) will be equipped with free wireless signal during the Olympics. This is good news to everyone as the city will be pretty much completely wired, and people won’t have to head to sketchy internet cafes to check their emails. Rumor has it that this wireless service will eventually cover the whole of the city by next year, but after the Olympics it will become a paid service. Just in case anyone is wondering: Beijing, like most places in China, is very safe, and you will have no trouble walking around with your laptop in your bag. [more ]

Colorful Information Booths

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So many information booths have been set up all around the city (particularly downtown and around the Olympic village – it’s so exciting to live in Haidian District these days!), and the volunteers are all young and enthusiastic students decked out in Olympic colors. These students are majoring in all kinds of foreign languages at university and are relishing the opportunity to put their skills to the test. My Chinese literature tutor in the spring is currently in Taiwan on an exchange program, but she says when she comes back she will also try to see if she can help by speaking French somewhere. It’s early days yet but the tower of Babel effect is already starting to show, and I bet lots of visitors will be pleasantly surprised. [more ]

Truly Helpful?

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A friend from Argentina who was in Shanghai for a short visit a few days ahead of the start of the Olympic football matches reported having a bad time because no one would help his group of friends with directions! Apparently people were immediately shy/hostile when they started speaking English, and after a while they realized that it did not make a difference whether they spoke English or Spanish, because no one seemed to understand them anyway. They tried using public phones but because the instructions were in Chinese they were unable to call any local friends, and then they tried unsuccessfully to borrow cellphones from five people before a girl working at a café lent them hers. In the end they had to rely on two Mexican residents they met wandering lost along the streets. Show your Olympic spirit, Shanghai! [more ]

Piracy Clampdown

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Read an article in the local newspaper today about China’s harsh clampdown on video piracy for the Olympics. The write-up came with a picture of two police officers looking on as a DVD seller cleared his stock of pirated goods, and I recognized the DVD seller as the same one I used to buy DVDs from in Wudaokou! It was a tiny store amongst 5 or 6 on Chengfu Lu in Wudaokou, all discreetly selling tons of pirated movies and American TV series. Thus, even though the internet was super slow in China and downloading was a slow and torturous process, one could easily get their movie fix at the nearby DVD store. Looks like this service will only resume in September… [more ]

SOS at Tiananmen Square

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about the square, with a purposeful look on their faces. My friend, being an inquisitive American, walked right up and asked them what they were doing. Apparently there is also a laowai (foreigner) volunteer coalition for the Olympics where foreign residents of China have pitched in their efforts for a successful Olympics. They are providing lost visitors a familiar face and familiar accent, and pointing them in the right direction of the places they want to go. The Chinese press has dubbed them “Interactive Foreign-language Maps”. To the Entry-Exit Bureau: you have not issued these visas in vain. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (2)

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My nightmare in obtaining a Chinese visa continued all this week, with the Chinese consulate steadfastly denying my pleas for a visa that would allow me to stay longer than 15 days. Visas to China are cheap for Malaysians, but lately they sure don’t come easy anymore. Apparently the only excuse that the consular office will accept is that you are in China visiting relatives, and that relative has to write you an invitation letter, as well as provide photocopies of their ID for the embassy’s record. The opening up of China to the world for the Olympics has also meant that it has become very difficult for the average person to travel to China, as the authorities are asked to be extra stringent and suspicious of any requests. [more ]

Road Measures (2)

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Just today the efforts to improve Beijing traffic kicked into high gear, with the new number plate regulation system coming into effect. Now, motor vehicles are only allowed on Beijing roads on alternate days, depending on the last digit of your license registration plate. A taxi driver I talked to in Shanghai said that cars with non-Beijing license plates are also no longer allowed to enter Beijing, and he hoped that taxis were exempt from the new system, because it would affect the livelihood of his fellow drivers. Things seem to have gone smoothly even on the first day itself. CCTV showed footage of downtown traffic during rush hour this morning on the 2nd ring road, and cars actually seemed to be moving, so that gives us a reason to hope. [more ]

Another Internet Fiasco!

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My family friend who works with a major hotel group just returned to Shanghai after a 10-day training stint in Beijing, and he told me that all hotels have been instructed to install government spy software to monitor guests’ internet activity during the Olympics. If they refuse to do so, they will face harsh penalties. This goes against all privacy laws, and is a definite about-turn on China’s promise to provide full and unrestricted internet access to foreign media and visitors during the Olympics. Now, besides the press internet censorship and general internet censorship, private guest activities are going to be screened right in the comfort of their hotel room. [more ]

Important Numbers (3)

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Besides the specially set up Olympic hotlines, it would also be a good idea to have with you all the basic emergency numbers, like for the Police (110), Ambulance (120 or 999), Fire (119) and Directory Assistance (114). There is also a taxi hotline at 96103 but I honestly cannot imagine that you would ever need it in Beijing as there are so many taxis everywhere at every hour of the day. But, I guess you never know. Of all these numbers I have only called the Directory service, and they only speak Chinese, but with the Games it’s possible that almost every hotline will have an English-speaker standing by. I maintain that if you don’t speak Chinese, the most important phone number you need to have is still that of a friend who does. If anything goes wrong, just call your friend and pass the phone to the person you really need to talk to. [more ]

Walls around the City

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I read that Beijng authorities had erected walls around some of the more dilapidated building in the city in an effort to hide them from view during the Olympics, and decided to go look for some of these places mentioned in the article and see for myself. I went to the Temple of Heaven and indeed saw that huge makeshift billboards with the Olympic logo plastered across them had been set up discreetly by the road, and you wouldn’t know that there were small run-down houses (mostly inhabited by migrant workers) behind them unless you snooped around. I was there during dinnertime and there were a lot of people around, so I couldn’t snoop, but I did see a lot of workers sitting close to the billboards, eating dinner, so I assume that they either had to live or work nearby. I don’t see what I personally can do, but it’s sad that this is the way Beijing has chosen to “clean up” the city for the Games. [more ]

Misuse of Olympic Logo

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One of the problems plaguing the Beijing Games is undoubtedly the copyright of the Olympic logo. As we all know, copyright issues are not new in China, but the authorities are really trying to clamp down on the abuse of the Olympic logo and mascot. Despite repeated warnings, threats of legal action, etc, on the streets it still seems like the law has failed. Everytime I walk down Wudaokou the street vendors have an array of merchandise with the Olympic logo and the five panda mascots plastered all over them. Stationery, keychains, coloring books, stickers, there’s no shortage of people trying to make a quick buck out of the Olympic franchise. And judging from the number of times I’ve seen little kids with Olympic pencils and soft toys on the subway, people are not averse to opting for cheaper pirated merchandise, either. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa

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I was at the Chinese consulate today to meet with one of the officers to plead my visa case. While waiting to be attended to, I witnessed a heated argument between two businessmen and the attendant at the visa application counter. These businessmen needed to go to China urgently to solve a problem at their factory in Guangzhou, but the girl would not approve their application unless they produced an invitation letter for the factory’s foreman, which was practically an impossible task given the urgency of the trip. She also wanted them to show a confirmed flight itinerary for flights they refused to purchase if their visas were not going to be approve. This game of chicken-and-egg went on for about half an hour and almost escalated into a shouting match before the businessmen gave up and left. [more ]

Road Measures

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Now that the visa ordeal is over, it is back to regular Olympic updates. Last weekend, Beijing launched its 3 new subway lines to cope with Olympic traffic. These lines service Olympic-related venues and links the city to the airport, but are also a general measure to ease the traffic on Beijing roads. Additionally, Beijing has also increased its bus routes to over 650 routes, in an effort to encourage more use of public transportation. This, in addition to the recent switch to the electronic ticketing system for the subway, should have improved Beijing’s public transportation quality dramatically. Even at the mercy of vandalizers and the less-civic conscious, these facilities should still remain in tip-top condition at least until the end of the year. [more ]

Opening Ceremony on Youtube

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A Korean new team managed to sneak into the Olympics opening ceremony rehearsals, videotaped part of it and posted the footage on Youtube. The Chinese authorities are seething in their offices as we speak. The footage has been removed twice from Youtube already, but as any savvy user of the net knows, once something is uploaded, it is forever available on the internet. If you don’t want to wait, the video is actually worth a watch. Just treat it like a trailer. The ceremony is choreographed by a super popular Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, and basically just features a lot of people in rows, very much in keeping with communist sensibilities. [more ]

Important Numbers (2)

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These services are provided in English and Chinese.
12358 – Price Supervision Reporting. If there’s one hotline they should keep after the Olympics, it should be this one. You can call to check on the retail price of something, to make sure you’re not getting ripped off. This is genius! I’m inclined to think it applies more to Olympic products, but I wonder if I can call them about Silk Market prices and bargaining tips.
96166 – Transportation Hotline. Your very own personal GPS. Call for the best bus, subway, or car routes to take to your destination. With all the new bus and subway lines sprouting up recently, even locals might have to resort to calling this number. [more ]

Money Talks

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Read an article on the New York Times website that provided a handy reminder to anyone travelling to Beijing (or anywhere in China) this summer: “cash is king”. Credit cards are rarely accepted here. The story is that the refusal to accept or use credit is linked back to the old Chinese belief that being in debt is a sign of poverty and shame, so a lot of Chinese still don’t like to us credit cards, and some of the older generation don’t even trust banks, preferring to keep their money stashed away at home. The best way to fund a stay in China, I’ve found, is just to bring your ATM card with you, and withdraw cash as you need it. I had two credit cards with me for 6 months, and didn’t use them even once. The Chinese Agricultural Bank accepts almost any ATM card. Don’t forget to let your bank at home know first, though! [more ]

Paralympics

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Besides the Olympics, Beijng is also hosting the Paralympics simultaneously. Needless to say the Paralympics are not getting even half the publicity as the Olympics, but the Chinese government seems to be trying to fix that. Billboards have been going up all over the place featuring disabled athletes, and sometimes there are programs on TV highlighting a good Samaritan taxi driver who specialized in ferrying disabled people. I think it is the government’s intention to just raise awareness about disability in general, seeing as Beijing is a very inconvenient city for the disabled. On the most superficial level, a lot of tourist attractions require you to climb many flights of stairs, and there are no elevators at all, so the disabled would just have to give them a miss. [more ]

Get your visas fast (but not too fast)!

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The sheer number of people wanting to go to China these days is astounding. With the imminent arrival of the Olympics, it seems like the Chinese embassy is the place to be. I went to apply for my visa today only to be informed that they had changed their entry requirements and length of stay. You now have to enter the country within 9 days of your visa application, and can only stay for a maximum of 15 days. You also need to produce your flight details and a confirmed hotel reservation. In January there were no lines and I was done in 5 minutes; today I lined up for almost an hour only to be turned away. Plan your visa applications well! [more ]

New electronic subway tickets

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Just last week Beijing introduced their new electronic subway ticketing system. I remember the litter that the old paper system caused, with long lines at the ticket booth (that were not really lines because people constantly cut in front of you), and ticket stubs strewn all over the place. When we walked past the still-wrapped-up electronic ticket feeder machines we always thought that they were saving those to be unveiled as close to the Olympics as possible, because things show wear and tear really quickly in China and the machines would be dirty in no time. Looks like the new system is up and running faster than we thought. The Beijing subway charges a flat rate of 2kuai to all stops. It may be hot and crowded, and switching trains is a pain, but it does get you where you want to go. [more ]

Internet Bust-up

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The restricted internet access has some foreigners up in arms, especially the liberal American ones who are used to their daily dose of uncensored news, and now find that their only source of English news is the Chinese owned xinhuanet. A online forum is full of complaints from first-time tourists about the impossibility of the internet here, something that foreign study students and foreigners working in China have long accepted as a fact of life. There’s also a request for a list of proxies for people who really want them. Good news, though! Blogger is actually working in China this time, and Wikipedia is up and running as well! Hurray! [more ]

Important Numbers

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Here are some important numbers of hotlines you can call if you are lost in Beijing. These lines have been specially set up for the Olympics and are manned by multi-lingual staff.
12308 – Olympic call center apparently providing information in 34 languages, including various Chinese dialects. I have half a mind to call this and use a bunch of different languages just to test it out. Would love to hear from anyone who has tried.
110 – Directions. Handy number to have because you can call them to get directions anywhere and ask for tips on places to visit, eat and shop.
12345 – Public service. Non-emergency hotline for any kind of public service related request or complaint. [more ]

Olympic Bubble

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There is absolutely no way of escaping the Olympics in Beijing. Even if you have been living incommunicado in a hole for the past year, if the hole is anywhere near the vicinity of Beijing, you will have come in contact with some form of Olympic-related publicity campaign. A typical day goes like this: wake up, brush my face and wash my teeth, remembering the warning to save water for the Olympics. Have a yogurt drink with an athlete endorsing it on the packaging. Walk to the subway, past tons of Olympic-related billboards. During the subway ride, stare at the TV playing repeats of Olympic programming. Go to work everyone is sick of the Olympics but can’t stop talking about it. Come home. Same deal. There’s no way to beat them, so if you refuse to join them, it’d be best to leave the city. [more ]

Changing Times

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I watched a news documentary on CCTV5 the other day about the changing cityscape of Beijing. The reporter took a day tour around the city with a taxi driver, and got her to speak about some of the changes in the city. What I found most interesting was when she said that a passenger once asked to be taken to the Olympic building, and she said she didn’t know where it was. When the passenger gave her the address, she thought that the site was just a piece of empty land, but she drove there anyway, et voila! The building was right there. I figure that was a good indication of how fast things are changing in the city if even a taxi driver whose job is to know the city inside out, cannot identify a prominent location such as the Olympic building. [more ]

Air Asia to Tianjin

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I was on the Air Asia website buying my ticket to Shanghai when I saw that the next new route to be introduced will be Kuala Lumpur-Tianjin, which is essentially Beijing because it is 2 hours away by bus. Does anyone at all know when they start flying this route? I scoured the internet but all I could find was “coming soon”. They announced this route at the same time as the KL-Guangzhou route, and that is already up and running, so maybe this will just make it in time for the Olympics? Then again with the way the airline industry is looking these days I will be lucky to get a flight to Beijing at any price at all. It is worth noting, though, that trains are excellent in China and will get you practically anywhere. [more ]

Internet Censorship

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Foreign press covering the Olympics have just been informed that they will have limited internet access, meaning they won’t be able to open some websites on their Chinese internet connections. It will be interesting to see which websites exactly won’t be allowed, although currently the government has said that websites with information about the Falungong and the Tibetan riots will be inaccessible through Chinese internet servers. Although this sort of censorship is nothing new to Chinese citizens, foreigners have always been able to access information in other languages, either via remote servers or proxies. I feel like those should still work this time, but be prepared for some slooow connections. [more ]

Olympic Spectator Guide

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A small update on the Olympic Spectator Guide that comes with each Olympic ticket you purchase. The guide is only provided in Chinese in printed format, but if you go to the official Olympics website, there is an English version in PDF format that you can download. Most of the pointers in the guide are pretty intuitive, but it does include useful travel and contact information, as well as general rules of conduct in China (which we cannot assume are the general rules of conduct elsewhere), so it would be useful to just download and skim through the guide. If all else fails, you can always just show up and do what everyone else is doing. [more ]

Beijing Friendliness?

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Today I saw a Caucasian woman approach a man smoking his cigarette outside a restaurant (smoking is now banned indoors in Beijing), asking for directions to go somewhere. The man actually snubbed out his cigarette, took a sip of water, and proceeded to pore over her lonely planet guide, struggling with the English and trying to figure out where she was going on the map. When he couldn’t help her he actually called his friend on his cellphone and asked for the address of the place, before finally directing her to the subway to get to her destination. This was definitely the first time I have ever seen any Beijinger so friendly towards a foreigner. Must be the spirit of the Games. [more ]

The Pandas are in Beijing!

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8 endangered pandas have just been transported from the panda research center in Wolong, Sichuan Province, to the Beijing zoo, as part of the Olympic countdown activities. I guess this is just as well, being that the center was heavily affected by the May 12 earthquake. It’s a wonder all 8 pandas made it alive, but if you get the chance you should definitely go see them! I saw them in Sichuan and they are just adorable. I don’t think they shipped in any of the red pandas (they look like raccoons) but those are super cute as well – maybe they already have some existing ones in the Beijing zoo. [more ]

Airport Madness

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I almost missed my flight out of Beijing because in the 2 short months since I had last been to the airport, they had built a new terminal about 20 miles from the old ones, and my airline, along with most international airlines, were now based in the new Terminal 3. Not knowing this, I had the taxi drop me off at the old terminal and proceeded to get desperately flustered, before hopping into another taxi and spending a lot of extra money to make my flight. Found out from the driver that they were expecting to double the passenger flow during the Games, but he didn’t think the new terminal was a good solution. You use the same highway to get from the city to the airport, but the road forks leading to the two sections, so eventually all the traffic gets congested on the highway again. He also said that he wasn’t sure what would happen to all the extra space after the Olympics, but maybe since China is booming, they’ll get more and more visitors anyway. [more ]

English Telecast in China?

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A friend asked me today if I thought we’d have English commentary for Olympic telecasts on Chinese television, since us poor students can’t afford cable in our dorm rooms. I can’t foresee CCTV-9 (the local English channel) providing English commentary, and it seems like Olympic broadcasting is only restricted to a few channels anyway, so my best advice would be to head down to the nearest Irish/American/foreign pub and pray for seats right in front of the TV. They are likely to have some form of cable, and for a pint of beer you’ll have English commentary, and maybe even make some new friends! [more ]

International City

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Is it just me, or does it seem like there are a lot more foreigners in Beijing these days? Hotels still insist that the stricter visa regulations have resulted in a smaller tourist inflow, but there are rumors circulating on the Shanghai and Beijing expat forums that at the implementation level, a lot of the rules have been more or less relaxed, and if you try hard enough you will ultimately be able to get a visa. The area around Wudaokou has always been foreigner-heavy, but the international population mostly consists of students. Lately I seem to see more people with touristy clothing and backpacks wandering around, so maybe the Olympic tourists have finally arrived! [more ]

Ticket Scalping

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A friend recently told me that she had decided to be part of the Olympic cheer after all (she had been resisting for quite some time until she found out that she was going to be in Beijing during the Games), and had started looking for tickets to the games. Needless to say the opening ceremony tickets are completely sold out, and the only way to get them is from scalpers/re-sellers. She said that the cheapest tickets she could find online were 2000 euros. Presumably you will be able to find cheaper tickets with the local Chinese scalpers, but that would also depend on whether you’re a foreigner. Speaking Mandarin might help, but the general rule here is that foreigners are automatically wealthy and should expect to pay more for things. [more ]

Fake Tickets

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As is inevitable with big sporting events, ticket scalpers are looking to make a quick buck out of people desperate enough to buy Olympic tickets from them. With the last batch of Olympic tickets having gone on sale (and sold out) last week, people who have procrastinated on their Olympic tickets will either have to resort to ebay, or resellers. Whatever it is, be prepared to pay inflated prices for your chance to see some sporting action in Beijing this summer. Chinese authorities have recently identified two websites selling fake tickets. If you don’t particularly care about being in Beijing, my advice would be to go to Qingdao or Shanghai or even Hong Kong and catch some events there; those cities are a lot more exciting. [more ]

Games Village

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My friend had the opportunity as part of his summer study abroad program to visit the Olympic games village in Qingdao today. Qingdao is hosting the sailing events. (Malaysia has one representative!) He says that the village is like a six-star hotel, and that Chinese authorities have made sure that even super high profile athletes might consider staying at the Games villages instead of at hotels and guest villas. There is a free flow of food and drinks, live entertainment, and every imaginable facility on-site. The whole place is air-conditioning and staffed by super-friendly volunteers. You can even mail your letters, do your banking, and buy imported groceries in the village. Needless to say all this is sparkling new. Wish I were an Olympic athlete! [more ]

Olympic Food

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One day while dining at a café in Haidian district, we chatted up the friendly waiter who told us that he was really happy to have the job, so that he wouldn’t have to go home for the summer and could be in Beijing for the Olympics instead. He told us that the café was planning Olympic-themed food to be launched closer to the Games, which include onion rings (multi-colored maybe?), “Olympic soda”, and Olympic set meals. Quite a McDonald’s-esque move to pull. If this is what regular restaurants are coming up with, I can’t wait to see what the fast food joints pull. [more ]

Grocery Reminder

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Effective July, grocery stores and supermarkets have started charging for plastic bags (according to size) if consumers want to use them to load their groceries. An average-sized bag costs about 30cents. This is actually a super effective measure because everyone goes shopping with a tote bag now, and really, charging for the use of something is probably the most successful way in the history to man to stop people from using it. Malaysia has tried for the longest time to reduce the use of plastic bags by giving people free points or a free cup or whatever, but perhaps we should start charging and see those bags disappear. Don’t forget to pack a shopping bag! [more ]

The Forgotten Olympics

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Just a friendly reminder to anyone who is sticking around for a bit after the Olympics: do consider attending some Paralympic events! Especially if you were one of those people who tried but failed, or ultimately could not afford, an Olympic ticket, the Paralympics are a great way to show your best Olympic spirit. After each Olympic closing ceremony, the rush dies down and people forget that a whole other sporting meet goes on for another few weeks. Needless to say these athletes and national contingents don’t get the same hospitality and facilities that the Olympics people enjoy, because the Paralympics get virtually no media coverage by comparison, and there are often no promises outside the glare of the media. So for some true sportsmanship – and cheaper tickets – go to the Paralympics! [more ]

The Crowds

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Despite the Beijing authorities’ concerted efforts to keep the population at an acceptable level, throngs of tourists have descended upon the city to share in on the Olympic excitement. The newly-constructed highway that overlooks the Bird’s Nest Stadium has not even been opened to traffic, yet everyday taxis and tour buses stop for tourists to clamber up onto the highway to take pictures of the stadium, because that is where you get the best view. I have been in many taxi rides where the driver has slowed down as we drove past the stadium, telling me “that’s the famous Bird’s Nest Stadium!” However, I am sad to say that due to the hazy Beijing skies, I have yet to see a crystal clear view of the stadium, even though I have been less than 50 feet from it. [more ]

The World is Your Spittoon

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The skies might be bluer and the air a little fresher, but as far as I’m concerned, one of Beijing’s biggest problems still stubbornly persist – rampant spitting in public. It is well-known that if you hear someone hacking up a storm behind you, clearing their throat for the world to hear, then it is time to speed up your walking pace before a generous dollop of spit hits you in the back. In fact, Beijing roads are littered with black spots, signs of old spit that crusted in the dry weather. I once recall seeing spiderweb-like frozen spit on a railing once during the winter. When the country was hit by the SARS crisis, authorities imposed a 50rmb fine on anyone caught spitting. I think it is high time to bring back this rule, in view of the Olympics. [more ]

Construction Galore

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Everyone’s erecting new buildings or renovation existing ones for the Olympics. A friend took us on a campus tour of the Beijing Foreign Language University, and half the campus was shrouded in scaffolding, with dust and grime everywhere. He explained that a lot of university dorms were being used as Olympic housing, and some universities were even hosting sports (Peking University is the site of the ping-pong event), so everyone is racing to get things ready by August. The Olympics have definitely infiltrated campus life. All three campuses that I visited in Beijing had official Olympic merchandise stores, and Peking U even has 2 of them. An American friend met a local student who wanted to be his language exchange partner, and was given a gift of the mascot keychain as a gesture of thanks. [more ]

Fireworks Rehearsals

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Over the weekend, Beijing’s Olympic committee started its opening ceremony fireworks rehearsal, lighting up the sky over the Bird’s Nest stadium for 15 minutes, as well as turning on the neon lights at the new aquatic center. If they are already setting off fireworks on such a scale during rehearsals, I can only imagine what the sparks will look like on the actual day. It reminded me of Lunar New Year celebrations in the city, when fireworks would go on for the entire month, driving us crazy because it felt like bombs were going off around us every night (the university is very near the Olympic village and stadium). It is a huge relief that I won’t have to be there to suffer the brunt of it this time. [more ]

Rules and Regulations (2)

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10 Dos and Don’ts of the Olympics (loosely translated by me)

Do respect the intellectual property rights of the Olympics
Don’t buy pirated, illegally produced or fake goods

Do abide by the Olympic village protection rules
Don’t misuse or abuse the Olympic flag, song, and symbol

Do remember traffic safety rules well
Don’t cross guard-rails, run red lights or speed

Do obey directions and orders while lining up
Don’t clamor to be ahead and push and shove

Do beautify the city and protect the environment
Don’t spit everywhere or set up stalls by the roadside

Do treasure the capital’s cultural sites
Don’t dirty, damage, draw or post flyers on sites

Do take care of sporting and stadium facilities
Don’t make trouble or create a scene

Do maintain order and safety at competition venues
Don’t litter or bring your own drinks

Do strive to be civilized and law-abiding
Don’t gamble, bet, or obstruct safety precautions

Do increase awareness of Olympic rules
Don’t break the law and affect the country’s image [more ]

Homestay Program

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I spoke to someone who is a host family for Olympic tourists today! The family has been hosting foreign exchange students for some time and last summer hosted a classmate of mine who was taking Chinese lessons in Beijing. They are anxious because they have only ever hosted students during the day, namely students come and have lunch and hang out with the family on a weekend but don’t stay the night. There were multiple home inspections and a thorough background search before the families were approved, and almost all the homes are in good areas of the city, so it’s not like tourists are going to get the “real” Beijing experience (as touted), but I personally feel like it would be a more gratifying experience than staying in a hotel. [more ]

Rules and Regulations

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One day as I was speeding merrily down the 3rd Ring Road (actually, that’s a lie because speeding is not possible on a road that is perpetually congested, even at 2am), I noticed huge signs with equally huge bright red characters erected all along the street, right next to the sidewalks. Faced with the daunting task of getting 18 million Beijingers to behave during the Games, the authorities had come up with the “10 Dos and Don’ts of the Olympics”. (Translated below) No concrete data on how effective the signage has been, but when I asked my co-workers, they were only vague aware of the billboards and many had just walked past every day without bothering to read them. [more ]

Ghetto No Longer (3)

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Another controversy surrounding the eradication of old/poor neighborhoods in Beijing in order to give the city an “Olympic façade” is that in the process of identifying these places to tear down, the government has inadvertently also torn down some old buildings that had historical value, including old houses with ornate pillars carved with Chinese characters and drawings. These too have been reduced to the scrap heap of things deemed not good enough to showcase Beijing to the world, and China has in the process yet again lost some of its valuable heritage. I’m personally not sure if the shiny new Olympic buildings are a worthwhile replacement. [more ]

Media Blitz (2)

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The three most prominent figures in the Beijing Olympics advertising campaign are Jackie Chan, Yao Ming, and Liu Xiang (perhaps least known internationally but is China’s world champion hurdler, and probably the most attractive of the three). Jackie and Yao Ming feature in the Visa ads, and apparently in China women swoon over the prospect of Yao Ming treating them to a candlelight dinner with his Olympic Visa. I still don’t quite understand this, but even before the Olympic fever began, Yao had already been endorsing a ton of products in China and makes sports headlines in the country almost daily. Liu on the other hand turns out more classily, usually in ads related to cars, or aftershave, or snazzy sports gear. It’s odd that China’s very outstanding female athletes and celebrities are nowhere to be seen. [more ]

Ghetto No Longer (2)

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An update on the refurbishment of Beijing shantytowns: apparently new hotels have been mushrooming at an astonishing rate, and the demolished squatter area in Haidian is the next location slated for new hotels to be built. Will these hotels even be ready in time for the Olympics? One month seems like an awfully short timeframe to erect a building, but then again, it makes sense that they would develop that particular area, seeing as the Olympic stadium and village is in Haidian and that is surely where most of the Olympic tourist traffic will be concentrated. Still, I hope that the relevant people will make sure that the buildings are sturdy and safe enough to house people. [more ]

Media Blitz

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It takes an hour on the subway to get from my university dorm to downtown Chaoyang District for my internship every week. During the subway ride, the trains are too packed for passengers to read, or talk, or do anything else except stand squished in your little corner of the cabin.

To alleviate the tedium of the ride, television screens have been installed along both sides of the train where practically every passenger can see them, and lately the screens only feature a non-stop stream of Olympics-related information. To date i've seen short documentaries on the construction of the olympic stadium and village, introductions to sports events and Chinese athletes, and a barrage of Olympic-related commercials. It's a wonder that the Chinese people are not yet bored/fed up of the Games; on the contrary, they seem to be pretty excited about the arrival of August. [more ]

Ghetto No Longer

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Riding the subway back to Wudaokou from Chaoyang District, I would pass by a spawling slum area just before the relative affluence and foreigner-infused area of Haidian district. The outskirts of Haidian comprises shantytowns, and on the rush hour train home, I could see the residents lining up with Tupperware and an assortment of containers to get their dinner from a makeshift stall that had been set up. Yesterday, my friend informed me that the shantytown residents have been relocated (where to?), and the ramshackle houses were being destroyed by bulldozers. I’m certainly not trying to romanticize squatter lifestyles, but it is sad that Beijing has had to relocate huge numbers of its lower-class population without proper accountability as to where they will go and what will happen to them. [more ]

Piracy Clampdown Reversed Down South

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Piracy may more or less have been officially curbed up north in Beijing, but as a result all the pirates have apparently sets their sights down south. The streets of Shanghai are teeming with direct-selling agents approaching you at busy intersections, asking if you would like to see bags, watches, sunglasses, of any make. At the new xinyang market, the first question you're asked at any store is "gucci? prada?" I talked to a DVD seller down the block from my apartment who told me that the piracy clampdown has not affected Shanghai. When i said i was surprised because of the impending Olympics, he said he knew a friend who could sell me Olympic memorabilia on the cheap. [more ]

Opening Ceremony

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Torch Relay

August 6 saw torch arrived at Beijing and started three day relay until finally reach the main venue: National Stadium (nicknamed as Bird’s Nest). Every people in Beijing are enthusiastic and earnest for August 8 grand opening. The torch relay features astronaut, basketball giants Yaoming, China’s flying people Liu Yang and other celebrities while three day relay features cultural, scenic and academic routes. Beijing Municipal Government announced most companies are off work tomorrow (August 8) to embrace the great opening. So I reckon hundreds of thousands of people will go out tomorrow to cheer the last day torch relay.


Opening Ceremony

I went to watch rehearsal fireworks right outside National Stadium last Saturday and I almost squeezed to death among thousands of watchers. The roads nearby were cordoned off and public transportation steered cleared of nearby areas, the nearest subway stop was admitted to open every 5 minutes for fearing of overcrowded trampling accident.

The fireworks are gorgeous and splendid. I felt so excited to see fireworks given off in summer time, usually I watch fireworks in Spring Festival.



Olympic Sportsmanship

Quite interesting topic I would to discuss, ‘cause I found sportsmanship concept in China is differently interpreted from other countries. Though Olympic sportsmanship advocates mutual understanding, friendship and fair competition, I found Chinese athletes rarely played for fun, but totally for gaining national glory. Of course every athlete wants to bring glory to his/her own counties, but Chinese athletes attached so much attentions, it seems he/she bear only one factor.. to win.

This year, the Chinese athletes have even heavier pressure since China is the host country. Medias kept showing their past glory and chased them for practice, I even felt the pressure worrying about how about he/she failed after such a pro-event splendid publicity??

Well… still I wish Chinese athletes, no all athletes in the world exert their best to bring back glory.

Finally wish the 29th Beijing Olympic a GREAT SUCCESS!!!! [more ]

Olympics on Youtube

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If you are travelling but want to follow the Olympics (and you’re not in the US), you need to look no further than Youtube, which will have its own Olympic broadcast channel for the duration of the Games. The channel will be accessible from 77 countries, but not the US. The IOC has definitely jumped on the online bandwagon with this one, opting to embrace web broadcasting instead of waiting for grainy taped footage to surface on Youtube anyway. It’s too late to remedy the leaked opening ceremony rehearsals, but at least everyone can look forward to crystal clear online broadcasts of events now, regardless of the time difference. [more ]

Gender Test

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Read an article syndicated in a Malaysian daily today about how athletes are subjected to gender testing to determine if they are competing under the “correct” gender that their biological makeup indicates. These tests mainly affect female athletes. The article did not say why but I’m thinking it might be because an athlete with higher testosterone levels and more physical bulk resembling a man would be at an athletic advantage over female competitors. Either way, this is an extremely touchy subject. The article went on to cite five examples of male/”intersex” athletes who have competed as females and had been disqualified or had their medals revoked. I thought it was a tremendously interesting lesser-known aspect of the Olympics, away from all the glamour and glitz. [more ]

Funny Story

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One of the questionable perks about living in a foreigners’ dorm is that we get free copies of the China Daily everyday (and in some of our Business and IR classes we’ve been instructed to look to it as our main source of research). Today’s China Daily headline reads: “IOC: Air is safe for one and all”. It looks like even the IOC has finally thrown in the towel and is now standing in solidarity with China in a effort to make the games successful. I guess that is one way to counter the negative press, when you are having trouble breathing outside, you can see past a block and a half, and you come home with dirt under your fingernails, only to be told that “haze doesn’t mean poor quality air”, you have to wonder who to believe. [more ]

Celebrity Buzz

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The local tabloids have been awash with pictures of Asian celebrities (mostly from Hong Kong) arriving for the Olympics at the Beijing Capitol International Airport, decked out in all their finery. It has been a while since I left my crazy Hong Kong celebrity chaser days (when I was 14 I knew where at least 5 celebrities were at any given time), but some of the people who are now in Beijing are big names indeed. Andy Lau, Wang Leehom, to name a few, and a whole slew of TVB drama actors, who are a hit with the locals. These people will most definitely not be staying in the Olympic village, so there’s no conceivable way to see them again besides camping out at the airport and stargazing, which is apparently what some people have chosen to do. I wonder what security has to say about this? [more ]

The Olympic Torch is here!

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The Olympic torch was flown in from Sichuan Province yesterday (Tuesday), and from today onwards will begin a three-day relay across the city, starting at the Forbidden City and ending at the Temple of Heaven. It will then be taken to the Bird’s Nest stadium to be lit during the opening ceremony (by a golden phoenix, please). The relay begins on Wednesday morning at the Meridian Gate of the Forbidden City and will pass through 17 downtown districts, so it shouldn’t be hard to catch the relay in action. China’s most prominent public figures have been saved for this final leg of the relay, so expect to see Yao Ming, amongst others, bearing the torch. [more ]

Universities Open Their Doors

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Beijing’s institutions of higher education have well and truly opened their doors to the world this summer. While there has been an excited buzz all around, things have still been pretty normal in Peking University. We will host the table tennis competition when the Games start, but so far it doesn’t seem like any athletes have made this campus their training ground. A friend who studies at the Beijing People’s University however told me that half the campus population seems to be foreign these days, especially considering the bulk of students have gone home for the summer. I know that the US athletics team is also training on a campus somewhere, but I don’t know which one. [more ]

Day off!

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My colleague at the law firm just told me that they had all been given a day off on Friday, the day of the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Don’t know if this applies to the entire workforce (I don’t imagine so, because the country would essentially shut down on opening day as if it were the first day of Chinese New Year), but it is a really nice gesture on the part of my boss. She said she had been planning to go home as early as possible anyway, or at least meet up with some friends at a nearby café so they could watch the live telecast of the opening ceremony. But now that they have been given the entire day off, they can take the opportunity to soak in the Olympic festivities in the city. [more ]

Zhang Yimou vs Steven Spielberg

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The golden phoenix made me think of the big scandal back in February (I think) when the original director of the opening ceremony, Steven Spielberg, resigned in protest of China’s stance on the Darfur issue. Of course, the local media was all hush-hush about it, and the organizing committee quietly went about hiring Zhang Yimou, a prolific Chinese director, to take over the directing duties. And now the opening ceremony gala will truly be a showcase of homegrown talent. My question is, why didn’t they give it to Zhang Yimou in the first place? Sure, he may not be a household name in America, but Zhang is a Cannes staple and is responsible for discovering actresses like Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi. If China had kept a little faith in its own talents from the beginning, the whole Spielberg fiasco could have been avoided. [more ]

Of Security Checks and Long Lines

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Everyone taking the subway has to go through some form of security check these days, whether by machines, guards or dogs. This creates a delay and more of a hassle in the daily work routine. The fact is, if you woke up at 5am in order to get to the subway at 6 and work at 7.30, the last thing you want to do is stand in line to get your belongings checked. And when you get off the train after watching an hour of Olympic filler on the subway TV, there’s another round of checks waiting for you. The subway looks like a US airport on a particular bad day now. Obviously this is merely a formality for the majority of people, and they are putting up with it in the spirit of the Olympics, but they are hardly approaching the security inspection tables with glee. [more ]

Rain Rain, Go Away

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On a lighter (non-political) note, the meteorological centre has said that there will be overcast skies with the possibility of thunderstorms in Beijing on the 8th of August. Say it ain’t so! They hope that the storm will be over by the time the opening ceremony gets underway at night, but after all the trouble that Beijing has gone to (including the leaked video footage) to eradicate all human error from the operation of the Games, it would be a shame for plans to be ruined by nature. The organizers undoubtedly have a contingency rainy day plan B, and the Olympic spirit is not going to be so easily dampened by a little rain, but I for one really want to see the golden phoenix swoop down from the sky and light the Olympic torch! [more ]

The Countdown Begins in Earnest

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Two more days!! Everyone is talking about the Olympics. I feel like at this point even the most cynical and jaded of Beijingers have thrown up their hands and accepted the fact that the Games are coming, whether they like it or not, and have chosen to embrace the fact. It has been like this for a while, but almost everywhere you turn there is an Olympic logo, or an Olympic set meal, or Olympic promotions and events. It’s a good thing the Olympics only happen for a month every four years, otherwise the frenzy would be too overwhelming to bear. I can only imagine that this must be what the World Cup feels like (except with less beer?). [more ]

Speed

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Sorry for all the allusion to Hollywood movies, but day to day life here has felt increasing like a set on blockbuster action flicks. There are guards at every bus stop, as well as on the buses themselves. When you’re sitting in a bus and there’s an armed man in uniform walking up and down the aisle with a stoic look on his face, it’s hard not to imagine there’s a bomb attached to the bottom of the bus that will detonate if it so much as slows down. The guard told a raggedy-looking man that he could not board the bus, giving no reason. The man, in his discretion, didn’t ask for one. China has a population that is by and large very obedient, and so it has had an easier time than most in terms of law enforcement. For now the Chinese have chosen to take everything in stride for the Olympics, but it’s anyone’s guess what comes after. [more ]

Red Arm Bands

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Anytime I see a piece of red clothing in China, it reminds me anew not to be deceived by the skyscrapers and blatant consumerism. It reminds me that China is at the heart still a socialist state, and that the Communist Party’s authority is not to be challenged under any circumstances. Each Olympic host faced international terrorist threats, but had never resorted to the levels of security that Beijing is now deploying on that pretext. I can only assume that the bulk of these cameras and patrolmen and volunteer corps exist more to quash domestic rebellion than international ones. According to international media, Muslim restaurants have been asked to shut down citing health concerns, and there has been an elevated scrutiny towards the China’s ethnic minorities. There are now 30 000 more people with red armbands walking around, so has life become more dangerous for some people? [more ]

The Truman Show

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If you’ve always wondered what it felt like to be Jim Carrey’s character in The Truman Show, this might be a good time to come to Beijing and experience it first-hand. The government has set up security cameras virtually everywhere, and you can’t help feeling like you’re being watched in the same way as a car that runs a red light at a major intersection. The best case scenario at this point would be if you were caught making out with your girlfriend and the video was posted on Youtube, like what happened earlier this year in Shanghai. The worst case scenario is that you look like an ethnic Uighur or Tibetan, the camera catches you retrieving your mail, and the next thing you know the police show up at your house to deport you. [more ]

SOS at Tiananmen Square

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A friend and I went to Tiananmen Square today (to eat the famous Quanjude Peking Duck, of course), and we saw a group of Caucasian men wearing red armbands (nooo…) milling about the square, with a purposeful look on their faces. My friend, being an inquisitive American, walked right up and asked them what they were doing. Apparently there is also a laowai (foreigner) volunteer coalition for the Olympics where foreign residents of China have pitched in their efforts for a successful Olympics. They are providing lost visitors a familiar face and familiar accent, and pointing them in the right direction of the places they want to go. The Chinese press has dubbed them “Interactive Foreign-language Maps”. To the Entry-Exit Bureau: you have not issued these visas in vain. [more ]

Colorful Information Booths

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So many information booths have been set up all around the city (particularly downtown and around the Olympic village – it’s so exciting to live in Haidian District these days!), and the volunteers are all young and enthusiastic students decked out in Olympic colors. These students are majoring in all kinds of foreign languages at university and are relishing the opportunity to put their skills to the test. My Chinese literature tutor in the spring is currently in Taiwan on an exchange program, but she says when she comes back she will also try to see if she can help by speaking French somewhere. It’s early days yet but the tower of Babel effect is already starting to show, and I bet lots of visitors will be pleasantly surprised. [more ]

Important Numbers (3)

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Besides the specially set up Olympic hotlines, it would also be a good idea to have with you all the basic emergency numbers, like for the Police (110), Ambulance (120 or 999), Fire (119) and Directory Assistance (114). There is also a taxi hotline at 96103 but I honestly cannot imagine that you would ever need it in Beijing as there are so many taxis everywhere at every hour of the day. But, I guess you never know. Of all these numbers I have only called the Directory service, and they only speak Chinese, but with the Games it’s possible that almost every hotline will have an English-speaker standing by. I maintain that if you don’t speak Chinese, the most important phone number you need to have is still that of a friend who does. If anything goes wrong, just call your friend and pass the phone to the person you really need to talk to. [more ]

Important Numbers (2)

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These services are provided in English and Chinese.
12358 – Price Supervision Reporting. If there’s one hotline they should keep after the Olympics, it should be this one. You can call to check on the retail price of something, to make sure you’re not getting ripped off. This is genius! I’m inclined to think it applies more to Olympic products, but I wonder if I can call them about Silk Market prices and bargaining tips.
96166 – Transportation Hotline. Your very own personal GPS. Call for the best bus, subway, or car routes to take to your destination. With all the new bus and subway lines sprouting up recently, even locals might have to resort to calling this number. [more ]

Important Numbers

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Here are some important numbers of hotlines you can call if you are lost in Beijing. These lines have been specially set up for the Olympics and are manned by multi-lingual staff.
12308 – Olympic call center apparently providing information in 34 languages, including various Chinese dialects. I have half a mind to call this and use a bunch of different languages just to test it out. Would love to hear from anyone who has tried.
110 – Directions. Handy number to have because you can call them to get directions anywhere and ask for tips on places to visit, eat and shop.
12345 – Public service. Non-emergency hotline for any kind of public service related request or complaint. [more ]

Important Numbers

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Here are some important numbers of hotlines you can call if you are lost in Beijing. These lines have been specially set up for the Olympics and are manned by multi-lingual staff.
12308 – Olympic call center apparently providing information in 34 languages, including various Chinese dialects. I have half a mind to call this and use a bunch of different languages just to test it out. Would love to hear from anyone who has tried.
110 – Directions. Handy number to have because you can call them to get directions anywhere and ask for tips on places to visit, eat and shop.
12345 – Public service. Non-emergency hotline for any kind of public service related request or complaint. [more ]

Grocery Reminder

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Effective July, grocery stores and supermarkets have started charging for plastic bags (according to size) if consumers want to use them to load their groceries. An average-sized bag costs about 30cents. This is actually a super effective measure because everyone goes shopping with a tote bag now, and really, charging for the use of something is probably the most successful way in the history to man to stop people from using it. Malaysia has tried for the longest time to reduce the use of plastic bags by giving people free points or a free cup or whatever, but perhaps we should start charging and see those bags disappear. Don’t forget to pack a shopping bag! [more ]

Opening Ceremony on Youtube

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A Korean new team managed to sneak into the Olympics opening ceremony rehearsals, videotaped part of it and posted the footage on Youtube. The Chinese authorities are seething in their offices as we speak. The footage has been removed twice from Youtube already, but as any savvy user of the net knows, once something is uploaded, it is forever available on the internet. If you don’t want to wait, the video is actually worth a watch. Just treat it like a trailer. The ceremony is choreographed by a super popular Chinese director, Zhang Yimou, and basically just features a lot of people in rows, very much in keeping with communist sensibilities. [more ]

Renegade Taxi Driver

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I remember getting into a taxi instead of taking the subway after finally getting my visa extended, feeling completely exhausted from all the effort of dealing with the bureaucracy. The taxi driver asked if I was applying for a visa, and when I told him my sob story, he decided that since I was not local he could feel free to express his anti-government views to me. He said that the government should listen to the people more, and that the country needs a healthy opposition to be able to form a strong government, instead of the system it has now whereby people are not allowed to ask questions or to do anything else except quietly obey orders. He actually even said that “harmless” movements like the Falungong were unnecessarily condemned without even being given a chance. That was the first time I had heard anything anti-government from a Chinese, and until now that taxi ride stays with me. [more ]

New Uniforms for Taxi Drivers

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Coming from the airport to the city, one of the first new things I noticed about Beijing was that the taxi drivers now all have new uniforms, consisting of an orange-ish shirt and a striped tie, that are provided to them for free, in lieu of the individual company uniforms that the drivers have always worn. If they don’t wear the uniforms, they face a fine. Looks like they also have to spruce up their external image in addition to learning English. As a side note, though, I’ve found that Beijing taxi drivers are a lot more personable than Shanghai ones, and a lot of them are eager to practice their English with you, unlike Shanghai drivers who clam up once they realize you are foreign. [more ]

New Uniforms for Taxi Drivers

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Coming from the airport to the city, one of the first new things I noticed about Beijing was that the taxi drivers now all have new uniforms, consisting of an orange-ish shirt and a striped tie, that are provided to them for free, in lieu of the individual company uniforms that the drivers have always worn. If they don’t wear the uniforms, they face a fine. Looks like they also have to spruce up their external image in addition to learning English. As a side note, though, I’ve found that Beijing taxi drivers are a lot more personable than Shanghai ones, and a lot of them are eager to practice their English with you, unlike Shanghai drivers who clam up once they realize you are foreign. [more ]

Shooting in the Dark

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Read a pretty funny article today about an Olympic-bound archer who has been training in Beijing in preparation for the Games…in the dark. He says that after training for a few days outdoors and having trouble seeing the target due to poor visibility, he had taken to training indoors under stimulated poor-light conditions, in order to familiarize himself with the polluted Beijing outdoors. He thinks training himself not to see the target will give him the final advantage when he’s competing and actually can’t see the target. What next, are sprinters going to run behind smoke-emitting cars? It’s incredible how Beijing weather has forced athletes to deliberately handicap themselves to gain advantage during competition. [more ]

Yet another human rights violation

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This has nothing directly to do with the Olympics, but China has recently arrested a schoolteacher for posting pictures of the damage caused by the Sichuan earthquake on the internet. This is sad because it seems like the average Chinese citizen still cannot demand accountably from his own government, not even when the world’s eye are painfully scrutinizing China’s every move. China is still do whatever it pleases in terms of quashing any voice it sees as dissident. Chances are this schoolteacher just wants some answers on behalf of the parents of all the children who died under the rubble of unstable schools that should have held up better against the earthquake. If the government refuses to be responsible even for future generations, then what hope does the present one have? [more ]

Free Wireless during Olympics

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Despite the horrible internet restrictions, large parts of the city (mostly within the 5th ring road) will be equipped with free wireless signal during the Olympics. This is good news to everyone as the city will be pretty much completely wired, and people won’t have to head to sketchy internet cafes to check their emails. Rumor has it that this wireless service will eventually cover the whole of the city by next year, but after the Olympics it will become a paid service. Just in case anyone is wondering: Beijing, like most places in China, is very safe, and you will have no trouble walking around with your laptop in your bag. [more ]

Free Wireless during Olympics

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Despite the horrible internet restrictions, large parts of the city (mostly within the 5th ring road) will be equipped with free wireless signal during the Olympics. This is good news to everyone as the city will be pretty much completely wired, and people won’t have to head to sketchy internet cafes to check their emails. Rumor has it that this wireless service will eventually cover the whole of the city by next year, but after the Olympics it will become a paid service. Just in case anyone is wondering: Beijing, like most places in China, is very safe, and you will have no trouble walking around with your laptop in your bag. [more ]

Carrefour in Trouble Again in China

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Carrefour is the latest culprit in the crackdown against the unauthorized use of the Olympic logo by non-official sponsors of the Games. Earlier this month, authorities had removed billboards of huge international brands that were not officially affiliated with the Games, and big losers included Nike. This time, Carrefour were taken to task for displaying their logo side-by-side with the Olympic logo all around their stores. Carrefour says it is to show solidarity with China during the Olympics, but with the official sponsors and OIC breathing down their necks about intellectual property controls, China is unlikely to let this one go, even if it’s just to show that they are doing something to prevent Olympic piracy. [more ]

Consider a Bicycle!

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If you want to beat the Beijing crowds this summer and really immerse yourself in city life, one thing you could consider is to rent a bicycle and cycle around town. Besides saving on lots of transportation money, you will also have a constant wind in your hair, another plus towards beating the summer heat! (Ignore the pollution for now) Bicycles are literally everywhere in Beijing, and it’s perfectly normal for people to bike up to an hour to get from home to work. There are bike rentals everywhere, usually found out the pavements where there’s a row of bicycles that all look the same, and an old lady with a straw hat sitting at the end wait a log book. It’s only 20 yuan per day I think. A tip: pick the rattiest looking bicycle: bicycle theft is rampant. [more ]

Olympic Spectator Guide

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A small update on the Olympic Spectator Guide that comes with each Olympic ticket you purchase. The guide is only provided in Chinese in printed format, but if you go to the official Olympics website, there is an English version in PDF format that you can download. Most of the pointers in the guide are pretty intuitive, but it does include useful travel and contact information, as well as general rules of conduct in China (which we cannot assume are the general rules of conduct elsewhere), so it would be useful to just download and skim through the guide. If all else fails, you can always just show up and do what everyone else is doing. [more ]

Olympic Spectator Guide

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A small update on the Olympic Spectator Guide that comes with each Olympic ticket you purchase. The guide is only provided in Chinese in printed format, but if you go to the official Olympics website, there is an English version in PDF format that you can download. Most of the pointers in the guide are pretty intuitive, but it does include useful travel and contact information, as well as general rules of conduct in China (which we cannot assume are the general rules of conduct elsewhere), so it would be useful to just download and skim through the guide. If all else fails, you can always just show up and do what everyone else is doing. [more ]

Taiwan-China Problems (2)

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In the vein of the ever so strained Taiwan-China ties, China has once again stepped on Taiwanese toes these Olympics. Taiwan has always competed in international events under the name “Chinese Taipei”, which is “Zhongguo Taipei” in China. “Zhongguo” also means China. For these Games, China has seen fit to translate the official name of Taiwan as “Taipei, China”, which, needless to say, has ruffled more than a few feathers in Taiwan. China claims that both translations are acceptable, and of course, they would prefer to use this one, whereas Taiwan wants to stick to the longstanding translation. It’s hard to believe China is still taking every opportunity to be petty despite having much larger problems to worry about during the Olympics. [more ]

Only Tourist Visas

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An amendment to my earlier blog post about visa regulations being relaxed: I have been informed that as of 24 July, all Olympic cities (including Beijing and Shanghai) have stopped issuing business visas to foreigners, at least until the Games are over. Foreigners wanting to enter the country can only apply for tourist visas, and only for whatever length of time is allowed for passport holders of a particular country. This means 30 days for citizens of the US and EU, as far as I know. My visa extension in Shanghai was ultimately quite painless, but that could also be because I am ethnically Chinese and could speak the language/I didn’t have a US or EU passport. Not sure what the procedure is like now that we are so close to the games, but good luck to those of you who are still trying to get in! [more ]

Another Internet Fiasco!

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My family friend who works with a major hotel group just returned to Shanghai after a 10-day training stint in Beijing, and he told me that all hotels have been instructed to install government spy software to monitor guests’ internet activity during the Olympics. If they refuse to do so, they will face harsh penalties. This goes against all privacy laws, and is a definite about-turn on China’s promise to provide full and unrestricted internet access to foreign media and visitors during the Olympics. Now, besides the press internet censorship and general internet censorship, private guest activities are going to be screened right in the comfort of their hotel room. [more ]

Another Internet Fiasco!

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My family friend who works with a major hotel group just returned to Shanghai after a 10-day training stint in Beijing, and he told me that all hotels have been instructed to install government spy software to monitor guests’ internet activity during the Olympics. If they refuse to do so, they will face harsh penalties. This goes against all privacy laws, and is a definite about-turn on China’s promise to provide full and unrestricted internet access to foreign media and visitors during the Olympics. Now, besides the press internet censorship and general internet censorship, private guest activities are going to be screened right in the comfort of their hotel room. [more ]

Taiwan-China Problems

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My family friend’s apartment in Shanghai is hooked up to a satellite (apparently they are not illegal in Shanghai!) which enables him to get Taiwanese TV channels. We were watching an Olympic program on Taiwan’s preparations in Taekwondo the other day, and one of the Olympic representatives said that her final qualification round was actually held in China, and during the semi-final bout the Chinese supporters in the stadium starting shouting “Go China! Go China!” Although she appreciated the support and ultimately qualified for the Olympics, she admitted it was still very awkward and she didn’t acknowledge the fans afterwards and headed straight for the dressing room. [more ]

Underaged Gymnasts

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The latest controversy to hit the Olympics is that some of the gymnasts that are representing China at the Games are actually underaged and their ages have been wrongly reported to the Olympic committee to enable them to participate anyway. China has of course steadfastly denied fabricating the ages, but I noticed that the denial was very carefully worded. The official said that the ages had been recorded according to personal identification and birth certificated provided by the athletes, but made no mention of whether any measures were taken to authenticate these personal identification documents. China has always been a formidable team in gymnastics and any disqualification of their athletes would have a huge effect on their medal tally. [more ]

ID for Travel

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Travelling into and out of Beijing has just become really difficult. Travelers are now expected to provide identification while buying their bus and train tickets, and their names will be on the tickets. They will also have to provide identification when they are boarding to facilitate tighter security checks. This is a big hassle to anyone who has been on a train in China, because previously you could just show up, buy a ticket, and board during non-peak hours, but with the new rules you have to make sure you have everything ready for inspections, and you have to show up and buy your own ticket instead of getting someone to do it for you. Plan for lots of travel time! [more ]

ID for Travel

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Travelling into and out of Beijing has just become really difficult. Travelers are now expected to provide identification while buying their bus and train tickets, and their names will be on the tickets. They will also have to provide identification when they are boarding to facilitate tighter security checks. This is a big hassle to anyone who has been on a train in China, because previously you could just show up, buy a ticket, and board during non-peak hours, but with the new rules you have to make sure you have everything ready for inspections, and you have to show up and buy your own ticket instead of getting someone to do it for you. Plan for lots of travel time! [more ]

Restricted Protests

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Beijing authorities have designated three city parks for protests during the Olympics, provided the protesters comply with protesting rules and obtain a permit from the authorities, which to me effectively means that they will only be allowed to protest things like the lack of taxis, or how dumplings are losing their authentic taste. It reminds me a bit of Malaysia, where the government always insists that public gatherings are allowed, you just need to get approval and a permit from the authorities. The permit are of course never granted for anything remotely politically-related, and are almost never granted to opposition or anti-government groups. It’ll be interesting to see what kinds of protests, if any, actually happen at these parks. [more ]

Friendly Superstition

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A co-worker at my internship told me an interesting story about the Olympic mascots today and their link to a superstitious belief about the disasters that have befallen China this year. Olympics aside, this year has not been good for China, and some Chinese have attributed the bad luck to the five mascots, each supposedly representing one of the five elements (earth, water, fire, etc.). China has had five disasters so far connected to the five elements (earth for the earthquake, water for the typhoon, etc.) but they have apparently all happened and so now it should be smooth sailing until the Olympics. She said that if this were the case, then at least the Chinese people will not have suffered in vain because they will ultimately have a successful Games in a less than successful year overall. [more ]

English Telecast in China?

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A friend asked me today if I thought we’d have English commentary for Olympic telecasts on Chinese television, since us poor students can’t afford cable in our dorm rooms. I can’t foresee CCTV-9 (the local English channel) providing English commentary, and it seems like Olympic broadcasting is only restricted to a few channels anyway, so my best advice would be to head down to the nearest Irish/American/foreign pub and pray for seats right in front of the TV. They are likely to have some form of cable, and for a pint of beer you’ll have English commentary, and maybe even make some new friends! [more ]

English Telecast in China?

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A friend asked me today if I thought we’d have English commentary for Olympic telecasts on Chinese television, since us poor students can’t afford cable in our dorm rooms. I can’t foresee CCTV-9 (the local English channel) providing English commentary, and it seems like Olympic broadcasting is only restricted to a few channels anyway, so my best advice would be to head down to the nearest Irish/American/foreign pub and pray for seats right in front of the TV. They are likely to have some form of cable, and for a pint of beer you’ll have English commentary, and maybe even make some new friends! [more ]

Internet Bust-up

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The restricted internet access has some foreigners up in arms, especially the liberal American ones who are used to their daily dose of uncensored news, and now find that their only source of English news is the Chinese owned xinhuanet. A online forum is full of complaints from first-time tourists about the impossibility of the internet here, something that foreign study students and foreigners working in China have long accepted as a fact of life. There’s also a request for a list of proxies for people who really want them. Good news, though! Blogger is actually working in China this time, and Wikipedia is up and running as well! Hurray! [more ]

Walls around the City

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I read that Beijng authorities had erected walls around some of the more dilapidated building in the city in an effort to hide them from view during the Olympics, and decided to go look for some of these places mentioned in the article and see for myself. I went to the Temple of Heaven and indeed saw that huge makeshift billboards with the Olympic logo plastered across them had been set up discreetly by the road, and you wouldn’t know that there were small run-down houses (mostly inhabited by migrant workers) behind them unless you snooped around. I was there during dinnertime and there were a lot of people around, so I couldn’t snoop, but I did see a lot of workers sitting close to the billboards, eating dinner, so I assume that they either had to live or work nearby. I don’t see what I personally can do, but it’s sad that this is the way Beijing has chosen to “clean up” the city for the Games. [more ]

Fake Tickets

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As is inevitable with big sporting events, ticket scalpers are looking to make a quick buck out of people desperate enough to buy Olympic tickets from them. With the last batch of Olympic tickets having gone on sale (and sold out) last week, people who have procrastinated on their Olympic tickets will either have to resort to ebay, or resellers. Whatever it is, be prepared to pay inflated prices for your chance to see some sporting action in Beijing this summer. Chinese authorities have recently identified two websites selling fake tickets. If you don’t particularly care about being in Beijing, my advice would be to go to Qingdao or Shanghai or even Hong Kong and catch some events there; those cities are a lot more exciting. [more ]

Fake Tickets

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As is inevitable with big sporting events, ticket scalpers are looking to make a quick buck out of people desperate enough to buy Olympic tickets from them. With the last batch of Olympic tickets having gone on sale (and sold out) last week, people who have procrastinated on their Olympic tickets will either have to resort to ebay, or resellers. Whatever it is, be prepared to pay inflated prices for your chance to see some sporting action in Beijing this summer. Chinese authorities have recently identified two websites selling fake tickets. If you don’t particularly care about being in Beijing, my advice would be to go to Qingdao or Shanghai or even Hong Kong and catch some events there; those cities are a lot more exciting. [more ]

Truly Helpful?

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A friend from Argentina who was in Shanghai for a short visit a few days ahead of the start of the Olympic football matches reported having a bad time because no one would help his group of friends with directions! Apparently people were immediately shy/hostile when they started speaking English, and after a while they realized that it did not make a difference whether they spoke English or Spanish, because no one seemed to understand them anyway. They tried using public phones but because the instructions were in Chinese they were unable to call any local friends, and then they tried unsuccessfully to borrow cellphones from five people before a girl working at a café lent them hers. In the end they had to rely on two Mexican residents they met wandering lost along the streets. Show your Olympic spirit, Shanghai! [more ]

Money Talks

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Read an article on the New York Times website that provided a handy reminder to anyone travelling to Beijing (or anywhere in China) this summer: “cash is king”. Credit cards are rarely accepted here. The story is that the refusal to accept or use credit is linked back to the old Chinese belief that being in debt is a sign of poverty and shame, so a lot of Chinese still don’t like to us credit cards, and some of the older generation don’t even trust banks, preferring to keep their money stashed away at home. The best way to fund a stay in China, I’ve found, is just to bring your ATM card with you, and withdraw cash as you need it. I had two credit cards with me for 6 months, and didn’t use them even once. The Chinese Agricultural Bank accepts almost any ATM card. Don’t forget to let your bank at home know first, though! [more ]

Olympic Bubble

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There is absolutely no way of escaping the Olympics in Beijing. Even if you have been living incommunicado in a hole for the past year, if the hole is anywhere near the vicinity of Beijing, you will have come in contact with some form of Olympic-related publicity campaign. A typical day goes like this: wake up, brush my face and wash my teeth, remembering the warning to save water for the Olympics. Have a yogurt drink with an athlete endorsing it on the packaging. Walk to the subway, past tons of Olympic-related billboards. During the subway ride, stare at the TV playing repeats of Olympic programming. Go to work everyone is sick of the Olympics but can’t stop talking about it. Come home. Same deal. There’s no way to beat them, so if you refuse to join them, it’d be best to leave the city. [more ]

Beijing Friendliness?

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Today I saw a Caucasian woman approach a man smoking his cigarette outside a restaurant (smoking is now banned indoors in Beijing), asking for directions to go somewhere. The man actually snubbed out his cigarette, took a sip of water, and proceeded to pore over her lonely planet guide, struggling with the English and trying to figure out where she was going on the map. When he couldn’t help her he actually called his friend on his cellphone and asked for the address of the place, before finally directing her to the subway to get to her destination. This was definitely the first time I have ever seen any Beijinger so friendly towards a foreigner. Must be the spirit of the Games. [more ]

International City

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Is it just me, or does it seem like there are a lot more foreigners in Beijing these days? Hotels still insist that the stricter visa regulations have resulted in a smaller tourist inflow, but there are rumors circulating on the Shanghai and Beijing expat forums that at the implementation level, a lot of the rules have been more or less relaxed, and if you try hard enough you will ultimately be able to get a visa. The area around Wudaokou has always been foreigner-heavy, but the international population mostly consists of students. Lately I seem to see more people with touristy clothing and backpacks wandering around, so maybe the Olympic tourists have finally arrived! [more ]

Games Village

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My friend had the opportunity as part of his summer study abroad program to visit the Olympic games village in Qingdao today. Qingdao is hosting the sailing events. (Malaysia has one representative!) He says that the village is like a six-star hotel, and that Chinese authorities have made sure that even super high profile athletes might consider staying at the Games villages instead of at hotels and guest villas. There is a free flow of food and drinks, live entertainment, and every imaginable facility on-site. The whole place is air-conditioning and staffed by super-friendly volunteers. You can even mail your letters, do your banking, and buy imported groceries in the village. Needless to say all this is sparkling new. Wish I were an Olympic athlete! [more ]

Internet Censorship

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Foreign press covering the Olympics have just been informed that they will have limited internet access, meaning they won’t be able to open some websites on their Chinese internet connections. It will be interesting to see which websites exactly won’t be allowed, although currently the government has said that websites with information about the Falungong and the Tibetan riots will be inaccessible through Chinese internet servers. Although this sort of censorship is nothing new to Chinese citizens, foreigners have always been able to access information in other languages, either via remote servers or proxies. I feel like those should still work this time, but be prepared for some slooow connections. [more ]

Pollution is Back

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Just days before the Olympics, smoggy skies are back and look to be here to stay in Beijing. There have been rumours flying around of people circumventing the new license plate rules by having two license plates, and apparently the enforcement officers are still susceptible to bribes. Whatever it is, the haze has definitely not left Beijing, and the visibility is particularly bad today. You can barely see two blocks down the road. I don’t know how much of this information is going to filter out to the international press, but I don’t see how this can be good news for Beijing. Despite the authorities’ best efforts, we’re coming up to a week before the Games and the pollution problem persists. Looks like it’s time to seed the clouds maybe? [more ]

The Forgotten Olympics

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Just a friendly reminder to anyone who is sticking around for a bit after the Olympics: do consider attending some Paralympic events! Especially if you were one of those people who tried but failed, or ultimately could not afford, an Olympic ticket, the Paralympics are a great way to show your best Olympic spirit. After each Olympic closing ceremony, the rush dies down and people forget that a whole other sporting meet goes on for another few weeks. Needless to say these athletes and national contingents don’t get the same hospitality and facilities that the Olympics people enjoy, because the Paralympics get virtually no media coverage by comparison, and there are often no promises outside the glare of the media. So for some true sportsmanship – and cheaper tickets – go to the Paralympics! [more ]

“Green” Olympics

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Looked out of the window today only to be greeted by the same smoggy skies (ok, maybe not so smoggy by Beijing standards). It’s weird because when the sky is smoggy in Shanghai, you know it’s got something to do with pollution, but a lot of is also just coastal weather. When skies are gray in Beijing, it is definitely all carbon monoxides and toxins. Organizers are touting this Olympics as the “Green Olympics” which to me is kind of an overly-ambitious proclamation. If neither Sydney nor Athens marketed their Olympics as “green”, then Beijing should hardly be the city to stake this claim. If anything, I look out my window and see comparatively fairer skies, all I can think about are the workers who lost their jobs because their factories were forced to shut down, and if efforts to curb pollution couldn’t have begun earlier and claimed less last-minute victims. [more ]

Road Measures (4)

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On the way to Guomao (World Trade Center area) from the Beijing airport today, the taxi driver told me that he was foreseeing a surge in business due to the car ban, which meant more people might resort to taking taxis. He liked that the Olympic rules were working in his favor, although he expressed fears about the temporality of these measures. I think the government should consider making some of these new laws permanent, especially the car ban, which has seen an increase in carpooling and usage of public transport. Surely this can only be good for the country? Who knows how an economist would look at this, but to me, Beijing needs all the environmental help it can get, and this would be a big help indeed. [more ]

Road Measures (3)

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Apart from removing half its cars from the road for the Olympic season, special “Olympic” lanes have also been designated on roads in Haidian district near the Games venues. Apparently there are high-tech surveillance cameras monitoring traffic on those lanes at all hours, and regular motorists who have nothing to do with the Olympics who drive on that lane will be heavily fined. There have been some complaints that even though there are less cars on the streets, the Olympic lanes have taken motorists by surprise and a lot of people don’t know if and when they are allowed to drive on them. Most people have chosen to fear the law and stay away though, which is rare in Chinese driving culture. Maybe people have realized that the government is indeed serious about Olympic-law enforcement. [more ]

The World is Your Spittoon

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The skies might be bluer and the air a little fresher, but as far as I’m concerned, one of Beijing’s biggest problems still stubbornly persist – rampant spitting in public. It is well-known that if you hear someone hacking up a storm behind you, clearing their throat for the world to hear, then it is time to speed up your walking pace before a generous dollop of spit hits you in the back. In fact, Beijing roads are littered with black spots, signs of old spit that crusted in the dry weather. I once recall seeing spiderweb-like frozen spit on a railing once during the winter. When the country was hit by the SARS crisis, authorities imposed a 50rmb fine on anyone caught spitting. I think it is high time to bring back this rule, in view of the Olympics. [more ]

Increased Safety Precautions

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The Olympics may be farther up north, but Shanghai is a well-known port of entry into China, and people here – locals or travelers – have not been spared vigorous scrutiny ahead of the Games. Starting Monday July 21, Pudong and Hongqiao airports in Shanghai are conducting an additional first round of security checks at the entrances, and have warned passengers to arrive much earlier in anticipation of delays. Security checkpoints have been set up at all entrances and all bags will be scanned. After making it to the inside of the airport, passengers will go through all the usual security, but also be screened again just before the board the plane. China is definitely leaving no stone unturned security-wise. [more ]

Fireworks Rehearsals

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Over the weekend, Beijing’s Olympic committee started its opening ceremony fireworks rehearsal, lighting up the sky over the Bird’s Nest stadium for 15 minutes, as well as turning on the neon lights at the new aquatic center. If they are already setting off fireworks on such a scale during rehearsals, I can only imagine what the sparks will look like on the actual day. It reminded me of Lunar New Year celebrations in the city, when fireworks would go on for the entire month, driving us crazy because it felt like bombs were going off around us every night (the university is very near the Olympic village and stadium). It is a huge relief that I won’t have to be there to suffer the brunt of it this time. [more ]

Road Measures (2)

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Just today the efforts to improve Beijing traffic kicked into high gear, with the new number plate regulation system coming into effect. Now, motor vehicles are only allowed on Beijing roads on alternate days, depending on the last digit of your license registration plate. A taxi driver I talked to in Shanghai said that cars with non-Beijing license plates are also no longer allowed to enter Beijing, and he hoped that taxis were exempt from the new system, because it would affect the livelihood of his fellow drivers. Things seem to have gone smoothly even on the first day itself. CCTV showed footage of downtown traffic during rush hour this morning on the 2nd ring road, and cars actually seemed to be moving, so that gives us a reason to hope. [more ]

Road Measures

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Now that the visa ordeal is over, it is back to regular Olympic updates. Last weekend, Beijing launched its 3 new subway lines to cope with Olympic traffic. These lines service Olympic-related venues and links the city to the airport, but are also a general measure to ease the traffic on Beijing roads. Additionally, Beijing has also increased its bus routes to over 650 routes, in an effort to encourage more use of public transportation. This, in addition to the recent switch to the electronic ticketing system for the subway, should have improved Beijing’s public transportation quality dramatically. Even at the mercy of vandalizers and the less-civic conscious, these facilities should still remain in tip-top condition at least until the end of the year. [more ]

Lessons Learnt in Chinese Visa Application (continued)

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3. If you don’t speak Chinese, bring a friend who does. Or have someone you can call to translate.
4. If you need to collect your visa in less than 5 working days, produce a compelling reason. Often this means only confirmed international flight itineraries.
5. If you need to fly domestically while the PSB is holding on to your passport, bring an extra photo and they will stamp your receipt in such a way that allows you to go through airport immigration.
6. As a last ditch attempt, at the Shanghai PSB, the chief officer handles special and emergency cases at the last counter (counter 15 I think) at 1.30pm every day. Go and plead your case if all else fails. The chief speaks English.
7. All these new restrictions are apparently only in place until after the Paralympics in late September, but as always, remember that every rule is enforced depending on negotiation skills. Good luck! [more ]

Lessons Learnt in Chinese Visa Application

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1. If you are not staying at a hotel, you HAVE to have a temporary residence permit for them to even consider your application. Just get the lease agreement of your building, passport and copies, and head to your local police station (find out which one). If you are staying in a hotel, you just have to bring your confirmed hotel itinerary.
2. Often the permit is the only thing you need, but it’s also a good idea to bring your bank statement showing that you have an average of US$100 for every day you are staying in China. I have heard that the official requirement is a Chinese bank account but international bank statements have been known to work as well. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (7a) – Victory!

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The next day, I sped off to the police station first thing in the morning, only to be informed that I needed to show the lease agreement of the house where I was living, as well as the passport and work permit of the friend who was putting me up. Undaunted, I hopped back into a taxi and went home, got all the documents, and headed back to the station. The lady must have taken pity on me, because she didn’t ask me to pay a fine (you apparently have to register within 24 hours of entering the country, and I had waited 17 days), and I got my permit within 15 minutes. Went back to PSB, rudely skipped some lines, and in 5 minutes I had a receipt to collect my passport next week. YES! [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (7a) – Victory!

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I am FINALLY getting my Chinese visa extended! This is wonderful news, especially after making the rounds at practically every Chinese law enforcement agency, and in the process racking up enough in taxi fares to pay for the visa itself. Adamant to adhere to the porous Chinese legal channels, I went back to the entry and exit bureau again, determined to get my story heard. After waiting for 3 hours, the lady told me to obtain a temporary residence permit from the local police station before she would grant me my extension, but she wrote “no need to line up” on my form so I could get things done speedily once I had my permit. [more ]

Homestay Program

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I spoke to someone who is a host family for Olympic tourists today! The family has been hosting foreign exchange students for some time and last summer hosted a classmate of mine who was taking Chinese lessons in Beijing. They are anxious because they have only ever hosted students during the day, namely students come and have lunch and hang out with the family on a weekend but don’t stay the night. There were multiple home inspections and a thorough background search before the families were approved, and almost all the homes are in good areas of the city, so it’s not like tourists are going to get the “real” Beijing experience (as touted), but I personally feel like it would be a more gratifying experience than staying in a hotel. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (6)

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I received an email today from the consulting company about my visa. Bill told me that they could extend my visa for about 18-23 days, but that it would cost me SEVEN THOUSAND YUAN. That is to say, around US1000. Needless to say I am not taking him up on the offer. He also told me that since I only need to extend it for 3 days, I should just head to the nearest police station and get the emergency extension. It is going to be a long arduous process because they are going to ask me a lot of questions and make me sign a statement but at the point I don’t know what else I can do. Attending the Olympics opening ceremony is not worth US1000… [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (5)

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Just saw ad linked from gmail (must be all those angry emails that I have been writing to everyone, ranting about the visa injustice I have been facing) by a visa consulting company based in Shanghai, offering “guaranteed visa approval” for any type of visa request. I was worried that this guarantee would be outdated, given the new regulations, but a little blurb on the site saying that they could still definitely process visa extensions and renewals despite the Olympics (how, I do not question) was very reassuring. I immediately filled out the questionnaire and must admit I sounded very desperate. Now I will just have to wait till the next working day for them to get back to me. I’m happy to share the link with anyone who needs it. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (4)

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…and the saga continues. Spent the whole morning and afternoon at the entry and exit bureau in Shanghai today, only to be told that they would absolutely not renew my visa for the reasons I had provided, and that my only recourse was to head to a police station within 5 days of my visa expiring to apply for an “emergency extension”, or face heavy fines/deportation. Now, I feel that this is a harsh consequence for a student (who at the point only wants to stay for as long as she can get on the earliest flight home) to face, but according to the family friend I am staying with, “Shanghai is a very obedient city and will obey the rules unquestioningly.” Looks like it’s bye-bye Olympics for me. [more ]

Athletes Incommunicado

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Arguably Beijing’s biggest assets in the Olympics – its star athletes – have been MIA in the months leading up to the big event. Most notably, Olympic star hurdler Liu Xiang, whose face dominates pretty much every local advertising campaign and then some, has been safely hidden away by the organizers with the convenient excuse of vigorous pre-Games training. I spoke to a friend today who wittily remarked “it’s funny how both the athletes and human rights activists are missing”. Anyhow, the international media is full of disgruntled reporters lamenting that they have not been able to schedule interviews with Liu Xiang or any of his fellow sportsmen, despite having a free reign over every other (controlled) aspect of the Olympics. [more ]

Weather Issues

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Speaking of the weather and athletes, several national contingents have decided to skip the Olympics opening ceremony for the possibility of staying away from Beijing longer, and thus performing better during their events. Australia and New Zealand, in particular, have been making the news for their decision to stay at their base in Hong Kong instead of letting their athletes march at the ceremony. The athletes are disgruntled, but understand the rationale of the national committees. Earlier in the year the newspapers failed to mention the issue of face masks. Some countries had raised the idea of athletes wearing masks to stave off the pollution, but the plan fell through because they felt it would be disrespectful to China. [more ]

Burning Up in China (2)

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Looked up some Olympic write-ups on Sina, and it seems like Beijing has been steadfastly assuring the world that the weather will be under control during the Olympics. The authorities seed the clouds during excessively dry or polluted spells, “making rain” so that life becomes easier again for everyone. Nevertheless, if the rain I have experienced in Beijing is anything to go by, Olympic visitors should expect a muddy encounter, if that is indeed what will happen. Due to the dust and grime, Beijing rains mud instead of water. Once, after it had rained for two days, I was in a taxi and heard the radio announcer tell people not to wash their cars yet, because more rain was expected. [more ]

Burning Up in China

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It is HOT here. Hot, to the extent that it doesn't even cool down at night, and men walk around sweaty and shirtless. The family friend whose apartment I am sharing tells me that he now takes a taxi to work, which is a 5-minute walk away, because if he walks he arrives at the office drenched in sweat. My tour guide in Hangzhou and i got into a discussion about the unbearable heatwave that characterizes a Chinese summer, and she said that as hot as it is now, it will only get progressively worse, peaking in late August. I wonder if the the athletic performances at the Olympics will be affected, remembering how Sydney changed the Olympic dates to avoid its own sweltering temperatures. [more ]

Ghetto No Longer (3)

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Another controversy surrounding the eradication of old/poor neighborhoods in Beijing in order to give the city an “Olympic façade” is that in the process of identifying these places to tear down, the government has inadvertently also torn down some old buildings that had historical value, including old houses with ornate pillars carved with Chinese characters and drawings. These too have been reduced to the scrap heap of things deemed not good enough to showcase Beijing to the world, and China has in the process yet again lost some of its valuable heritage. I’m personally not sure if the shiny new Olympic buildings are a worthwhile replacement. [more ]

Ghetto No Longer (2)

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An update on the refurbishment of Beijing shantytowns: apparently new hotels have been mushrooming at an astonishing rate, and the demolished squatter area in Haidian is the next location slated for new hotels to be built. Will these hotels even be ready in time for the Olympics? One month seems like an awfully short timeframe to erect a building, but then again, it makes sense that they would develop that particular area, seeing as the Olympic stadium and village is in Haidian and that is surely where most of the Olympic tourist traffic will be concentrated. Still, I hope that the relevant people will make sure that the buildings are sturdy and safe enough to house people. [more ]

Ghetto No Longer

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Riding the subway back to Wudaokou from Chaoyang District, I would pass by a spawling slum area just before the relative affluence and foreigner-infused area of Haidian district. The outskirts of Haidian comprises shantytowns, and on the rush hour train home, I could see the residents lining up with Tupperware and an assortment of containers to get their dinner from a makeshift stall that had been set up. Yesterday, my friend informed me that the shantytown residents have been relocated (where to?), and the ramshackle houses were being destroyed by bulldozers. I’m certainly not trying to romanticize squatter lifestyles, but it is sad that Beijing has had to relocate huge numbers of its lower-class population without proper accountability as to where they will go and what will happen to them. [more ]

Piracy Clampdown Reversed Down South

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Piracy may more or less have been officially curbed up north in Beijing, but as a result all the pirates have apparently sets their sights down south. The streets of Shanghai are teeming with direct-selling agents approaching you at busy intersections, asking if you would like to see bags, watches, sunglasses, of any make. At the new xinyang market, the first question you're asked at any store is "gucci? prada?" I talked to a DVD seller down the block from my apartment who told me that the piracy clampdown has not affected Shanghai. When i said i was surprised because of the impending Olympics, he said he knew a friend who could sell me Olympic memorabilia on the cheap. [more ]

Piracy Clampdown

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Read an article in the local newspaper today about China’s harsh clampdown on video piracy for the Olympics. The write-up came with a picture of two police officers looking on as a DVD seller cleared his stock of pirated goods, and I recognized the DVD seller as the same one I used to buy DVDs from in Wudaokou! It was a tiny store amongst 5 or 6 on Chengfu Lu in Wudaokou, all discreetly selling tons of pirated movies and American TV series. Thus, even though the internet was super slow in China and downloading was a slow and torturous process, one could easily get their movie fix at the nearby DVD store. Looks like this service will only resume in September… [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (3)

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Finally got into Shanghai, armed with a 15-day visa and full of resentment for the powers that be. 15 days will only allow me to stay until July 20, which is absolutely ridiculous. I have spoken to a few sympathetic people who have shared stories with me about how even a valid olympic ticket will not get you a visa. Still, at least a 30-day visa would have been a lot more reasonable. My current plan is to head over the the nearest tour agency and ask them for visa advice, as well as get them to secure me an extension. It seems like you need a lot of connections to "oil the wheels" in China, and I don't have them, so I have to leave it to the professionals. Hopefully I will have good news to report soon. [more ]

Battle for Chinese Visa (2)

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My nightmare in obtaining a Chinese visa continued all this week, with the Chinese consulate steadfastly denying my pleas for a visa that would allow me to stay longer than 15 days. Visas to China are cheap for Malaysians, but lately they sure don’t come easy anymore. Apparently the only excuse that the consular office will accept is that you are in China visiting relatives, and that relative has to write you an invitation letter, as well as provide photocopies of their ID for the embassy’s record. The opening up of China to the world for the Olympics has also meant that it has become very difficult for the average person to travel to China, as the authorities are asked to be extra stringent and suspicious of any requests. [more ]


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