Tag Archives: Snow

The March of Progress, Crispy Silkworm and Old School Gigs

January……….. Beijing is a strange old place. There are some immensely rich people here, alongside the mostly closeted expats. There are many smells and sights on the streets, and several Unidentified Frying Objects.

Xiao Gu Shan High Street

Heating The House. And the bed, and the walls. The bed is on the other side of the hollow wall, with the fire right under it.

I went to Jilin for (Western) New Year. Jilin is in the far north, and is the coldest place I’ve ever been to, at minus 20. Dinner was served the day we left, and it included a massive plate of crispy silkworm, which I just had to pass on. They were big fat things and had been sliced in half.
I saw some some really basic living conditions up there, mostly pig farmers or shopkeepers plus their families living in tiny one room houses with smoky fires that burn all day long under concrete beds. No fridges, no hot water, no showers, toilet out the back… so to speak (a hole in the ground at minus 20 IS an experience, let me tell you).

There are huge changes taking place in China, and it’s not restricted to the big cities. A couple of brand new blocks have gone up in this small town, with all mod cons, and they are buying them up fast at less than £10,000 a piece. The western lifestyle is coming, and you can see exactly how much more energy the new places use than the old simple existence, with their showers and central heating, and water down the plug hole.

I am not a brainwashed citizen (yet), but the West’s criticism of China after the Copenhagen summit was slightly unfair. Nearly everybody, bar the city dwellers, lives in conditions that most of us can’t even imagine spending one night in. They are happy, but when it’s offered, they all want what we take for granted. They are incredibly thrifty and energy concious on a personal level. It’s the horrible gigantic coal power stations that they’ve got to find a solution to.

China as a country is now the largest emitter. But per head of population, they emit a fraction of what a person in the USA emits, around 15 times less. It’s the West that needs to drastically reduce its energy use and change its habits.

Sadly I have recently been hearing that most modern paradoxical term “sustainable development”  in the media here.

Anyhow, enough of the polemics.

The snow continues at an astounding frequency. And the speed and ruthless efficiency with which it is shown who’s boss  is more astounding. Volunteer neighbourhood street clearing gangs roam the estates,  making neat banks of snow along clear paths. Our door has been knocking at 8am the last two mornings, and we’ve politely ignored it and stayed under the covers….

Mao Live, Beijing

I went to “Mao Live” and saw some great Chinese Punk bands, the last of whom spoiled it by playing a rubbish high speed version of Song 2 by Blur. There is a big picture of the chairman’s head behind the stage. It was packed beyond the limits, dark, sweaty, trashed, decibel smashing, and full of cigarette smoke. More reminders of past experiences that I had so quickly lost touch with. Is that the way gigs should be? It felt so at the time. My stinky clothes, ringing ears and stinging eyes the next morning reminded me how quickly we get used to change.

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I arrived in Beijing on November 1st 2009 in a blizzard. It was freezing cold with about 5 feet of visibility. Hats off to the pilot, whether he be auto or human. The plane then stayed on the tarmac for ages. Why, I wondered? The Western paranoia and butterflies kicked in straight away, stoked by nytol and beer intake on the ten hour flight, which had helped me get exactly zero hour’s sleep and made my brain feel like a duvet. Were papers being shuffled already,  shifty looking leather coat wearing officers gathering in small offices, passenger lists being perused…

Just sudden unexpected snow of course. And a queue of planes taxi-ing along while armies of workers scoop up the snow in front of them.

The snow has been on and off since. Until mid March, it was well under 0 degrees most days. For three months, we lived in Tongzhou, which is a suburb in South East Beijing, about 30 minutes away from town. It’s developing quickly, buildings going up everywhere, trendy western style hairdressers offering the outrageous shoreditch mullets appearing by the minute. I was literally the only foreigner in the area, judging by the stares. More on staring later.

Kids doing outdoor exercises in the local School

We had a nice warm and spacious flat, with a decadent red sofa. There was an infant school by our block with a booming PA system that played “Doe A Deer…” every day at full volume at about 10 am, while the tiny kids did side step routines in lines like penguins, all wearing huge eskimo coats. This was followed by kids singing karaoke, at the same volume. Meanwhile a rooster would join in, wandering about outside, belting it out with no regard for the local jobless sat at home trying to drink coffee…
One of the strangest and nicest things to see here are the old people outside everywhere, looking seriously fit and healthy, exercising on the outdoor gym facilities that line most pavements and estates,  line dancing in the public squares, doing Tai Chi or some kind of slow motion sword fighting, and playing outdoor ping pong . There’s always a doubles game going, gramps v grannies, all in duffle coats. This remains one of the most striking differences between China and the West. It’s not that there aren’t generation gaps, but old people aren’t scared, or hiding away in front of their TVs. They’re out there and in your face, being loud and sociable and enjoying themselves. Whatever the reasons, young people are totally respectful, there is literally no anti-social behavior or even a hint of aggression of any kind.

I joined a badminton group, all Chinese. They were mostly a seriously amazing standard, i kind of just about held my own, but I’ve never hurt so much. I used to think I was a good badminton player. Badminton and ping pong are big in China (obvious fact for you there).

Yunhe Park, Tongzhou

The local hotpot restaurant by our block was fantastic, we became regulars – dinner and beer for £3 each, who can blame us? Hotpot is popular in China. It comes from the North and Mongolia, and somehow doesn’t seem to have made the same leap across Russia and into Britain the way Chicken Chow Mein has. Maybe it’s the western health and safety thing…you get a lit gas flame or electric hotplate  in the middle of your table, and a big pot, sometimes with more than one compartment, with different flavours of stock. Then you order your vegetables, tofu and meat, which is all delivered raw. You bung it in bit by bit, and eat it while it’s cooking, with some dipping sauces. I could eat this literally every day. Unfortunately you need a bit of free time, it takes a while, but it’s very sociable to eat like this.

Tongzhou was a great place. Clean air, blue skies. Cheap and honest. It had everything right at hand. Hardly any need to go into Beijing.

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