Here’s a funny email circulating around China this week. To appreciate it, you have to understand the obsession among some Chinese about double vs. single hooded eyelids, and that the traffic situation leading up to the Olympics in Beijing has frustrated and infuriated some drivers.
Urgent Notice from the Beijing Traffic Administration Bureau
Although the implementation of even/odd license plates entering the city has greatly reduced congestion, the number of pedestrian traffic has increased substantially, adding to pressure on pubic transportation. Therefore, the Traffic Bureau is implementing measures as of July 25 for the area within the 6th ring road for single and double hooded eyelids. Single hooded eyelid people may enter the area on odd days. Double hooded eyelid people may enter the area on even days. Those with one singled hooded and one double hooded eyelid may enter only between the hours of midnight and 3am. We ask that all city residents arrange their schedules accordingly.
I just received the following letter from gotocn.com, which attempts to be an information portal for expats in China:
Here at gotocn.com, we get you the best articles and the most practical advice possible to let you successfully experience Beijing and the rest of China. With articles by our editors and outside experts as well as our registered members, we provide information on every aspect of living in China, whether you are a student, a tourist, an investor or an English teacher.
Because after all, what other kind of foreigners are there, besides students, tourists, investors, and English teachers?
I can’t think of any high-quality websites that cover all of China. There are plenty of decent sites for specific cities and regions, however. Lists of such sites are available here, here, and here.
Home Inn has become my budget hotel of choice when traveling around China. I own a Home Inn member card (40 RMB), which gets me a discount of about 7.5% at any of their hotels. They have an excellent reservation system: When I call from my mobile, they have my name and other reservation information already pulled up on the computer. As soon as I hang up the phone, I get a text message with the price, reservation dates and hotel address.
The Jiaodaokou Branch in Beijing is also the place I recommend to visiting friends and family who are paying their own way and just need a clean, quiet room and nothing fancy. I’m signed up there for a company discount of 10% – anyone I make the reservation for simply shows the front desk my business card and gets the discount.
Occasionally the staff will walk over to our office and hand deliver a brochure with special offers. Today they brought me one with special “discounts” for the Olympics. Below are the various prices for a standard room (with two beds, each one somewhere between a twin and a double in size):
- Normal price: 239 RMB
- With member card: 221 RMB
- With company discount: 215 RMB
And here are the “company discount” prices around the Olympics:
- August 1-4: 448 RMB
- August 5-25: 640 RMB
- August 26-31: 448 RMB
When I asked why the “discount” prices were so much higher than the regular prices, I was told that the normal price during this period is 900 RMB.
One reason I like Home Inn is that, unlike almost all other Chinese hotels, they don’t artificially inflate their prices and force every single guest to bargain. But it looks like Olympic fever has led them to succumb to temptation and jack up their rates–then turn around and immediately offer half off to their regular customers.
I wasn’t surprised when the stories started coming out a few months back about how Beijing’s hotels weren’t filling up as quickly as expected. But Home Inns often fill up during normal times, I assumed that they would have no problems in August 2008. It was therefore was a bit surprising to get a flyer offering discounts for the entire month and for several different room types. The opening ceremonies are just three weeks away! Makes one wonder about the hordes of Chinese tourists that are expected to descend upon Beijing. Maybe they’re all going to crowd into friends’ and relatives’ apartments–or maybe they, like many foreign tourists, are simply going to stay home.
Actually the opposite of chaos. Peaceful and orderly lines started forming late Monday night at the Bank of China Tower (full of mostly senior citizens by my count) eager to purchase either the Brilliant Jubliation or United Pleasure set. Or perhaps one of each.
Although the HKD20 commemorative bank notes were originally scheduled for release on Wednesday, the bank started early registration on Tuesday for “purchase passes” allowing holders to return on Wednesday (or later) to purchase the notes. There were at least two separate lines at the main branch on Garden Road, one of them (pictured above) extending from the front of the building all the way to Pacific Place several blocks away. I don’t have Park Service-quality crowd estimation skills, but I would guess there were at least a few thousand people in line.
Here’s another photo in the back of the building:
I’ve been watching for the past two nights the “Haier Cup Inaugural Foreign Exchange Students in China Chinese Competition”, a new program on CCTV4 (10-11pm in China, from July 10-17 with the finals on July 18. There is a CCTV4 website about the program where you can view the bios of all the contestants and get more info about the program. A related article says there are 30 foreign contestants in total from 20 countries.
The format is that 4 foreigners compete individually on a stage with two Chinese hosts, a panel of 5 judges, and an audience. There are three parts to the competition. The first and easiest part is a self introduction of 1 minute. The next part is a 5 minute simulation where the contestant and a host pretend to be in a certain place like in a taxi or buying items in a grocery store. During this part the host throws in certain idiomatic expressions and sayings to try to confuse and trip up the contestant. And these are hard(!), more on that in a minute. The third part which I think is the most difficult but arguably easier than part 2 is where the contestant watches a short video and then talks about his or her “feeling” in response to the video. On the first night, the videos were about famous places in China, like the Yangzee River, Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan), etc. Last night the videos were about traditional Chinese craftsmanship.
After each contestant completes each part, they are awarded between 1 and 5 “lights” (打灯) from the judges. One light is given by default even if no judge actually thinks the contestant was succesful. The hosts choose a judge at random to comment on the contestant’s performance. If they choose a judge who gave a light, he usually says something encouraging to the contestant. But they also choose judges who don’t give lights, and some of the comments are harsh, i.e. “actually none of you performed well whatsoever”. At the end of the program, only 3 foreigners remain, with 1 cast off but told that they “might” be able to come back in a later round, so some how there seems to be a second chance for them. I assume the 3 survivors each night will compete again in a semi-final match.
What SHTig is saying
The show is hard, and the contestants clearly understand almost nothing that is being said to them. As a fellow Chinese language learner, it’s a sad thing to see (if not a tad redeeming). Some of the contestants are so out of it that they’re just babling about something only tangentially related, if at all related, to what the host/video is talking about.
When the camera pans to shots of the audience, you see some ear-to-ear grins from some folks. This means “it’s so fantastic and honoring and fun that foreigners can speak Chinese”. Others have a thick face with glossy eyes, which expresses “I have no idea what they are saying and I might be bored as well”. Then there are others with slight scowls. These are the ones who disturb me. Could they be thinking “why the hell are these bafoon foreigners up on a stage parading their awful Chinese around? Their Chinese is terrible and they are a disgrace.” It disturbs me because I can think ahead to one day in the future, when China is the superpower, and all the current niceties towards foreigners and their Chinese learning pursuits are turned upside down, i.e. the day when people are expected to know Mandarin well, and anything less is unacceptable. Listening to the critques from some of the judges I can also sense this sentiment. However, for now, the view in China as evidenced on this program is “it’s such an honor that these foreigners are learning Chinese language and culture.”
What the Chinese Blogs are Saying
A blogger named wushanshanmai has already posted his experience of watching the show in Chinese here (warning, he inexplicably splits his post describing this program with a young lady in her underwear… I am lobbying nator, Mul, ODB and uncleronald to let us do the same here on Truth from Facts). Anyway, I am delighted that wushanshanmai, who describes himself as “an authentic Chinese person” agrees that much of the content is difficult to understand. He is sympathetic to the foreign contestants, and pleased that they are studying.
Or maybe his concluding remark is his true intent:
坚决支持这样的文化推广工作！特别欢迎外国的美丽妹妹来学习中国文化，当然也欢迎”定居“中国的外国上门女婿！(I strongly support these types of efforts to promote Chinese culture! I especially welcome pretty foreign chicks to come study Chinese culture, of course I welcome them to “set up house” here and [I] can move in with them.)
Well, if he can arrange to send that girl in her underwear to us here at Truth From Facts, we might be able to find a foreign girl for him. Not that I, ODB, Mul or nator are available, but uncleronald may be interested…
Have you ever noticed the “help wanted” signs in China, you know, the ones that say “wanted, female, ages 18-25″? These jobs invariably involve minor clerical or waitress type work. It’s more important that she be a certain height (often 160cm) than to have any formal schooling certificates.
Today I had lunch at the “Steak & Eggs” diner in Shanghai (the American-run restaurant that started in Beijing). There was a new waitress who was very polite, decent, and – most amazing for China – she hustled. I mean, she really moved swiftly around the two story dining room. Judging by her face she had to be at least 35 (though from behind she could pass for 22, ohhh Chinese women…). The main point was not how attentive she was, but that she was “old” for this line of work. It helps that the owners are an American-Chinese mix, I believe, and that they themselves are late middle age. That is, we’d expect less age discrimination in this set up. But it led me to come here to ask what has crossed my mind from time to time. What do these girls do after they hit 28 or so and leave their original job? Obviously some enter the throes of motherhood and homemaker, but what about the rest? What does a woman in China do who has no education beyond high school, doesn’t know English, and doesn’t have tangible job skills?
NATOR ADDS: Hotpoter kind of said it in the comments, but I’ll be more specific: they get married. An American woman in a similar situation would probably think marriage is her best option; the typical Chinese woman will be a lot poorer and thus more likely to look to marriage. Also, China remains very conservative about certain things, and marriage is one of them. (Though I’d add with more emphasis on “till death do us part” and less on ”to love and to cherish”.) And finally, Chinese women are increasingly outnumbered due to the combination of the one child policy and a traditional preference for males. More than ever before, China’s women will be able to “marry up”. So I think Hotpoter’s point is valid. Most of these women are going to want to get married, and they will get married, and they’ll have a better (financial) life than before.
I’m far more worried about China’s men with little education. What will these men–and there are already tens of millions of them–do when they get older and can’t even find a wife?
I just read a post on the Oriental-List (a highly recommended mailing list about travel in China) from an “APEC Business Travel Card” holder asking if he would need to apply for a visa before coming into China. According to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation website, the ABTC acts as one’s visa for China and many other countries:
Fast and efficient travel for business people within the APEC region contributes to APEC’s goal of free and open trade and investment. To this end APEC has created an APEC Business Travel Card (ABTC). The ABTC allows business travelers pre-cleared, facilitated short-term entry to participating member economies. The ABTC removes the need to individually apply for visas or entry permits, saving valuable time, and allows multiple entries into participating economies during the three years the card is valid. Card holders also benefit from faster immigration processing on arrival via access to fast-track entry and exit through special APEC lanes at major airports in participating economies.
We Americans can’t get one yet, however:
When can U.S. citizens apply for an ABTC? Where do I apply? How much does it cost?
- We are still exploring options on how U.S. citizens may be issued the ABTC and hope to have more information for you soon. The ABTC is not yet being issued to U.S. citizens.
I have been at the edge of my seating waiting for this announcement. BOCOG (which, I am certain I am not first to suggest sounds like a Bond villain organization plotting world domination) has announced the official hairstyles and make-up of the Olympic medal presenters. The hairstyles and make-up are intended to be “compatible with the concept of sports, while still reflecting the spirit of Chinese youth.” Please, someone, explain what that means. For hairstyles to be compatible with sports, do they need to be aerodynamic? Wouldn’t a shaved head be more appropriate? I guess the hairstyle with the Olympic ring headband seems compatible enough. To me, the only hairstyle compatible with sports and the Olympics is this one. Or maybe this one. One last one.
Mul NOTES: Sure enough, Google informs that The New York Times has made a similar crack about BOCOG. Great minds and all that.
Hong Kong (via the Bank of China HK) announced its own commemorative Olympic currency on Friday. Beginning next Wednesday, branches of the Bank of China in Hong Kong will be selling four million (just over three million available to the public) commemorative Olympic-themed HKD20 bank notes. Later, the notes will be sold at the HK Olympic equestrian venue. As with the mainland bank notes, the Hong Kong notes feature the bird’s nest stadium and the Beijing Olympic logo. The notes will be sold at a significant mark-up, meaning we will never, ever see these in circulation. There are five different packages of single note or sheets available with super impressive sounding names and auspicious price points:
- Radiant Joy (Single HKD Note) at HKD138 per set (that is a nearly seven time mark-up!);
- Triumphant Spirit (4-in-1 Uncut HKD Notes) at HKD338 per set;
- Brilliant Jubilation (35-in-1 Uncut HKD Notes) at HKD1,388 per set;
- Harmonious Union (a package of one HKD Note and one MOP Note) at HKD268 per set; and
- United Pleasure (a package of 4-in-1 Uncut HKD Notes and 4-in-1 Uncut MOP Notes) at HKD868 per set.
That last name needs to be reconsidered. I’m just sayin’. And just in case you had any funny ideas about choosing auspicious notes, there will be no selection of serial numbers allowed.
Mul NOTES: Curious what MOP stands for? ODB was. MOP = Macau Pataca, the legal tender of our neighbors in the Macau SAR.
Who doesn’t love the feel of new money? On July 8, exactly one month before the start of the Olympic games, the People’s Bank of China issued 6 million 10 yuan notes. They are 29th Olympiad Commemorative notes (see pictures)
This article says that you can exchange old notes for new ones at any of China’s Big Four banks in Beijing, but that there may be problems doing so in other places. Why? “Because of the earthquake.” My initial scan of the Chinese blogs suggests that there are shortages in availability of these notes and that some cities don’t have any at all. Hoarding could take place. The picture in this story shows people in a long line waiting to exchange bank notes. Heaven help you if you have any real banking to do in China this week.
Of note, this is the only bill in circulation that does not have Mao Zedong’s image on it. From this I predict Mao will be largest fazed out of upcoming Chinese currency (but not eliminated). This is a very logical first step toward achieving that. It will also be interesting to see if a larger denomination Chinese note is brought into circulation. There have been rumors in the past of an RMB 500 note. The current top valued note is only RMB 100 (less than US$15), though personally I like that and don’t hope to see an RMB 500 note any time soon.
10 July - edited 60million to 6 million notes that were printed (600万). nator emailed me to point out that is only one bill per 200 people.
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