The neighborhood I live in was pretty remote before the Line 5 subway was built. Since my building was finished in 2006 or 2007 and the subway line opened in September 2007, it’s safe to say that the building was built in response to the newly available subway. All of which makes it puzzling why the north gate is closed.
Here’s my building:
When I moved in, both the north and east gates were open and in use. At night the north gate was often kept almost closed, so that only pedestrians could fit through and cars had to go through the east gate. Fair enough. But after a couple of years, the north gate was locked shut without warning. I asked the wuye about it and was told that there wasn’t enough money to keep a guard posted there.
Let’s do some math.
I pay approximately 4000 RMB every year in management fees. There are six building entrances, each of which holds 20-24 apartments (two doors on each floor, and 10-12 floors per entrance, depending on the location). So let’s say 136 apartments. That’s 544000 RMB per year from basic fees. There are also at least 100 cars parked inside the gates, covering almost every single inch of available space. Let’s say 300 RMB per month for parking; that brings in another 360000 RMB. So with close to 1 million RMB at their disposal, the wuye have decided it’s out of their budget to assign a skinny 18-year-old kid with a crustache and an oversized shirt to sleep in the guard box at the north gate.
The joy in this story comes not from the stupid decision by the wuye but rather by the sad and predictable effect of that decision. Because unlike me, someone was not content just to complain to everyone who would listen. This guy wanted his north gate back, and he got it back — by bending and removing the metal bars of the gate until he could fit through them. Here’s the gate now:
Even with the makeshift bars tied on, it’s easy to get in and out. There’s no guard there, so whoever was being kept out “for my safety” now has easy access. You couldn’t even open the gate if you tried, and replacing it surely won’t be cheap. All in all, a brilliantly played hand by the building management.
Here are a few more pics. Note the cars parked directly in front of both sides of the gate, as well as the graffiti sprayed right next to the guard post.
And then when we finally got to the hotel…had a bit of an episode. We booked two rooms for one night at a Hanting – booked online on Hanting’s snazzy website and got a reservation number. The idea was to stay at a quick and easy place not far from GZ East so we could check in right after arriving, drop off our bags and grab a late dinner. We finally get to the hotel. Tired, very hungry. As we walk in, we see two guys trying to get a room get turned down as the hotel has no vacancies. Nothing at all available. I get a bad feeling. We show our reservation number to the front desk lady.
Sorry, we have cancelled your reservations because you didn’t show up by 9 and when we called you there was no answer and you didn’t re-confirm. And sorry, we are completely out of rooms.
Mind you, this is 11 pm and we are tired and haven’t yet had dinner. This is not going to be a good situation for anybody. When we protested and said they definitely didn’t call the number we gave when making the on-line reservation – a HK number – they kept insisting up and down they had tried us multiple times but we didn’t pick up.
Where’s the duty manager?
You know, the lady who’s picture is on the wall right there? She’s supposed to be “on duty” right? The thing on the wall says she is working tonight and responsible. So where is she – we want to speak to her immediately.
Sorry. No more rooms.
Yes, right, we know. But this problem needs to be fixed and perhaps the manager can solve it.
(Nervous laughter) Sorry, what problem is that?
What problem? WHAT PROBLEM?!?!? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? You are joking. Ha ha. Very funny. Are you trying to be funny? Because you are making us very upset. We are tired. We booked rooms. You gave someone our rooms. Why? We have no idea. When you book rooms you expect them to be booked. Let’s start over and I will speak clearly – YOU KNOW WHAT OUR PROBLEM IS AND WE ARE NOT LEAVING UNTIL YOU FIGURE OUT HOW TO SOLVE IT.
Very sorry about this. But we called you and you didn’t answer.
That’s a lie. You’re a liar. We were on the train for the past few hours. Not a plane. A train. No missed calls. You didn’t call. You are clearly lying. Admit it and fix the problem.
Well, we can’t dial out to Hong Kong so we couldn’t call you.
Sorry – say again? Ok. Good. We are making progress. You just admitted your mistake. You lied. You acknowledge you didn’t call, yes? We can agree you lied. And, fine, you gave away our rooms and there are no rooms. So fix it.
Now. Now. Now.
Sorry. We couldn’t call a Hong Kong number.
(Staring blankly. Not blinking. Dumbfounded.)
Ok, please wait a moment. Very sorry about this. (Nervous laughter)
Eventually she found us two rooms at a Hanting about 10 mins away. She kept mentioning how this other Hanting was much better for us because of the free breakfast. That made me nuts. It was a real exercise in self-control not to just go absolutely Mike Tyson crazy as we wasted over an hour plus and this lady was going on about the great free breakfast we had in store for us the next day.
They agreed to a discount for our trouble (the new Hanting turned out to be 186/night rather than 279/night), which was nice though I would have eaten the 100 RMB to have been able to check in without hassle. We had her order a cab and take us to the other Hanting, pay for the cab, and then check us in. I wasn’t about to leave to the other Hanting, get there past midnight and roll the dice if they had a room. Wouldn’t it have just been easier to turn away the people that wanted our rooms rather than argue with us for 45 minutes, have to frantically arrange new rooms at another branch, escort us to the new hotel and have to pay for a round trip taxi?
I witnessed my first authentic Chinese fire drill when riding out of my apartment complex this morning. The basic form was the same as I have seen back home: A white Volkswagen Jetta was stopped in the intersection where the street meets the side road of the Third Ring Road. The driver got out, followed by the front seat passenger and then a back seat passenger. Each of them walked around the car and re-entered in a different seat. The car then drove away.
But just like the “Chinese food” in America that bears little resemblance to the wide range of fare available here, a real Chinese drill is a far more nuanced and complex performance in its homeland:
- A true Chinese fire drill should be performed not when stopped at a red light, but right in the middle of a crowded intersection, where one can block multiple directions of traffic instead of just a single lane.
- Participants in an authentic Chinese fire drill should not run around the vehicle in a wacky, chaotic matter; instead, it is preferred to keep a slow and steady pace, and not to betray any sign of concern about possibly blocking other vehicles.
- Expert Chinese fire drill practitioners prefer perform at the peak of rush hour; a weekend night out with friends would be unacceptable to the masters of this art.
- The audience shows its appreciation for the performance not with a couple of short taps on the car horn, but instead with extended blasts lasting five seconds or more.
It seems the rest of the world is has barely scratched the surface in terms of understanding this part of Chinese culture.
Text I just received from ODB, who’s at the Beijing airport getting ready to fly to Shenzhen:
7:10pm: Sitting on the plane for over an hour now. Pilot’s last message: “Ladies and gentlemen, we have finally been cleared for takeoff. However, the car that was supposed to push us back has disappeared. I will try to contact the tower.”
Last message: “Ladies and gentlemen, the tow truck arrived and disappeared again. This is not an organized airport. I apologize.”
All announcements are in very good English. Chinese versions are toned down… Last message was English only.
We are finally moving. I guess they found the missing truck. Just one hour late…
UPDATE FROM SZ: The flight was almost two hours delayed. I spent 5 hours on the plane, only 3 hours of which in the air… It is July and the weather in SZ is better than Beijing…
Nator: [as we pass my normal bus stop] Aren’t you going to stop?
Nator: Why not?
Driver: I don’t stop there.
Nator: Where is the next stop?
From PhilStar yesterday:
BEIJING (AP) — Authorities in Beijing unveiled a plan Sunday to make the Chinese capital more bicycle-friendly in the hopes of reducing the city’s choking pollution and alleviating congestion. . .
Beijing has 17 million people and four million cars, a figure that continues to grow and strain the city’s already overloaded road system.
Meanwhile, 19.7 percent of Beijing residents ride bicycles, and authorities hoped to raise that to 23 percent by 2015, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
The city will restore bicycle lanes that were cut to make room for cars and buses, and build more bicycle parking lots, particularly next to bus and subway stations, the report said, citing Liu Xiaoming, director of the Municipal Communications Commission.
In addition to the moves aimed at encouraging bicycling, the government will also implement new restrictions on car drivers, Xinhua cited Liu as saying, without giving specifics.
This announcement is reminiscent of the government’s “plan” for the Beijing subway system, which started off well enough in the mid-20th century but languished for years in the 1980s and and 1990s, even as it became clear that roads alone wouldn’t be enough. It was not until Beijing was awarded the Olympics in 2001 that things really got going.
Aside from a well-developed subway system, bikes are the most obvious way to improve traffic in Beijing. Anyone who cycles in Beijing knows this: The landscape is flat, the roads are wide, and many bike lanes are protected from cars by curbs and rows of trees.
That’s why it is so frustrating to see cars taking over the city at the expense of bikers, pedestrians, and everyone else. I walk to the subway on the road because the sidewalks are filled with parked cars. I ride with my fingers not on the handlebar but hovering over the brakes, waiting for the drivers who play chicken and appear to move as if all the bikers and pedestrians simply weren’t there. I become the Weird Guy when I ride: When a driver behind me honks impatiently, I let him pass, but if he then gets in my way, I scream at the top of my lung for him to move. (After all, isn’t a car horn really just a substitute for a screaming voice?)
I remain skeptical that things will get better for those of use who ride bikes in Beijing, but I am happy to see this article. Only one complaint — why announce it on January 24, when we’re all freezing our asses off and few people are riding?
UPDATE 20100127: A recent “Spacing Toronto” post has some observations about the roads and traffic in Beijing and Shanghai:
In Shanghai and Beijing, it is the norm is to have sidewalks cordoned off from the roadway with barriers forcing pedestrian traffic towards overpasses. While pedestrian grade separation is most common at intersections, in Beijing it is also quite common mid-block. Beijing has adopted a car-dependent design of very wide avenues with multiple degrees of separation. Down the centre, several lanes of heavy traffic crawl through congestion while a low speed access road, parking and wide sidewalks occupy the storefront side of a barrier fence. Pedestrian flyovers here almost always have one steep staircase and one very gradual. The overpasses also often provide stairway connections to bus stops, a considerable investment in bus infrastructure.
What this setup gains in easy access for motorists it loses in attractiveness of the pedestrian environment as the pedestrian is distantly removed from the other side of the street. It also must cause obvious difficulties for the disabled. In many ways, it really seems that the human scale of the city has been lost, and it is not uncommon to hear Beijingers complain about the loss of the old city.
I too was a lot more concerned with “attractiveness of the pedestrian environment” my first couple of years in China. Having settled in a bit over the years, though, I find myself caring more that things just run reasonably well.
But for the most part it is a city of unapologetically wide avenues and broad, open thoroughfares, built on a grand scale rather than a human scale. At least Beijing has found some kind of solution to keep traffic somewhat moving without allowing highways near the city centre.
It sounds as though the writer has stayed on the ring roads and the newer sections of the city, where tens of tens of thousands of policemen, doormen, and security guards are required to keep the lanes open and the sidewalks clear of cars.
Wuhan is rationing natural gas, according to Reuters:
BEIJING, Nov 17 (Reuters) – Central and eastern Chinese provinces faced the worst natural gas shortage in years as supplies were diverted to snowstorm-hit northern China, while producers lacked incentives to expand output because of poor margins, a state broadcaster said on Tuesday.
Gas supplies for taxis in Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei, were halted from Monday while 11 industrial companies in Hanzhou, capital of eastern Zhejiang province, were shut as a result of gas shortages, China National Radio said.
The gas shortage in Wuhan reached 600,000 cubic metres per day and pressure in the gas pipeline was at only half the usual level, it said….
Wuhan is one of the ten largest cities in China and a key transportation hub. One would think the city would have a bit more fuel in its reserves.
Things are bad in nearby cities as well:
The supply deficit in Nanjing, capital of eastern Jiangsu province, had reached 400,000 cubic metres per day, 40 percent of its planned consumption volume, according to C1 Energy, an industry information provider.
Emergency measures to curb consumption had also been taken in other cities including Chongqing, Rizhao, Xi’an, Yichang and Yangzhou, but demand was set to rise further because of expected colder weather, C1 Energy said….
Since it’s only mid November, it seems reasonable to expect colder weather in the weeks and months ahead.
The reason for all this chaos, of course, is the recent snows in northern China:
Unseasonably early and heavy snow in northern China had caused 38 deaths as of last Friday and a surge in energy demand.
The power load on the Northern China electricity grid surged to a high of 127.5 gigawatts this month, 26 percent higher than a year earlier. On the Beijing-Tianjin-Tangshan grid networks, the load increased 24.7 percent from a year earlier late last week.
So far I haven’t seen any acknowledgment of a problem up here in Beijing. My apartment has had heat for a couple of weeks now and is warm day and night. At the office it’s downright hot, and we have to keep the windows cracked just to get some relief. The heat is oppressive even when we turn the adjustable-flow radiators — the first I have seen in China — to the lowest setting.
So let’s sum up:
- The government either induces or tries to take credit for snowstorms in northern China in order to counter an ongoing drought.
- In part because the government neglected to sufficient warn citizens of its intent, daily life is disrupted, transportation grinds to a halt, and dozens of people die.
- Tens or possibly hundreds of millions are affected by fuel restrictions in central China, while Beijingers lounge around in their toasty apartments and offices.
- Indoor heating is still not required in buildings in those same cities, which can get every bit as cold as Beijing.
- We’re about two weeks into a 4-5 month period of weather this bad and, at times, much worse.
As reported in Shanghai Daily, taxi rates are going up this month. Flagfall will be 12 yuan/3km, and each additional km will be 2.40. The additional km charge is a big jump up from 2.10 (prior to May 2006, it was 2.00 yuan/km).
Doubt this will change demand much for taxis in the city.
They promised end of 2008 and sure enough, with a few days to spare, the Wuhan Yangtze Tunnel is finally open. Started in 2004, this massive project is, in fact, the first tunnel under the Yangtze River and cost RMB1.7-2.0 billion (about USD250-300 million) depending on your sources. Though this tunnel is the first, it won’t be the last as other sous-Yangtze tunnels are in process in both Shanghai and Nanjing.
I remain skeptical that this four-lane marvel (pictures make it look like two) will truly relieve the traffic burden in Wuhan. One article claims travel time is reduced from 30 to 7 minutes. It’s a neat engineering feat, but I’m not convinved that Wuhan couldn’t use the cash for other more pressing projects. Like the horseracing track.
Just took this photo with my cell phone on the way to lunch.
A London black cab with Beijing
NATOR ADDS: China Car Times had some info on this back in May.
ODB ADDS: I know Israel was also testing these cabs out a few years ago, as they are supposed to be more secure with the driver being in a separate compartment from the passengers.
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