Beijing’s Air is Dirty and Polluted

Posted in Beijing, Environment, Olympics, Travel and Tourism at 15:05 by

Mul’s recent post on pollution got me thinking a bit.  It’s pretty obvious to anyone who comes to Beijing, or any number of places in China, that the air is terrible. A few weeks ago, Steve Andrews released a study, apparently done on his own, claiming that the government had been playing with the pollution numbers:

The study, written by an American environmental consultant, found flaws in Beijing’s “Blue Sky” system of air quality monitoring stations and noted that the city changed its method for measuring pollution in 2006. In particular, officials stopped including readings from two stations in polluted areas and began using readings in three other stations in less polluted locales…

“Irregularities in the monitoring of air quality account for all reported improvements over the last nine years,” said Steven Q. Andrews, the author of the study, in a telephone interview.

I have met Steve once or twice here in Beijing; he seems like a smart and honest guy, and I don’t doubt the veracity of his findings. What’s fascinating to me is how the debate on this topic, especially in the run-up to the Olympics, is focused on the government’s goals of “blue sky days”, the pollution index, etc.

When the pollution here gets bad, you can see it. You can smell it. So why are so many people caught up arguing over numbers with the government? Even by winning this argument, what has been proven, other than that there were a lower number of “blue sky days”? As Steve’s report shows, the numbers were likely fudged to begin with. I can’t see how the government lets pollution stop the Games, and I can’t see any real solution to the pollution problem in the coming years. Beijing alone isn’t the problem; you can find horribly dirty air in many rural areas far from big cities. China’s in trouble, and it’s going to be many years before things get better.

UPDATE: Here’s Steve’s original editorial in the Wall Street Journal.


Beijing to Shanghai in Five Hours

Posted in Beijing, Industry, Shanghai, Travel and Tourism at 19:17 by


A subject of debate for over 20 years, the Chinese government finally kicked off construction on a multi-billion dollar, multi-year project to build a high speed railway between Beijing and Shanghai. Expect to cost a whopping $21 billion, the project is scheduled for completion by 2013. Traveling at a speed of 350 km/h, the approximately 1300 km journey will be cut from the current 10 hours to about five hours.

I’m not opposed to the project, but I am curious what argument was most persuasive to the decision-makers to justify the cost. Green considerations, like reducing carbon emissions with fewer flights? Increase passenger capacity on a crowded route? It strikes me as a large amount that could perhaps be directed elsewhere.


No Complaints with Zunyi

Posted in Beijing, The Second Tier, Travel and Tourism at 19:02 by


A recent City Weekend article, “Culture of Complaint“, investigates the constant whining among expats in China. I’m as big a whiner as the next person, but the topic of the first complaint is what caught my eye:

After a three hour drive along an unfinished road in a rattling “mianbao che,” Anna Grace Carter and her husband finally reached their new home-a cement block building located on a dirt road off an empty highway in Zunyi, Guizhou province.

“The first six months I hated it and wanted to go home,” Carter admits. “I tried to like it. I pretended I liked it.” Despite the fact her apartment didn’t lack for amenities, she wasn’t used to the “squatty potty” and certainly not ready for the crushing isolation that comes with being one of a handful of foreigners in town.

I was lucky enough to visit Zunyi on a bicycle trip last February with SHTig and ODB. We loved it! It’s a great little city in northern Guizhou, famous in ChiCom lore as the site of the 1935 Zunyi Conference, where Mao stepped forward as the supreme leader of the Communists in China. Read more about the Zunyi Conference here.

Zunyi sits along a river in a mountainous area with beautiful scenery and clean air. It’s a major destination for Party-sponsored tours and conferences, and as a result it feels like a prosperous place, unlike most of the rest of Guizhou. We spent Chinese New Year’s Day there, watching a lion dance from while sipping freshly brewed coffee at a Dicos overlooking a town square. It was certainly not the place for Ms. Carter, though:

Coming to China was not Carter’s idea. Her husband, who had been fascinated by Chinese culture and kung fu movies for years, decided to make the move when Anna was unable to find work in Italy. Neither of them spoke a word of Chinese…

Now happily ensconced in Beijing, Carter, whose dream job is to be a presenter on CCTV9, finds that she complains much less. “In Zunyi people stared at me and treated me like an alien, not like a person,” says Carter, who would even avoid going out because of the pressure.

Anyway, if you have the chance to go there, whether for a day or a year, I highly recommend Zunyi.


Disney World needs to hire a few Mandarin speakers

Posted in Law and Order, Manners, Travel and Tourism, USA at 20:37 by


China and the United States signed a memorandum of understanding on December 12th agreeing to grant U.S. tourist visas to Chinese tour groups. At present, Chinese visitors to the United States are restricted to work or student visas. Chinese overseas travel has boomed in recent years and many U.S. states and businesses eager for Chinese tourism dollars have been exerting pressure on the U.S. federal government to ease travel restrictions.

Concerned that Chinese travelers abroad are beginning to earn themselves a bit of a reputation, the Spiritual Civilization Steering Committee of the Communist Party of China Central Committee has decided to take a proactive approach. Last year, the committee launched an educational campaign to prevent Chinese travelers from, in the words of the China Daily, “disgracing” the country. Here’s a list of the 4 “do’s” and 9 “don’ts” for Chinese travelers.


Beijing: 36 Hours by the Gray Lady

Posted in Beijing, Travel and Tourism at 21:52 by


The Sunday New York Times gives their version of a 36-hour weekend itinerary for Beijing. Personally, I don’t have any huge argument with it: Beihai Park, Tiananmen Square/Forbidden City, roast duck at Dadong, a drink at a bar in the Drum and Bell Tower neighborhood, the Imperial Academy, jazz at Centro in the Kerry Centre Shangri-la or rock at D-22 in Haidian district and, finally, shopping for “antiques” at the Panjiayuan flea market. The Times gives a few hotel suggestions: the Grand Hyatt and two courtyard hotels, the Hotel Côté Cour SL and the Bamboo Garden.

My weekend trip itinerary would not be incredibly different. I would consider adding in a walk down Nan Luo Gu Xiang (also, head over to www.nlgx.org for an outstanding map of the neighborhood), “cultural” shopping on Liulichang, the Summer Palace, and perhaps a stop at the Urban Planning Museum located a hair south of Tiananmen Square.

My big question marks are with their dinner recommendations: dinner at Kong Yiji (Zhejiang cuisine) and Pure Lotus (vegetarian food). First, the vegetarian restaurants are at best a novelty, even for true vegetarians, who can do just as well at regular restaurants in China. Second, why recommend Zhejiang cuisine for a visitor to the North? For a first time visitor to Beijing, how about dumplings? Or a courtyard restaurant such as Hua Jia Yi Yuan on Gui Jie?

All in all, though, a strong effort.


May Day! May Day! China Cancels Holidays

Posted in Rumors, Travel and Tourism at 11:25 by

NDRC considering new holiday arrangement

Momentum has gathered, and now the State media is heavily advancing, though not clearly rallying around, the view that the 7-day long Labor Day holiday in May is no longer necessary (People’s Daily Article). The plan as currently contemplated would reduce the May holiday to one day off (as is done in Hong Kong), and add 3 new one-day holidays of Dragon Boat Festival, Tomb Sweeping Day, and Mid-Autumn Festival.

State media articles point out what what everyone knows is bad about these 1-week melees. People Mountain People Ocean. Tickets for anything are scarce. Read the rest of this entry »


Do you stiff Chinese wait staff? Shame on you, says Forbes

Posted in Internet and Media, Laowai, Manners, Travel and Tourism at 12:00 by

According to this Forbes Global Guide to Tipping, when dining, “in China, giving 3% is expected at restaurants, while in Hong Kong, 10% to 15% is the norm if the gratuity isn’t included in the bill. For taxis, you don’t need to tip in China, but in Hong Kong, you should round the fare up to the next dollar amount.”

3% tips in China?  Where and how did Forbes’ come about this silly percentage?  With a simple fact check (or an actual visit to China), Forbes would know that tipping for meals is not the norm in China, except at high end places where service charges are added automatically.  My guess on how they got this percentage: Read the rest of this entry »


eLong Gets Its Act Together (almost)

Posted in Travel and Tourism at 13:19 by


I received an email from eLong with the long overdue news that it will now accept foreign (i.e. non-Chinese) credit cards for payment without the need for a ridiculous payment authorization letter. For those not familiar with the aggravation, if one wanted to pay for a flight with a foreign credit card eLong required you to call them (or they would actually call you) with credit card details and follow that call with a fax or email attachment authorizing the payment that included your signature. Here’s an excerpt from their yet-to-be updated website FAQs:

“For credit card payments, an eLong agent will contact you to retrieve your credit card information by phone. Please note that we require you to fax or email a signed authorization form before we process payments from foreign-issued credit cards.”

Well, no longer. The complaints must have piled up – I certainly lodged mine when paying for tickets. The email announced that payment would be “Hassel Free from Now!”

Next job for eLong, a publicly-listed company: make sure to use spell check on English language e-mails.

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