The Growing Pain of Industrialisation. Foul Air for Sale.
26.10.2012 22 °C
I had been to Beijing twice before in the 1980s, and 1990s. In hindsight, it seems like I do this once-a-decade pilgrimage to Beijing without any prior intention. But this time I just tagged along, ok, more accurately I was dragged along, because Etta is working in Beijing. I'm only an extra luggage (not overweight, mind you). If not hand luggage, or handsome, but handy to have.
This trip is very different from the 2 previous Beijing trips. In the last 2, I joined packaged tours and was cattle driven - like they do in Texas by cowboys - around in luxury coaches (I'm a 5-star sheep), and hardly touching the ground with my own feet until the destinations. Of course, travelled this way had many advantages. If you don't speak the language, this is only few practical choice remains. Most Chinese don't speak English even today. In the 1980s and 90s, the number was much smaller.
I remembered when our coach arrived in the Tian'anmen Square, we were only 1 of the 3 coaches !!! (This may also due to the fact that it was December). And the enormity of the Square was enhanced by its desolation. It's hard to imagine today. Apart from a scattering of foreign tourists (there weren't any local tourists, hence the sparsity), the only local was what I imagine a PLA soldier, who guarded the Square. Unlike today where the Square (and every official building) are guarded by these ubiquitous security guards. Guards like this didn't even exist. He dressed more like the soldier in this statue. I asked him to pose a photo with me. Yes, that was 1 precious photo, and it was taken with a film camera before digital camera was made available (I'll try to dig out that photo 1 day, and scan it digitally to put it in my blog to share it with the world a glimpse of the world that flickered in and out of history).
Since China has changed at such a breakneck pace that visit it once a decade is literally like visiting another country. Everything changes, not the least people, drastically.
This time, I could get to the places that I missed in those itineraries, which meant I'll skip destinations like the Ming Tombs, Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Great Wall of China that I had ALL been twice. I want to see the more 'REAL' Beijing, not the package tour Beijing.
The airport is hazy, and all the way to Novotel in Wangfujing where our hotel Novotel locates. I couldn't help but thinking about the infamous London Fog. I thought this must be caused by the pollution in China that I heard so much about. The price to be paid for industrialisation. Seems like ALL major developed economies have to go through this dirty phase during their industrialisation. We had London Fog in the 19th century; Tokyo in the 1980s where the polluted air was bottled - actually canned - to be sold to tourists as souvenir; California's highway in the 1980s had its fair share of notoriety of traffic jams and pollution. Today, it's Beijing's turn. This industrial teething problem seem to be universal and unavoidable. On the other hand, Japan and California is at the forefront of green technology research. And follow this logic, China would be a big investor in the green technology today. Yep, it is. It's both the biggest producer and user of green technology.
The visibility was quite low. I hope it isn't like this everyday. A local, the Singaporean who has been working in Beijing for the last 13 years, told us that this haziness isn't typical. Well, I hope so. To find out how the weather condition is like tomorrow, you will need to read my next diary/post entry.
The traffic in Beijing is better than Jakarta or Bangkok, but much worse than HK, Singapore or Tokyo. The terrible traffic in these Asian cities are caused by bad traffic management. The economy moves such a fast pace that the traffic regulator couldn't keep up. Nobody could accuse the Chinese government for not doing anything, or caring. The PRC government is more of an overly protected meaning overbearing - father who's a bit of control freak. In fact, they're an open, long time admirer of Singapore government.
One of the traffic control measure they put into place is limiting private cars with certain plate numbers to be allowed on the road each day. For example, today, private cars with license plates that end with 1 or 6 will not be allowed to drive in Beijing CBD (in other words, a
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