One of the most annoying things in China is being within spitting distance (I use the term advisedly: expectoration is a national pastime) of your destination, but with a six-lane highway between you and it. Getting to the other side often involves a lengthy detour via an underpass or footbridge, adding hundreds of metres, or, if you’re lucky, a pedestrian crossing. In some cities, that’s OK. In Xi’an, there’s an extra dimension of excitement: there are no traffic lights.
I know it’s puerile, but I couldn’t help laughing when this truck went past me in Beijing: the number plate was such a perfect combination of letters and numbers. I just had time to whip out my camera and grab a slightly blurry shot before it disappeared.
You can’t go to China and not see the Great Wall, can you? Well, I did: I missed it last time! So this time I took a day trip to Bādálǐng (八达岭) to see the Great Wall of China. Badaling is the easiest part of the wall to get to from Beijing and, for the same reason, rather crowded. The Great Wall is the most-visited attraction in the world, and Badaling probably constitutes the bulk of that. Even on a cold Monday in March, the ambience was, in places, more that of a rush-hour subway station than a historical monument.
Yesterday was the hottest day since I arrived in Beijing last week, and the first time that it’s been warm enough to take off my scarf. It was a complete contrast, and the Summer Palace (Yíhéyuán/颐和园) was a great place to spend a sunny day climbing the hills and stairs of the palace itself, and wandering around the gardens—which are, right now, resplendent with blossoming cherry trees.
Panjiayuan flea-market in the south-eastern corner of Beijing’s Third Ring Road is the place to go for Chinese bric-a-brac, wannabe-antique furniture, old books, and shockingly good art forgeries.
Despite having visited China before, I’d somehow managed to avoid the public toilets, more by luck than by intention. I’d been in hotels, in shopping centres, in restaurants—but never in a real no-star public convenience. I went to one today, and found it new, clean—and still completely alien to a westerner. The Olympic tourists are in for a surprise!
This site has received a lot of traffic over the past couple of days. Google Analytics takes a bit of time to show the numbers, but a quick scan of the logs suggests about four and a half thousand visits to my post about the iPlayer on Friday alone. Boing Boing and Ars Technica contributed a great deal of that. I came back from lunch to find that a journalist was calling to interview me. All very exciting, really. But in all the rush, I haven’t had a chance to explain my thoughts in detail.
Some might say that the rot set in with superstar footballers, quaffing Cristal between their sexual escapades. Others might go back further, and point to city traders swigging from their ostentatious magnums of whatever’s most expensive. In any case, it’s now clear that the downward social movement of champagne has now reached something of a nadir: it’s now the tipple of choice for allegedly violent provincial teenagers.
I’m annoyed when global corporations can’t be bothered to spend a small amount of effort localising their products for the non-US market (Microsoft and Apple are both guilty of this) but, that kind of cynical indolence aside, I don’t see the influx of American pronunciations and usages into the British dialect as a bad thing per se. In fact, I find it fascinating to observe the evolution of language in progress.
Imagine a world in which you could only run programs on your computer that were specifically permitted by its manufacturer. Imagine that you couldn’t install a P2P application, not because it could potentially be used for copyright infringement, but because the maker of your PC wouldn’t let you. Imagine that you couldn’t install a VoIP program to make cheap calls, not because of any technical limitation, but because it threatened the profits of a phone company with whom the manufacturer has an agreement.
I already make a point of avoiding Heathrow, one of the worst airports in the world. (My next flight, for example will be from London City via Schiphol in Amsterdam.)
The introduction of ID cards has been, so to speak, on the cards since the instinctively authoritarian Tony Blair and David Blunkett were in power. Since first proposed, the ID card has gone through many changes of identity, being promoted as a solution to a progression of bogeymen, including immigrants, benefits cheats, and terrorists. It wouldn’t surprise me if paedophiles were in there somewhere, too. Throughout all this, it’s been clear that it’s been the idea of identity cards that’s come first, with the rationalisations being very much ex post facto.
Here’s a word of advice: don’t turn up at the Chinese Embassy in London just after the nine o’clock opening time expecting to quickly pop in and submit your visa application before heading in to work.
I’m planning to go to Beijing on holiday at the end of the month, and one thing that I need to do is to get a visa. It’s not a complicated process: fill in a form, pay a fee, and come back in a few days, based on my previous experience. If I’ve already filled in the form before I get there, it saves a bit of time.