Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More Things I'll Miss About Beijing

Since my last post of things I'll miss about Beijing when I leave, I've taken note of a bunch more:

7: Cheap Shopping
Many of the things I've been posting about mention the relatively low costs. Shopping is no exception. Seasonal foods cost next to nothing when they are in season. We've been buying watermelon almost every day for around 0.50USD each.

But what is REALLY cool is the clothes markets. If you are okay with knock-offs, you can be armani-clad for a few dollars. Since I've been here I've had four bespoke suits tailored for me (two were made in Thailand - shout outs to Tom and Caitlin for their gracious hospitality, again). I bought a pair of leather versace shoes and countless tshirts and other textiles. I plan to do a bunch more shopping before I leave.

8: Bargaining
Though this also relates to money, I love how different bargaining culture is here. In the US, there are very few times in which one can bargain. Best I can tell, excepting business negotiations, in professional settings, it is limited to real estate and automobile purchases. I've also seen bargaining at informal marketplace settings (flea markets, dirt markets, peddlers' markets, etc).

In China, bargaining is a way of life. The only places you DON'T bargain are department stores or supermarkets. Individual free standing stores are almost always up for it. Especially street stands and vendors, but also clothes stores and more! If a price is too high, offer less. If the vendor is offended, that is the end of the conversation. More likely, he'll feign offense and when you start to walk away, he'll lower his price.

9: Random Energy Conservation Techniques:
All the hallways in our building have "clappers". This means lights are only on when the "clapper" thinks someone is walking in the hall.

Our aircon (I like calling air conditioners aircons now) has a default setting of "on for one hour". This sounds annoying, but is surprisingly practical. You turn it on while you fall asleep and then it goes off once you are asleep. You wake up sweaty - but c'mon, that was going to happen anyway.

Buses turn off their engines at red lights and during traffic jams. Everyone should be doing this, and I think its pretty cool that Beijing has informed their drivers how to save fuel and pollute less.

A cottage industry has sprung up around recycling - much more than a few homeless people claiming trash can territory. There is a fairly organized, independant recycling collection service going on. It's common that I take out our trash in the morning and by mid-day, someone has come into the stairwell to take out all recyclables (including cardboard).

Maybe I've been paying too much attention to environmental stuff lately because of Veronica's program, or because of how filthy the air is here, but these little things make me happy.

10: Witnessing History:
There is so much happening in China right now. Whether it is Shanghai hosting the first Pride Parade in China (this weekend), or the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (Veronica got to go!), there is always something happening.

three gorges dam

Construction and development are growing at such a rapid clip, its overwhelming. I've stopped walking to count construction cranes within sight and the most I've seen has been 21. Its normal to see a dozen. I've heard that something like 75% of construction cranes in the world are here.

11: My Building Complex Has 11,000 Residents:
When my parents were here, I was showing them the huge variety of commercial establishments in the vicinity of our apartment. We decided to figure out how many people lived in the area. Wikipedia says that Beijing has roughly 7,000 inhabitants per square Km, but our complex is more densly populated than that.

We live in one three-towered building in a complex that has 11 towers. By our estimates, each tower has roughly 1,000 residents - assuming 90% of units full and 3.3 residents per unit (one child and some grandparents - an average urban Chinese household). There are 11,000 people living in the square 1/4 Km that is our "compound". No wonder we have our own gym with diving facilities, supermarket, movie theatre, dry cleaner, coffee shop and three hair dressers.