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The International Writers Magazine
Life in Beijing

Drab Beijing a sleeping giant
Paul Haire

Beijing can be a pretentious place, made up of drab apartment blocks, smog and traffic jams. The air is dry and rain almost non-existent. With the Olympics coming up next year and the Chinese economy expected to become the worlds largest within a relatively short tiime, Beijing is a place which will capture an increasing amount of the world's attention

 In Beijing, there is no real centre to speak of apart from Tiananmen square, everything is very spread out. There is a drab functionality, a make-do-and-mend feeling in contrast to it's glamorous and glitzy southern sisters Hong Kong and Shanghai. Here government is the main business. It's influence can be felt everywhere. Here, people seem somehow more serious, maybe even more self important,  security guards are more officious, shop keepers more businesslike and bars more cliquey and boring. Everyone wants to climb the social ladder. In Beijing guanxi - the Chinese tradition of doing favours for people to get what you want is hugely important, Making connections are the name of the game.

Preparations for the Olympics continue apace, new subway lines and stadiums are feverishly being constructed. Will Beijing be a good host city? Who can say? The choice to host the Olympics here had as much (if not all) to do with politics as with the city's suitability. One thing is certain, something will have to be done regarding the traffic problem. The world's media and sportsmen and women will not like having to sit in traffic for two hours to get to training or their next event. As for the pollution, city bosses have announced that they will shut down factories surrounding and within Beijing for three months before the Olympics - testament to the governments determination that the games be a success. Though whether this action will have any effect remains to be seen. (It will certainly affect the local economy. Ed)

The ordinary people feel proud and excited about the Olympics coming to Beijing. Proud that China will once again be the 'centre of the world' and show that it will soon, if not already, be a major player on the world stage and excited, excited to have this worldwide event held in their city. The tickets are to be priced so that everyone can afford to attend the events, so crowd numbers should be high.

Will Beijing grow into a great world city? It has the pedigree, the history. Work is being done on an unprecedented scale to modernise the city's infrastructure. New ultra modern buildings are being proposed including the 'digital building' from where the Olympics will be organised.

For me though, Beijing is just too big and lacks the vitality and excitement of other Asian and world cities such as New York, Shanghai, Sydney or London. Certainly the people of Beijing have a lot to be proud of, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, temples, the old neighbourhoods or hutongs and of course the Great Wall. However, due to the events of the past and the continuing tight control of everyday life by the goverment, the city will be cloaked with a sense of  fear which prevents spontaneity and vibrancy. This means that until there is more freedom in Beijing it will remain, at least culturally, a sleeping giant.

On Life in Beijing 19 01 2007

It was after a rather heated exchange with my girlfriend that I found myself staring at the flashing lights and loud noises of the computer games arcade near our apartment. I'd just had dinner and with nothing better to do and in need of a bit of stress release (which could involve shooting as something) I decided to give it a go.

I walked in and had a quick look around, it wasn't particularly busy, there were the obligatory spotty teenagers and a few older guys, whom, without wanting to judge were probably single accountants or IT consultants. There were shooting games, racing games, fighting games, skiiing games everything you could possibley do on a computer. I decided I was not goint to have a shot on any of them otherwise 'Hey daddy, look at the laowei who's just fallen off the jet ski machine', how to create a crowd in five seconds! I'll just have a shot on the shooting games I thought.

I went to get my coins and came back with what seemed like an inordinately large amount of change for 40 rmb. I picked the game with the biggest gun obviously, it involved shooting robot aliens, each level was a different location, the strip in Las Vegas or an underground bunker in Yosemite. The aliens swooped here and there on their flying scooters as I picked them off using the tactic of pull the trigger and don't let go as the gun vibrated manically. I quickly became absorbed in blasting the hell out of them, I stopped myself and tried to regain composure, but I felt my pulse getting faster, my grip tightening on the barrel of the gun as I blew away the virtual cyber warriors! I reached level three but was killed so I had to put more money in. There was a countdown which made me panic. My fingers fumbled with the change and wouldn't work properly, I couldn't get out my money! If there hadn't been a countdown it would have been fine, if for example the computer had said 'You have one minute to put in change, we'll wait, don't worry, take your time, I'm not going anywhere' that would have been fine, but no '10, 9, 8...'. Finally I put some more coins in and continued my intergalactic fight against terror. When I had finished I realised I was hooked, I went onto the drumming game, the boxing game, the skiing game and even played a basketball game. I was having a blast! It was all so cheap too, only about three rmb per game, so my 40 rmb lasted a long time. When I finally ran out of money I was hot, sweating and had a racing pulse. I picked up my jacket to leave and noticed a big, sticky patch of gob all over the inside - I'd put it on someone's spit. TIC I thought (This is China). It was a small price to pay for an hour of unadulterated pleasure though. I'd reconnected with my inner child 'Til next time robots' I thought - 'I'll be back', and then I went to the toilet and washed the gob off my coat!

© Paul Haire Jan 2007
paulhaire at

Zen: The Art of Drinking Tea
Paul Haire in Beijing
ot so long ago I decided my spiritual side needed some fine tuning and so I would go to a tea ceremony, led by a Zen buddhist 'expert' at the Chinese Culture Club of Beijing. more

On being Uber Cool in Beijing
Paul Haire I am unemployed once more, as a result I went out last night to a bar in Beijing recommended to me by a friend in an attemp to drown my sorrows. It was located obviously in the allotment in front of Beijing's drive-in cinema (where else?) an auspicious start, non?


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