I started this post about a week ago and then got sidetracked with a million and one things that are involved when you live in another culture and work at a school that continues to grow rapidly. But now I am back and I will try to focus for a little while and get this started and finished.
Traffic in Beijing is always interesting. In my four years here it has changed rapidly and not for the better I might add. The number of cars of the road continues to increase every month and roads do not get any wider. When I arrived I thought traffic was bad but no worse than living in Toronto or another large city. Now, it is becoming gridlock almost anytime of the day or night. I may be forced to start riding the subway for somethings and to me that is a fate worse than death.
When you think of a subway do not think of Toronto or New York or Montreal. No you must imagine a can of sardines and then double the number and then triple the number. I didn’t know it was possible to put that many people into a subway car but it happens. Close encounters are unavoidable as you end up leaning on the person next to you because the other person has been shoved to move and there is no place to go to except into my space. Anyway, riding the subway in Beijing is stressful but it is efficient and almost ready for the millions that will arrive for the Olympics.
All around us are the signs of the Olympics drawing near. Cranes are coming down. Where there used to be huge scaffolding with green nets all around a building there are now beautiful buildings standing. Terminal Three at the airport has just opened to big fanfare. I am looking forward to seeing it next weekend when I fly to Hong Kong for a few days. There is painting and renovating going on everywhere. I even got a notice that I can soon pick up my Olympic tickets at the Bank of China I designated. How cool is that.
I remember exactly where I was when the announcement came that Beijing had won the 2008 Olympics. I was part of the crowd waiting for the announcement. I didn’t mean to be part of the crowd as I was actually going over to Toronto Island for the day on the ferry but it didn’t matter – there we were. When it became officially official as opposed to unofficially official that Toronto had lost the bid to Beijing I was sad because I realized I would probably never get the opportunity to attend an Olympic Games. How wrong I was. Which only goes to show how dramatically life can change. I not only have tickets for the Beijing Olympics and the Paralympics but I am making plans to attend the Vancouver Olympics as they are being held during the dates of Chinese new year in 2010.
Anyway, back to the topic – I got into a legal taxi (as opposed to the illegal ones I usually use after school) yesterday to come home from work and was surprised by the new feature that was present. A good sized (loaf of bread) red steel box was sitting between the two seats in the front. It was attached to the top of the drivers seat with a strong metal rod and big bolts. I immediately noticed the extensive Chinese script on the box and realized that once again I would have no idea why the box was there so imagine my astonishment when I realized that there was also English on the box. This never happens especially in a cab though the meter now thanks you in English very politely when you go to pay the fare. Back to my story….the box is for charity. It is a coin or money box and you can contribute to the Chinese Charity Foundation and it will be distributed to the proper charities. I figured it was an interesting approach and another sign that the Olympics are close at hand.
When I shared my find with some of my coworkers today there were the usual cynics among them but I have decided to take the high road and believe that a lot of good will come out of the money that I know generous visitors to Beijing will give. So as my Aussie friends say, “Good on ya, Beijing”.
Ok the rambling is just about over but I have included a link to one of the funniest things I have ever read about Beijing traffic. It is long and detailed but it is so accurate of what traffic is like in Beijing I had to include it. Congrats to the guy who wrote and drew it. My favourite part is the old guy on the bicycle pulling his garbage load. The description is what happens every night when I go home from work so now my driver usually takes me the long way round and it costs me an extra 5 RMB but we only turn right. It is worth it.