Going West by Mark Powers

Sunday, May 10, 2009

6 weeks and counting in Beijing

So I have been in China for a little over a month and a half, most of that time in the northern edge of Beijing, an area called Lishuiqiao. It feels more like the wild west in this part of Beijing. The streets are wide and dusty, the traffic chaotic, people everywhere going to and fro. That is a distinct feature of the eastern half of China where 90% of the Chinese population is located, it feels like there are people everywhere. You can't hardly go anywhere without seeing someone else.

It feels like a frontier town because everything is this area is relatively newly built, but not necessarily more modern or nicer. Its seems like people rushed to build up on the outskirts of town like a fevered gold rush during the boom around the Olympics. The contrasts of a modern shopping mall nearby surrounded new 30 story high rises, followed by tiny little brick housing left over from 30 years ago where some people line up to buy hot water.

Anyway, there have been some things that have struck me over the past few weeks, good and not so good, so I will be sharing them here. Here are some examples:

For example, Beijing transportation has improved. The subway and monorail system has gotten so much better in Beijing than before. I live near a very convenient station and it is much easier to get around town than my last stay when I often had to take the bus. The fair is still about the same, only 2 RMB per ride, that is about 25 cents. Still very cheap. Taking the bus is even cheaper.

However, I was shocked to see a new phenomena on the streets of China. There wer children literally, in the streets working. They would walk between lanes of traffic, going from window to window, passing out fliers or putting little cards into doors. Drivers hardly slowed down to avoid them.

I was dumbstruck to see this. I asked, how could people pay children to do such things, how could a society permit it? But I understand when some people are so poor, safety and education may not be above survival and eating. As everyone here tells me its not uncommon and that China is a developing country. When I see people struggle to survive here, it makes me treasure even more the opportunities for education and work so available and accessable in the US.



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