Well, I finally missed a night of blogging. I was simply too tired to write when I got back to the room last night. I am not alone when I say we are all exhausted at this point. Yesterday was a particularly long day, though a good one.
We begin our days very early because the traffic in Beijing is not to be believed. I suppose the comparisons are all about economy of scale, but imagine a city the size of the 5 boroughs of NYC with 16-17 million people in them. Now think about what happens when newly wealthy people buy cars of their own, want to drive them, and do not carpool. The number of single occupant vehicles is staggering. This leads not only to massive traffic jams, but also incredible pollution. I noticed that my throat was sore in Taipei, also a very polluted city, but it has gotten worse in Beijing. The day we went to the Wall it rained all day, something folks here were happy for because it helps with the pollution. During the Olympics the government will ban private cars in the city of Beijing in an effort to control the flow of traffic.
Speaking of the Olympics, signs the games are coming are everywhere! The construction her is moving ahead at lightning speed. You cannot enter a new neighborhood of the city without seeing massive cranes and heavy vehicles working on some new building. Here are a few of the signs we see regularly around the city.
We spent the bulk of our day today talking with different people around the city. We began at the Tsinghua University School of Journalism and Communication where we heard about how journalists in China are being prepared to try and move China forward to push for a more open press. Then we enjoyed a presentation by the Vice Chairman of the Gallup Research in China about Chinese consumers between 1994 and 2004. The changes that have come with the new wealth and economic growth in China are very interesting ones. The Chinese are getting richer, even though the gap between urban and rural residents is increasing. The next stop was at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing for a briefing from the Department Chief of the political section on the issues that occupy their time. These include human rights and religious freedom, the Six Party Talks (about denuclearizing N. Korea), proliferation of WMDs and the Taiwan question. Our final meeting was with the founder of the Beijing AIDS Institute and an activist (dissident?) here in China. All of these meetings/presentations provided us with a range of perspectives on life in China.
Late in the afternoon we finally headed out for some tourist activities. We went on a pedicab tour of the Hutong district, an area of some 700 year-old narrow streets with quadrangles of homes that represented where common people lived. These homes are around the Forbidden City and were build during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Here is a picture of Jonathan and me preparing for our pedicab ride and an example of a fancy rooftop in the Hutong.
After our short tour, we were left to our own devices for dinner and entertainment. Here is a picture of a few of my colleagues and our tour guide, Sonia, hamming it up for the camera.
It is now nearly 6 am and I must get ready to head out for the day. We leave each morning and do not return until the evening, and today will be no exception. When we return we will need to pack and be ready for an early departure to Lhasa. We are all very excited about this next leg of the trip and admittedly, a little nervous. That's all for now. Have a good one!