Saturday, September 21, 2019
Day 32 - We Have Been in Beijing a Month - Watching an FSU Football Victory
I love these electric buses. Super quiet and fast. When the battery goes low - they put their "pick ups" up and they touch the wires - and run like electric trains. It makes for a very smooth - vibration free ride. It is the future - all for 15 cents a ride. Senior Citizens - it is free - if you live here permanently.
Beijing Main Train Station - funny - you cannot enter without a ticket - heavy security in that low front building.
Lulu and her Grad Asst - Tu. They use the peace symbol a lot here. Tu has been very helpful.
Is is Sunday morning at 8 AM - we have just watched the FSU football victory over Louisville on television. After a month in China - our eyes have been opened to this different place. Lots of things we expected - never happened. Lots of nice things we never expected did happen.
I expected a spartan life - a dormitory style apartment - lack of nice facilities - and the dreaded "sh**hole" toilet. I expected it being difficult to impossible to find my way around. I expected being shutout to the news of the world. I expected not to be able to follow Florida State Sports. I expected terrible choking pollution - dragonian traffic - and police and guards checking our identification and locking us out of certain areas. I expected our bedroom to be bugged - our finances to be monitored - and the Internet to be non-existent. I expected people stopping me on the street and trying to be smuggled out of the country. I expected people to be dressed in flour sack uniforms. I expected my web page to be shutdown - before I could say anything. I expected my camera to be confiscated.
I could not have been more wrong.
First off - our flight over was really nice - with a bed. We slept almost the whole 15 hours. We arrived fresh. Fulbright put us up in 4 star hotels for the first week for orientation and adjustment to jet lag. Meanwhile - the faculty of Beijing Normal University was busy painting and renovating our permanent apartment. They assigned Lulu a teaching assistant - who walked us through our medical tests - residency cards - getting Internet - getting a local bank - etc.
OUR APARTMENT - The apartment is spacious and has a great view. We have a beautiful king size bed overlooking the city. We have DSL Internet which is good - but sometime waivers. We can watch our home TV using our slingbox back home over the Net. We can listen to CNN on Sirius Radio and on regular TV. We can avoid any censorship. We have a normal bathroom - our own hot water heater - full kitchen - washer - TV - microwave - gas stove - refrigerator - and a split AC in each room. We have a dinette and a desk - also a separate guest bedroom. It is normal to hang your laundry to dry here - we do it - no sweat. I do a load a day. I also hand-wash our dishes.
TELEPHONE - The real star of the whole month is my T-Mobile iphone. It is my regular phone plan from home. No changes. We pay $90 a month for two iphones - text - data - calls over Facetime. The t-mobile cellular service is so steady - sometimes it is better than the wifi of our apartment. Nothing is censored - NY Times - Wash Post - Tallahassee Democrat - Times News - Wells Fargo Bank. Facebook - Google - Wikipedia - everything is free and clear - without using a VPN. Without this t-mobile iphone service - I could see myself getting homesick. Any time I want I can see the cameras from our home - and see what is going on. I can FaceTime with my sons - their families - the grands - and friends.
FOOD - I was worried I would not find anything to eat. My diet of breakfast cereal - eggs/bacon - hamburgers - hot dogs - chicken - beef - pork - pizza - pasta - would not exist here. I doubted that I would like the Chinese foods. This was all prejudice. There are so many restaurants here - Chinese - French - German - American - Italian - etc - etc - etc. The prices are insanely cheap. In the grocery stores you still have to figure out labels - but "there is an app for that."
TRANSPORTATION - Buses - Subways - Taxis - they are all great and cheap. Cabs are metered - which starts at $2. Then it seldom goes over $6. You pay using a "apple pay" type program called WeChat. WeChat is hooked to your bank account - example - when a cab ride is done - you shine your iphone on the cab's bar code - and bam it is paid. When you get on a bus - you scan your card or phone. When you get off it charges you 15 cents! That is almost anywhere in town. The buses are electric - new - super clean - and every bus has a driver and a host. The host is like a guard that helps you on your way. He will tell you where to get off - etc. They have been very nice to us. The subways are super fast - clean - and very non-threatening. You can sit on the floor they are that clean.
BIKES - SCOOTERS - CARS - TRUCKS. They are quiet - and non-polluting. You must watch out - they are so quiet - they sneak up on you. You see everything from Maseratis to Fords. Diesel trucks are banned from the city. I love the electric scooters and bikes and trikes. I want to bring some home.
MUSEUMS - There are over 300 museums in Beijing alone. Most of them are free if you are over 60 - or a foreigner. We are here 150 days - and I could do two a day and not hit them all. I am saving some of the big ones for when our three sets of guests come. Planes - Trains - Cars - History - Animals - Money - Art - Books - and even Tap Water and Watermelon - there are museums for them.
NUMBERS - USA has about 300 million people. China has more than 4 times that - 1.3 billion people. You would expect it to be overrun here - it is not. And we are in Beijing - the capital city of 25 million. Compare that to NYC of 8 million. We are in the top city. People work hard here - dress nicely - have nice cars - fancy condos - and love to eat out. I only left the city for one day - but had lunch for $1.80 that was fantastic. We took our friend to a very nice Hot Pot restaurant - which included hand massages - drinks - many main courses - desserts - and a guest bag for home - for $35 for 3 - no tip - no tax - you pay with your iphone. Our guest did not even know what a tip was.
HEALTH - So far we have not been sick from food or anything. They say the water has lead in it - so we buy coke and coke bottled water. The water business is big here. The air gets polluted sometimes. We have an air quality app on our iphone. We have had 4 high days - only 1 rain day. In the last 10 years Beijing has gone from Top 10 polluted cities in the world to out of the Top 100. That is because of electric vehicles - and using less coal and diesel fuel. There are big incentives to buy electric vehicles and it shows. Some people where masks - maybe one in a 100 - but I think it is more a political and style statement. They have their own Tesla car plant in ShangHai.
We are both very healthy - our back surgeries have been wonderful - no bad side effects. It was my biggest worry that I would screw up this opportunity for Lulu. I take two prescriptions - blood pressure and cholesterol - and I brought 180 days worth with me. I also take gummy probiotics and fiber - and brought a good supply. The only other drug I take is aspirin. They are really hard on illegal drugs and drunk driving. There are hospitals all over but I worry about the language barrier. We travel all over the world - and it is nothing like this. Very few know English. We have an app on our phone to translate. I write in English and it translates to Chinese - and vice versa. They are used to this and comply. Chinese people are very nice and helpful. They are used to things we find as different.
USA EMBASSY - Fulbright and the USA Embassy has been very kind. They helped us in many ways - and invited Lulu to work on projects at the Embassy. It is nice knowing it is just 5 miles away - in case of any trouble.
EMBRACE THE DIFFERENCE - On the first year we went to London - the FSU Director said "Embrace the Difference!" Enjoy things that are different - you might learn something new and good. That is my motto. I enjoy people watching us wherever we go. It is fun sneaking a little smile from a toddler as they stare. They might want to touch Lulu's hair - or get a picture together. They do love Americans! If you are a hip teenager or 20ish - you wear a shirt with something English on it. It may seem strange to us what it says - but it is the mark of being hip. China is a country steeped in 4500 months of tradition - but enthusiastically leaping into the future. Their economy has sailed past Japan - England - Germany - Russia - to being the number 2 economy. The current GDP of the USA is $20 trillion - the GDP of china is $13 trillion. One is growing much faster.
WORK - It is common to work here 12 hours a day - 6 days a week. You see people all over catching a few winks of sleep. Even the hosts on the bus catch some shuteye. The vibrator chairs at the mall are always filled with nappers. A computer engineer can make $300,000 a year - and drive a Porsche to work a couple miles a day.
GUARDS - Yes - there are guards all over. You get used to them. At each subway entrance - there are 2 stoic national guards. They sort of stand back to back. At every subway entrance there are at least 6 TSO type guards. You do the metal detector thing - but then everyone gets a crotch scan with a wand. I am surprised they have some nice looking young ladies doing this :-) It does not bother me one bit. Each bus had a guard - but he is more of a host - talkative - helpful. Museums scan you pretty good. The US Embassy - has big security. There are no guards at our apartment - but we do have two gates that require key fobs to open. Also there are tons of cameras over here - TONS. We have nothing to hide. Only once did a guard stop me from photographing him - HALT - and I did.
This place offered some American products - like pretzels. Many stores have plastic magnet curtains - to hold the AC in - they seem effective.
October 1st is the China Birthday - 70 years ago - the current government. Chairman Mao. They have a big parade - but we cannot go to parade ground. Only party people form all over China. I would like a pass.
My favorite hospital - Stomatology. It means dental - I thought it meant belly.
70 years old. I am older than this China government.