Donnerstag, 1. Dezember 2011

1 Beijing. Arrival and living environment


In the early morning hours of 03th May, at 00:30 clock, the Aeroflot plane, a Boeing 767, approached Beijing, the capital of China. Since the approach took place from North-West (Mongolia), but the Beijing airport is situated on the North-Eastern side of the city I was able to follow looking out of the window on a clear night, how the plane virtually circled the town going southwards. Apparently, the airspace over Beijing is locked, because I never saw an airplane or a helicopter in the three  months of my stay that was flying over the city. I had such a strong impression of this new dimension, which will influence my thinking   about China and Europe forever.
I had received the visa after a few days at the embassy in Berlin. It was valid for two months and was later extended for  one month. Three months, the maximum for my trip.
Perpendicular to each other the streets run usually as straight lines through the city. The longest horizontal extension measures about 45 km, which runs straight through the center. Beijing has five concentric highways or highway rings surrounding it.
I was allowed as German to pass the Passport Control "For Chinese people only". There I had to look into a detection device. We took a taxi. They are available in abundance, as  one can still see it in the photos. Most of them are fairly new vehicles, especially from Hyundai of South Korea.
The trip from the airport to the center of Beijing costs about € 6 and takes 45 minutes. It also runs an express train, but not after midnight.
The Chinese Yuan is linked to the dollar. During my stay in China the exchange rate was 1 € = 1.43 $. So then I got about 9.2 Yuan for one euro. All mentioned prices belong to this course.
The taxi driver drove on the expressway to our hotel in Beijing. The street was brightly illuminated and almost empty of traffic. Possible that he drove the wrong direction on the ring expressway to reach the goal, because the trip lasted certainly more than a 3/4 hour. On a street without any repaired areas and very clean. The hedges in the median strip were cut as along a ruler. I was somewhat confused because it did not meet my expectations. But then I saw a truck with defective taillights. Nevertheless, I was somehow surprised. The hotel was easy and quiet, nothing special.

The next day I went to the bank. At the door a guard stood there with a  steel helmet and truncheon. At the entrance of the bank, which was very modern equipped, I pulled a waiting ticket and waited comfortably on a leather seat till  calling my number. So it goes in any bank in Beijing. All have a guard who pulls the waiting ticket sometimes friendly for the customer. Queues do not exist. With my German Maestro card I never had a problem. The majority of banks in Beijing accepted this.

Now it was time to take care of housing for the next three months. We went to a real estate agency, there are a lot of them. They are mostly chains. We walked into a room with a big business shop window, where all young women and men, well dressed, did their duty in front of computers. Immediately they brought us water to drink. The young agency manager asked us in a separate room in order to  offer  a few possibilities. We looked into three apartments together. For the first we were interested. About 60 m2, two rooms with shower room and kitchen. Equipped, but sparse. And also rather dusty. Without wallpaper. In the corner of the living room a modern air conditioning, cooking in the kitchen with gas. The building had 28 floors, we lived in the 12th. 3-4 lifts, depending of the daytime in operation, mostly full and never broken. Downstairs there was a small supermarket, a restaurant and  some kitchens offering simple Chinese dishes. Later we learned that it is cheaper to rent directly from private. Without broker fee and deposit.
The owner came to sign the lease. Rent per month 350 €, plus one month's rent broker fee of 350 €, plus 350 € deposit. And additionell low costs. Electrical power per month not more than 5 €, later more with air conditioning. For electricity, there is a plastic card, which has to be charged in a bank and then plugged into a slot on the power meter and then taking again with you.
In the photo above, the Olympic swimming stadium is seen. It is open to the public. But not so readily. You can not have certain diseases, such as with the skin. It will require a doctor check, which demonstrates one has a normal blood pressure. And, before you jump into the deep water basin, a small swimming test must be completed. The whole thing was for me interesting in that the state virtually takes over the responsibility for the welfare of the citizen.

The living environment: My  life between the Chinese people
This I will discuss in more detail. By the way, I was probably the only foreigner in the entire residential district. I have only seen Chinese.
The nearest subway station was Datunlu-East and it was in the vicinity. The district lies in North-central Beijing, 20 min. walk from the Northern Olympic Park.

I lived in one of the houses at the left side of the photo. In addition to the text the district is seen from the other side. You can see the different colors of the buildings. There are no gray facades. 
When I came out of the entrance of my house, older and younger people sat there on the border of the stairs and had a conversation with the sellers of a vegetable stand. Diagonally in opposite there were some trash cans that stood in the sun and most of them were open. Further away was a garbage collection point,  where workers packed up everything on a truck. Not an easy job in the heat and at least for them a strong odor to endure. Not to mention, there are thousands of people living in a small space in tall buildings. A few yards further a man repaired bicycles on the street surrounded by children and other persons. 
In the first half of May, a fresh, cool wind still blew from the Northwest (Mongolia). But I never experienced the notorious sand storms from that direction. At the end of  May, the daily temperatures increased to between 30-35 degrees Celsius. About 1.5 months no more rain. Always constant hot. Also during the nights. The use of air conditioning brought a bit relief. I bought chilled beer. The 0.6 l bottle costed around 30 cents, 70 cents in the restaurants. It tasted good, like the German beer. When I looked out the window of my bedroom, I had the living quarters of richer people in front of me. A huge area, fenced and guarded by security guards always in smart uniforms. You can not get into it easily, unlike other districts, where guards also are, but you can walk through easily. With the help of a real estate agent,  I could see it extensively and have it fixed with some photos (below). This area has its own restaurants and even a small animal park with beautiful peacocks.
Typical in Beijing for me was that there are in a confined space large social differences. Really only a few meters away, across a side street, we entered an entirely different world of comfort. I was amazed again and again. Lobbies, elevators, lights - real luxury. Such standard never seen before in German residential buildings. Also, the environment, well maintained. The hedges trimmed, flower beds, benches in between, sometimes fountains. So of course the rents or purchase prices of these apartments  are different. I had the opportunity to visit two rentable, furnished luxury apartments. In high-rise buildings, 150-160 m2. Two baths. The kitchens with  German equipment and fitted wardrobes. Rents from: 950 - to 1400 €/month. (Possibly including additional costs)

What I could observe every day in Beijing was a pure meritocracy. I heard that the U.S. is the model for many. One would like to make there his PhD (Dr.), another would like to work for some time in the U.S. or study. But I met no one who told me that he wants to work in Germany. Maybe studying mechanical engineering or just only visiting once a German car factory. Everyone has something to do according to his abilities. The normal level of salary is about 200-400 € / month for the masses.
In contrast, the chief engineer of a big project certainly can earn more net salary than his German colleague.
However, the cost of living is very low compared to Germany. So a 5 kg bag of rice costs from 1.80 to € 2. A trip on the Metro only 22 cents. Bus not more than 4 to 12 cents. Eating in the restaurant for two € 7-8.
Tipping is not common.  

Next to my door lived a number of young people. A residential community. I also met in the house retirees or young couples. It was quiet. No one was noisy at night or recklessly with the television sound. What bothered me a bit was that it was on the stairs, in and outside of the elevators not so clean, although it has been cleaned regularly. In sharp contrast to the spotless streets and parks of Beijing and expensive apartments. Just social differences.
In the cheaper flats are also many people who came from the countryside to Beijing and adapt gradually to the city life. Because of the vast population of China (1.37 billion) not everyone can live in Beijing. Before he needs a permit from the registration authorities. Even a tourist as me must report to the police. A formality.  Near my house there were many small businesses, as shown in the image below. These people are always hard working to earn their bread of life. I got a lot of respect for them.

Left in the photo is well to see a number of workers that maintain a small park. This image can be repeatedly observed in Beijing. There are plenty of activities for these workers. People make their break in the midday heat in the shadow of the trees. In little tin drinking cups is water to quench their thirst, in tubs are simple dishes, like rice and soup provided. It seemed to me that many of these workers have rural origins. However, their appearence was a relaxed, somewhat satisfied feeling. I greeted them and sometimes a little smile came back.                   
Below is a Kindergarten to see which was directly in my neighborhood. In China, there is officially the one-child policy to control population growth. With exceptions. Couples whch themselves come from One-child-families, can have two children. Divorced and married again, too. Minorities are permitted more like one child. In the country side, the one-child policy is not designed to be very strict. For traditional reasons some people would like to have  a son as  descendant. So, it is forbidden to doctors after ultrasound to tell the parents the sex of the child in order to prevent abortions. I did not notice  that there are more boys than girls in Beijing.

I think the government is able to establish with the help of  demographic computer models a homogenization of the population structure in terms of the future.

This little tricycle often stood in front of the house. I was told, that disabled people like to use it for being mobile. But also other vehicles with E-drive for this group are available. On the left photo is my regular supermarket to see.  Below we can see a large long building with a myriad of different restaurants. It should be noted, however, that I found it interesting, if pretty Chinese girls, some in colorful costumes of the regions, animating the entrance, walked to the passers-by. But, my experience with the time was just not to go into those restaurants, rather into such without any  animation.

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