Me and Chairman Mao
  Beijing: the Phog!
Don't worry, this post isn't about the weather, since--as far as I can tell--it is never foggy in Beijing. Cloudy, hazy, or just plain smoky, yes; foggy, no. No, by phog I refer, once again, to a photo blog, a word that I invented or at least will try very hard to take credit for inventing.

Anyway, whilst I was in Seattle, one of my friends--you know who you are--expressed some dissatisfaction with the photos I put up here on the blog. To be more specific, he was unhappy with the selection: apparently, middling to decent photos of famous landmarks, world heritage sites, snow and ice based tourist attractions, and random funny things I see on the street--beer trees, Pizza Hut Santas, and so on--aren't good enough for him. Oh no, he wants pictures of the "real" Beijing, the day-to-day Beijing I have to deal with, well, on a day-to-day basis. At least, that I have to deal with when I'm not tromping around the Great Wall, wandering--yet again--through the Forbidden City, or hanging out in bars and restaurants that would be way too expensive for me to go to in the US. (Like the Brazilian restaurant we went to the other night. Let me tell you, the roast duck in blackcurrant pepper sauce was to die for. To die for. And the mashed potatoes weren't too bad either, although the shredded chicken and olive tarts could have used a bit more olive, in my opinion.)(Man, I am really hungry all of a sudden. Did that happen to anyone else?)

Whatever. In any case, because I have--for now--bandwidth to burn, I present to you, in answer to my friend's question, what is and what is likely to be the biggest phog ever. Enjoy!

Life in Beijing: a Phog
You've all, by this point, seen pictures of or at least heard about our fabulous apartment in Seasons Park, the Home of Tycoons. (If not, you can see pictures on Shutterfly.) But how, you ask, do non-Tycoons live in Beijing? In places kind of like this, which are slightly less nicer than Seasons Park, which is what you see in the foreground. I like our place better. It's less … rustic.

Here's another shot of a typical apartment; again, Seasons Park is ironically juxtaposed in the background. (Like you can juxtapose without irony. As if.)

Of course, if you have a bit more money, you can live in the fabulous Ziming Mansion, conveniently located next to a derelict building. (Yes, that's a joke. Well, the money part at least.) To make it even better, if you have a place in the back, you can look out onto the somewhat manicured grounds of Seasons Park and see how the other half lives. (The answer, in case you can't figure it out, is "much better.")

If the Ziming Mansion--such an apropos name, don't you think?--isn't quite your speed, you can live in a place like this, which is definitely typical Chinese housing. There are buildings almost identical to this one all over the place. Of course, they're all being knocked down to make room for new high-rises and malls, but for now you can find plenty of them. And probably at just a tenth of the price of our place. Such a deal!

Here's a little different shot of the same building.

This is a different complex. You can see the wiring work is very well done, so you don’t' have to worry about your power or phone line cutting out …

As I've mentioned before, you also see lots of guards--and guard posts--around, labor being both extremely cheap and extremely plentiful. This is the guard post at our back gate, although why it's there I have no idea, since I have never once seen them stop anyone, be they drivers, bicyclists, or pedestrians. Despite that--although you can't tell in this picture--there are at least four people at this post at all times: two to sit in the little guard house, one to park cars who want to pay to park on the sidewalk (no comment), and one to just sort of wander around looking vaguely official.

Of course, there are also much more official guards, especially when you start getting around some of the diplomatic areas with lots of embassies. As you can see, these guys look much more serious. Not only are they wearing green--always a good guard color--but they're packing heat as well. We live close to one of the embassy areas, so we actually run into a surprising amount of marching soldiers, which is just kind of weird.

Once you get past the guards and out onto the street, there are all sorts of interesting things. There are, for example, guys like this everywhere: he's selling roasted sweet potatoes. I haven't actually gotten around to having one yet, but supposedly they are pretty good.

You can also see lots of people hanging out on the corner and gambling when they should be working. They tend, however, to get slightly cranky when you take pictures of them, so this is as good of a shot as I could get. I'm not sure what they were playing. Well, I know it wasn't mahjong--I got that close--but beyond that I have no idea. (Although they do play mahjong for money here.)

Then, when you actually start walking around, things get interesting. This is the road right outside our back gate. It's a pretty typical Beijing side street. As you can see, despite the fact that it's narrow and has no sidewalk whatsoever, it still supports--a word I use loosely here--car, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic in both directions. Or at least it tries to. In practice, it doesn't work out so well. It's also not so much fun after it rains--which thankfully it almost never does--since both sides of the road turn into gigantic puddles. When it does happen, I usually just walk along the ledge on the right side of the picture. Besides keeping my feet dry, it also keeps me out of the way of any spray from cars driving along the street, which is another not insignificant benefit. I have seen someone get just a bit wet (read: soaked) from this before. It was actually pretty funny. You know, since it wasn't me. (I prefer to laugh at others, not myself. Go figure.)

Despite these difficult conditions, lots of people here still ride bikes. As you can tell from this bike lot, which is right outside our local McDonald's. This is actually a pay lot: you have to pay the lady in the blue jacket with the horizontal white stripes to leave your bike here.

If you don't feel like walking and are very brave, you can also get in one of these ratty, rattly little contraptions, although I don't recommend it. I mean, even if they don't flip or smash into something, the carbon monoxide fumes from the traffic that you are guaranteed to be stuck in will probably kill you.

Depending on where you want to go, you can also take the subway. (It's not a very big subway system, although they are buildings lots of new lines for the 2008 Olympics.) However, this comes with its own set of challenges. At some point a few months ago (I'm too lazy to look for where), I mentioned that people don't actually stand in lines for things like the subway. Instead, they just shove their way on while everyone else is trying to get off. This is a shot of that phenomena in action.

Of course, if you are smart--being rude doesn't hurt, either--you can still manage to not only get into a less crowded car, but even get a seat. Like I did for this shot. (If you infer that, since I am in a less crowded car and have a seat, I am therefore smart, that was completely what I intended. Nice work.)

Getting out of the subway station is a bit trickier. In situations like this, it's best just to push you're way through. No one cares, because they are all trying to do the same thing. Trust me, it works.

As bad as all this sounds, the subway is generally much faster than taking a car or a taxi. (For that matter, so is biking and even walking, on occasion.) The sad thing is, this picture doesn't even represent bad traffic, at least as far as Beijing is concerned. (Side note, since the bigger car always wins in Beijing, the other cars did all get out of the way to let the bus through.)(Also, notice the cleaning lady in the middle of traffic? Three words, or at least three letters: WTF?)

Since traffic sucks so bad, all manner of things are delivered on carts, powered either by an electric motor or by good old-fashioned pedal power. This is our water delivery guy, going back to wherever it is he comes from--the water store, I guess?--with a bunch of empty water containers.

Like I said, "all manner of things are delivered on carts." Although I think this one is an electric model, so he's not actually peddling the couch along. Lazy bastard.

The trash collector peddling by the local middle school--Middle School #55--as he goes about his rounds. Do I need to say "all manner of things" again? I guess not, since I just did. But you get the idea.

Here's my favorite picture, (and a late breaking addition to the phog, because I forgot until just now that I even had this picture) and not just because it's a beer delivery cart, although that doesn't hurt. I'm not really sure what's going on here, but it was definitely what we like to call a "China moment." As far as I can tell, the guy riding on the cart was trying to make sure the cases of beer didn't fall off. I wonder if they drew straws or something to see who got to ride and who got to pull? Whatever the case, the guy pulling the cart got screwed. Obviously. And, just as obviously, the cart rider does have an important job--to keep the beer from spilling--but I just can't help but think there may be a better way to accomplish this. Actually, I'm pretty sure there's a better way ...

Of course, for some things, carts just aren't practical. Like when you're delivering live fish. In that case, it's smarter to jury-rig a freshwater pool in the back of your van with a big black tarp and some steel railings, then take the fish out and pile them into a waterless crate to die as soon as they are delivered. Makes sense to me.

Like any big city, things get pretty dirty in Beijing, and not just because of the terrible pollution and the fact that people pretty much throw trash wherever they happen to be. Oh wait, that's exactly why it gets so dirty around here. At any rate, everywhere you look there are people cleaning--see earlier comment about cheap and plentiful labor--like this lady with her sporty twig broom. I go back and forth between thinking about how useless this sort of sweeping is, and then wondering how dirty it would actually be if there weren't other people like her all over the place.

Here is one of the cleaners at the building where Holly works mopping the driveway. Yes, you read that right.

Curbside garbage collection. Or at least, I think it is. I couldn't tell if he was collecting the trash, or just picking through it for recyclables. Based on his official-looking cart--notice the shovel AND twig broom--I finally decided he was a trash collector. Probably.

Why so many cleaners? It's not just because of the endemic littering, the thousands of old cars, or the fact that lots of people here still use coal for heat, although obviously none of this helps. It's also because of little kids like this. In case you are wondering, that split in his pants isn't for ventilation purposes. And yes, I have seen little kids dressed in pants just like this in, um, "action," as it were. I know, I know, lucky me.

And that, my friends, is life in Beijing. Now you all want to visit more than ever, right? Just wondering ...
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