China is not a bad place, contrary to popular Western myth. Sure, things are goings on behind closed doors, but where aren't they? I'm having a fantastic time here. I've met many wonderful people, not as many desperate directionless types that I had met in Japan, but some real serious hard-working people whom I now consider to be among my closest friends. And there are only few of those, truth be told...
Beijing is working hard now to change things with just about two more years before the 2008 Olympics. Still, as with every place, there could be more improvements. The public transit system has probably undergone the most visible change. Shortly after my arrival two years ago, I noticed advertisements on the flat-screen monitors (the monitors themselves, a remarkable feature) on the buses, whimsical animations of people and all the behavior that should be modified: spitting, throwing things out of a window, forming a line, talking loudly in public places. Many of the buses have been replaced altogether with swanky new plastical models, electronic card-readers have been installed for people who use bus passes, and the attendants now force people to enter from the front door and exit at the back door. Joy of joys! No more fighting to get off the bus! It's still a bit of a fight at the subway, which is a bigger more mayhemous dragon to tame. In its defense, signs have been posted in the subway stations which picture people lined-up in a courteous way at the sides of the doors to allow people to exit the subway car before entering themselves. The unenforced effect, though, is still unnoticeable.
Will Beijing meet the challenge and get its act together in time? Here's a list of my suggestions, without overthrowing the government (85 years last Friday since Communism was founded in China and going strong), to help Beijing brighten its image:
- Trash receptacles: Increasing the number of places to throw away refuse would be a brilliant first step. I can't believe that, in some neighborhoods, people just pile their garbage on a corner and someone comes to take it away. Aside from the unsightly piles and horrid odors, it would really help to improve the appearance of most neighborhoods.
- Traffic regulations: There are almost no rules on the roadways here for both pedestrians and the other. My ride to work each morning is often a nerve-wracking experience as we dodge in and out of lanes and cut-off unsuspecting pedestrians or other drivers. I'm afraid to ride a bicycle here. The police presence on the streets seems to have no effect on drivers. If there is a red light, there is almost always someone who will run it. Motorcycles and cars routinely drive on sidewalks or on the wrong side of the road. Pedestrians are equally guilty. People dangerously cross the streets whenever they like. A country with the largest workforce in the world! Cut back on the internet tiddlywinks and instill some order.
- More respect for the environment: Zero respect for the surroundings, and this relates to the first point I mentioned. People spit in the supermarket and just about anywhere else. Children relieve themselves on the street or sidewalk. If I had a nickel for every ice-cream wrapper I've seen thrown on the street... National treasures and tourist places aren't in much better shape. When people eat on the sidewalk, and there are many sidewalk restaurants, all trash just goes under the table or blows away. Although, recently, I've noticed some of our local eateries in the neighborhood no longer provide outdoor seating. Things are looking up.
- General handicap access to places, such as providing ramps and elevators.
That's enough complaining for now.