In the last weeks, during the APEC conference, we were spoiled with blue skies. But today Beijing put on its grey face again, as if it wanted to remind me, that it is really time to go. Something changed though, since APEC is over. The website of the American Embassy air quality monitor is censored now by Government Order. And the published reading for the city average shows AQI 78, which is now called “good”. Somehow I can’t match the view out of the window with the data. I must be just in an exceptionally bad area, if the city average is still 78. Happy for you guys out there in the rest of Beijing. And sorry for dragging down the city average.
My wardrobe and bed made a long way. Custom made in Hong Kong in Chinese Style, then shipped to Lamma Island, dragged by hand on a cart over the car-free tropical island. Later let down from the balcony on a rope to the garden, shipped first to Hong Kong Island and then trucked up to Beijing over about 2500 kilometers. And even more than that they have been part of my home, where ever they were. It is time to leave them behind in China, as that’s where they belong. I am very happy that they will go to a 200 year old Courtyard Hutong, which is owned and renovated by the grandson of a teacher of Deng Xiaoping, who went to France in the 1920s. As they always had contacts to foreigners, in the Cultural Revolution, they were accused of being spies and him and five other colleagues were murdered by his students. Now, Mr. Zhang, who is the grandson, is bringing the courtyard back to the spirit of his grandfather and host international travelers, who do not travel as “tourists”, but as guests. Once I was asked, why I don’t buy antiques. And my answer was, that I prefer to make things which are so good that they will become antiques. Perhaps, that’s what happened.
I wanted to post a small photo gallery of some of our Saturday walks in Beijing. But since APEC is over, not just the smog came back, but also the Internet is more crippled than before. There has been a lot of cynical talk about Beijing being able to clean up its mess for the international conference, but not for its own people. But I think this was a very interesting experiment, determining how much industrial production, traffic reduction and economic activity actually has to be shut down or switched to something else to make Beijing healthy again. At least we have a data point now. Getting 50 % of cars of the road, is one of them. Closing more than 2000 factories is another one. Good to get a feeling for the magnitude. This needs more than just a few filters in chimneys and another subway line. It means a whole structural change, not just of Beijing, but also in the wider surroundings. And another datapoint we have, is to see how nice Beijing could be. When I had lunch with a friend last week, he named Beijing “The World’s Worst Paradise”. Compared with other cities, I agree.
As of Internet, a few days ago my VPN account expired and won’t expand its service only for a few days more until I leave. The the upgrade of my MacBook’s operating system seems not to be very helpful either. So, I don’t exactly know what cases the problem. Luckily, my website can receive mailed in posts, which do not require me to log on the system itself. That makes it easy to publish, as long as I can send e-mail. But the features are a bit limited. So, I don’t know what you see, until I have a chance to open my website myself again.
All I attach for now, is a photo of the small bridge in my favorite Beijing Park, The Temple of The Earth. More will follow, after we crossed the Great Chinese Internet Wall. I have seen this bridge many times and in different seasons, also with lush grass and bright flowers around. This time it is having the atmosphere of cut flowers after you had them for a week. Don’t want to let them go, but happily looking forward to go to the flower market again and get some new ones. That’s the mood I am in looking at the whole city these days. Time to leave in a few days from now.
Beijing made us really a wonderful farewell gift, as we are strolling through it this weekend under APEC conditions. As the impression often is shaped by how the whole experience ends, this looks like a perfect epilogue to our time in Beijing. Today we drove along the Changan Avenue, passing by Tiananmen Square to visit friends on the other side of the city. The sky was blue and the traffic in flow. The traffic management simply took half the cars off the road and put at least one traffic police every few hundred meters. The Tiananmen Square itself is heavily guarded by military and armed police. While we were driving along the landmarks of our memories of Beijing, we nearly felt like a "state guest" ourselves, even we were not in one of the black limousines, but just on the back seat of a shabby Hyundai taxi. Even the air is really clean in some areas you are advised not to open the window, as there are snipers on the roofs, which might misinterpret that move. Well, there is nothing I want less on my last days here than a nervous sniper. You can't have it all. But that's fine for me. As we say here: Ente gut, alles gut.
These are windy days and it is nice to see the blue sky and even some stars in Beijing. Also the traffic was not too bad this weekend. Well, I spend most of the time away from the busy crowds anyways and enjoy my last few months here, to keep the city in a good memory. A weekend like this one, make it easy.
Finally my arms got too short to properly be able to read small text. They call it Hyperopia, and it means I am getting far sighted. First I though of getting longer arms is not that easy, and may look rather imbalanced when I am scratching my feet walking along. So we went to the Beijing Glasses City. Here you get custom mades glasses starting from 5 Euro, and it is quite some fun also.
I found 5000 Names is a very interesting exhibition on the Chinese work and legacy of the Dutch born curator and scholar Hans van Dijk. It shows works, letters and artifacts of the time in the 1990, when he was a mentor of the coming generation of contemporary artists, when there was no such thing in China.
The exhibition is running until August 10th in the UCCA Ullens Center of Contemporary Art in the 798 Art District, Beijing.
Sorting photos in preparation for exhibitions, I came across these two snapshots. One is taken 2004 and shows workers doing maintenance work at the Sheshan Observatory. When they saw me climbing around the roof with a camera, they posed for a photo, as if they knew (they didn't) there is a similar photo dated 1899 which is hanging in the Observatory Museum, literally below their feet.
In the South-West of Beijing lies a limestone area resulting in a magnificent karst landscape, North and South of the Baojin Shankou Canyon. There was a bit of haze today, but it clear weather it must be even more beautiful. On the South there are gardens and small farms. In the past all over here food was grown. Now there are just remains left, but they are still active.
You may download here the GPS track in gpx- and tcx-format. We started a bit late today and did not explore the area to the fullest. Given the geology, there must be caves around. We met a teenager with a torch (and an acrobatic throwing knife, which impressed me a lot) who was heading for one of them. But we returned to avoid sunset before reaching clear trails again. To reach the starting point you will have to cross a bit of "Tourism with Chinese characteristics". But no worries, they will all disappear into some sort of park worshipping with their mobile phone cameras some sort of plastic Confucius. This absorbs them all, really.
Here comes position and GPS plot:
Before traveling to Europe for about a fortnight, I cycled along some old residential places in Beijing. Actually, they are not old by normal standards. But they have become rare here, while land has become incredible expensive. They are not in good condition either, and would be costly to renovate; not even to think of the "opportunity cost" versus putting a few high rise buildings there. They are not Beijing Hutongs, which have been partly accepted to be a heritage, and they are neither "useful". So, they are neither seen as heritage, nor are they viewed as something of value. Their time has come.
I decided to come back with a camera and take a few snapshots. I was lucky, because when I returned today, some of them were already demolished (the satellite photo underneath still shows the blue roofs which show that this was a more recent development) . They are/were along the canal, outbound the city, beyond the 4th ring. Please refer to the co-ordinates in the grid below for exact location.
Unfortunately, I had to cancel this year's Easter egg hunt. I always thought that it would be a hide and seek game with the eggs. But now I learned that it is really called "egg hunt". Imagine the sound of horns in far, dogs running though the woods, horses, gunfire - and this time we are after eggs. Sounds a bit like Monty Phython to me. But anyway since I am in Beijing, the whole world sounds like Monty Phython. So why not that one also? Not sure, whether it is also a comedy, that North Korea declared yesterday to be in "state of war" with South Korea. Kim Jong Un, commonly known here as "Prince Fatty", is quite a clown though. Let's hope it is just another of his jokes, and we just don't get his humor.
Yesterday I had a nice walk with friends in the mountains West of the Great Nation's Capital. Still a bit overrun, because it is too easy to reach. But it was good to be above the smog for a while. Passed bye a honey farm. The peach trees are not blossoming yet, but was told that end of May the honey here is best. Not really organic. Amazing the bees don't die in the cocktail of smog and pesticides. Must be a special breed. Unrefined honey is said to be good for the immune system. These bees at least must have a "super immune system". So, this honey must be really good. I tried. It's sweet. And yes, it is unrefined. It really is.
If you like to go along the trails, you can download the GPS track by clicking here (in GPX-Format).
We constantly have discussions, which is the best way to move in Beijing. Quickly the topic comes to electric scooters or e-bikes, which are becoming more and more popular. And then comes the question, everybody answers differently: "How far can you go with one charge?"
Today, I did not talk about it. I did it. I went out to drain my bike to the last electron. It is a hybrid, which can be driven fully electric or as a supported bicycle - a so-called "Pedelec". The advantage to a scooter is, that you can extend range by pushing into the pedals and also, should the battery be really empty once, you can at least still get home. The manufacturer does not give information on the battery capacity or the power of the engine. Just the salesman said something like 25 km. So I expected this to be Chinese 25 km, which then should equal about, let's say 12 km.
I started with a full charge of the about 6 months old lithium ion battery and rode off into the haze through the Hutongs of Beijing, passing Tianamen Square and back to Dongzhimen.
Me, my clothes and water bottle made 90 kg payload. There was not much wind and temperature was around 20 Degree Celsius (that defines the battery capacity, which is lower at low temperatures). The route taken was quite flat and speed was sometimes limited by the traffic. As a result, the range was a surprising 33.2 km on electric drive. Then the engine suddenly fainted and I only had to make a few hundred meters on a conventional bicycle. Looking at the GPS track below (red line in the map), there is one outlier in the measurement which goes up to 120 km/h, which is of course an error. You can go quite continously at around 20 km/h and the average moving speed is with 13 km/h about what you can make with a car in Beijing. Quite good. Impressed.
One advantage of Beijing is, that you can easily get out. The Megcity has mountains in the North and West, which mark a sharp boundary between 1950s style coal power plants and a beautiful natural landscape. You might want to avoid tourist destinations, but still use public transport. And actually, this is quite well possible.
For example take the subway to Ping Guo Yuan (=Apple Garden, but don't be confused when you don't see any apple tree). It is the last stop of Line 1 in the West. Then walk 300 meters further West, until you see the bus stop for line 892. The bus service starts at 7:00 o'clock in the morning and runs very frequently. Stay on the bus for about 2 hours and get off at at the Fa Cheng bus stop, at N40 00.113 E115 47.949. This is a good starting point for a hike over the mountains and the decent to Jian Yuntai (N39 56.132 E115 51.110), for the bus 929 back to Ping Guo Yan station. The whole hike will take you around 7 hours. The last bus at Jian Juntai leaves at 17:40. If you miss that, you are (!) in trouble, as this is just a remote village which has no (!) other transportation.
The route gives a beautiful outlook over the mountains. There are nearly no people up there. The villagers do not grow nuts or fruits like in other rural regions around Beijing. Still the terraces along the slopes witness an agricultural past here. The trails are just kept open by a few hikers per year and you need a thorn proof jacket. Strictly stay on the trails, which are occasionally steep and going along fringes. Hikers here use 435.000 MHz and 437.900 MHz.
Today I tried to get spare parts for my Wanderer bicycle in Beijing. It is strange that even you would think China is a bicycle country, people actually don't know much about bicycles, and it is not easy to get parts. You also don't really get the impression that they know even how to use a spanner key or a screw driver. So finally, I decided to get what I need when I am next time in Germany, and then repair it myself.
But on my Odyssey, I had a closer look at the electric bicycles available. There is a whole range of electric scooters, but my interest was in some kind of "muscle-electric hybrid", which also is called "Pedelec". I have been trying a prototype from a colleague once, and found this the "Velosolex of the 21st Century". Not many remember the old bicycle with the small one cylinder two stroke support engine which was just flipped on the front tire when needed. I was still once riding one in the late 70s, and remember well how it blew the oily exhaust fumes strait into my face. Of course this does not happen with an electric version. Actually, the original version of the Velosolex is still available and is advertised in the US, as the "French way of getting from A to B". Other electric personal mobility concepts are provided for example by Segway. Segways are also available in China, via an importer in Guandong Province, but far too expensive to compete with the local bicycle electric competition. The one I decided for, is a simple 20 inch bicycle with a 36 Volt (10 AH) Lithium Ion battery, which is supporting via a 240 Watt motor in the front wheel. Really a bit like a Velosolex. But the manfacturer is Giant, which is a Taiwanese company, of which lso my racing bike is made. Could be called the "Chinese way of getting from A to B". The range is very much determined on how much you rely on the engine and how much you paddle. It is really a hybrid. Today I tried out nearly the full electrical range, which is about 20 km. Then the engine stopped abruptly and went home on a conventional push bike.
One of the elements of Chinese street culture is the habit of spitting. Of course, I will not discuss here the purpose of spitting, or even whether it is right or wrong to spit. All which is covered in my humble mission, is to transfer knowledge and make increase the technical abilities in China. Spitting is not excluded from that. And I do not distinguish whether I personally like it or not. My duty is to make you spit better! One limitation, that I have to acknowledge, is that I have no practical experience in spitting myself and also no plan to gain any. So, please take my lines as a purely theoretical contribution.
Below comes all the tools needed not just to maximise spitting range by optimizing launch speed and angle, but also enables us to calculate how much time we have to step aside after spitting vertically upwards at 90 degrees, not to spit on yourselves. That's cool, just to step away 1/10 second before the impact. Let's go.
Neglecting air drag, in horizontal direction the saliva follows Newton's first law and flies as constant velocity.
and in vertical direction the saliva is constantly accelerated downward by gravitation
Integration over time derives the vertical location to be
which is nothing else but the commonly known free fall equation.
The x-component of the saliva given the launch velocity (speed of projectile when leaving the mouth) and the launch angle, is
Further the vertical component is
The vectorial equation of the trajectory then follows to be
and the explicit form can be derived by solving Eq. 1 for t and substituting t in Eq. 2:
To estimate the location and the maximum height of the saliva on the trajectory, follows
The mathematical descriptions become more complex, if you include the air drag breaking down the aliver speed and changing twisting the trajectory away from parabolic shape, like illustrated below (picture from Wikipedia on artillery projectiles).
Similar processes take place when spitting against the wind and when spitting under strong side wind conditions. This is a field of further research, which I will follow up in future contributions.
The color differences of the waters you see on the left and on the right side of this bridge are not the result of photo editing (neither is the blue sky). It is a result of a barrier under the bridge separating the water bodies and of putting green color, chlorine and perfume into the left one. This makes the difference: a murky stinky sludge on the right, and a bright green liquid with waves of vanilla smell on the left. The picture is taken at the Northern canal of Caoyang District (Beijing). Even there is dead fish floating belly up everywhere, this does not stop people from fishing in the green part. The color itself I guess is the same you use in soccer stadiums to color the grass and must be harmless. But the water is highly eutrophic and full of algae, and even the artificial coloring keeps it what some people think is pretty, it will be hard to avoid that this flips over with the summer coming. But with scars water resources there is nearly no chance of having fresh water supplies in, there is actually not much which can be done at this stage. Another chance might be to pull out all organic matter mechanically, cut any inlet of nutrients and ventilate the canal with pumps. Not easy to manage at this stage and even it looks silly, perhaps even throwing color in is the best that can be done now. Let's hope for rain. This would bring more options. And by the way, I guess taking a 5 ton truck over this bridge really is no problem - once. Good luck.
After two days of yellow thick haze, in which you could not smell but taste the air, I did not not expect a lot when I opened the curtains this morning. But wow, what a nice surprise: all white. The little drizzle from yesterday kept going through the night and turned into snow. This was always a "wow" since I was a boy and I decided on the spot to get away from the desk, and get out to the Temple of Heaven.
I have been sitting the last two gloomy days at the desk (Friday I even took off from work) to write on a book chapter. Nothing about cars: so the clearance desk, the patent department, the intellectual property unit, PR and all the others who get nervous when they see these lines can relax. Anyway, they will not have time to come to this website, because they are so busy keeping the world in order.
But with the snow around I went out and enjoyed the fresh breeze of the day. The Temple of Heaven is a tourist attraction, so the best is, on a Sunday, to stay away from the main spots and just enjoy the park. Away from the tourist people gather here here to perform whatever they like to perform. This is one of the really great things in China: you can do and be whatever you like. Now you might think, that this does not sound like China. What about the "sthgir namuh" and "hceeps fo modeerf" (please read the terms form right to left). You are right. But you can go into the park and be a musician, a dancer, a singer and whatever you like. And you will find your audience.
It was nice to have a long weekend to get some more concentrated work done. Good ideas are like roaming around the landscape and you have to go out to meet them. They run after you when you go running, or bump into you when you go swimming. They also come to coffee and tea houses or they appear in interesting conversations. There are many places you can find them. Just one thing is unfortunate: they never come to the office.
Shortly after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, a gigantic Chinese-Soviet military and industrial co-operation program was launched in the Dashanzi district North-East of Beijing. You find the site at N 39 Deg. 58.972' / E 116 Deg. 29.571' and it is now called the 798 Art Zone (798艺术区). The People's Liberation Army's demand for electronic components was not fulfilled by the Soviet partner to the extend required, so that China turned to then Communist Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republic) which just had been formed out of the Soviet Occupied Zone in Germany. To make it easy for foreign intelligence services, the Chinese numbered military factories starting with the digit "7". It started in the district with factory 718 and by time grew up to 798. Operation of 718 lasted from 1957 and the uncompetitive nature of the state owned complex did not survive the opening and reform policy and declined until it was largely abandoned in the 1990s.
This was also the time when first artists were moving in looking for cheap space. In 1995 also the Chinese Academy of Fine Arts moved workshops there and a nucleus for a growing cluster of artists was laid. In 2004 it was achieved that the destruction of the buildings was halted and a bill passed to develop the site into an Arts District. As a consequence the owner of the buildings did not renew lease contracts to have the chance driving out tenants and redevelop the land in a more profitable modern format. In 2007 though it was decided to keep and refurbish the Art Zone.
Today it is a lively place full of galleries, studios, workshops, design centres, cafes and restaurants. It is amazing what amount of space and hardware is available. Here is where you find everything from pretty nice galleries to Mao Kitch. There is not one list of galleries available online. So, the best thing is to go there and have a look.
During Spring Festival Beijing is laid back and festive. Most people which have their families not in Beijing, travel back to their home towns. Logistically the best thing to do during these days is to stay where you are. All others who also stay enjoy a week holiday and there are many things you can do in this city. Not just the cultural repertoire is huge, but also you can just get onto a lake ice skating, do a hike in the mountains along the spectacular parts of the Great Wall which are less "developed" or even drive up to a ski resort. Hiking, I was surprised that there are now also many Chinese going outdoors and enjoying the scenery. A few years ago, they did not go too much into the countryside. Now there are many "Donkey Friend Clubs", which are mainly self organized groups walking together far distances. For a first orientation, I found that the Beijing Hikers are organizing nice groups. There are a lot of foreigners in these groups, but they are not the typical Expats, but nice people which have been living long time abroad and many of them speak Chinese. I guess, that foreigners strolling around the Chinese countryside with a rucksack, already implies some self selection.
Of course, I would not be in China, if not everywhere small little businesses open to cater into all kinds of holiday demands. From the man with the mobile sweet patato bakery who is counting his money on the frozen lake where he sells his snacks to the ice skaters (see photo on the left), to extra capacities in taking family portraits in the China Photo Studio. Not to mention the huts selling the fireworks which turn the nights in Beijing into a self (un-)organized light show which is unmatched anywhere. I was wondering how safe it is when the firework's salesman is smoking sitting on a few tons of gunpowder. But you think it is "cool" just to smoke in a non-smoking area in Hong Kong and chase away the little policeman? That's nothing against sitting smoking on a pile of gunpowder chatting with the policeman on how the family is doing. Happy new year, health luck and prosperity for the Year of the Dragon.
Beside the Hans Schafgans Studio in Bonn, my favorite "Photo shop" is the Beijing China Photostudio Ltd. on 180 Wang Fu Jing. When you click on their website you will find that it does not work. When you tell them it does not work, they will not care. And why should they? Established in 1937, they have been photographing not just the leaders of China, but hundreds of thousands people and families, including myself. On the upper floor at Chinese New Year you have families putting their reunion in photographic memories. You see moving scenes of grandparents dressing up in their best suit, while babies get pacified with milk, people choosing glasses without glass (not to have the reflection). Young couples go there to take a photo together which might become a document for lifetime, they love to look back to. And then all the buzz and discussions around making finally the choices which photos to print. But the Beijing China Photo Studio is not just a "sweet place", it is also highly professional: the photographers in the upper floor themselves, the editors sitting at the computers making minor corrections and last but not least the print shop. On the ground floor the camera and equipment sales is actually run by people loving photography and knowing what they talk about. In my quest of getting a few pictures for my office, I finally decided for some of my own photos and went there to make use of the print shop. When the editor opened the files, I saw that his eyes started to sparkle. They were also some Antarctic scenes and he was looking at it interested like watching a different planet. I thought if an editor who sees thousands of photos from his professional photographers, looks twice at my photos, this is a very compliment for a crude amateur like me. So I left happily after asking to make a few large prints and then still bought on the same street a wool coat, a pullover, two maps of China and Beijing and two tea cups.