Beijing blather and assorted musings

As in everywhere else in Asia, you are expected to bargain for items, something I’m not adept at and don’t really like. Guess I’m typically American in that fashion–just tell me what you want for it and I’ll decide if it’s worth my while. I went to the Pearl Market (Hong Qiao) which had lots of stuff, most of it the ticky tacky variety. Got a few things, which I likely paid too much for. In contrast though, I found this low key market in an old temple that is primarily patronized by the locals–some fakes, but basically a smaller version of Panjiayuan (antiques and curios–way overpriced). No one hassled me and I was free to browse–my kind of place.
Of course, Mao items galore are found at these places, as he’s very popular with Chinese and foreign tourists alike. I’m conflicted about this–on one hand, this guy was responsible for millions of deaths and lives otherwise shattered during his Great Flop Backward and the Cultural Revolution (see what happens when teenagers run loose). Hardly things to celebrate. On the other hand, given his abhorrence of capitalism, perhaps it’s fitting that his Cult of Personality is reduced to having his mug plastered on cheap T-shirts, pins, plates, etc.
I’ve had the chance to wander through a few hutong, too (Chinese neighborhoods, a maze of alleyways, etc). As mentioned in my last post, many are being systematically destroyed for beautification–and for the fact that the land is valuable. Since municipal governments are short of funds, they get funds when the land is sold to developers. Now, homes in hutongs don’t typically have plumbing or heating/A/C, and many are dilapidated. But many residents have lived there for decades, and even generations. The NYT printed an article about this two days ago–highly recommended.
A few oddities I’ve noticed or learned of: Beijingers have to pay $800 a year for a dog license. And yet car licenses top out at 120 yuan (about $14) a year. Banks have been liberal with loans, which has also contributed to the ocean of cars on the road.
Many shops have bilingual signs and even sections, such as a bookstore I wandered into. And yet, none of the books were in English or with both languages.
Just as many Westerners mangle Putonghua, Mandarin speakers also mangle the English language in amusing ways. Some signs I saw during my stay here include Beijing Stomatotology (no mispelling), Cloake Shoes, and an add for a cellphone that reads, “I chocolate you”.
Tonight Kelly and I will join a few of the Microsoft employees for dinner on Houhai Lake, which should be fun. Kelly’s meetings have been “very productive” in his words, and this has been a successful week. A lot of accessibility testing is being done here–while he is very interested in this, he’s not interested in moving to China at this point.
All for now and take care–Aimee & Kelly

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