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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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June 30, 2008 3:27 PM

Beijing 2008 Q&A: Fang Fang

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Ethnic unrest at home and politically-charged protest abroad awakened in many Chinese people - young Chinese people, particularly - strong feelings including outrage, disillusionment, patriotism, confusion and pride.

It's been quite the Olympic spring: street violence in Lhasa, drama surrounding torch relay legs in London and Paris, 'human flesh search engines' online, student-led 'anti-CNN' and 'anti-Carrefour' movements in Beijing and Shanghai.

China's devastating May 12 earthquake, powerful as it was, failed to reach Seattle. After all, the quake hit thousands of miles away.

Those conflicts which erupted over Tibet and Beijing's 2008 Games, however, reverberated arcross the Pacific Ocean and stirred Puget Sound.

Pro-China rallies organized by Chinese and Chinese-American students at the University of Washington attracted international attention, as did the Dalai Lama's stay in Seattle. A group of students demanded their school limit the Tibetan leader's address to apolitical topics.

(Note: Click here to view a Seattle Times online video of protests against the Dalai Lama at UW April 14.)

According to the New York Times, there were more than 42,000 students from mainland China studying in the United States last year, an increase from fewer than 20,000 in 2003.

On the Pacific Rim, boasting healthy economic ties to China and a significant Chinese-immigrant population, Seattle straddles a cultural seperating/joining 'east' and 'west.'

Fang Fang, a Beijing native who goes by Flora overseas, knows that fault-line well. She's a first-year MBA student at the UW in Seattle, an outdoor enthusiast and a proud Chinese citizen - sorry she'll miss Beijing's first-ever Olympic Games.

Like her friends and former classmates back home, Fang has found Beijing's troubled spring hard to swallow. Unlike them, Fang wakes up every day in America. Negotiating the differences between Chinese and American society? According to Fang, challenging and rewarding.

I recently interviewed Fang about Beijing, Seattle and the 2008 Games.

How about you introduce yourself?

My Chinese name is Fang Fang. It's very simple. I like it, because I never confuse my surname and first name when filling out English forms. I turned 25 last weekend and celebrated my birthday with several friends from school on a hike.

I'm now a first-year Master's in Business Administration student at the Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington. Prior to my MBA study, I worked as a tax consultant at PricewaterhouseCooper's Beijing office for two years. I did my undergrad at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing - double-majored in English and finance.

My hobbies include traveling, reading, watching movies and appreciating drama.

When, why and how did you end up at the University of Washington?

I applied to four MBA programs in 2006. All of them were on the West Coast except the University of Toronto. My mom has been to the East Coast and she doesn't like the big environment there. I researched programs based on different business school rankings and locked onto several West Coast schools. Many family friends in the United States strongly recommended the city of Seattle, and spoke highly of its beautiful landscape.

What were your initial impressions of the UW? Of Seattle? Of the U.S.?

The UW campus is awesome! It's so fun to run into squirrels and raccoons from time to time! I love the people here! Before coming to the U.S., some people warned me that I had better prepare myself - because the American people are very aggressive, quite opposite to the mild Chinese. However, I was surprised to find that the people here were super nice, including my classmates and strangers. No wonder Hollywood likes 'hero' movies. The heroic spirit is deeply rooted in American culture.

I've been to some European countries. I admire the rich history and well-preserved historical heritage there. I was a bit disappointed upon my arrival in the U.S. when it was not as clean, organized and deep with history as Europe. That said, I'm still in love with the breath-taking natural beauty in the Pacific Northwest. I have a group of friends who are enthusiastic about outdoor activities. I enjoy every adventure with them.

Fang Fang (far right) enjoys hikes in the Pacific Northwest - pictured here with friends on Mt. Ellinor.

How is Seattle different from Beijing? How is the UW different from your Chinese university?

The two cities are very different - in size, in population, in history, in culture, in geographic characteristics, in weather, in urban blue-prints, in lifestyle, in transportation infrastructure, and in economic and political functions etc.

The most impressive observation upon my arrival in Seattle? As Beijingers, we were educated from childhood that it was very important to save every drop of water. The lack of water is always a serious problem in Beijing. The government has invested a lot to build canals for water transportation from other provinces to support the capital. However, Seattle seems like a blessed city with regard to its water resources!

How are Chinese and American students different?

Differences...American students are positive and humorous. Chinese students are conservative and modest. Beijing students are talkative and good at pointing out your mistakes in a humorous way. Creativity is encouraged everywhere in the education system in the U.S. Generally speaking, American students are more creative than Chinese students. Chinese students focus more on the results while American students focus more on value created. Chinese students emphasize more on teamwork, while American students emphasize more on leadership.

My American classmates have shown a strong interest in sustainability and 'green' concepts, while in very few occassions Chinese students pay attention to these topics. It will take some time for Chinese students to catch up with our American peers in this regard.

American students are active in volunteer opportunities in the community, while there isn't such a widely held social awareness in China. As a Beijinger, I participated in many volunteer activities until high school. Our tie with the local communities loosened as we grew up.

American students are allergic to various types of food, while Chinese students are less vulnerable in terms of eating.

Similarities...prior to my MBA studies, one of the stereotypes I had for American students was that grades were not important to them. They would spend less time on study compared to Chinese students. However, I was very surprised to find that my American classmates were very diligent in their MBA study! No pain no gain. It holds for both the American students and the Chinese students.

What are a few common misperceptions about China in Seattle? What are a few common misperceptions about the U.S. in Beijing?

My American friends are too polite to tell me anything bad about China. My observations so far...different understandings regarding Taiwan and Tibet, and differences regarding human rights in China.

The top misperceptions about the U.S. in Beijing...that it's not safe in the U.S. because everybody can own a gun, that campus shootings happen frequently, that there is a 'China threat' theory in the U.S., that clothes and electronic products sold in the U.S. are not as fancy and cute as in China - that there are fewer choices.

What would you like to teach people in Seattle about China?

Don't just see what happened on the news. It's much easier to understand a different country and a different culture by seeing it yourself. It's exciting to experience a country (China) with a two-digit GDP growth rate per year.

How has Beijing changed since you were young?

It's changed A LOT! It's been modernized 100 times over since I was born. The living standard has been greatly improved every year.

I still remember the night when thte city was awarded the 2008 Olympic Games. It was the happiest and craziest night I've ever seen in Beijing. I looked down from my apartment building (about 10 minutes by foot from Tian'anmen Square), and saw people pour into the Square, waving the national flag, blowing trumpets and congratulating strangers on the street.

Since 2001, the government has invested a huge amount of money to upgrade the city's infrastructure and improve the environment. Beijing is a much more clean, beautiful, convenient and high-tech city than it was seven years ago. In addition, the government has been encouraging all Beijing citizens to learn English, facilitating better communication with foreign visitors during the Olympic Games. At the same time, there have also been many actions taken to improve the queuing problems in Beijing. People are now getting used to waiting in lines at bus/train stops!

What are some of the advantages for Beijing people of the 2008 Olympics Games? What are some of the disadvantages?

Beijing people are very proud that the 2008 Olympic Games will be held in Beijing. It will be China's debut in front of the world. People are willing to devote 100 percent enthusiasm to this big event. If not for this great opportunity, it would have taken much longer for Beijing to achieve what it has, in terms of what the city looks like and how people behave today. We appreciate the support from other cities in China, because we know that the central governmnet must have spent a big portion of the financial budget in Beijing in the past seven years.

I'm a big fan of traditional architecture and art, less so of modern buildings. I know that the Olympic stadiums are amazingly high-tech, but I doubt they fit well in the architectural heritage of Beijing. Besides, I wish that the money we've spent could be more sustainable.

How do you feel about the 2008 Olympic Games? Will you attend?

Of course I'm excited about the Olympics! I cannot make it home this summer because I need to get some internship experience in the U.S. I'm kind of sad because it looks like a once in a lifetime thing. I'm a big sports fan and I followed previous Olympic Games closely. Finally it happens at home but I'm far away! Everything has its tradeoffs. I hope missing the Olympics is worthwhile. I'd love to watch the Games on TV in my spare time.

Will the Olympics be a success?

Unfortunately, 2008 doesn't seem like a smooth year for China. Fingers crossed for the Olympics to be successful. It would be unbearable for Chinese people if anything goes wrong with the Games. The 2000 Sydney Games were my favorite so far. I hope China will do a good job as well.

Which of this year's events will most affect the 2008 Olympic Games: March’s Tibetan riots/protests, April's opposition to the Olympic torch relay in Paris or Sichuan’s recent earthquake?

All of them shadowed the 2008 Games, but on different levels. The positive side is that they bring the Chinese people together and spread the love not only all over China, but also all over the world. Although I'm not in China now, I can imagine that the Chinese people are more determined than ever to give the world the best in the Beijing Olympic Games.

Are you plugged into the UW's Chinese/Chinese-American student community?

I was all booked up with MBA studies this year. I'm planning to spend more time with the UW's Chinese/Chinese-American student community next year.

How have you experienced tensions between China and other nations over the Olympic Games, including the United States?

I've already been away from China for 9 months, and missed a lot of TV programs about how the Chinese Olympic teams are preparing. I'm guess China aims to beat the U.S. in Beijing and win first place in the gold medal rankings!

How and how often do you communicate with your family back in China? With your friends?

I'm a MSN and Skype user. We communicate every day. Frankly speaking, I don’t feel too far away from home.

How long will you stay in Seattle? In the United States?

I plan to look for a job in Seattle after my graduation in 2009. I really like the city and the people here. Not sure about long-term.

What are your long-term professional and personal plans?

My career goal post graduation is to secure a job in the corporate finance field. I like working in multi-national companies and taking on challenging projects, but I also value time with my family and my friends. If I can afford to, I want to travel to as many places as possible when I'm still young.


'NBC offers wide online access for Beijing'

'Beijing begins security checks at subway system'

'Beijing limits use of vehicles'

'Yao Ming almost recovered from foot surgery'

'China says it is not politicizing the Olympics'

'China says anti-Dalai Lama rant not politicizing Games'

'China: Media, organizations distorting Darfur'

'Beijing faces collapse due to water crisis: Probe International'

Comments | Category: Cultural Exchange |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 26, 2008 10:36 AM

Yangrou chuan'er and ludaguan'er

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Come August 8, Beijing will swarm. Its sports stands...and its snack stands. At least 17 million call China's capital home; 3.1 million more will visit during the 2008 Summer Games.

Even worse, Beijing leaders have begun to shut down curbside commerce. It's untidy and mostly illegal. Diarrhea and banana peels - an Olympic organizer's worst nightmare.

If you're a real epicure, however, squirm on. Barrel through crowded Beijing. Get your mouth round a crisp 'candy ear' (tang erduo) or a plump 'donkey roll' (ludaguan'er).

Or quick-fried tripe (baodu), or soy milk (douzhi), or stinky tofu (chou dofu), or sticky rice (aiwowo). Just follow your nose. There's no telling what fantastic snacks you'll find.

'Snacks of Beijing'

"There are so many Beijing xiaochi (snacks or 'little eats'), I can't name one favorite," a middle-aged woman strolling down Jiugulou Dajie ('Old Drum-tower Boulevard') beamed. "I just love the Beijing flavors."

Beijing occupies an odd throne when it comes to Chinese cuisine. A capital for centuries, the city surprisingly claims few famous dishes as its own. Beijing's emperors dined on the best China's far-flung food foci offered.

"Beijing...what kind of place is it? I'll tell you," a sage old man counseled. His three pals nodded approvingly, bellies bare in the summer heat. "It's a place of many people, a place of many customs. Beijingers enjoy snacks from all over China and the world."

Many of the city's most popular dishes are Sichuanese (in the U.S., sometimes spelled Szechuanese) - from Sichuan province. These are hot, spicy snacks, often loaded with enough ma peppers to turn your tongue numb.

There's mapo dofu (pock-marked old lady tofu) and malatang - a fashionable plate. Malantang refers to a boiling vat of deep red brine. Pick your kebab poison - robins' egg, chicken foot, cow tendon. Then plunge it in.

"We're waidi ren ('outsiders')," two Sichuanese construction workers apologized. "Beijing snacks? How would we know?

We're fans of food from Sichuan. Sichuanese treats are great. Malatang, hot's easy to find such dishes in Beijing. Sometimes we even cook for ourselves."

In the winter, wind-burned men on creaky tricycle carts ply Beijing's alleys, bouncing columns of candied hawthorne fruits in tow. They come cheap - like all street food - two yuan for seven-haw skewer. When Spring Festival arrives, kids clamor for 15-haw towers at the city's temple fairs. Fired sweet potatoes (check for worms) are a filling cold-weather stand-by.

There's a special food for every Chinese holiday: Spring Festival dumplings, moon cakes mid-Autumn and zongzi - sopping sticky-rice triangles swaddled in bamboo leaves - during the Dragon Boat Festival. Beijingers scarf these dishes at home and on the sidewalk.

"Know how to make zongzi?" wondered a powerfully-built man with gray sideburns, cleaning birdcages down an alley near Houhai (Beijing's 'Back Lake'). "You've got to use a special sort of rice - jianmi, and mature bamboo leaves.

Head up to Huimi Xiaochi - it's a restaurant that sells Beijing snacks. It's right next to a McDonald's and a KFC - American garbage!"

No 'Olympic Festival' snack has cropped up yet. There's still time. Perhaps five-colored shaved ices will carry the day. Maybe fresh mangos. Or cold basketball bubble tea. Popsicles sell here for 1 yuan a pop.

Where world soccer goes beer drinkers follow, and these 2008 Olympics should prove no exception. Beijingers load up on Tsingtao and Yanjing - light Chinese beers. Around midnight, they pour out of the city's clubs and restaurants in search of cumin-covered mutton kebabs – yangrou chuan'er.

Beijing boasts a ton of corner chuan'er grills, and they're unmistakable. After dark, you'll notice orange neon cords coiled and hung like a giant kebab - the Chinese character chuan'er. Often, Uyghurs - a Mulsim, Turkic ethnic minority - or Chinese Hui Muslims man the chuan'er grills.

Heavy, flaky cakes (unsweetened pastries) dominate Beijing's snack scene - set in neat rows behind cloudly glass cases. Bing - Mandarin for cake - exist in an overwhelming number of shapes, sizes and flavors.

There's jianbing, crunchy and limp, ludoubing, with green bean filling, shaobing (flat and salty), niuroubing (beef-stuffed) and dabing, plain and big. That's just the beginning.

"Foreigners love dabing because it's so big," joked one snack vendor. "So big you can't take it to-go. You have to eat it right here. And you have to share - it's a social sort of food."

Among the city's reputed 200 snacks, ludaguan'er reigns supreme. Best with a touch of powdered sugar, these rice-flour plus red bean paste lumps are fun to chomp.

"My favorite Beijing treat is ludaguan'er," confirmed a teenager, between bites of malatang and sips of beer. "Why? Because it is delicious."

"Why do we call it ludaguan'er ('donkey roll')?" the sideburned man asked eagerly. "Because you roll it up...just so. And then you cut this!"

There are stories behind all of Beijing's inexpensive treats - how they were invented, who favored them most. Finding a Beijinger old enough to remember those tales is difficult, however.

"Of course there are stories," a red-faced man with a flat-top haircut chuckled. "But I'm not the right person to ask. I'm too young. Go on - see if you can find an 'old head.'"

So grab a youtiao (fried breadstick) and consider yourself lucky. Happy Olympics and merry munching!


'Nut-seller taking a stand against Beijing'

'For China's Olympic guests, a not-so-warm welcome'

'Beijing cajoles citizens into 'green' transport'

'Unbanned by Beijing, foreign tourists in Tibet'

'Shanghai bans troublemakers leaving ahead of Olympics'

'Six Myanmar athletes to compete in Beijing Olympics'

'China's Olympic 'madman' gives life -- and body -- to Games'

'Beijing 2008 - The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games Hands-On'

'The Science of the Medal Count'

Comments | Category: Exploring Beijing , Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 23, 2008 3:47 AM

Hometown dreamin'

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijing's migrant workers rely on few constants. Their jobs are typically short-term. Their friends - here today, gone tomorrow. Their savings - easily spent. Their quarters - often temporary.

It's a blessing and a curse, Beijing's dynamism. Unregistered workers dream of returning home - pockets bulging yuan of course. No more smog. No more crowds. No more condescending city slickers. And yet, back home is precisely where most migrants would rather not be. It's tough in the country.

If there's one thing Beijing's dagong ('hired hands') can count on, it's this: hometowns are for dreaming about and cities for living in.

"I came to Beijing because my parents came," a gregarious 16-year old from Anhui province explained, grabbing hold of his friend's shoulders for a rough embrace. "My parents came to work, to earn money."

June is a stressful month for eight graders at the capital's privately run migrant schools . Most of them will head home for high school, leaving parents, teachers and pals in Beijing.

"My students were so quiet last week," said Meg Cassedy-Blum, a volunteer English teacher from Maryland. "I'm not sure they want to leave middle school."

According to students at a K-8 migrant school, fewer than ten of 40-plus eighth-graders will test into Beijing public high schools this year.

"Our (middle) school is okay," a 14-year old seventh-grader said. "It's in bad condition, but we like our teachers. Actually, back home the schools are better."

"If you'd stayed in Sichuan with your grandma you wouldn't be in school," a tiny, 13-year old boy interrupted, referring to that province's devastating May 12 earthquake.

Years ago, children without Beijing residence permits were categorically excluded from public schools. Now migrant quotas and high entrance fees hold enrollment down.

The Chinese government has poured money into rural education - projected US$35.9 billion between 2006 and 2010. In March 2007, Premier Wen Jiaobao promised to eliminate tuition costs in the countryside.

"School is free in my hometown," a 15-year old from Jiangxi province remarked. "And the schools are way nicer. When we left I told my mom - we shouldn't go to Beijing."

The city grows on you, though. Many un-registered children move to Beijing young. China's harsh, sweaty capital is what they know.

"When I grow up, I'll live in Beijing," said the burly 16-year old. "My hometown is old. Beijing is new."

"I'll probably head home for high school - I'm still not sure. I want to stay in the city. There are more opportunities. Beijing is better."

A classmate disagreed.

"There are big differences between my hometown and Beijing," she said. "It's easier to buy things here. The food is good, but the traffic is bad. I'd rather live in the country, where friendships last and the air is clear."

Meanwhile, summer has arrived - school is almost over. Will the city's migrant kids return home or stay in Beijing for the 2008 Olympics? In 2006, Chinese officials announced, then retracted plans to 'repatriate' unregistered workers during the Games.

"We really love the Olympics, because our families will earn money and because the Games are China's pride," a 15-year old girl answered. "Go Olympics!"

"Go home? Why would we go home? The Games are happening here!" her friend chimed in." Anyway, if you go home before the Olympics, the government won't let you back into Beijing. I don't know why."


'RPT-Olympic torch starts controversial Tibet leg'

'Beijing promises open media environment for Olympics'

'China petrol price rise fuels motorists anger'

'Beijing Olympic car ban targets pollution, gridlock'

''Plenty of beds' for Olympics travellers'

'China industry body says Beijing-area Olympic shutdowns limited to big polluters'

'Documentary calls for U.S. education system to emulate China's'

Comments | Category: Exploring Beijing , Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 20, 2008 2:30 AM

An Olympic English lesson

Posted by Daniel Beekman

China's love affair with the English language didn't begin with the 2008 Olympic Games. It merely gained momentum...a lot of momentum.

In 2001, the same year as Beijing's successful Olympic bid, China declared primary school English compulsory. By 2005, nearly 200 million Chinese were formally studying the language. Educators, parents and employers now regard English as essential - like writing, science or math.

Roughly 500,000 Olympic volunteers - mostly Chinese university students - will recieve roughly 500,000 foreigner visitors to Beijing during the 16-day Games. Why not retired doctors? Why not middle-schoolers? Why not housewives?

It's Beijing's university students who understand, and in many cases speak, English.

The city has demanded they perfect their English ahead of the Olympics, to better guide and assist athletes and guests from abroad. Beijing's cab-drivers, hoteliers and police-officers are in cram-mode - squeezing in study-sessions before, after and during work...often by audio-tape.

More on English learning in China and the 2008 Olympics:

'Crazy English - The national scramble to learn a new language before the Olympics'
'Learning to Speak Olympics in Beijing'
'Mad about English: Chinese flock to learn'
'Zhang Hanzhi, Mao's English Tutor, Dies at 72'
'Beijing Decides Poor Translations Won't Do' (2007)
'Foreign Language Fever Hits Beijing' (2005)
'Beijing Launches English-Learning Programs' (2001)

The 2008 Games have given birth to a new genre of paperbacks here: 'Olympic English' phrasebooks. They're selling fast in Beijing, where a handful of giant, state-run bookstores monopolize the reading scene. China's Olympic organizers have pumped out texts tailored to volunteers', seniors' and security officers' specific needs.

What qualifies as 'Olympic English?'

Here's a sampling from 'Aoyun Yingyu Sanbaiju' ('300 English Sentences for Olympic Games'):

Welcome to Beijing.
How do you do?
Did you come to China for Olympic Games?
How long will you stay in China?
China's porcelain and silk are famous.
It's very hot in July and August in beijing. The air temperature is around 30 degrees centigrade.

Giving directions
Are you lost?
Beijing Shooting Range? Not far from here. You can go by walk.
Do you see that white house? The public toilet is over there.
It is electronic. You can touch the screen, the map is there.
I will go to the Capital Indoor Stadium, too. Follow me please.

Day's topic
It's raining cats and dogs.
What's your name?
It's August 8th.
Sorry, I'm really/so/terribly sorry.
It's my fault.
Will you ever forgive me?

Being a taxi driver
Where to, sir?
Please stop smoking.
Here's your change. Bye-bye.
Are you carsick?
Let's open the window.

Working in a restaurant
Here's an English menu.
How do you want your steak?
Enjoy your meal.

Selling at a store
The red t-shirt fits you.
This is the latest fashion.
The purse is cheap.
I'm afraid I can't bring the price down.

Topics for sports
Let's go watch the football match.
Could you teach me something about equestrian?
I'm a green hand at handball.
I like rhythmic gymnastics. How about you?

Topics for Olympics
What's the slogan of the 29th Olympics?
One world, one dream.

Watching a game
The excellent athlete was eliminated in the preliminaries.
Hi, Mike. What a game! I'm sure that our team will win for the final.
Why did Cameroon's team lose to French's team.
Wang Tao overtook his counterpart 3 to 1.
China may win the gold medal.
My heart is jumping!
Our team losed to the Japanese team.
Good shot!

Beijing's English train derailed temporarily this month, under criticism from Paralympians and disabled fans. The city's Olympic organizers pulled the English version of a 200-page volunteer manual offline, citing insensitive language and the inclusion of offensive stereotypes.

The manual described persons with physical disabilities as having "unusual personalities because of disfigurement."

"For example, some physically disabled are isolated, unsocial and introspective; they usually do not volunteer to contact people. Sometimes they are overly protective of themselves, especially when they are called 'crippled' or 'paralyzed,'" the manual counseled. "never stare at their disfigurement."

Organizers recalled the booklet and issued a public apology.

Other booklets on sale in Beijing employ more tact. China's Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press has translated an American-authored text - 'Aoyun Yingyu' ('Olympic English'). Chapter 5 is titled 'Sharing Cultural Information: Stereotypes.'

It begins, "In this chapter, you will learn to: desribe the people from different countries, make generalizations, qualify or contradict generalizations, talk about sterotypes." 'Aoyun Yingyu' introduces the English proverb 'don't judge a book by its cover.'

Oral practice sentences from the chapter include:

  • Americans like baseball, and soccer too.
  • Brazilian boys play soccer, and Brazilian girls play soccer too.
  • Russians are tall, but Yelana isn't tall.
  • Children like television, but my young son doesn't watch it.

Unlike 'Aoyun Yingyu Sanbaiju,' 'Aoyun Yingyu' contains few Chinese footnotes. Clearly, 'Aoyun Yingyu' was written for advanced Chinese learners of English.


'UN organs train Beijing Olympic volunteers in AIDS awareness'

'US, China wrapping up high-level economic talks'

'How the Chinese Communists destroyed ancient Beijing'

'A Chinese school, principal, stood while others fell'

'Robles record will spur Liu on, says coach'

'China, Taiwan sign historic deals on travel'

'USA Soon To Decide Whom To Bring to Beijing'

'Jumping on China's new power'

Comments | Category: Cultural Exchange , Olympic Countdown |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

June 15, 2008 11:20 AM

Hip hop Olympics

Posted by Daniel Beekman

(A shorter version of this entry appeared as a story in the June 14 print edition of the Seattle Times, and online here at

No matter how far you go, Beijing welcomes you back/
One plus one plus one is three/
In Three, In Three, In Three
Bringing the true Beijing style/
Watching the old heads play Chinese chess/
Keep on speak-singing the true Beijing way/
Enough of these brothers with phony spirits/
Stick to speak-singing the true Beijing way/
In Three is dropping a beat

So begins 'Beijing welcomes you back,' as rapped by the soulful Chinese act In Three (Yin San'er). Chen Haoren, Meng Goudong and Jia Wei want the world to remember their city and the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Blast In Three and you'll hear Olympic China - east and west, old and new.

"Maybe a year from now you'll cry when our song comes on," said Chen, 25, who's lived all his life in Beijing.

The Olympics, fast approaching, have inspired all sorts of Beijingers: athletes, scientists, salesmen, dissidents...even rappers struggling to nourish a hip hop scene. This August, 3.1 million potential In Three
fans will visit Beijing.

Sugary pop ballads dominate Chinese music; teenagers here worship superstars from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Most Beijing venues rock to an expatriate beat. In Three are drawing crowds against the odds.

"In China, hip hop is relatively unknown," said Dr. Jin Yuanpu, who heads the Humanistic Olympic Studies Center at People's University. "But if hip hop catches anywhere, it'll catch in Beijing. Beijingers love to talk."

According to Angela Steele, a rap researcher, Beijing spawned China's first hip hop artists between 2000 and 2004 - rappers like Yin Tsang and turntablists like DJ Wordy.

Jia, Meng and Chen share a colorful pad north of Beijing.

The Olympics...everpresent. The 2008 Games could blow the lid off Beijing hip hop.

Rather than imitate American hip hop, In Three have developed a sound based on traditional Beijing shuochang ('speak singing' or rapping). Mule drivers invented shuochang centuries ago. Comedians and salespeople perform the art today.

"We're not about Chinese hip hop, or American hip hop, or English hip hop," explained Meng, 26. "We're about Beijing hip hop.

"We lead different lives than rappers in the United States. We brag less. We're from a socialist society. We're less competitive."

Although Chinese pop stars borrow from rap - Taiwanese heartthrob Jay Chou, for example - record labels here rarely sign raw hip hop acts like In Three.

"We rap about our environment, about Chinese development," Chen said. "We try to make meaningful music. Beijing's hip hop scene is trash - too many pretenders.

"When I see Chinese kids wearing hip hop clothing - kids who are empty inside, I feel uncomfortable."

In Three's 'Beijing welcomes you back' live from Beijing.

Chen, who speaks a slack-jawed Beijing drawl (sanlitun becomes sanlituan'er), has dreaded hair and pierced ears. Meng sports a fitted baseball cap, Jia stylish t-shirts.

Posters of Tupac and Bob Marley hang inside the trio's smoky, two-story apartment - one light-rail stop from outer Beijing.

Chen and Meng have known each other for years.

"For a while we listened to hip hop, danced and drank in the same circles," Meng said.

African friends - from Nigeria and Burundi - turned Chen onto hip hop. He promoted for local nightclubs. That led to freestyle rhyming alongside Meng.

The pair approached Jia, 21, in 2007, at a nightclub in northwest Beijing.

"We heard him flow, and he," Meng said.

"In Three is the quintessential underground Beijing crew," Steele said. "They rap with Beijing accents, their lyrics represent the lives of Beijingers and they're outspoken, yet humorous.

"I saw In Three live in Guangzhou. Jia is smooth on the microphone," Steele said. "Chen keeps the crowd hyped. And Meng's delivery is fierce. You felt that they loved their music, and the crowd loved it too."

Chen plays a mean clarinet. In fact, he studied music theory at China's Central Conservatory.

"At first we weren't sure about our son and hip hop," Chen's father said. "We were hoping he'd stick to clarinet.

"We encouraged him to go one route and he went another. But we didn't stand in his way. We wanted him to be happy."

Chen got his start as a DJ - here mixing it up at home.

In Three walk a fine line between Beijing's rap underground and pop stardom.

Chen calls his father an 'ex-bad boy.' Chen Shu was 12 years old when China's leaders launched the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). A music-lover like his son, Chen Shu listened to Beethoven and Tchaikovsky behind closed doors.

"Western music wasn't allowed," said Chen Shu. "It was a dangerous time. When my classmates went out to drill with the Red Guards I stayed at home and studied music."

Thousands of fans bounced to In Three's MIDI Music Festival set last year. Now Beijing authorities have postponed MIDI 2008, citing security concerns ahead of the Olympics.

On 'Beijing welcomes you back,' nevertheless, Chen, Meng and Jia wax patriotic.

From track & field to swimming/
From the Bird's Nest (National Stadium) to the Watercube (National
Aquatics Center)/
China's people are realizing an Olympic Dream/
Participating determinedly, achieving victory/
Winning glory for our socialist country/
Our national flag rises above Tian'anmen with the sun

The song fits China's manicured Olympic image - grand and upbeat. In
Three are proud of their city.

Then again, Chen, Meng and Jia speak frankly about the Games.

"The Olympics are a business, you know," Chen said.

"There's so much hype," Jia said. "If you yell OLYMPICS, the guy next to you will pull off his headphones."

Children of the early 1980s, Chen, Meng and Jia remember a different Beijing - grayer and quieter. The city and Communist China opened in 1978, under Mao Zedong's successor Deng Xiaoping.

"Hosting an Olympics is like opening your window," Jia said. "You get a nice breeze coming in. And when the wind picks up, you're covered in dust.

"Some older homes have been knocked down. Some people have been asked to move. So the Games...there's good and bad."

Chen, Meng and Jia listen to American hip hop - Chen wants to see Brooklyn. Beijing's Olympics could lend In Three (and Beijing rap music) global exposure.

"Don't count on it," Chen smiled. "For us, the Games are niubi - of great consequence. But streets will be blocked, nightclubs shut down. There won't be hip hop in the Opening Ceremonies."

Maybe there should be.

Nothing's impossible in 2008, listen to In Three/
Beijing is your home/
Let's cheer together for the Chinese team/
Friendship matters most/
Have fun in Beijing/
We'll welcome you back

In Three music online

'Hei' ('Black')

'Beijing Wanbao' ('Beijing Evening News')

'Laoshi Nihao' ('Hello Teacher')

In Three music video online

'Hei' ('Black')

In Three on YouTube

For more information on Chinese hip hop, visit Angela Steele's research blog - 'Dongting'

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June 12, 2008 4:38 PM

One month later...

Posted by Daniel Beekman

A magnitude 8.0 earthquake ripped western China one month ago today, wrecking schools, homes and lives in Sichuan province. It shook up Olympic preparations as well; Beijing suspended the 2008 Torch Relay out of respect for those Sichuanese dead and/or buried. An entire country mourned (see previous Blogging Beijing posts 'Three days of mourning' and 'China shaken - reactions from Beijing').

The May 12 earthquake - also known as the Wenchuan County earthquake - won China friends and sympathizers abroad, as columnists, pundits and politicians from Seoul to Seattle softened on Beijing's Games. Here in the Middle Kingdom, tragedy took center-stage. And, for a fleeting moment, the impossible happened. The Olympics were forgotten.

Brave soliders, tireless nurses and kindly leaders performed miracles rescues on camera. Sichuan's survivors straggled into clean, orderly tent cities. The Chinese, battered by snowstorms and ethnic unrest, swelled with pride.

China contains nearly 400 million televisions; video reports from the earthquake zone absorbed Beijingers for days. Soon enough, earthquake tributes appeared alongside the city's ubiquitous Olympic displays.

A banner for the 2008 Games...a banner for Sichuan's 70,000. A neighborhood blackboard encouraging Olympic participation...a neighborhood blackboard encouraging relief donations. A street mural celebrating China's coming-out party...a street mural lamenting Sichuan's disaster.

Olympic t-shirts haven given way to super-patriotic threads as well.

AN AIRBRUSHED WALL INSIDE PEOPLE'S UNIVERSITY (check out previous Blogging Beijing post 'The People's wall' for a slideshow of Olympics-themed graffiti)

China's earthquake left 5 million people homeless; about 7,000 school classrooms collapsed.

Many Beijing university campuses boast colorful stretches of wall.

According to the Associated Press, Chinese police moved to quell earthquake-related protests one month after the disaster. Some Sichuanese parents are blaming shoddily constructed schools for their children's deaths.

NEIGHBORHOOD BLACKBOARDS IN BEIJING (check out previous Blogging Beijing post 'Odds and ends' for a look at 2008 Games propaganda)

"Inner west neighborhood community-member Wenchuan earthquake disaster donation list (names and amounts)"

"Profound condolences to those compatriots who passed away in the big Sichuan earthquake"


"I heart the Olympic Games. Go China!"

"I heart China more than ever."

Earthquake newslinks - one month later:

'China refugees move again a month after earthquake'

'China's quake parents lament one month on'

'In photos: China Sichuan Earthquake Aftermath June 11th'

'Disabled earthquake victims face tough road in China'

'China’s post-quake nationalism'

'Chinese mark death of panda Mao Mao'


'China bans fireworks during Beijing Olympics as part of security crackdown'

'Prince Charles' Beijing campaign'

'Beijing's efforts to improve air quality applauded'

'IOC stiffens its upper lip as Chinese authorities tighten their grip'

'Spotlight on China, darkness in Tibet'

'Beijing's Travel Restrictions Rile French Tourism Industry'

'China consumer inflation falls as food prices drop'

'Networks, Olympics organizers clash'

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June 7, 2008 5:53 AM

New Olympics, old Peking

Posted by Daniel Beekman

A Qianmen hutong district scene (photo credit: Everywhere Magazine)

This spring, I penned a travel story for Everywhere Magazine. My assignment: acquaint the magazine's globe-trotting readers with what's left of pre-1978 Beijing. I profiled six sites - White Cloud (Taoist) Temple, Jingshan Park, Guo Morou's Former Courtyard Residence, the Military Museum of the Chinese People's Revolution, Qianmen hutong district and Beijing's Ancient Observatory.

A hundred years ago, Beijing was an imperial village - a jumble of narrow, stone alleys winding towards the East's most imposing palace. Gugong (the Forbidden City) remains China's symbolic center and the heart of 21st century Beijing. But Beijing is no longer an imperial village. It's an economic miracle, a cosmopolitan boomtown and the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics. In 1979, Deng Xiaoping opened China to the world. In 2001, Beijing won the right to host this summer's Games. Seven years, 2.7 billion square feet of construction, 11 new sports venues and a US$2.8 billion airport later, Beijing is a global city and a city transformed. Still, this was China's capital for five centuries. There are sites yet where an informed visitor may experience Old Peking.

- from 'New Olympics, Old Peking' (May/June Everywhere Magazine)

Check out the full story - plus photos - here.

If you're planning a summer trip to China, check out the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee's new legal guidelines for visitors from abroad. On June 2, the committee listed six types of foreigners who will not be welcome during the Games. Here's the list (translated and posted on Danwei):

1. People who have been deported or prohibited from entering China by the Chinese government.
2. Those who are suspected might commit acts of terrorism, violence or subversion after entering China.
3. Those who are suspected might engage in smuggling, drug dealing or prostitution after entering China
4. Those suffering from mental disorders or insanity, sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis or other infectious diseases.
5. Those who cannot guarantee their ability to support themselves financially while in China.
6. Those who are suspected might engage in any acts that threaten the security or interests of China.

The United States embassy in China has compiled an 'Olympics 2008' fact sheet for American citizens. Beijing bound? Then check it out.


'Taiwanese pledge 9 million for China quake victims'

'Beijing smog slow to clear ahead of Olympic Games'

'IOC ratifies rule to ban drug cheats from future Olympic Games'

'China tightens media limits loosened after earthquake'

'Administration sets new talks with China'

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June 4, 2008 6:22 AM

Fighting white pollution

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Suddenly, they're everywhere...trendy green totes, bulging with corn, pork and bok choi.

China's government has declared war on the thin plastic shopping bag. A nation-wide ban took effect Sunday - one that could drastically reduce 'white pollution' here; for years, tossed bags have carpeted Beijing. According to a survey, Chinese people use 3 billion plastic bags every day.

Sunday's ban arrived in time for the 2008 Olympics; organizers have promoted environmental awareness and responsible consumption ahead of the Games. Only three months remain. On Monday, authorities in Beijing fined a shop 10,000 yuan (US$1,200), citing a plastic bag violation.

Supermarkets and cornerstores now must charge for thicker, reusable plastic bags - in most cases 0.2 to 0.5 yuan. The government has encouraged Chinese shoppers to bring their own bags, preferrably cut from environmentally-friendly materials.

Ireland, Rwanda, Guatemala and San Francisco beat China to punch; a growing number of countries and cities around the world are considering (anti) plastic bag legislation. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin have proposed a punitive 20-cent tax on plastic and paper bags. No nation-wide ban exists in the United States.

"We brought our own bags today!" crowed a young woman outside the Shuang'an branch Chaoshifa - one of Beijing's most popular grocery chains. "We heard about the ban from T.V. - it's a good thing. We want to protect the environment. We want to host a successful Olympic Games."

"I brought a bag here today," a middle-aged woman said. "Why? To protect the environment - the same as you foreigners do."

Chinese shoppers haven't revolted yet; 77.5 percent of respondents to an online survey conducted by CIIC-COMR, a market research firm, supported the ban.

"I'd say about 70 precent of our customers have been bringing their own bags," said a Chaoshifa checker. "It's great. I've been really impressed. Before the ban, few people brought their own bags. Very few."

Some of Beijing's smaller, cheaper stores will resist the ban...or lose business. Try charging 0.2 for a bag and 0.5 for a snack. It's possible that shoppers here will relapse.

"This plastic prohibition? Inconvient!" a elderly woman complained. "So inconvenient. I don't like change."

"I didn't bring my own bag today," said a young man. "I guess I forgot. I'm all for the ban. Next time I'll remember.

"What's the ban got to do with Beijing's Olympics? We need to protect the environment - that's part of hosting a Games."

"What a great idea," a young woman exclaimed. "I brought my own bag today - I'm not going to throw it away. It may take some time for everyone to get used to the ban, though."

A Chinese Amway pitch-man hovered outside of the Shuang'an branch Chaoshifa - promotional pamphlets in hand.

"We're a green company," he explained, pressing close. "We want to show the Chinese government the advantage of environmental protection. See, our slogan: huanbao xianzai, luse huilai (protect the environment now, enjoy a green tomorrow)."

"That'll be liang mao (0.2 yuan)," said a cornerstore owner. "We're charging for bags now. Not for profit - to reduce 'white pollution.' It's a big problem in Beijing. Hopefully now it'll start to improve."


'Protests banned but pets okay'

'China urged to carry over quake openess to Tiananmen'

'Terra-cotta warriors to be shown during Beijing Olympics'

'Production resumption in quake areas urged'

'Bolt still undecided on 100 for Beijing'

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June 2, 2008 5:28 PM

Beijing 2008 Q&A: Xie Yuxin

Posted by Daniel Beekman

An East Asian capital. A proud, persevering country. A resurgent economy. A people eager to strut their stuff. A landmark Olympic Games.

Xie Yuxin has seen it all before.

One of China's best-loved soccer players, Xie prowled the midfield for his country at the 1988 Games in Seoul.

The first Chinese player to compete professionally abroad - with Dutch club PEC Zwolle in 1982 - Xie appeared in more than 100 international matches for China between 1987 and 1996.

Sweden and West Germany blanked his 1988 squad, 2-0 and 3-0 respectively. The Chinese held Xie and Tunisia scoreless - a 0-0 draw. It was China's first Olympic soccer appearance, three games and out.

Xie enjoyed Seoul, nonetheless. He was 19 years old.

Two decades later, Xie is coaching middle-schoolers in Shenzhen - China's under-15 national team.

Xie and I recently talked generation gaps, the 1988 and 2008 Games, his career, China's sports system and soccer strategy. Check out our conversation below.

(Note: Zeng Jianguo, a Chinese university student, contributed to this report)

A young Xie poses in his national team uniform

Xie (left) holds a soccer ball beside one of Beijing's Olympic mascots

Why soccer? What attracted you to the game? How did you achieve success?

Soccer was - and is - really popular in my hometown, Meizhou (Guandong province). My family was so poor. I loved playing soccer and recognized it as a way out. I began playing when I was seven years old, maybe six.

I had great coaches. They were smart, and helped me improve. The number one reason for my success: hard work.

I joined a team in 1980. Five years later, I was selected for the under-17 national team. In 1987, the under-22 national team. In 1988, I represented China in Seoul at the Olympics.

You played in a lot of competitions - which will you always remember as special?

Of course, the 1988 Olympics. Those games were incredible. Our 1989 World Cup qualifiers, too.

As an athlete, there's nothing bigger than playing for your country at the Olympics. The 1988 Games really left a deep impression on me. I'm glad I was able participate.

I joined the national soccer team just in time for the Olympics. Before Seoul, I thought I was a pretty good player. I had never been abroad. Our first game was against Sweden.

It was shocking. The foreign teams we competed against and watched were amazing. I realized I still had a long way to go. When we returned to China, I worked even harder. I knew what I had to do.

Abroad, China is known for its state-sponsored sports system - how has the system changed since you were young?

Things are very different. Today's kids benefit from a better environment, a better situation. Look at China's economy. When I was young and part of the system, all we did was practice. All we did was play soccer. We weren't so happy.

Today's kids are happier. The play soccer. They study. They do whatever else. Their lives have balance. On the other hand, today's kids don't know how to chiku ('eat bitter' - endure hardship). They have it easy.

So the 14-year olds you coach - they lead charmed lives?

Not exactly. They're very busy.

They wake up at 7am. By 8am they're in class. They rest after lunch. More class from 2-4pm. We have soccer practice until 6pm. They eat dinner, study 8-9:30pm and then go to sleep. That's the schedule, and it's set.

How do the kids like it?

They have really good attitudes. Some of them really like school. Some only like playing soccer. Personally, I agree with the arrangement. It's good for the kids' development. No one required me to study when I was young, and I regret it. If they do well in school, they'll be able to find a job outside of soccer.

What about the term 'Little Emperors?' Has China's 'One-Child Policy' turned out a generation of overachieving spoiled brats?

I wouldn't go that far. There are kids like this, of course. Some parents are extremely pushy. Most aren't. It's different family to family.

How do you relate to your players?

I'm their coach, first. I'm also their teacher. When they're in trouble, I help. We talk about life, about school...about many things.

How good exactly are your players?

In China, this school is tops. It's a foreign language & sports school. Many of my kids will play professionally. Some will probably join the national team. I really believe in them.

Some of my players want very badly to go pro - they're clear on this. They want to make money and become famous. Some of my players aren't so sure.

Who gets to play for you? Who gets to attend the school?

The school is selective, and expensive. There are kids who play soccer very well, but can't afford to attend the school. It just goes to show - China's sports system is imperfect. What's lacking? Government investment.

Which athlete best represents China's current sports system, and where the system is headed - Olympic hurdler Liu Xiang or NBA basketball star Yao Ming?

Yao Ming, because he plays in the United States. Young Chinese athletes should go abroad, build relationships with foreigners and observe different ways to play and train. That's how to develop China's sport system further.

What are your expectations for China's 2008 Olympic soccer squad?

I hope they succeed. They're a more balanced team than we were in 1988. But what's more important is that they work hard for China. If they show a fighting spirit - that'll be enough.

Earthquake newslinks - China's May 12 disaster:

'China working to prevent epidemics in disaster zone'

'In China, protests flare over quake aid'

'Making a windfall from earthquake mobile phone credits'

Earthquake response organizations - donations/volunteers wanted (via

Sichuan Quake Relief

Hands on Chengdu


'These Games Brought to You by...'

'US laptop 'hacked' in China'

'Central Asia: Beijing flexes economic muscle across region'

'Foreigners told to behave at Beijing Olympics - or else'

'China's plastic bag ban kicks in to mixed response'

'Russia to pay lavish bonuses for medals in Beijing'

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Recent entries

Jun 30, 08 - 03:27 PM
Beijing 2008 Q&A: Fang Fang

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Jun 23, 08 - 03:47 AM
Hometown dreamin'

Jun 20, 08 - 02:30 AM
An Olympic English lesson

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