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Latest from BeijingSelect news from the capital of China
  • Traffic woes plague drivers as 'traffic begets traffic'

    Posted on August 27, 2010

    A glimpse of the now-famous 60 mile traffic jam outside Beijing. Traffic woes will continue to challenge drivers in Beijing and elsewhere in China, but transportation improvements are expected to avoid a repeat of scenes like this, above.

    A traffic jam on the outskirts of Beijing has garnered great deals of media attention from both Chinese and international press, illustrating an inescapable theme of modern China: its road transportation. While it took an extreme instance of bad traffic -- 60 miles of stand-still highway that's lasted for over 10 days -- to get the attention of major news organizations like the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and even Yahoo! News, for folks that live in China, congested roads are a fact of life.

    Xinhua News reports on the challenges city planners face in developing road transportation: there are simply too many vehicles and not enough road space. According to Xinhua, researchers in Beijing have determined that roads in the capital city will reach full capacity at 6.5 million vehicles, a target that is expected to be hit before 2015, as there are already more than 4.5 million vehicles on the streets today. Because of this, it is expected that rush hour traffic in Beijing will not exceed 15 km/hour (9.3 miles per hour) by 2015.

    Public transportation and educating commuters about the virtues of not driving when it's unnecessary are tactics being promoted to help address the problems. But this can only go so far, given the fact that millions upon millions of people are saving up to buy their first car -- even with 4.5 million vehicles in Beijing, that means about 75% of Beijingers are still to get their first wheels.

    The summertime traffic jams on the higways outside Beijing are due to a number of circumstances, many of which seem to be temporary. On the positive side, it's reported that the monster jam pictured above was exacerbated by road construction that will be completed over the next several weeks. Morever, it's no coincidence the jam has taken place on the only highway that stretches from Inner Mongolia (now the seat of China's coal production) to Beijing -- the route by which coal trucks deliver from the mines of the steppe to the big city's power plants. Also on the positive side, new railways that will relieve the roads of coal transportation from Inner Mongolia to Beijing are nearing completion, which promises to take a great number of coal trucks off the road. More may be read about this here.

    Jonathan Watts, Beijing correspondent for the Guardian, traveled to the scene of the headline-grabbing traffic jam. He said that bad traffic essentially begets more bad traffic simply because drivers come to expect it. For example, in a tie-up at nighttime, truck drivers on the highway will just go to sleep because they're accustomed to overnight traffic jams. But when the road clears up, other drivers will have to go banging on truck doors to wake up the dozing drivers and tell them to get going. This quirky circumstance, too, should be expected to disappear as conditions improve.

    In sum, when the international headlines go away, keep this story in mind, because traffic in Beijing and elsewhere in China is a long-term issue that will demand long-term solutions.

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  • Barcelona and Guo'an joust in Bird's Nest, fans divided

    Posted on August 10, 2010

    FC Barcelona playing Beijing Guo'an FC in the Bird's Nest stadium, above. Barcelona won 3-0. Via China Realtime

    Soccer club FC Barcelona was in Beijing this week to play local team Guo'an FC in the Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium. The match took place on Sunday, August 8, at 8:08 pm, kicking off at nearly the same time the Olympic ceremonies opened 2 years ago.

    Barcelona scored two early goals and scored again in the game's final minute to defeat Guo'an 3-0. The Beijing offense -- led by Honduran forward Walter Martinez and Australian brothers Ryan and Joel Griffiths -- had a number of decent attacks but fell short in the end.

    The Wall Street Journal reports discord among the Chinese fans in attendance: each time FC Barcelona fans cheered for their team, Guo'an fans responded in loud, rthythmic chants of vulgar language. Known as jing ma, there are a collection of swear words that are identified with the Beijing dialect of Chinese, but understood by Chinese speakers everywhere. It's reported that of all the spectator sports in Beijing, soccer fans use jing ma the most.

    The Bird's Nest stadium soccer field, by the way, seems to have fared worse than the losing team itself. The Journal says that "by the second half, the pitch looked more like a fairway after middle school golf practice than a pitch fit for Europe's perennial soccer powerhouse." Barcelona's coach also made comments hoping for a "better pitch" the next time his team plays there.

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  • China GDP surpasses Japan

    Posted on August 02, 2010

    Pudong in Shanghai, above, is a symbol of China's rapid development. Via Baglady

    In a new milestone of the country's rapid development since the 1970s, China's economy is close to overtaking Japan as the world's number 2 largest, if it hasn't yet done so already, major news outlets report. Eclipsing the Japanese economy in terms of aggregate size means that China for the first time since the 18th century is poised to be the largest economy in Asia -- but analysts are quick to point out key details that should not be overlooked. For example, while there are dozens of billionaires in China, much of the countryside lives in poverty: its national wealth spread over its population, China's per capita GDP is just $3,600 per year, which ranks 124th in the world, according to the World Bank.

    China's GDP in 2009 was $4.98 trillion and Japan's was $5.07 trillion -- and in the second quarter of this year, China's GDP was $1.335 trillion. "On that basis, the crossover probably happened last quarter," says one London-based analyst. The Chinese, meanwhile, have already accepted this, according to comments made Yi Gang, a deputy Chinese central banker, who said this week, "China already is the world's second-biggest economic body."

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  • "Paul the Octopus" stars in movie

    Posted on July 28, 2010

    Paul the Octopus picks Spain to defeat Germany in this summer's World Cup, above. Image credit: AP

    "Paul the Octopus" -- variously described as "psychic" and "oracle" for its success in correctly predicting the winners of 8 World Cup matches this summer, including the tournament's championship game -- is the subject of a new movie by a duo of Beijing-based film companies, Digital Journal reports. Spearheaded by the China Film Group Corporation and Beijing Filmblog Media Company, the movie is set for release next month, and despite its official title The Murder of Paul the Octopus, little else has been revealed about the film. The octopus has become hugely popular in China, which has a large number of soccer fans: the Shanghai World Expo has issued a special stamp in the creature's honor, and Taobao.com, the leading online Chinese retailer, is marketing an array of octopus-themed goods. Paul the Octopus' popularity has done more than just spawn quirky merchandise -- it has also helped raise the price of octopus by over 37% in some places in Beijing, and vendors note that "there are some customers buying octopus for pets."

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  • Exploding population poses risk

    Posted on July 25, 2010

    Crowds at the Beijing Railway Station, above, illustrate the challenges posed by the city's growing population. Via Spluch

    Research published this week by the Beijing People's Political Consultative Conference gives a sobering report on the risks of the fast-growing population of the capital city, including environmental and social crisises, the Global Times of China reports. The city's population now exceeds 19.72 million people -- which is ten years ahead of government projections. At its current growth rate, the population of Beijing will reach 25 million people by 2020, which is seven million more people than projected. Water scarcity is reported to be the greatest problem in Beijing, which is very arid throughout the year. The increase in population is aided by improved consensus reporting and changes to Beijing's restrictive hukou residential system that allows for the inclusion of the city's migrant residents.

    Fact: Each year Beijing has 2.6 billion cubic meters of water available, but consumes 3.6 billion cubic meters, according to new research.

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