Beijing finds


I’ve now managed to catch up with work, more or less. At least I have the time to go through last month’s photos: deleting and tagging. Here is one I did not post earlier. The National Center for the Performing Arts is near the southwest exit of the Tian’anmen West subway station. The morning was hazy and smoggy when I took this photo, but the building still shines: like a blob of mercury.

Why is China clean?

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Since we arrived in China, The Family and I have been surprised by how clean the cities are. There is no obvious reason for it. The Chinese spit on the street, like Indians. They generate large amounts of garbage, like all other countries. Street food vendors leave behind trash which is gone by the morning.

The Chinese do not litter as much as Indians do: handbills and empty water bottles are deposited into litter bins, which you can find in cities at every hundred paces or less. But the typical Chinese is not dedicated to keeping the city clean. So why are they clean?

Standing in Tian’anmen Square and watching the scene in the photo above, I had an epiphany. It is because the government knows that it is their job to keep cities clean. The municipal government invests large amounts of money in the infrastructure of cleanliness: the garbage cans along the street with bin liners in each, the huge army of cleaners constantly at work, the carts and other instruments they use. This is the big difference.

It is not the common man’s job to clean the city. In China you do not find ministers with broom in hand setting an example to the people. It is the government’s job, and the common man is only expected to give minimal help, like depositing litter in designated places.

Why do the people keep their side of the bargain? Because the government makes it easy. Why do the people not steal bins off the streets? Why do the civic employees not embezzle the city of bin liners? I presume the answer to both questions is that laws are enforced.

Just two simple things is enough to change a country.

Tian’anmen at night

Walking along Tian’anmen square at night is an interesting experience. Everything along the vast and empty square is well-lit. As in most places in Beijing, there are guards and scanners at the main entry points: you put your backpack or handbag through the scanner, at night there was no pat down.

At the center of the square is the brightly lit up mausoleum of Mao Zedong. There seemed to be no entrance to the square at night. I did not explore this thoroughly, but if there was, then I’m sure I would have spotted some tourists at the mausoleum. There were none.

When you walk north towards the gate of heavenly peace (Tian=heaven ‘an=peace men=gate), you have to cross the wide Chang’an avenue. It is easy to walk east, skirting the national museum until you get to the entrance of the pedestrian underpass. You emerge near Tian’anmen.

The bright red walls, the iconic gate under a tiled roof with upturned corners, the gate with its massive portrait of Mao, the honour guard whose faces are impassive and stony as tourists click selfies with them, are among the most photographed sights in China. In spite of the gate and square being a symbol of the state, the atmosphere is distinctly relaxed. The panorama above was taken from the north-west corner of the square, and has the Tian’anmen at the left, the national museum in the middle, and Mao’s mausoleum to the right.

The lights go off at 10, and the subway gets pretty packed then.