Rain down on Beijing

If  I look outside now the sun is shining and there is a clear blue sky. I can even see the contours of the mountains just outside the city. This is very exceptional and I am quite sure it has something to do with yesterday’s weather. Maybe you read about it already, but yesterday and last night we experienced the heaviest rains in 60 years in Beijing and at least 10 people were killed. You can read the newspaper reports here (China Daily), here (Global Times) and here (nos.nl).

I was planning to pick up someone at Guomao subway station as the subways were overcrowded and getting a taxi was just impossible. So I took an umbrella (that did not help much), jumped on my bike and made my way through the pouring rain. Approaching the main road to Guomao I saw a huge traffic jam and even cars turning around. I was happy I took my bike because I could easily find my way through the traffic jam like Alberto Tomba in his best days, but then I found out why traffic was stuck:

The flooded road to Guomao

As you can see it was just impossible to go any further (as the road above is only for cars). The four meters sign clearly does not apply when there is at least one meter of water on the road and if you look carefully you can see a car stuck in the middle of the tunnel. As it was no use for me to try to go any further I paddled back home with my feet almost continuously under water. For more photos of yesterday’s rainfall you can click this or this page of the China Daily website. It seems like the water is gone almost as fast as it came so I will go for a bike ride and enjoy the sun today!


It was not difficult to find a suitable Spotify Song Suggestion for this post. Obviously it has to do something with rain and the following track combines this with one of the most famous export products of the Netherlands. Please enjoy Kane’s ‘Rain down on me’ in  Tiësto’s remix (of course I was referring to Tiësto with ‘famous export product’).


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One more bicycle in Beijing

Moving to a new house and starting a new job also meant I had to reconsider my commuting options. The first weeks I went by subway, and although it was only two stops I had to change trains and walk quite a bit. Ten minutes to the subway station to get on the train and then when I arrived at my final destination another five minutes to the office. The longest walk however, would be while changing trains. I had to change trains at Guomao station, which probably does not ring a bell for most of you.

Pedestrians at Guomao

For the locals, this is where you can transfer from line 1 to line 10, in the middle of Beijing’s Central Business District (CBD). There is an underground passageway between these two lines and it is quite an experience to be there during rush hour. I don’t think I have been in a pedestrians’ traffic jam before in normal traffic, but at Guomao it happens every single day. The picture on the right is taken on a not so busy day. Moreover, the temperature underground is not much lower than outside with that many people crammed together in a small space so you probably understand this is not the most comfortable way of getting around.

Another option would be taking a bus or a taxi, but the traffic jams on the roads are quite similar to those underground so these are not really feasible options either. I have to say that the public transport in Beijing is very well organized, there are just too many people using it during rush hour. The prices are very reasonable too, as you pay only RMB 0.40 (€0.05) for a bus ticket, RMB 2.00 (€0.25) for a subway ticket, and a taxi would probably cost around RMB 13.00 (€1.65) for this 3 km trip.

Phoenix’ new desiNG

So what do you do as a Dutchman in Beijing when you are looking for everyday transport? Of course… you buy a bike! There are many Chinese bike brands with illustrious names like Phoenix – they have classic bikes with great new desiNGs as you can see on the right – and Flying Pigeon. I was informed by some foreigners with experience of buying bikes in Beijing though that the safest option would be to buy a Giant bike (that’s a Taiwanese brand, so depending on who you ask people might say these are Chinese bikes too). These are strong, robust bikes and most importantly, they are sold in larger frame sizes than most other brands. The downside is that Beijing’s bike-theft-guild is even more professional, creative and efficient than their counterparts in Amsterdam and Giant bikes are the most popular brand for these guys too.

‘Gient’ bikes for sale

After weighing the pros and cons I still decided to go for it and even the much cheaper Chinese mainland version ‘Gient’ could not make me change my mind. When I saw one on the street at first I was thinking it was a joke, but I am not kidding you. These bikes are for sale, for instance at the local supermarket, as you can see on the left. I still preferred the GiAnt, so I bought a nice decent 27” bike (no 28” available), two strong locks, a basket in front (yes, you can laugh at me but when it is hot like here you do not want to carry any bags on your back or shoulder), and I was ready to go.

Except for that one picture of my old street where the cars make a normal street look like a one way street I have not told you much about Beijing’s traffic yet. Well… it’s different. First of all, there are restrictions in place about which days you can drive your car depending on the numbers on your license plate. This is a first indication of how many people drive a car to try to find their way through Beijing every day. In addition there are many taxis and they all try to find the quickest and/or shortest route to their next destination. On top of that there are lots of jam-packed buses and if you think all pedestrians go underground then think again. There are at least as many out in the open. Then let me also explain something about the traffic rules in Beijing, or rather the lack of traffic rules. You know those lights they intend to use to organize traffic with those cute red, yellow and green colors? It seems like their function in Beijing is overruled by the power of the masses. When a large group of cars/pedestrians/bikers decides that they have waited long enough for a red light to turn green, they just go. And then there is nothing anyone can do about it; not even the traffic wardens that have little authority but that does not stop them from blowing their whistles all the time. The Dutch saying ‘if one sheep is over the dam, more will follow’ applies to Beijing’s traffic more than to anything else. Another thing that is quite normal in other countries as well as I have learned, but as a Dutch guy I still have to get used to it, is that traffic making a right turn does not have to hold for red lights. This complicates the situation I described above even more. The positive thing about Beijing’s traffic infrastructure is that there are many, and very spacious, designated bicycle lanes. Unfortunately, car drivers also notice that and do not hesitate to use the bicycle lane when it is too crowded on ‘their own’ roads. Finally, Beijing’s city infrastructure planners thought it would be a good idea to locate all the bus stops on the bicycle lanes. This can create quite some tricky situations when a bus stops just before you want to pass it and a busload of people gets off without looking anywhere else than at their smartphones.

Now you probably wonder why I still choose to go around by bike, but it is definitely the cheapest (if your bike does not get stolen) and most efficient way of transportation in this city. My daily commute takes me around 35-40 minutes by foot and subway but by bike I arrive at the office within thirteen minutes. My motto for riding a bicycle in Beijing is to ‘go like the Flying Dutchman'; if you go faster there is less time to possibly hit someone or something else. I have to admit though that not all other road users are fully accustomed to my philosophy yet. I know that a picture paints a thousand words so I assume moving pictures are even more self-explainable. By clicking the picture below you can enjoy a short video clip of my daily bicycle ride through Beijing. I recorded this video on my way to the office and actually the traffic on the way back home is much more chaotic and thus more interesting, but it is simply impossible for me to ride my bike single-handedly then…

Riding my bike in Beijing

Today’s Spotify Song Suggestion will not be the obvious Katie Melua’s ‘Nine million bicycles in Beijing’ as this is definitely not a fact as she sings. Nine million cars in Beijng, maybe, but definitely not bikes. I wanted to add today’s SSS as a soundtrack to the video above but YouTube’s editing options are limited and I don’t have video editing software so you will just have to start the YouTube video and the Spotify Song Suggestion at the same time. The song title is a nice characterization of Beijing’s traffic: ‘Welcome to the jungle’ by Guns N’ Roses.

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Dutch exports to China

for those of you who are afraid I will write a post about my work: don’t worry, I won’t. No, I will focus on some other types of exports from the Netherlands to China. Most of you probably do not know this but the Dutch are quite successful in inventing TV formats. The most (in)famous example is Big Brother, and the most profitable one is Deal or No Deal, both made by production company Endemol. The first ever edition of Big Brother was broadcast in the Netherlands back in 1999. The show was an enormous success and has been exported to numerous countries all over the world. In 2010 some Dutch creative brains (working for Talpa, another project of Endemol founder John de Mol) came up with a worthy successor of this Dutch export product. This new show has been sold to many countries and yesterday was the long-awaited premiere of this new TV show in China: 中国好声音. For those of you (like me) who still have no clue what that means, the show I am talking about is The Voice, of China in this case.

It is quite strange to see this format that I know from the Netherlands in almost identical form on Chinese television. The same stage, turning chairs (although they added some more lights, apparently the Chinese like some more bling bling) and even the same sound effects. I have to say though that the Chinese producers of Zhejiang TV are not reluctant to add a little extra drama to the show. The show started with a girl singing Adele’s ‘Rolling in the deep’ on bare feet. She did great (when you don’t expect flawless pronunciation from Chinese youngsters) so of course the Chinese Angela Groothuizen/Christina Aguilera: Na Ying (那英) pushed the button to turn around her chair. Moreover, she also wanted to experience the more intense feeling of singing on bare feet so she joined this first contestant in a spontaneous duet (I have to give credits here to the Dutch band Frizzle Sizzle, they already knew this trick and always performed on bare feet in the 80’s). The Chinese coaches Liu Huan (刘欢), Na Ying (那英), Yu Chen Qing (庾澄庆), and Yang Kun (杨坤) are doing all they can to get the candidates in their teams and it adds some good rivalry to the show. Yang Kun should rethink his strategy though I think; he told all candidates he wanted in his team that he was going to have 32 shows in China this year and they could be his special guests. The first time he did not mention this the contestant chose to be (the first one) on his team.

After this surprising start I was hoping for more songs in English but unfortunately all other songs, except for one rendition of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ were in Chinese. The producers did however find enough candidates with a dramatic story, a prince of a minority group who turned out to be a great singer, a girl whose father died just three months ago, and a blind girl from Taiwan (yes, they have a one China policy at Zhejiang TV too) with an amazing voice. I know that writing about music makes a lot less sense than listening (and watching in this case) so below you can find some video clips of last night’s performances.

TVOC – Singer from Inner Mongolia
TVOC – Girl sings for her father
TVOC – 20 year old student

In addition to TV shows there is another area in the entertainment industry where we can be proud of Dutch exports: DJs. I guess I do not have to explain to anyone who Tiësto and Armin van Buuren are, they both have been voted best DJ in the world by DJ Mag multiple times. They are not the only successful Dutch DJs though, I can mention many more like Afrojack, Ferry Corsten, Sander van Doorn and Fedde le Grand. For the local (Beijing that is) readers of my blog I would like to draw your attention to a great event: world famous Dutch DJ Fedde le Grand will give a great show at Spark Beijing on Sunday July 22. You can get your tickets right here.

Fedde le Grand @ Spark Beijing, July 22

For today’s Spotify Song Suggestion I wanted to include Fedde le Grand’s most famous song, for all of you who think ‘I heard that name before but I do not remember when’. However, this song is not available on Spotify so you have  to settle with a youtube or yukou (when you are behind the Great Firewall of China) version of the song. I am quite sure that none of the male readers has any problems with this. That does mean I have to come up with a different Spotify Song Suggestion so I will your enrich your music library with the biggest hit of the Dutch girl group I mentioned before in this post Frizzle Sizzle: ‘Alles heeft een ritme’ (Everything’s got rhythm) – on bare feet, I am sure you can hear that.

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Street life (part 2)

I apologize for not having updated you for seven weeks, but I guess a new visa, a new home and a new job gave me enough reason to focus on other things for a while… A new home, in a new street, so the street that you read about before is not actually my street anymore. The new home is in a more residential area and I have to say that feels better than living in the business district, where my first Beijing home was. It’s a bit further away from downtown Beijing, but I am not going to Tiananmen everyday; not even on June 4th (and I’m just curious how the Chinese censors handle this post…).

Now Shuangjing is my ‘stop’ and one of the first things I noticed is the activity of people in the evenings. It seems that everybody here likes to sing, dance, or rollerblade, although the latter seems to be more attractive to the younger generation hipsters. The dancing usually is in a very Chinese style, though it looks a bit like salsa (which does not mean the music sounds like salsa!), and the singing comes in a wide variety of ways.

Chinese choir at Shuangjing

At first, I saw two musicians preparing to play; a tenor saxophone player and a baritone horn player. I just thought it was a rather awkward combination when a conductor showed up and the crowd that was watching the musicians just like me (at least that is what I thought) suddenly turned into a choir. I have to admit I did not understand what the songs were about but everybody else sang along full of passion (click the picture for a short video). The horns were not exactly like ‘the flat talkin’ horns’ (for more about that you have to check out The Groove Academy) but I realized some great opportunities here. As I play the saxophone myself, maybe I should team up with alto horn player Lucien V who recently rose to stardom in Kharkiv, Ukraine with this spectacular performance

Street musicians at Shuangjing

Fortunately, some other street musicians at Shuangjing were much more talented. I was just in time to catch the last song of the evening of the guys you see on the left (click the picture for a short video). With a guitar, bongos, and an amazing voice they actually attracted quite a big audience.

Not everybody at Shuangjing was in a musical mood. Some people were performing their newly learned Kung Fu moves and others just try to sleep on the various benches. I do not really understand why you would try to sleep in a quite noisy environment like this, but then again, Chinese people seem to be able to sleep everywhere. Another popular activity appeared to be practicing calligraphy with a big brush and water and discuss the meaning or origin of the characters with friends or random passers-by. The man you see below was a very skilled calligrapher (as I was told) and made this special piece of art just for me. The first one of you who replies below and tells me the meaning of the two characters on the right wins free tickets to all gigs of The Groove Academy’s China Tour 2013!

Calligraphy at Shuangjing

As for today’s Spotify Song Suggestion, it was an easy choice: Martha Reeves & The Vandellas’ ‘Dancing in the street’!

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Things you find in Beijing’s shopping malls

The previous post was very Netherlands-focused and I have to apologize for the total lack of photos. I will make it up to you this time and take you back to the every day life in Beijing, and as I like to say: pics or it didn’t happen. Before that, I have to mention the Global Times got inspired by my previous post and one day later published a photo of our queen, whose birthday we did not celebrate two weeks ago, holding a (plush) panda.

Back to business now; as promised before I will share my astonishment about what kind of shops I see in Beijing’s numerous shopping malls. Well, let’s first start with the malls themselves. Of course there is an abundance of elevators and escalators, but with stairs like these shown below you might even be tempted to walk to other floors. Some malls are also home to things other than shops, like the small stand-up comedy/music venue you see below.

Musical stairs and stand-up comedy in Soho Shandu

What you will find most in a Beijing shopping mall is very likely hair/beauty/massage salons. Since there are so many of these, they have to find a niche market to cater to and grow their loyal customer base. So some hairdressers choose to focus on long hair (I wonder what their admission criterion is), and others focus on… dogs. Yes, dogs. Most of them not much bigger than a hamster, but still… dogs.

A long hair salon and a dog grooming salon in Soho Shandu

Also frequently spotted in the malls of Beijing are restaurants, all kinds of different restaurants. So to stand out from the crowd they have to use all their marketing tricks and not be too modest. A good name for a restaurant would thus be: ‘a gift from god’. Seriously. Please be aware that “countless delicious foods are irresistible” and “attracted by your consistent classical heritage.” Talking about names for strange shopping mall establishments: what about ‘Yike Plastic & Aesthetic Surgery’? Would you like some coupons with it?

A gift from god at Soho Shandu and Yike at Jianwai Soho

While mommy is at Yike to become daddy’s gift from god, you have to entertain the kids as well. Fortunately, that will not be a problem in Beijing’s malls. For the little ones there is E-kids Island, where you, or your ayi, can drop them off and they definitely will have a great time. When they are a bit older there are other possibilities. It has been around thirty degrees (Celsius that is of course) the whole week here, so what would your kids like to do more than: ice skating. They have to be careful though not to be knocked down by little girls showing off their lutzes and axels, being drilled to be the next Michelle Kwan or Chen Lu, and they should stay out of the designated area for China’s next hockey idols. Although it is quite amusing seeing those little boys skating around and looking tough in their full hockey equipment.

Playground at The Place and ice rink at China World Mall

Even after you finish shopping you might find more surprises while you exit the mall. It seems like everybody sees something up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it is… the biggest LED screen in Asia! This extremely useless and showoff piece of awesomeness keeps entertaining the audience at ‘The Place’. The owners are a bit more modest than those of ‘a gift from god’ by not calling it ‘The Place to be,’ but ‘The Place’ does the trick as well.

Looking at the sky at The Place

I really wanted to share Robin Sparkles (Scherbatsky)‘s ‘Let’s go to the mall’ with you as today’s Spotify Song Suggestion, but unfortunately it is not available on spotify. Fortunately though, I can now use this post to share one of my favorite artists with you: Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (the Dap-Kings also contributed greatly to Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ album). The song has nothing to do with actual shopping, but since the title is ‘Window shopping’ it will be today’s SSS. For the Dutch readers; Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings will play at Pinkpop on May 27 and at De Oosterpoort in Groningen on May 29, don’t miss that!

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