How’s China Today — First Impressions

After a few years, and with an Olympic Games in between, Beijing has changed a lot. My first impressions include the many new roads, especially the super-highways connecting the Capital Airport and the city of Beijing. It’s very confusing. But it’s only to us mere mortals. My cousin, who went to the airport to pick us up, has a very chatty GPS, which not only knows all the roads, but also all the different speed limits on different sections of roads, as well as toll plazas. It would say things like: "You have exceeded the speed limit," or "You’ve just entered ChaoYang district," only in Chinese. Another thing I notice is that compared with a few years ago, Beijing has a lot more foreign tourists.

Swine Flu
We are considered to be from a pandemic area, and are very much guarded against. The airport has a couple of extra temperature checking stages; but because they employ very sophisticated infrared devices, we didn’t get slowed down much. And the border control people are all wearing masks. We hear that a few weeks ago the flight attendants wore masks too, but they didn’t this time. I guess they felt pretty hopeless, and resigned their health status to Fate herself.

Once we arrived, we got phone calls from a local hospital, and from a local organization (I didn’t quite figure this out), about our health status. An agent working for a disease control center came over on a motorcycle, just to give us a notice saying we’d better stay home for 7 days, and avoid in general but keep record of all contacts, especially of those on our airplane. And all this in the first full day we’re here. This is serious stuff!

I had to get some money from a bank. But unlike most tourists, I was able to wait to do it on the day after I arrived. I went to a local Bank of China branch. There were much confusion, as foreign exchange service is not conducted often in this branch. I have my choice of undesirable ways to make the exchange: I can use an ATM card inside and get charged a large amount (several percent); I can use the ATM outside but can only get a small amount (less than US$400) for each transaction; or I can get a check deposited but it’d take about 40 business days for the money to show up. Fortunately I could write the check to my parents, and can start to use their RMB without waiting for the resultant cash from the check.

Do you see the bullet-proof glass, and the speakers mounted on them to transmit the voice of the cashiers? You can imagine the amount of private banking information broadcast to everyone present. ("Did you say you wanted to take out 6000 Yuan from your savings account?") It’s amazing.

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