Beijing is two cities. One is of power and of money. People don’t care who their neighbors are; they don’t trust you. The other city is one of desperation. I see people on public buses, and I see their eyes, and I see they hold no hope. They can’t even imagine that they’ll be able to buy a house. They come from very poor villages where they’ve never seen electricity or toilet paper.
Thus begins Ai Weiwei’s concise and lucid evaluation of Beijing, in which he touches upon the myriad indemnities of the city. In true gadfly fashion, he flits from issue to issue, landing only long enough to raise one’s ire. The things he mentions, in roughly chronological order: poor treatment of migrant workers, official corruption, unaffordable house prices, preferential treatment of foreigners, lack of health care, lack of an independent judiciary, rule of power, Beijing’s lack of vitality, black jails, arbitrary justice. He ends with a simple conlusion:
Beijing is a nightmare. A constant nightmare.
Outstanding news for Beijing bibliophiles like myself. Page One, the Singapore-based bookstore, opened their first store in Beijing two months ago, beneath the Tiffany’s in the China World Mall. It’s a big step up from the other bookstores that we have been forced to rely on to get English-language books.
“When the policeman questions you, you must be careful. They will try and trap you. Do you know? Trap? What it means?”
Yes, I knew what trap meant. But the way those broken English words came out of William’s mouth did not inspire much confidence. My skinny, dweebish visa agent stared at me with a bureaucrat’s humorless gaze. I had just spent the last hour being coached on how to survive a Chaoyang District Public Security Bureau investigator’s interrogation. Tomorrow I would have to walk into the PSB and lie to the Chinese government. If they believed me, I would be free to continue my life in Beijing. If they didn’t, I could be asked to leave China in ten days. My head was boiling in a stew of Chinese corporations, names, and addresses, a fabricated record of my last seven months in the People’s Republic. In less than twenty four hours my life had been turned upside down. How the hell did everything get so fucked up?
I popped out just a few minutes ago to the convenience store to get a bottle of water, and saw a convoy of tanks roll by right beside the second ring road.
Last fall, when the days began cool, I stopped going through security checks. I still carried my messenger bag with me, but now I could hide it under a peacoat and pass unmolested into the subway. It was great, until I realized that someone with a bomb could probably do the same thing.
Yesterday morning in Kunming, two buses exploded, killing two people and injuring fourteen. The attacks occurred on the same bus route, spaced sixty-five minutes apart, at 7:05 and 8:10 a.m. What’s clear is that the attacks were planned; what’s unclear is by whom and to what end.