June 2, Baotou

Hello all.

    I guess Iíve been a little bit lazy in writing lately. It's not that I've been particularly busy (though I have) but somehow the days seem to be flying by very fast and I find myself not doing a lot of the things that I planned to do. Maybe it's because the weather is getting warmer and warmer and life is settling into a kind of perpetual siesta. Be that as it may, I've finally roused myself, so here's another update from Baotou...

    When I wrote you last I was about to leave for my May vacation to the Yellow Mountains. I met Lisa in Beijing on my birthday, but we only spend one evening there. With 15 million inhabitants, Beijing is always a crowded city, but in the beginning of May, millions more are coming in from the country to visit the unchallenged center of China. This means that it's close to impossible to get a decent hotel room without reservation but also that most places of interest are so touristed that it's hard to even breathe. In fact the Chinese call the May holiday for the "travel days" as everyone who can afford it use this week to go vacationing. This means that not only Beijing but every major tourist attraction in China will be more crowded than usual. This included the Yellow Mountains but fortunately the mountain is a big one, and it was possible to find a few quiet spots here and there.

    I won't write too much about the Mountains themselves, you can see the many pictures here.

    On the way home we passed through Beijing again and I had the pleasure of seeing my Aunt and Uncle who were here vacationing with friends. We spend two nights in Beijing, shopping, before going back home to Baotou on the bus (that's 12 hours by the way - and although it's a sleeper bus, the beds are not designed for people of more than 1.70).

    Well, enough about that, now for something completely different... The question that most Chinese people (and most Danish people too for that matter) ask me is; what the major differences between China and Denmark are. One of the biggest differences is of course is the sheer number of people here.

    It's funny how the consequences of having far more manpower than you know what to do with make for some very specialized jobs. As you know there are 1.3 billion Chinese people and although not all of them are old enough to work, it's still an awful lot of jobs you have to create. The solution apparently is found in the service sector. When you go shopping in a Chinese supermarket you find that for every 5 or 10 meters of isle-space there are one or two people on duty. It quickly becomes clear that these people are hired expressly to point out the very best (and most expensive) brand of toothpaste, bread or wine to the shoppers.

    And it's not just in the supermarkets. There's a woman in charge of keeping each stairway clean, another in charge of pushing the button in the elevator, and yet another in charge of sweeping the outside stairs clear of sand (that's a full time job). It seems there's an employee for every square meter, and some of the jobs seems like they've been created just to keep people employed. This would of course not be possible in the west, and the only reason it works here is of course that these people are being paid something like 500 Yuan a month (about 60 USD or 375 DK)

    Jobs, and by jobs I mean -real- jobs, are not easy to come by, even for the well educated Chinese. I was talking to a girl the other day who had just graduated from Hohhot Teacher's College. She was very qualified, spoke almost fluently English and seemed to know her stuff. She was complaining however that it was hard to get a job as a teacher since "she had no money". I was a little confused and asked her if having no money wasn't a pretty good reason to get a job. She looked at me with a completely straight face and explained that she needed money to pay the headmaster of the school. Apparently the principal of the individual schools decide who they will hire and so they hire the person who bribes them the most...

    Corruption is everywhere you look, and no one seems too concerned about hiding it. In business it's quite common to treat potential partners with lavish gifts in order to secure the contract. The police demand bribes for allowing trucks to drive on the highways, and even the judges of the courts can be persuaded to accept a little something for ruling in your favor. The bribes often take the form of merchandise such as expensive furniture and TVs, or it may be a more simple matter of treating them to dinner and drinks. A friend of mine recently got attacked on the street, but in stead of punishing the offender with imprisonment, an out of court settlement between the families agreed on an amount of money to "forget" the problem. This settlement was negotiated at the police station, with an attending officer who probably got a little something for his trouble as well...

    Well, enough about all that. Itís part of the system, and since basically all Chinese people who I talk to about this find the practice problematic, it might be a dying institution - at least in its current, very open form.

    Moving on I'm happy to report that Baotou has opened its very first Irish Bar(tm). When I came here I was horrified to find that there were no bars. People here go to restaurants if they want to have a drink but that's just not the same. Fortunately I met a guy who was about to open a bar and since he wanted a western theme I told him about the greatest Irish export commodity. The bar is now open, and although they don't serve Guinness (it's too expensive to import) it's still a very nice hangout. Recently another cafe/bar has opened close to me and I hear that more are on the way, so it seems it's a way of life that's coming to Baotou in the near future.

    What else... Oh yes! I'm famous! Recently I was interviewed for a local Baotou newspaper, which resulted in an article. It's in Chinese unfortunately, and I'm not a fan of all the pictures but I guess my star power is not yet sufficient to demand editorial powers of the article. Another magazine, some sort of academic publication brought some pictures of me too, although they found me too uninteresting to bring an interview... I guess I have to settle with being a piece of eye-candy :)

    Right, that's going to have to be it for now. Itís moving day here at my home, as Lisaís persuaded to put all my furniture into the other room.

SoÖ Bye for now,