Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sandstorm in Beijing

The other day in Beijing there was a big sandstorm that blew in. This is not so unusual to happen in Beijing, it does happen from time to time, but its my first one. I didn't realize it was coming. That day was a pleasant day, temps were high, and me and a few of the guys decided to go out for beers at a patio bar. I knew there was a northerly wind coming around 5pm. Usually that means that the AQI gets low, in other words we get a blast of fresh northern air. I was looking forward to that, but at 5pm it was like someone flicked a light switch. The sky darkened and we headed inside. On the way home I put on my mask and kept my head down. When I got home I checked the AQI on my phone. Its usually somewhere in the 50-150 range indicating good to a bit unhealthy air. It was 895! That norther wind kept blowing all night and by the time morning came the sky was blue as ever, AQI 65. This is the sky in Beijing. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Beijing Living 101: Ikea

One of the oddest things here in Beijing and a perennial source of amusement among the new expats is the behavior of people at Ikea. This recently was in the news again as Ikea decided to ban people from loitering on their beds and furniture. I immediately saw the futility in this when I heard of it and it seems that since then Ikea has stated that they will not be banning people from doing this. Probably a good choice since it is likely impossible to enforce. 
One thing China has is a lot of people, one trip to Ikea on a Saturday and you will feel like you have seen and touched all of them. The only way to actually have a pleasant shopping experience and maybe to try out a couch or bed, is to get there right when the place opens. Any later and you won’t be able to get through the store without being pressed by the sweaty masses and certainly won’t be able to try out any piece of furniture you might like to buy. For me personally this has just been frustrating as a couple of times I actually wanted to test out some couches and had to ask people who were napping to get up, which they didn’t like very much. . Once, rather stupidly, I went to Ikea during Chinese New Year thinking that certainly there would not be very many people there as it's the time of year that everyone goes home to spend family time, like Christmas in the West. No, all of Beijing was at Ikea spending family time on the couches and beds, not in their homes. 
There are many reasons why this is, but the main one can be easily seen by who  it is that is doing the sleeping/lounging on the furniture. Since Beijing is a packed city and China is a developing country, many people don’t have very nice furniture at home. Secondly, the availability of an outlet for people to have a social outing with their family that is in any way comfortable is slim if you are making an average salary or less. Third, Ikea has it all. From comfy couches to cheap eat and drinks, and even air conditioning. Why go anywhere else?

The only times I dare go now is immediately at opening, if I go at all. The idea of Ikea trips makes a ripple of stress go through me. Its best to plan ahead and get in and out quickly. Though management has good intentions to, you know, actually sell stuff to customers who want to buy it, that is unlikely to detour anyone from doing what they please. This is China, after all.