I live in the studenty Haidian district of Beijing, where all the universities are. It’s also the big technology centre of China; walk around Zhongguancun, China’s version of Silicon Valley (“Silicon Hutong?“), and you’ll find streets lined with stores selling computer components, pirated software, top-end monitors and laptops gutted for spare parts. I’ve been planning to get a new computer there, as my laptop is showing its age, but haven’t yet had the time.
Biking from my apartment (which is almost directly behind the rear gate of Forestry University, in the Liudaokou neighbourhood) to Beida takes between 20 minutes and a half an hour, depending on how bad traffic and construction are.
The first is pretty obvious; the second bears explaining: the entire goddamn city is under construction. Chinese newspapers say things like “since reform and opening, the Chinese economy has been violently expanding,” or “ferociously developing,” or “fiercely growing.” One might dismiss such things as mere turns of phrase – which indeed they are in Chinese – but, seeing the new buildings going up, and the old buildings coming down, and the roads getting unpaved and repaved for no clear reason, there really does seem to be an element of violence to it.
Biking around here is really a pleasure. The city is completely flat, which makes things easy, and all of the roads are as smooth as silk. Not a one of them that I’ve seen so far looks more than a year old. One of the ones I ride on on my way to Beida was finished less than a week ago.
The flipside of all the wonderful new construction is that a good deal of it is ongoing, so a bike ride may be lengthened five minutes by the presence of cement trucks or jackhammer crews. Further delays are caused by the logistical problems inherent in a crowd of several dozen bicyclists squeezing through a 3-foot gap between construction equipment, and the rudeness, minor injuries, major losses of face, and assorted human tragedy resulting from same. I am thinking here specifically of Qinghua Dong Lu, on which a new office park is going up.
Once you get past it, though, and get onto Chengfu Lu, you’ll be home free; it’s a wide avenue, newly-paved like the rest, lined with DVD stores, software retailers, malls selling the latest Japanese and Korean fashions. The Qinghua University Technology Park has been under construction here since I first arrived in China in July 2002.
Keep going along Chengfu Lu until you hit Zhongguancun, the avenue outside the east gate of Beijing University. At this point, if you are me, you’ll continue through the gate on your way to classes, but otherwise you may choose to turn left, which will take you to the motherlode. There are malls here (of varying reputability) selling every computer part known to man. The stalls along the side streets would make the MPAA weep, and a person unconcerned by intellectual property laws could amass a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of pirated software without spending much time or money.
This morning, on my way to classes, I was biking along Chengfu Lu, minding my own business, when I heard a “Hello.” I turned, and smiled, and said “Hello” back, as per my usual habit – it was a couple of high-school age kids on a bike. One of them reached into his bag and pulled out something rectangular-shaped, in a silvery plastic packet.
“You speak Chinese? OK, cool – want this? 80-gig hard disk, completely new, 200 kuai.”
“Want RAM? Ethernet cards? Graphics cards?”
“Um, not today,” I said. “Good luck selling them.”
They kept on going – the one who’d been showing me their merchandise, perched on the back, waved at me as they went off.
And I continued on my way to class.
NOTE: I’m moving bokane.org over to a server that isn’t blocked in the PRC. This will probably be my last post on this server; in the next week or two, bokane.org may be down for a couple of days – but fret not; it’s all part of the plan.