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 like the best gaming 144hz monitor that appear in the vg248qe review 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.”
“Nah, thanks.”
“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 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, may be down for a couple of days – but fret not; it’s all part of the plan.

Comments (12)

  1. Katie-ah wrote::

    *commences drooling*

    China, how I miss thee.

    Beijing, we have really yet to meet.


    51 more days!!! Woohoo!

    Thursday, September 11, 2003 at 2:01 am #
  2. nico wrote::

    Yeah, that’s about as cyberpunk as I’ve ever heard. Which reminds me. Gotta reserve some plane tickets. And I feel that I should mention, since I’m in a gloaty sort of mood, I have fiddled my schedule such that I have no classes on Friday. Four lit classes and Portuguese. My power cannot be measured by numbers alone. I’d say it’s at roughly oogah.

    Thursday, September 11, 2003 at 4:28 am #
  3. John wrote::

    I wonder how different Beijing looks now from when I last saw it two years ago. Quite different, for sure. I also wonder how Beijing’s computer district compares to Shanghai’s.

    Glad to hear you’ll be unblocked soon. Looking forward to it!

    Thursday, September 11, 2003 at 4:29 am #
  4. zod wrote::

    Big up to Liudaokou!

    About Zhongguancun — I found that the computers available there seemed to be about a generation behind what I could find here in Toronto, but admittedly I didn’t look that hard. I was under the impressions that the prices (at least for non-black market stuff) ended up being about the same as what you can get here. Aren’t the deals in HK/Taiwan? I suppose it’ll change as production continues to move to China.

    Friday, September 12, 2003 at 11:41 am #
  5. Tim wrote::

    Given what’s happening back in the states, maybe you can set up a server in China from which people can download music — how is that for a new business idea :-).

    Saturday, September 13, 2003 at 5:02 am #
  6. lucas wrote::

    could you give me you new URL?

    Monday, September 15, 2003 at 6:30 am #
  7. karen wrote::

    nice to know that u have settled down in beijing, brendan. i am struggling with my TA engagement right here in chicago.:(

    Thursday, September 18, 2003 at 12:26 pm #
  8. yoshio wrote::

    dude, i’m afraid that the next time i go to beijing, i won’t be able to recognize a damn thing. how sad… sounds like you’re doing well though. take care bro

    Tuesday, September 23, 2003 at 5:01 am #
  9. Lili wrote::

    Parts of NYC smell exactly like Beijing. We’re both home away from our respective homes.
    Recently bought a “DVD” from Chinatown and realized that the $5 I paid afforded a nice profit margin relative to the vendors’ Mainland procurement.
    I hope things are well. Keep writing, and take care!

    Wednesday, September 24, 2003 at 3:20 am #
  10. matt wrote::

    hey its matt/chabuduo,
    I’m in Beijing now, iuts the 29th of september. Gimme a call pls:

    hope to catch up with you

    Monday, September 29, 2003 at 6:17 am #
  11. matt wrote::

    hey its matt/chabuduo,
    I’m in Beijing now, iuts the 29th of september. Gimme a call pls:

    hope to catch up with you

    Monday, September 29, 2003 at 6:17 am #
  12. donny wrote::

    haha, so i guess china’s “strike hard” anti-piracy policy was a temporary thing after all. i remember going back six months after we were all at beida, and almost all of those dvd places had either shut down or stopped carrying dvds.

    have they extended that subway system to beida yet?

    Wednesday, October 1, 2003 at 12:33 pm #