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Once you arrive in Beijing, your best sources of advice will be foreign co-corkers who’ve been there a few months. Here’s what I learned from them, among many other things such as who sells pot and where the best pick-up prospects congregate:

Money: Exchange dollars for yuan at the airport when you arrive. Nobody in Beijing accepts any currency except Chinese. Currently, one dollar equals almost seven yuan. Don’t count on being able to use your credit card anywhere but at an ATM, where you can use it to get yuan. Until you get a Chinese-issued debit card, count on having to carry wads of cash.

Banks: Your employer might have an arrangement with a particular bank, so your account will be set up there. This may change frequently; mine did four times in 12 months. Your pay checks will be deposited directly into the account and you’ll be issued a debit card, which you can use most places. As soon as you enter the bank, look for the little machine that issues numbers (like at the deli counter) and get one. If possible, get one especially for the window servicing foreigners, since it will move much faster and the teller might speak a little English. Pay close attention because when your number comes up, you may have five seconds to get to the proper window before the next number is called. 

Sending money home: It’s possible to set up transfers from your Chinese account to an American bank, but it’s a tedious chore. Each transfer requires your presence at the bank and a time-consuming routine that might vary from visit to visit, depending on how the teller feels like interpreting rules and regulations that day. I found it easier to exchange yuan for dollars and bus it over to a Western Union office, from where I sent it to my sister in Skokie, Ill. She then deposited it in my home account. 

Business cards: Ask for them as soon as possible, if they aren’t offered quickly. If possible, get one with the name and address of the company printed in Mandarin, as well as English. Very handy for cab drivers.

Subways: In Beijing, the system is cheap and excellent – mostly. Try to avoid using line 1, the oldest and most crowded. Also avoid morning and evening rush hours, if possible. Otherwise, they’re easy to use and reliable. Most have English signs and even the computerized female voice announcing the next stop translates into English. Get a subway pass.

Groceries: If you’re lucky, you’ll find a market nearby consisting of multiple stalls, each housing a vendor and organized by sections – vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, dry goods, pet supplies, housewares, imported foods, beans, grains, nuts and rice, liquor and cigarettes, noodles, dumplings, steamed bread and hardware. The offerings here are fresher than in stores and prices are negotiable. The Japanese department store Ito Yokado, Walmart and its Chinese knock-off, Wumart offer big grocery stores. Some neighborhoods have a French-based supermarket called Carrefours. For Western groceries, Jennie Lou’s is where most people go. It has several branches around town. There’s also a stall (#36, I think) at the Xinyuanli market near the Kunlun Hotel. This market has a great reputation and is worth checking out for all kinds of food. Even the furniture store Ikea offers a few Western groceries (including great coffee) but at stiff prices. At Jennie Lou’s or Xinyuanli, I usually bought coffee beans, Parmesan cheese, Irish or Danish butter, Italian pasta, maple syrup, baking soda, and cleaning products. The Ito Yokado had good fresh-baked French bread.

There’s lots more to describe, but I don’t want to overload you with new and strange information. That will happen often enough in Beijing!

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The China Media Project offers another look at the challenges of investigative reporting in China, where government bureaucrats dictate which geographic regions and topics are off-limits to reporters: http://cmp.hku.hk/2010/12/09/8851/

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Kudos to the Global Times for publishing a lengthy special report about an annual conference of investigative journalists in China. Its publication on the same day the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to imprisoned free-speech advocate Liu Xiaobo (although the event took place in November) indicates that support for the concept cannot be entirely quashed even in state-run media. The article describes the many ways authorities try to suppress the conference, as well as the stories that attendees deemed most worthy.

Advocates of free speech are encouraged to take a look at the article and appreciate the risks Chinese editors and reporters must take to practice genuine journalism:

http://special.globaltimes.cn/2010-12/600744.html

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As expected, today’s editions of Beijing-based newspapers brim with anti-Nobel Peace Prize editorials fuming about Western insults to China. Here’s a sampling:

“Insult of the Nobel Peace Prize” at China Daily; be sure to check out the comments it attracted – more than 335 so far. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2010-12/10/content_11680595.htm

“Human Rights Day,” a stupendously self-serving piece of propaganda designed to counter criticism of China’s record in this regard. The timing of its publication today is no accident. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-12/10/content_11685277.htm

“Liu’s Nobel ignores China’s true human rights progress,” which includes a  lie so brazen it is breathtaking: “The 1.3 billion people in China are the ones who have the utmost legitimate right to speak on these issues.” Of course – as long as they don’t mention freedom of speech, democracy or human rights as anything but conspiracies of Western cultural imperialism. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-12/10/content_11685884.htm

If you can take any more, the following links to the Global Times and People’s Daily provide more along the same lines: http://www.globaltimes.cn/

http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/

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This year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, imprisoned Chinese democracy activist Liu Xiaobo, has been silenced and punished for years because he spoke out in favor of free speech and an end to one-party rule in China. The picture of an empty chair at the award ceremony today speaks eloquently about Liu’s oppression, and his own words about banishing hatred from his country are astonishing evidence of why the Chinese government feared the power of his public proclamations. For a translation into English of Liu’s final address to the court that sentenced him to 11 years in prison, go to this link at the China Digital Times, a project of the journalism school at the University of California in Berkeley: http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2010/02/liu-xiaobo-i-have-no-enemies-my-final-statement/#

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With two days to go before the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to an imprisoned Chinese democracy activist, newspapers in Beijing have resumed their condemnation of the decision. While doing so, a column in China Daily parrots two of the regime’s most cherished myths: that the Chinese enjoy a “harmonious and stable society” run by a “democratic leadership, led by the working class and based on the alliance of workers and farmers.”

“Harmonious and stable” are euphemisms for the unquestioned dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party, none of whose members belong to the “working class.” Instead, they enjoy privileges and comforts that most workers can only dream about. And if workers and farmers ever did get organized enough to form an alliance, you can bet that the powers in Beijing would sic the People’s Army on them faster than you can say Liu Xiaobo. 

Nonetheless, responses to the column make for interesting reading. Check it out here: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2010-12/08/content_11667718.htm

Meanwhile, the Global Times has weighed in with a typical rant positing that Norway and other Western countries choose to ignore China’s economic progress, a point which ignores the fact that the Peace Prize is awarded for work that enhances human rights. It also claims “dozens” of countries will boycott the ceremony in support of China, when in fact as of today not even two dozen (19) have announced they will do so. This could easily have been discovered by Googling the term “Nobel boycott,” but of course in China the Great Firewall probably blocks access to any website that mentions the Nobel Peace Prize. Here’s a link to the editorial: http://opinion.globaltimes.cn/editorial/2010-12/599717.html

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After a spate of hysterical denunciations about interference in Chinese affairs and cultural imperialism, the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony slated for this Friday (Dec. 10) is now being greeted in Chinese media with a thunderous silence. No doubt propaganda authorities have ordered news media not to mention imprisoned Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving 11 years in prison for advocating freedom of speech, an act considered to be subversion.

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