First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Count the Green Guys

China is home to some 1.3 billion people. Based on my personal observations over the last 2 months, I would have to estimate that about 350 million of them are employed by some outfit called Beijing Security - or, as I affectionately call them, the Green Guys (and occasionally Green Girls).

They are EVERYWHERE. Their uniforms are distinctly military-inspired - green trousers, shirts, shoulder boards, peaked caps or berets and sometimes Sam Browne belts that are worn over the shirt and strapped over one shoulder. They don't appear to be armed, although some have radios.

I'd put the average age somewhere between 'embryo' and 'prepubescent,' and I'm not sure exactly what they do - the ones in my apartment building are on duty 24 hours to open the door and occasionally deliver the water to the rooms (remember, you can't drink from the tap), and sometimes carry bags for residents.

Others man booths at the entrance of parking lots. They don't take the money, mind you - that's the Blue Guys' jobs. The Green Guys just watch. Still others stand at attention in vacant lots. My office has our own personal Green Guy who stands at the entrance (actually 2 or 3 - they take shifts), and I'm guessing every office in Beijing has at least one guard per floor.

They actually seem quite friendly - I'm on smile-and-nod terms with 6 of them who work in or near my apartment, and the afternoon guy at the office always hits the 'down' elevator button for me. But I cannot FATHOM how bored they must be 99% of the time.

I asked a coworker about it and he chuckled. "Don't let the uniforms fool you," he said. Apparently the Beijing Security Company, a private (or maybe semi-private) business, has contracts with all of these property owners to supply security. I'm not sure if the property owners WANT so many guards, or if the level of security is mandated somewhere, but whatever the reason, you can't swing one 15-year-old Green Guy without hitting three more.

So today, I played a little game called Count the Green Guys. This is absolutely no exaggeration - the way you play is, walk down the street, and count the Green Guys you actually SEE with minimal effort - no assuming that they're there, even when you know they are, and no going out of your normal path to get a better view into a lobby.

Here are today's results. My path, in red, is .45 miles, or .73 km, from my apartment (at top) to my office (at bottom).

Click to enlarge

The total for today is 32 Green Guys! A pretty good showing. I didn't even count the six Green Guys in the armored car waiting to empty the ATM on the first floor of my building - they carry guns and wear helmets and flak jackets, so they may be a different breed of Green Guy.

So let's do a little mathemagic. I walked 730 meters. Let's assume I could see 50 meters in every direction, so we add 50 meters to each end of my path for a total of 830 and multiply by 100 - so we're assuming I saw a swath of the city amounting to about 83,000 square meters. With 32 Green Guys in that area (a conservative estimate, mind you) that means an average of one Green Guy for every 2,593.75 square meters.

Beijing Municipality is about 16,800 square kilometers - or 16.8 million square meters. At one Green Guy per 2,593.75 square meters... let's see, carry the one... divide by pi...

As I suspected! There are 6,477,108 Green Guys in Beijing - about half the population.

Take THAT, unemployment!

(Fascinating sidenote - the large square white-roofed building just a little north of my office is the Makro Supermarket, where I had my banana-buying difficulties!)