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

Monday, August 6, 2007

Riceometer Check

That's right, boys and girls. 90%. I have ten days remaining in Beijing (a little less when you consider my flight leaves early on the 16th.)


Take a look at the Riceometer picture. Does it look a little blurry to you? It should, thanks to the pickpocket who lifted my new Olympus camera out of my backpack yesterday, leaving me with just my low-resolution webcam as the last way I have to take pictures.

(Remember, my cameraphone was stolen after I forgot it in a cab in June. I say stolen because, while it was my own fault for forgetting it, when I called it moments later, the person who picked it up clearly knew it was forgotten, and knew they could answer it and perhaps get it to its rightful owner, but instead turned it off and took it. I accept some responsibility for that one, but I still say stolen.)

I'm not sure where it happened, but I suspect it was at the Silk Street Pearl Market, a six-story bazaar in central Beijing stuffed to the rafters with counterfeit bags, jeans, shoes, jewelry and more. I had gone out for the day shopping with two Singaporean coworkers. We went first to Panjiayuan, the huge antique market I visited twice in June, for some last-minute souvenirs, then to Silk Street for one of my coworkers to buy a bag.

Both are well-known for pickpockets, since they attract a lot of tourists, but in Silk Street we were constantly bumping people due to the narrow aisles, and the laowai are especially dense - like fish in a barrel.

I'm kicking myself, of course, because I knew better. I've been very careful about what I carry and where. As I was throwing my bag together for the day, I even looked at the camera in my hand and thought "I don't need this today." But then I think I got distracted and dropped it in an outside pocket with a water bottle.

Then I forgot about it. I remember feeling people bump me - at one point I even turned and asked a friend if I was still zipped - but I remember thinking "Well, if they want my water that bad, they can have it." Only later, when I realized it was gone, did I remember that I had brought it after all.

So yeah, I'm kicking myself - but I'd rather be kicking the thief who took it from me.

I will not miss sticking out as an obvious foreigner, and I will not miss the way foreigners are viewed by part of the population here as a source of easy money. There's the pickpocket, who probably also steals from Chinese but probably prefers to steal from foreigners because, even if I noticed, what do I do? I can't make myself understood. Then there was the vendor at Panjiayuan who gave my Singaporean (but ethnic Chinese) friend a starting price of 150 yuan for an item, then gave me a starting price of 280 when I asked about the same item a few minutes later. Or the panhandlers, who were especially on last night, following me and tapping my feet with their sticks for - seriously - at least 5 minutes (I was waiting for someone), totally ignoring the locals who walked by.

I know that's just sulky carping, and I know I should be more generous since they need it more than me, but I can't help feeling insulted. And I'm bitter about the camera.

Still, I'm talking about a tiny minority of the population in very specific places. I know perfectly well that every city has pickpockets and scam artists and panhandlers and worse - really I have never felt unsafe in Beijing, and I'm not going to let a little petty larceny ruin what has been a fabulous experience. I just don't like being marked as an outsider, but I guess knowing what that feels like is a valuable lesson in empathy for me.

As for the camera itself, at least I had moved almost all of the pictures to my computer (maybe a dozen were lost, nothing significant) and at least it happened after I had seen pretty much all of the tourist sites. And a replacement will cost less than $200 - a kick in the teeth, to be sure, but it's not like buying a new car.

So there you go! Sunshine and rainbows, everybody!

One thing I noticed at Silk Street was that, while many of the vendors don't speak English, they all know all the brand names. There's a large number of Chinese whose introduction to our language starts with "Louis Vitton," "Rolex," "Nike" and "Dolce & Gabbana."

I don't know why that struck me. Maybe because it seems so trivial, or because it's a shame that foreigners come to Beijing, and that's all they want to talk about.

(To be fair, the bags I saw carried a badge that said "Dolge & Gabbana," and every one of them, regardless of whether they were made of leather, canvas or vinyl, was marked "Genuine Denim.")

About a week left, and NOW they pile it on.

The farewell video saga continues, with rewrites coming in from various parties on the client side, requiring a re-recording. I had to rewrite and edit parts, but fortunately got to skip the studio because I was at a meeting for:

The new business pitch on Thursday. Myself and one of the Singaporeans presented three conceptual ideas with extensions in 4 media. A Chinese team presented 2 more. In the end, two of the ideas I worked on are moving forward. But since the presentation is in Chinese, I don't know what more I have to do.

Then there's the print campaign that was my first job here - I was told I'll be spending part of the week coming up with online extensions.

And as for the TV commercial that is being art-directed by about 40 people on 4 continents, the call Friday was as painful as I feared. Frankly, I'm keeping my head down, other than informal discussions with a couple people, because I don't want to get sucked into that with just a few days left.

Mostly, though, I just want everything to wrap up nice and quiet-like. I've made it this far without a serious meltdown or crisis, and (knock on wood) I'd just as soon keep it that way.

I'll see you all soon!