In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the horror of riding the subway in "New Beijing." Part 2 will be dedicated to the migrant workers of our fair city and you'll quickly see how all these problems are completely interconnected and will hopefully come to a miraculous conclusion shortly before Aug. 8, 2008.
Migrant workers have always been a bit of a problem in the capital city, but nowadays the number of migrants and tourists seem worse than ever. If you're looking for proof of it, go here. Or even better, just ride the subway home one night. If you thought Shanghai's population is pretty big, according to that article, Beijing's migrant population is over 5 million, and the city's total population is around 17.5 million people. That's right, 17.5 million people. The next time it feels like the entire population of Hebei Province now resides in Beijing, that's because they probably all moved here.
As someone whose spent a long time in the US, I've long considered friends who complained about migrants, their bad habits and their thieving especially, as over-the-top stereotyping and classism. However, having seen these people in subways and shops and restaurants around the city, I'm starting to understand a bit of what my friends are complaining about, the liberal American is beginning to get washed away.
It's gotten to the point where it's hard to find "old Beijingers" in Beijing. They are seemingly a minority in this city. If you've been living here for 10 years, you're heading toward "old Beijing" status, if you've been here since the early 80s, then you definitely qualify. That differs from the days of my youth when a family like mine, that came to Beijing during liberation, wouldn't be eligible for status as "old Beijingers." The lack of Beijing people willing to drive a cab has extended what "Beijinger" means out to the "suburbs" and beyond creating a condition where many Beijing cabdrivers barely know their way around Beijing. No longer is it as simple as getting in the cab, stating an address or building name, then entering into an interesting chat with the driver. Now, you need to give them the building name, cross streets, a detailed map, know every turn, and have the phone number, just in case he ignores all this. Plus, the driver's don't really talk anymore, in part, me thinks, to hide their un-Beijing accents.
The subways are overcrowded because of the migrants, which are also problem 2, but at the same time they're a necessity because of Part 3, which will be coming soon, the massive building boom this city is under. If you thought all the building is only for the Olympics, you'd be wrong, a look out my window in Guo Mao facing east (my new office doesn't afford me the great view I had in the west) and I count 7 major building projects (including the new CCTV Building) that I can see (and the sky isn't even that clear today).
Now, more than ever, this city has become a transient one and for the natives and long-time residents, its hard to get used to this.