Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Shades of green: Beijing (13-27 Sep 09)

Saying that my study tour to Beijing was an enriching experience is an understatement. It was overwhelming should one opened his senses and thoughts to the surroundings. Keeping within the scope of this blog (not to mention some very private episodes and opinions), I will only touch upon the environmental aspects of the trip. (No, this trip has nothing to do with water so do not expect to see photos of field trips to exotic lakes and rivers.)
  1. No vehicle engines were kept idling. I would say we Singaporeans became acutely aware of this practice each time we boarded a transport to find that the air conditioning was off. No exceptions. The driver only turned on the engine (and air-con) when he was ready to move.

  2. No plastic bags were given. You have to pay RMB20-30 for a plastic bag. I initially could not believe that this could be implemented for such a large city. In contrast, Singapore's efforts in promoting this habit have been insipid at best.

  3. Despite the increasing number of cars, the bicycle was still commonly used, no doubt encouraged by designated bicycle lanes on certain roads. Electric bicycles were also common as they could be easily recharged overnight using the house mains.

  4. Street have few lights. Walkways were lighted by road lights for vehicles rather than for pedestrians. In most cities, this constitutes a risk to personal safety but in Beijing, lots of people still walked about in the semi-darkness, apparently acclimatised. In the campus I stayed at, lights in buildings were sparingly turned on, making most corridors rather dark (and spooky). These procedures would certainly save energy though I am not sure the compromise in safety (perhaps missing a step on the stairs) is acceptable.

  5. Beijing has its own haze too. Unlike Singapore, the haze took on a weekly cycle. Sunday - Wednesday: clear, blue skies. Thursday: the haze appeared by sun rise and grew worse each day till Saturday. Look out for it if you ever go there. It can really spoil your plans for crisp outdoor photography from Thu - Sat.

  6. Spitting is now a "minor" problem which only the older folks passionately engage in. Still, the characteristic gurgle followed by the ear splitting excretion of oral fluid can be unbearable to the uninitiated.

  7. Smoking is a "major" problem, from underaged youngsters to toothless old folks. It is everywhere. Yes, even in air conditioned areas (this is NOT a crime over there). With the weekly haze and the smoothering cigarette smoke for comparison, I am thankful that we have strict air pollution control laws in Singapore. (Smokers out there, you are welcome to disagree.)
Figures (L-R, T-B): A typical thoroughfare shared by motors vehicles and bikes; an exception to the semi-darkness on most streets - the symbolic Bird Nest sports stadium; another exception t the low light rule - the Water Cube swimming centre; solar power is very common on street lamps - check out the solar panel at the top; the inescapable weekly haze

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