The Bearded Giant spends a lot of time on foot in Changchun. Even though taxis are cheap, and buses are essentially free (seriously, when is the last time you could take a bus across town for 16 cents? I was paying 25 cents over three decades ago), you can’t really experience a city from inside a vehicle. Plus, you can’t scare nearly as many people from inside a taxi as you can on foot. The double-takes people do when they look up from their phone and see a giant foreigner walking briskly toward them? Priceless.
Lots of people do drive in Changchun, of course. The days of China being a bicycle country are long gone, swept away with the financial reforms that have allowed private citizens to grow their wealth and income. But unlike American cities, which were designed for ubiquitous cars two generations ago, cities like Changchun are having to adapt on the fly. The roads are plenty wide enough. But when the cars are done driving, they have to go somewhere, and parking lots were just not part of the plan.
So where do they park?
Sometimes they are on what used to be a sidewalk, in nice neat orderly rows in front of businesses.
And sometimes they treat parking like they do driving… “I would like my car to be there, and there is no car currently there, so this is now the place for my car.”
Yes, that’s a sidewalk. And yes, I was hoping to walk on it. At least the cars parked on the sidewalk about 50 yards ahead have made an effort to turn a bit to leave room for pedestrians. This guy? Nope.
You might ask yourself if someone writes tickets for this sort of thing…
But if you have read any of my previous blog posts about Changchun, I think you have your answer already.
Some businesses have to make the extra effort to “hold” parking for their VIP patrons. This restaurant has taken the step of installing folding metal triangles that can be locked in position to prevent parkers.
But most businesses just accept that people are going to park anywhere they want. On the curb, on the sidewalk, wherever.
On another note, there is a lot of talk about pollution in China. And yes, the bad days are far worse than anything any Western country experiences. Beijing in winter in the 21st century is very much like Pittsburgh of the 1910s. The pollution isn’t nearly as bad in spring and summer, since so much of it is generated by the burning of coal for winter heating. But there are still bad days. And a “good” day in most of China is similar to a “bad” day in Los Angeles (or the Inland Empire cities of Riverside and San Bernadino). The picture above is an example of a not-great pollution day, and you can see the gray of the sky and the lack of clarity in the photo as a result.
But occasionally after a good rain, and some good wind, the pollution levels in Changchun are quite low. The following picture was taken to show parking on the sidewalk, but in looking at it now I realize just how clear the day was. That sky is as blue as you could ask for. And it was definitely a day when the everpresent breathing masks could be left at home.
I’m including a larger version of that pic on the click-through here:
There’s a lot of “today’s China” in that one photo, that I didn’t realize at the time I took it. In spite of all the cars, there’s still a gentleman riding his bicycle in the lower right. In the right foreground is “Kid Castle”, a childhood education franchise that started in Taiwan in 1986 and now has around 400 locations between Taiwan and China. With most families limited to one child, parents are intensely competitive to give their child advantages, starting very young. Further to the left is a branch of China Construction Bank, one of the “big four” banks in China, and second largest bank in the world. High on the building is a large banner advertisement for a pool hall down the next block. While I have not visited yet, I have no doubt it is full of snooker tables. Snooker has seen tremendous growth in China with roughly 50 million active players, and may pass badminton and table tennis in popularity in the next decade or so.
Finally, in the far left of the picture, down the building from the China Construction Bank… You see that overhang that looks like an ornate wannabe temple?
That’s a North Korean restaurant.
Staffed by North Koreans. Serving North Korean food. With workers telling you how wonderful North Korea is (while likely being locked away on a compound near the restaurant when they are not working so they can’t escape to freedom in China).
The Bearded Giant fully intends to visit the restaurant, but admits he has some qualms. The yuan he spends in that place are likely heading straight to Kim Jong Un to finance his latest missile system that can strike fear into the greedy capitalists.
I can almost hear the “pew pew pew” sounds he makes when he pushes the button for the launch.
I probably needn’t worry…