Thursday, November 11, 2004
Beijing Bicycle and Saving Private Ryan
I was watching CNN (Asian broadcast) this morning which featured a 5 second pic-bit of a woman negotiating a bicycle through heavy traffic in a busy Beijing intersection with the commentary that the bicycle city is now becoming the automobile city. With progress, some things are gained and others lost but the image of Beijing as a bicycle city will always be one of my fondest. The wide bike lanes on either side of every street are always filled with cyclists, elderly, children, students, tricycle trucks and pedicabs. They flow at a speed the eye can absorb in a fluid threaded line through the city's veins and arteries, their riders preternaturally aware of one another as their courses form sinuous braids that weave through Beijing, a throbbing stream of industriousness. Hundreds of bicycles park in orderly rows outside every school, businesse, mall, supermarket, public transportation terminus and national attraction.
Stacks of parts and accessories surround bike repairmen and women occupying the sidewalks at the ready to fix a tire, tighten brakes and handle bars, install baskets. When my Beijing bicycle needed attention, I brought it one of these and was offered a small plastic stool to sit on and a paper cup of tea to wait with as the repairman, who spoke not a word of English attended to my loose rusty chain. The cost of this and a new basket and bell was less than two dollars.
As more and more automobiles, a potent symbol of the increasing fortunes of the emergent urban Chinese middle class, jam the streets of Beijing and other large cities, the bicycle lanes are under pressure. Most of them are fenced off with lightweight white metal boundaries but many of them, particularly on wide streets are open. Cars now cut in and out of them to get through traffic. As the already crushing traffic increases, with sales of cars increasing exponentialy, the bicycle lanes might be a thing of the past very soon.
There is an independent film made in 2002, available widely on DVD with English subtitles called Bejing Bicycle. It's not very good, but I recommend it anyway. It does offer a realistic view of how the sub middle-class, the vast majority of ordinary people in Beijing, live and relate to one another. A teenage peasant boy from the provinces gets a job in Beijing as a bicycle courrier. He gets a bicycle as part of the employment package but the cost of the bike is deducted from his wages until it is paid back. As soon as the bike is paid off, it is stolen.
To impress a pretty classmate, a teenage schoolboy acquires a cool bicycle, which he has to hide from his family because they can't really afford it. It's the same bike, which the delivery boy soon 'finds.' The film follows the dispute over the bike which reveals the classism between Beijingers and migrant workers. The film was originally banned in China, but the ban was lifted after it and its director, Wang Xiaoshuai won awards at foreign film festivals.
Tsk tsk, you may be thinking, China banning an independent film. But it pales next to today's news that some affiliates of the American television network, ABC have announced that they won't take part in the network's Veterans Day airing of the Oscar winning Saving Private Ryan, saying the acclaimed film's violence and language could draw sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.
"Under strict interpretation of the rules, we can't run that programming before 10 p.m.," said Ray Cole, president of Citadel, which owns WOI-TV in Des Moines, KCAU-TV in Sioux City and KLKN-TV in Lincoln, Neb.
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.
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