An old friend and an excellent documentary about the earthquake
Last Sunday we went out for Dinner, but because my previous 'birthday restaurant' was destroyed during the summer (birthday restaurant meaning somewhere cheap, friendly, with good atmosphere, convenient and with space for a large group of people), a new one had to be found. After 40 minutes of hunting, a new one has been found and it did not disappoint. After a great hotpot dinner, we went to the Mississippi Bar which has happy hour from 11am to 11pm -fast becoming a favourite!
Tuesday night was quiz night -actually it was my first time at this particular quiz at Tim's Texas BBQ, now just one of over ten different quiz nights at various bars for foreigners in Beijing. This one was somewhat easier than the other one, and less high-brow, so I made a few meaningful contributions (such as knowing the length of a snooker table, knowing how many clubs have been in the Premiership consistently without being relegated etc); although more amusing was the quizmaster reading out questions that often, for some reason, had french words or names in them, and he had no idea how to pronounce them.
Tonight I took the bus to meet a friend for dinner and the driver said something to me -a bit confused and not sure what he said i moved further down the bus (thinking that i was blocking something), but then he beckoned me over, so i went over and chatted to him. It seems that he remembered me from 2 years ago when I often used motorbike taxis (with little cabs/sidecars on the back), and quite often him, to get me to work. Somewhat bizarre that he remembered me after two years -I guess he did not have many foreign customers.
Also tonight we went to watch a documentary (called '1428' after the time of the Sichuan Earthquake) by a Chinese director which won some prestigious awards. It has not been released in any cinemas as I know, but a special screening was organized along with a Q&A from the director. The documentary is just 2 hours edited from the director's 178 hours of footage he shot in the week after the earthquake and then around 9 months later -the director says nothing in the film at all. Interestingly there is no real message in the documentary though it is well done.
It has several different perspectives expressed by those affected; mostly related to reconstruction, getting aid etc. There was plenty in there that will teach viewers a lot about China, from the government slogans painted on the walls ("only the lazy rely on the government") to the visit of the Prime Minister to the area, and the clips related to the police, military and party officials. There are some interesting insights, such as people rummaging through rubble to get scrap metal to sell which is the only income source for most people or others who were stealing. There were perspectives from the elderly and the middle-aged, from those who lost everything and those who lost almost nothing. There was also though a couple of larger points i took from the film that i had not really thought specifically about before.
The first is that the Chinese government has made sure the people know it is in charge and have expectations that it will meet their needs. This ensures the government is seen as the only source of power in the country, but it also means that the people have very high expectations of the government and expect them to help no matter what. Thankfully the government is fairly efficient, as most of you will have heard.
The second is that when the government encouraged its people to "go get rich", which many of them are doing, or at least are trying, it also opened a can of worms by creating expectations that everyone should be able to get rich. But for those who do not? How patient can they be? Who do they blame if they are still impoverished? Thus the government has unleashed entrepreneurialism but at the risk of also undermining its authority if it cannot deliver.
In hindsight there were plenty of other interesting things in the documentary, and some comical moments too. Probably it meant more to me having lived here for 5 years, and visited the earthquake area 6 months ago, but i do think it is well worth watching!