Even in fine hotels, you cannot drink the water. Hotels provide free bottled water.
Google really has gone away, sort of. Type in www.google.cn, the Chinese version, it quickly switches you to www.google.com.hk. That's the Hong Kong-based server, which Google switched to in March to avoid Chinese censorship. The Hong Kong server still won't load some Web sites — especially stories on the Google controversy. Most sophisticated Web users in China use something called a VPN server to get around censorship.
If you will be in China this fall, watch for the reopening of Beijing's National Museum on Tiananmen Square. Closed for three years, the museum has Soviet-style architecture and contains artifacts from Chinese history and a museum of the Cultural Revolution.
The giant pandas at the Beijing Zoo are pretty bored with visitors. However, the merchandise is lively — panda hats, panda dolls, panda key chains.
Chinese newspapers report that within a few years, 25 percent of young men won't have anyone to marry. They outnumber women because of the nation's one child policy, and most families choose to have boys.
Cars are almost all new. That's because regular people couldn't afford cars until incomes gradually rose in the late 1990s. Cars are big, too. I saw several Buick LaCrosses and many Ford Focuses. The traffic is mind-blowing in Beijing, worse than Shanghai.
Mandatory retirement age in China is 50-55 for women, 55-60 for men. After that, you get a full pension, and most go on to do the senior citizen lifestyle, tai chi or dancing in the park, music, cards, games. That explains why there are so many youngish looking "seniors" here.
One fascinating museum is the Exhibition for Ancient Chinese Sex Culture in Tongli, near Suzhou . The collection of 1,600 items was gathered by Liu Da Lin and Hu Hong Xia, described in the brochure as "famous experts of sexology" who wanted to show that sexual culture through time comprises "civilization and primitiveness, and happiness and suffering." Actually, it's quite tasteful. The courtyard garden may have statues that would make your mother blush, but the halls contain pottery, totems and jade art. Most interesting: an exhibit on the history of prostitution and the subservient role of women in early China.
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