Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Overheard (I)

10:30am. I was riding in a taxi to the aptly-named Fortune Plaza for a meeting. No traffic jam on the narrow Guang Hua Road which is usually jammed like a parking lot during rush hours.

I gratefully noted my observation to the driver. The driver concurred that we should be thankful whenever traffic in downtown Beijing is bearable. Then he pointed to the right hand side of the road where CCTV (China Central Television) is building its huge ultra-modern tower, “Why the hell are they cramming into the CBD (Central Business District) as well? It’d make traffic much worse.”

Can’t the city just broaden Guang Hua Road, like what they’ve been doing elsewhere in Beijing? I asked. As much as I hate the city becoming more and more like LA, I hate getting stuck in traffic more.

“You kidding?” The driver mocked in a humored way. “Here in CBD, every inch of land is worth an inch of gold. None of these private enterprises would be willing to let go of any land to road construction.”

Why is CCTV moving from its current obscure location to CBD, one of the most expensive business districts in Beijing then?

“Greed. What else?” The driver shrugged. “It’s all about finding schemes to convert state-owned property into private wealth. With this huge tower, they can rent space out to other companies. Who knows who get to pocket the money?”

“Last week I went to the Diaoyutai State Guest House and picked up a retired ex-minister.” He continued as the newly built Fortune Plaza came into view. “He was on an evening out for private businesses, so he didn’t take his own chauffeur. In my cab, he was on the phone constantly talking about land deals.”

Aren’t there too many retired ex-ministers in Beijing for them to have much power anymore? I asked.

“Not at all. On the contrary they are all out to grab whatever they can. I remember the ex-minister in my cab yelling to his phone, ‘you’ll die if you lose this land deal for me’. Humph, it’s worse than the Kuomintang (the Nationalist party that ruled China before the communists).”

Humph. I shared my brief moment of indignation with him as the cab pulled to a stop. What is there for one to do anyway beyond venting now and then with cab drivers?

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