October 1st is a big deal in Beijing this year. Which is why next Thursday I am LEAVING CHINA. Not for good. Just until October 11th.
What is October 1st
October 1st is China’s national day. It’s the day the Chinese Communist Party’s Mao Zedong announced the founding of the People’s Republic of China back in 1949. (5 days before my mom’s birthday— Happy Birthday, Mom!) It’s a bit like our 4th of July, although, everyone in China takes a full week off, so I’d argue its better. Last year I had only arrived in Beijing a few days before and was confused why Beijing was EMPTY and a little peeved my company didn’t tell me in advance that I had a FULL WEEK of paid vacation 3 days after starting. So I bummed around Beijing and made new friends and went to IKEA and got my life set up.
Anyway, that was last year. It’s a big deal every year, but this year is special. This is the 70th anniversary, and China is going BIG.
(A special note, although the People’s Republic is 70 years old, my mom is only however old she has decided to tell people).
Last year everything was closed (which is a good enough reason for me) but this year everything will be closed and security is going to be off the charts! Given the 70th is so special to China (and probably thanks to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong) the special security measures have already started as of the first week of September. (Even in August, the government banning helicopters and even rooftop pool parties were canceled). Every major expat-aimed news/article site in Beijing has urged people to leave. This is why:
Road Closures and Traffic Disruptions:
Traffic is bad enough in Beijing so I took this warning pretty seriously. Over last weekend, I knew many roads were closed (Tiananmen and Forbidden City are officially closed until after the holiday) but I wasn’t expecting it to be as bad as it was.
Saturday night, I left my friends (Sarah and McKenzie who visited from the U.S.) at their hotel and proceeded the 10-minute walk back to my apartment through Sanlitun (the expat and party part of Beijing). I got to the main road around 2:30 am and police were stationed everywhere. No cars. NO PEDESTRIANS. I managed to piece together with my bad Chinese that I couldn’t cross, but after walking down a ways to the footbridge, I came to realize I couldn’t cross at all! Anywhere. I was literally stuck on the opposite side of the street from my house.
Just as I was trying to figure out what this meant for getting home, a series of TANKS started driving down the road.
Security drills and practice for the parade.
I probably saw about 20 before I left. My friend who runs a nearby Latin bar texted me telling me to meet him there so I figured at least I could kill some time with free drinks. (As I walked away, the tanks were still going. I’d say there were probably 100 or so but didn’t stay until the end).
I stayed out until 4 am and then tried to cross the road again. Nope. Not happening. Still closed. I couldn’t even go home to sleep. I had to go to my friend’s apartment (on the correct side of the road and sleep on one of his mattresses).
Tomorrow they are testing sirens for nearly half an hour
Nothing to do:
All the clubs in Sanlitun are already closed. Many bars and restaurants are going to be closed. I was shocked to hear my gym would be open with reduced hours. But mostly, it is going to be hard to do much of anything besides stay home. Rumor has it that even the food delivery services will be out (maybe not the whole week, but definitely October 1st).
Other expats have warned that police have shown up to their places of residence recently. Sarah and McKenzie reported that their hotel implemented facial recognition scanning software. People are having entrance visas rejected.
This is totally something I might be making up, but I have a feeling that it’s going to be very hard to access the internet. In China, many Western and “idea-spreading” websites such as YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, Skype, Instagram, The New York Times, Gmail, etc… (basically all the stuff worth getting on the internet for) are blocked. Foreigners get around this pretty easily by using various VPNs. However, during certain times, the government cracks down, making the VPN companies scramble to keep the VPNs working (I’m not a computer engineer and have no idea how this works. All I know is there is some government function and suddenly my VPN stops working). Recently, I’ve been getting this message:
What Does This Mean for Me?
So, this is what is happening in Beijing. I will say, it sounds like the military parade is going to be an epic show of Chinese might. Likewise, it’s going to be beautiful weather. However, those two things really aren’t worth the hassle. And this is why I am very happy to take my forced vacation to Thailand for some sun and relaxation (except I’ll still be working. But it will be from a pool so I’m happy)!
*Images are from the military parade in 2015 celebrating 70 years since the end of WWII. The parade in October is rumored to be even bigger. http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/50224/photos