The Writings on the Wall

July 23rd, 2010

Let’s remember – when I came here, I found there was no graffiti on the walls.  It took a while to actually come across this fact. Somehow everything just seemed to be so clean. Sure, I was only running around in the central business district area, but still – it was obvious that something was different. It’s actually surprising to see how used one gets to all that walled tagging and nagging back home. It’s on just about anything.
“Somebody has sprayed onto the Eiffel Tower!” And in other news today: The world is still turning.

It’s a nasty thing. And no posh new age term like “street art” can hide the fact that most of it is not only ugly, which would be arguable, but it’s more often than not plain illegal and damages somebody else’s property or life quality.

We have become acquainted to everyday life’s painted mumblings and so it’s almost a disturbing sight to stand in front of long walls without the usual drippings of wackiness.
And in Beijing the walls are as clean as the first day. Or so I thought.

It took me another while, just as long as the first one, to discover things aren’t as un-sprayed upon as I thought. Only, around here you’d have to look out for something different.

They are small, usually black or red, and they contain long numbers. They are on walls, on the floor and on side curbs. What people put there is not a helpless outburst of hello-world-I-am-here-please-notice-my-existence-please-please, it is rather a sense of making business. We’re in China after all.

Need a new ID card? A Hukou (registration) or some other official form of identification? Let a brother help you out. ‘Lost’ your driver’s license? Sob no further. Whatever it is you are having trouble with getting the official way-the spraying powers can provide you. Certainly though, you won’t be given a receipt or find a customer service department on the other end of that phone number. But you probably guessed that by now.

Interestingly, most of the phone numbers are painted over. There’s obviously a substantial number of people responsible for crossing them out. Funny enough though, they really only paint over the numbers. You’d think they should cover it all (why take away the number and keep people be interested in the luring offer of a shiny new driver’s license?) and sometimes they do that, but often they don’t bother. And sometimes the paint is so thin that the number below easily shines through. But hey – we covered it, so don’t tell us we didn’t do our job!

So in a strange poetic way the city is filled with thousands of proposals to change the person you are.

Once in a while you also see people riding a bike and dropping little papers onto the sidewalk. With the most innocent facial expression in the world they look the other way, but the trail of cards behind them unmistakably originate from their pockets. It’s another layer of shady offers, much more temporary in existence, but no less illegal.

Luckily all my papers and documents are in order at the moment, so I have no need for any such services. However, I’m still waiting for an offer for more leisure time and tranquility. That would certainly be a remarkably valuable offer.

One Response to “The Writings on the Wall”

  1. Jeanine says:

    Schön, dass ich endlich weiss, was diese vielen Telefonnummern bedeuten! Allerdings habe ich bisher noch keine durchgestrichenen entdeckt. Vielleicht kommt’s auf die Strasse an; war etwas abgelegen.

    P.s.: Danke übrigens für die unterhaltsamen und interessanten Beiträge! Auch wenn ich nun nicht mehr in Beijing lebe (Schade!), kann ich so wenigstens etwas am dortigen Leben teilhaben!