Saturday, July 19, 2008

Environmental Pursuits in Beijing

My first day in Beijing, I tried to go to the China Environment and Sustainable Development Reference and Research Center (CESDRRC)—a great environment-focused library in the Sino-Japanese Environmental Protection Center. The library has a great selection of Chinese and English books, reports, newspapers etc—all related to China’s environment. I’m discovering just how many environment-focused NGOs there are in China (click here and here); I certainly plan to hit many of them up for my project. Most focus on environmental awareness, which is the first and best step in my mind to make some sort of countrywide change here. Last summer, for example, I went fishing with some friends at a lake near the Great Wall’s Mutianyu entrance. (I believe the lake is now hosting some events of the Olympic Games.) One of the friends, Beijing Ren (from Beijing), was commenting on how delighted he was to get out of the city and all its pollution. ‘It’s so nice to experience fresh air, nature, clean water!’ Just as he was finishing his Ode to the Lake, he took the last swig of his water… and threw the plastic bottle right in! Now, there’s definitely some sort of incongruency here. I really think it’s an awareness and urgency issue. And perhaps also here in China, a distribution issue. More on that later.

After failing at going to the CESDRRC library (sadly, it was closed), I met up with my old friend Ling—who I haven’t seen since my last day at the International School of Beijing, 11 years ago! She was doing well, interning at KFW, the German Bank for Development. She was working on their environmental branch—studying China’s progress in renewable energy, sustainable initiatives, etc. It’s funny how people develop the same interests… despite over 10 years of being apart. We strolled through the Gulou area, a little neighborhood of still preserved Hutongs beneath the Drum & Bell Tower. Hutongs are the little alleyways to Siheyuan homes, characteristic living since the Zhou Dynasty. These homes have rooms on all four sides, surrounding an open-air courtyard. Most often, the closely-clumped Siheyuan share a public restroom. Despite all the razing of Hutongs that the booming economy and the Olympics have brought, at least there are still some remaining!

After dinner, Ling suggested we go to Xihai Lake, just northwest of the glitzy Houhai Lakefront area, where grandpas and grandmas outnumber the bar-going younger crowd of Houhai. Don’t get me wrong, I like both scenes, but it was refreshing to see people enjoying the Lake as their rightful backyard as opposed to a nightlife destination. Despite this preaching, however, we did go to the one bar on Xihai Lake, named Club Obiwan, where the group Greening the Beige was hosting an event. Greening the Beige is a group of Beijingers (though seemingly mostly expats), interested in environmental issues. They host film screenings, lectures, and outings to provide an outlet for learning about environmental issues in China. Oddly enough, when Ling and I arrived they were showing the China's Green Beat series, created by a Northwestern Alum/ current Beijing Fulbrighter/ fellow engineer. I had seen his stuff from an email sent over the Engineers for a Sustainable World listserv, and my advisor at school had mentioned him to me. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around, so I couldn’t say hi. Small world though.

That night, I passed out from a busy, busy day. Oh, and by the way, the Chinese is slowly coming back! (And, if any of you are traveling to Beijing, check out The Beijinger for good info!)

1 comment:

John said...

hey john from china's green beat here. sounds like a cool project you're working need to get in touch with yu xiaogang who works at green watershed an NGO in kunming that over the course of about 8 years has done a project with naxi people in sustainable watershed management.
email me and i'll send some info along. and tell me a bit more about yourself!
- john (at)