Festival of followups

1) About today's Beijing haze (previously here). Part of it was cloud! The blear lifted slightly later in the day. Still, it strained common conceptions of a "blue sky" day.

2) About those bogus Sarkozy posters (previously here), still taken at face value in many parts of American blog land. I mentioned, thanks to a tip, one clue that they were fake: what they said in French. Reader William Vambenepe pointed out another: what they said in English!

Under French law, foreign phrases in such ads must have a French translation. Thus the absence of Oui, nous pouvons! under "Yes we can!" might have been a hint that they were not authorized posters from the president of the Republic.

3) About adventures in Chinese mis-translation into English (too many previous mentions to list). Thanks to the many, many readers who passed along this example of a translation mishap going the other way. It's the now-notorious case of the Max Planck Forschung in Germany using the text of an ad from a south-China strip club to illustrate the cover of a special issue on China. Embarrassing!

The difference from the Chinese cases is, the Max Planck people weren't intending the issue for readers in China. The foreign text was meant to be decorative, which is the way English text is often used on clothing in Japan. (That is how "Hello Kitty" got started.) The Chinese mis-translations are more interesting because they're usually in material meant for outsiders: menus, maps, corporate reports, etc.

4) About the Beijing subway (previously here). A number of recent foreign visitors to Beijing have written to say that they still found it inconvenient to get from Point A to Point B in the city, that Shanghai's subway system was way better in its coverage and transfer stations, and so on.

They're right! I've reached the point of thinking that the difficulty of getting around this physically-enormous city -- whether it's the pedestrian challenge of crossing an 18-lane road when the cars, buses, bikes, and motorcycles are ignoring stop lights and driving through crosswalks and going the wrong way on one-way streets and driving perpendicular to the main flow of traffic; or the larger-scale challenge of choosing between clotted ring-roads and and clotted cross-town routes -- is Beijing's main "livability" problem. Even more than the pollution, though of course they're related. (The main livability plus is the diversity and intensity of talent and action here.)

It's also true that even the new subways have certain fit-and-finish problems. For instance: the new Airport Express is just great, as long as you don't plan to bring any luggage along on your flight. (The connection with other subway lines involves long slogs up and down many flights of steps, sans escalator or elevator.)

Nonetheless, I find myself in the ancient-mariner role of saying: Sonny, you don't know how good you've got it now! Because the three new transit lines that have come in for the Olympics really are a step forward. I was reminded of this today when I had to take a 90-minute cab ride from downtown to the Haidian/high tech district in northwest Beijing, then took a 55-minute train trip back. The brand-new Line 10 train was packed, Tokyo style, every bit of the way -- a sign that it's already popular! But it was faster; it was less frustrating; and it costs 2RMB rather than 97RMB for the taxi.

So I am now one of those Chinese urban dwellers grateful for the things that have improved in the recent past - but of course nervously watching to see what backsliding the economic crisis might bring.

More followups soon: about aggressive pandas, computer batteries, the new Energy Secretary, and Gmail.