Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
The H7N9 bird flu, with a total of 77 illnesses including 16 deaths, has not yet surpassed the severity of SARS years ago (Forbes). Still, the problem is serious enough that an international team of flu experts is set to fly to China this week to help the country investigate the cause and current state of the virus. The team is also interested in studying how some people are able to fight off the infection (Reuters).
There is no evidence that the virus can be spread via human contact, with a majority of cases tracing back to the consumption of bird products, including chicken, duck, and goose. Below is a photograph of an empty “black original duck” restaurant near my office, which is usually swarming with customers. Most duck shops have advertised “free samples” throughout the past three weeks, trying anything to attract business amidst daily buzz about the flu.
Guangdong, China’s most southern province, which includes my city of Shenzhen, has not yet had any cases of the virus (though one of my coworkers, out sick today, answered “yes” to all symptoms when we read them out loud to him the other day). The majority of cases have been in Shanghai, with new instances in Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
In China, while the ease and affordability of going out to eat draws a majority of families and young people out of the house for meals, it’s still a smart idea to buy fresh produce and stir up a sizzling meal yourself, at least in times like these. As for me, it’s daily trips to a foreign supermarket for the next month or two— the price of imported food never felt so worth it.