The acronym on everyone’s lips in Xiamen these past few weeks is BRICS. It stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Why and how these five random countries decided to team up is anyone guess (because I don’t care enough to Google it) but as the presidents from these five countries were descending on my city (including Xi Jinping and Putin as well as several other countries like Mexico), let’s just say, shit got real.
The first I heard about it was maybe six-months ago when a student told me “Maybe we won’t have school in September.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because of that meeting.”
“What meeting? Why would we not have school?” I asked intrigued.
“Lots of people will come here including the president.”
Last year Hangzhou, my former hometown, hosted the G20 conference. As I still have lots of friends who live there I got many detailed accounts of the insane security measures the city was taking including shutting down polluting factories for weeks to have fresh air, stopping all mail from arriving and calling in tens of thousands of soldiers.
“Surely, this is a smaller meeting,” I said to myself. “It can’t be as bad as that.”
When will I stop underestimating the government?
First I saw only improvements. Remember the typhoon we had about a year ago? Well, Xiamen needed a nature makeover due to the loss of trees and this gave the city the cash influx to make it a reality.
Also, the city has been building new highways and a subway which has made the past few years of driving pretty miserable. I heard everything was going to be done by this meeting cause when guests come over you gotta have the renovation finished and mopped the floor, right?
Then the bad came. It started off small, when several months ago apartments rented on airbnb were looking for long-term tenants. Turns out airbnb was banned in Xiamen. I was refused from a massage place because I didn’t have my passport on me. All businesses were scrutinized and illegal ones were closed (no more “happy ending” massage places.) All sports and club activities were stopped for weeks and when the police checks were put in place traveling around the city became a real annoyance. You could expect an ID check at any time both while walking or driving.
Of course most people left the city or stayed home just to avoid it.
Despite all this, or because of it, the city became a really nice place to be. With many businesses forced to close for a few week, students asked not to come back early and half of all cars off the roads, Xiamen became a quiet and peaceful city. Some of my co-workers and I joked that there should be martial law all the time. Customs at the airport was courteous and quick, taxi drivers were polite (and had clean-ish cars) there was no rush hour traffic and you could always find a seat on any bus. With all those benefits, who cares if the cops come to your house at 10pm to check your papers, right? *cough*
Meanwhile, by all accounts the meeting went well. A lot of my Chinese friends are swelling with pride as Xiamen is taking the lion’s share of media attention across the nation. Our school was featured on CCTV (Chinese network TV) and my WeChat was filled with people talking about “beautiful Xiamen.” (It’s the cities motto.)
Many of my students also volunteered to work at the conference. They had to stay in school all summer and had months of training beforehand. I spoke with a reporter covering the event and she said that not only did the student volunteers have excellent English they were more outgoing than she had seen at other conferences. I like to think it was my students who helped her.
But all things must end. The extra security at my school has been dismantled, and the soldiers bunking here have marched out. The buses again are packed and rush hour is just as messy as before. There are some lasting effects of the conference though, the street beautification and the subway is nearing completion months ahead of schedule. And a general sense of pride from local people at being in the spotlight for a bit.
I’m happy things are going back to normal but it was kinda fun while it lasted. It was like a long drawn out snow day or something. Definitely troublesome, but something different and new and bearable for a short while.
But we’re back to business now. Classes start on monday!