Beidaihe: Silicon Valley of North China

This is the seventh post about a recent business trip I took to northeast Hebei province

Near Qinhuangdao in the northeastern tip of the province, the beaches and streets of Beidaihe provide everything that can be expected of a small, coastal town: sand, water and seafood restaurants aplenty. Walks along the sandy shores give visitors the chance to breathe in fresh air — or at least a breeze that’s slightly less industrially tainted.

Beidaihe, if the provincial government’s blueprint unfolds as planned, will one day also be the Silicon Valley of North China.

An information technology park is taking shape that will employ 5,000 engineers, computer programmers and project managers when it opens in 2014. The info tech park will create computer programs, cartoons and movies as part of China’s effort to mass produce culture and broaden its soft power influence. And like Zhongguancun in Beijing, Beidaihe will one day be home to international clients and companies.

More so than the tech park, Beidaihe is known as being China’s premiere beach resort, for the average tourist and Party officials.

Buildings around the town mimic European architectural designs, a result of that continent’s influence throughout Beidaihe’s history. And like any beach town, merchants desperately try to peddle the usual beach souvenirs: seashell necklaces, decorated turtle shells, crab claws, pieces of carved driftwood, and the occasional polished rock. Robocop-looking security cameras (see slideshow) graced each corner. A few statues of tourists portrayed the Chinese cliche of foreigners: fat, bearded, balding slobs who are often too tired to walk around and need constant breaks.

At the Beidaihe Olympic Park, we saw statues of former commissioners of the Olympic committee, the most prominent of which was a Spaniard with an unusually large nose. A few of the Chinese in our group laughed, touching the large bronze nose and saying “da bizi”, which means big nose and is a commonly used phrase for foreigners.

One of my Chinese colleagues asked if most people in the West had big noses like his. I said “Of course not, but some of us do,” getting a few laughs from the other Chinese. I chuckled too, but not at the big nosed Spaniard. I was imagining everyone’s reaction if I’d pointed at the Yao Ming stone engraving nearby and asked if a certain part of Yao’s male anatomy was small like other Chinese guys or if that was just a silly stereotype from the West.

Instead, I held my tongue and kept that little quip to myself.

I’ve come to just shrug off these quasi-racist jabs the Chinese throw at foreigners every now and then. For them, it’s a cultural thing, done in good fun or because of a certain ignorance of Western ways. But I do like to throw a few jabs of my own every now and then. Just for fun.

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