Huang Yanhe pedals his pedicab around the rear entrance to Beijing’s Forbidden City, trying to make eye contact with foreigners, groups wearing identical long-billed caps, folks who look hopelessly lost, anyone who appears to be a tourist. But it’s tough this week.
"I can’t find anyone," sighs Huang, "We’re way too obsessed with the 18th Party Congress."
Huang wears a badge with the name of his company: Three Oceans Flaming Dragon Culture Consulting Company. "Culture consulting" in Beijing is at an all-time low, says Huang, thanks to all the security surrounding the leadership transition.
"All the tour groups are gone, and it’s a hassle going anywhere because of traffic restrictions," complains Huang. "Many tourist sites are off-limits, so most people have canceled their trips. We’re all just waiting for the party congress to finish so we can get back to work."
It seems tourist Ma Hongqian didn’t get the memo. She’s enjoying a quiet walk around Houhai lake sans the usual loud tour groups. She skipped Tian’anmen Square -- visitors have to go through two sets of pat-downs and ID checks before they’re allowed there. She stayed away from The Forbidden City, too -- this week it’s living up to its name.
"Some of the tourist sites are simply closed," says Ma. "On the bright side, it was really easy for me to buy a train ticket here."
Ma’s from Xi’an, 730 miles away. All this has her thinking about China’s leaders inside the Great Hall of the People and what she’s hoping they accomplish.
"They need to do something about the property market," says Ma. "I used to work for a cement company and our sales plummeted after the government enacted property controls in the market."
"I guess those measures were actually good," she says, pausing in mid-sentence, "because a lot of people like me--we can’t afford to buy a home. I couldn’t even afford a down payment. Will this bubble get worse? All of this deserves some serious consideration."
Ma will have a couple of more days in quiet Beijing to think about the country’s problems before the city, the rest of the country -- and China’s leaders -- can get back to work.