By Jae Hyung Ryu
BEIJING, China, 11:12 p.m. — I’ve been in Beijing for six weeks now, studying Chinese through the Princeton in Beijing program, perhaps better known as Prison in Beijing, a nickname bestowed upon the program because of its notorious intensity. I’m staying at Beijing Normal University, which, this particular summer at least, actually does seem like a prison. Security is tight both on and off campus, and fences have been erected all over the university. The reason: BNU is full of American athletes (rumor has it, basketball players and swimmers mostly). I’ve been trying to get their autographs, but prospects looks pretty bleak (especially after I was apprehended by a security guard for watching the bus dropping off athletes from afar).
The level of security around Beijing, even outside BNU is simply astounding — especially at the post office. I was sending a friend of mine back in the States a Chinese Harry Potter book that he’d been wanting but, before I could send it off, the clerk demanded that I take everything out of the already-tightly-sealed envelope to she could examine it. She flipped through the book and checked the letters meticulously.
At BNU, only people with valid IDs can enter campus, thanks to Olympics fever, which has made it really quiet. Unlike many colleges in the U.S., BNU’s campus acts as a public park free for anyone’s use. There are also restaurants, public outdoor athletic facilities and stores. So, throughout the day, the campus used to be packed with non-BNU affiliates. In the morning, on my way to class, I used to see random elderly women walking backwards through the park and whatnot. That’s definitely not true anymore.
The Internet, of course, is no exception to the tight security. Once, on gchat, I typed “Mao” several times as a joke. Suddenly, I was disconnected for a few minutes. On another occasion, a friend searched for “Chinese radicals” (in reference to the language’s characters, not political dissidents) and her Internet got disconnected for awhile, too, before being reconnected.
Anyway, I’ve been reading articles that say that all the tight security designed to “prevent terrorist attacks” is actually sucking the fun out of Beijing. Whether or not that’s true, one thing’s for sure: at least at BNU, prison is definitely not fun.