Saturday, March 28, 2009

We Know, They're Only Statues Of Elephants!

Here's a little story of how yesterday we overreacted to something that happened nearly five years ago...

During our visit to Beijing in 2004, our tour guide blitzed us through the tombs of the Ming Dynasty emperors in some ridiculously short amount of time. This brief encounter was part of a larger agenda for the day that also included a jaunt out to the Great Wall, stops at jade, Peking duck, and traditional Chinese medicine outlets, and a stroll through Tiananmen Square at dusk to watch the flag being taken down. Just thinking about the scope of that day both amazes and exhausts me...Anyone who has ever been to Beijing would surely echo those sentiments!

Anyways, while we were wandering around the Ming Tombs that day, I had on my mind this picture of a particular pathway lined with statutes, including some cool looking elephants. The picture was straight out of a National Geographic book I was carrying around, a useful tool at the time given that our guide spoke no English and we spoke barely a word of Chinese. Well, the book has made a return visit, and so there we were, rolling out to the Ming Tombs on the 919 bus, book once again in hand.

More precisely the 919 zhi bus...We found out, luckily before boarding, that the 919 does not go anywhere near the Ming Tombs...For that you need to take the 919 zhi...Got that?

Silently, Desi and I were determined to find those elephant statues this time around. I say "find" because, five years ago, I kept showing the picture of the statues to workers at the Ming Tombs, all of whom relentlessly motioned to me in a way suggesting that, at that time, we were no where close to where we needed to be. Apparently, the Ming Tombs covered a much bigger tract of land than I had been aware of. In the end, the elephant statues remained, for us, nothing more than two-dimensional images, teasing us about what might have been had we had more time and better language skills.

This time around, we possess both of these qualities in adequate amounts, and so there we were, meandering down the curved path (evil spirits can only fly in straight lines), taking pictures while Z climbed on every statue within reach, including those now three-dimensional elephants. It was a real triumph of exploring China on our own terms.

And then we (more precisely, I) took the whole "on our own terms" thing a little too far. The Ming Tombs, we were about to discover, are spread across the edges of an enormous valley. You really need some help getting from one tomb to the next.

For my part, though, I was having nothing of that. When a hei che driver offered to take us to the next spot, I told him we would walk...Never mind that he told us the next spot was five kilometers away! (Hey, he could have been lying to make a buck!) And then when we came up to the next bus stop, and reason (not to mention our traveling partner for the day, the always willing and able Glenn Mott) dictated hopping on for a few stops, I insisted that we just keep on walking. We can do it ourselves!

Well, eventually we ended up riding in both a hei che and a bus, as I learned yet again that there is no shame in needing a little help when negotiating the vast spaces of this great country. At least, as we walked through the middle of the parched valley, we were able to see with our own eyes the real expanse of the Ming Tombs and imagine what the place must have looked like five hundred years ago when it was a sacred and largely undisturbed final resting place for China's imperial leaders.

And the elephants weren't bad, either!


Friday, March 27, 2009

Serfs' Emancipation Day

Today is Serfs' Emancipation Day, the 50th anniversary of China's assertion of control over Tibet. It was fifty years ago today that the Dalai Lama fled to his current home base in India.

Here in Beijing, the anniversary is being marked with the holding of seminars in the Great Hall of the People. Yesterday, one luminary at the conference had this to say...Since the Democratic Reform in1959, Tibetan people lead a far better life, thanks to the support from the central and other local governments. Having such a good life, do you think the people in Tibet will think of independence?

For its part, China Daily has been running a series of stories on Tibet before and after March 28, 1959. Here are a few of comments they have received on these stories...

In my option, the communist party does not want to make Tibet to be 'the hell on earth'. At least it would be unprofitable for its regime if the party lost the upholding of the people in china's three-fourthes territory. There would be no doubt that the communist party is gonna constantly improve Tibetan's livelihood as much as possible. To be one hundred percent honest, I believe they are very lucky living in China here-and-now as ethnic minority with so much privilege that compared to the Han people.

The senators who are so quick to tarnish China and distort the truth under the guise of 'morality' are part of a government that gives bombs to Israel to drop on the Palestinians. Their hypocrisy and double standards stink from miles away. China should simply continue on its path and keep in mind one thing: the imperialist, neo-colonialist west is in sharp decline, China is rising, and that's all that matters in the end.

China must come out with more innovative and effective ways when dealing with the Western liars about Tibetan issues! The Americans and other Western countries know well Tibet belongs to China and Tibet today is thousand times better than it was 50 years ago under the Dalai Lama feudal system. But, we also know that the Americans and the West love to tell lies in order to achieve their evil intentions and goals. So, China should with pleading with the Americans and abandon the 'urging' policy. Do something more effective that would HURT their interests immediately and make them learn a lesson of the CONSEQUENCE for supporting Dalai Lama!

We, ordinary folks, can start to teach the world, especially the American Indians, American Chinese, blacks, hispanics, Arabics (incl. the Palestinians, Lebanese),.......... to do something about their ghastly shameful and inferior positions in US society.

Why don't US give back all the land to the native people, such as Indian, Hawaiian and Eskemo. US can't tell China and the world what to do. US and its western allies always claming that they are hero and good guy, but they are not.

When China stops buying treasury bills and sells a boatload of them in the market, that is the time we know who will be laughing.

I say this in hopes that there will be peace in the hearts of all. Please do not believe everything your government says. All policies are not necessarily for all people's welfare. Instead look into your own heart. Investigate the actual situation that everyone seems to be discussing with the seeming authority that they know the truth. If you are Chinese, then talk to many local Tibetans to see what they think and feel. If you are American or European, then talk to the local Tibetans and Chinese. If you are Tibetan then talk to the local Chinese and determine what their ideals are. So many of our opinions are shaped by government policy as distributed by newspapers and over the internet. Let us form our own opinions after actually interacting with and exchanging ideas with the people we are discussing. Peace to all.


Scenes From The Reconstruction

Back in the fall, I posted about how many construction workers here live in temporary dormitories erected near or right at the sites where they are building the China of the future. Here are a few photographs I recently took from in and around my office.

As you can see, a new structure (a law school building, I believe) is now beginning to poke up from the ground. All of this progress is thanks to the veritable army of hard hats I watch every day, as they hang their clothes outside of their dorms, eat food from all kinds of street vendors, and buy clothes and other products from mobile markets that suddenly appear in the evening. It is a small, temporary community that lives and works right on Zhongguancun Lu, the major thoroughfare in this part of Beijing.


Would You Eat At This Restaurant?

The Chinese characters in this photograph are the name of a restaurant where we recently dined. Anybody want to guess what we ate that day?


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Chinese Travel

This is an essay I wrote for English class in home school...

Whether living or vacationing in China, there are several kinds of transportation available for travel. Buses can be used if you are commuting short distances or taking long trips. Locals enjoy train travel as a cheap alternative too. Those who live or travel near the water might even enjoy boat travel for a ride down one of the various Chinese rivers. Each of these forms of Chinese transportation can make for an interesting and unique cultural experience.

Traveling by bus in China can be a very exciting way to see areas beyond the cities or to go to work each day. The commuting buses are useful for getting almost anywhere in both large cities and small towns. There are stops on every street corner, and quite a few buses visit each metal sign. The only time to beware of these metal beasts is during rush hour when they are packed like sardines. Besides this kind of bus, there are also long-distance buses that will take you most places in China. Rides in these range from two hours to twenty-four hours and can either have seats or bunk beds. If you don’t know where the bus stops are, though, you might never get on a bus, because sometimes the stops are just random places in the middle of the road or on the shoulder of a country highway!

Buses are, overall, fairly convenient but one of the most comfortable ways to move around China is by train. Sleeper trains are filled with cabins of four or six bunks and ensure relaxing rides overnight. Some of these rides can take up to two days if going cross-country by speed train. For shorter distances, hard and soft seat trains make for easy rides. There are both express trains and slow trains. The latter double the time, but are half the price. Some people even choose slow, hard-seat trains for overnight travel because it is the cheapest option. Trains with seats can also take visitors to areas of the Great Wall outside of Beijing or to other towns outside major cities. Train travel is probably the least expensive and most relaxing form of transportation on land, but if you live near the water, there is another way to cruise to your destination.

There are over 50,000 rivers in China, several of which are great places for boat rides. The two main kinds of boats are the ferry boats and tour boats. If you are traveling for speed from one river town to another, ferry boats are quick and easy. They are normally filled with locals or commuters, and they prepare and sell food during lunch time. If you want to experience the river, though, tourist boats are a better option. Depending on the river and the destination, these types of boats can take passengers from one hour to as long as five days. Overnight boats have cabins with beds and can have lounges, bars, tea houses, and karaoke rooms. Chinese tours are lots of fun to be a part of and have tourists from all over the country. There are western cruises too, but the prices are much more expensive. Traveling by boat is a great way to see China’s rivers and associate with the laobaixing!

Transportation is just one of the many reasons that China is such an easy and fun place to travel around. Between the buses, trains, and boats, visitors and locals can never be bored of the many convenient ways to see one of the largest countries in the world. Plus, what better way to learn the various dialects from each province and town than to spend time with native speakers!


Hair Security

It never fails that on any trip that requires flying, one of the two of us has some kind of hold up concerning our hair and airport security. Sometimes it has to do with that big can of hair spray that I (Desi) lug around from city to city. We guess that it must resemble some type of incendiary device when x-rayed, since usually, after checking my luggage, the security guard calls me back to open my suitcase. Now I just pack it on top for easy access!

Then, of course, there is the interesting moment when, as I (Julie) pass through security, the guards feel the need to wave their scanners around my abnormally large bun, just in case it contains explosives. My favorite time, though, was probably the time the security guard thought it strange that my hood was so heavy (sometimes I put my hair in there). She said, in broken English, "What is this?" When I pulled out my hair, she and all the other ladies gave a low "whoa!" and then she proceeded to comb it with her fingers. (That is, until her boss told her kuai dianr...pep it up!).

So next time you're on line at airport security and it seems to be taking a little longer than expected, just look at the front of the line and you're sure to see "Rapunzel" and "Big Jersey Hair" with her big can of Volumax holding up the works. But don't be angry...After all, we're just doing our part to bring a little excitement to an otherwise uneventful day for China's finest.

~Julie and Desi

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Riding Through The Rapeseed

For the last leg of our journey back up Chang Jiang, we left the river behind and took to the road on a long-distance bus. Surprisingly, this turned out to be a good choice.

The countryside between the small town of Wanzhou and the city of Chongqing is actually rather beautiful. There are hills and valleys dotted with farmlands and terraced landscapes.

As interesting as the terrain was, the real stars of the show were the youcai hua, the rapeseed blossoms. Mile after mile, we watched them go by, vast fields of yellow flowers in full bloom.

Even though we were only able to catch glimpses of the rapeseed blossoms as we sped by, I was left with the impression that long days of hiking through the hills of Chongqing in the spring would not be a bad way to spend some serious time. Maybe on our next go round, Des?


Broken Bullet Boat

Pulling into the dock at Wushan (巫山), I noticed a submarine-like boat. Soon afterwards, I saw another one pulling in. It was up on three hydrofoils.

The very next day, my wish was fulfilled. We would ride the "bullet boat" from Wushan to Wanzhou. On the journey, we got what we wished for...with a little twist!

We had been riding for about an hour and a half, through a gorge, in wide lakes, and the river, when suddenly, we slowed to a halt. An announcement went over the loud speaker in Chinese. Everyone got up, gathered their stuff, and walked out of the cabin. Not knowing what was going on, we followed suit. We walked to the front of the boat where everyone was getting off. I thought, "We are in the middle of a river! Where are they going!?"

I soon found out when I was helped aboard another bullet boat. Julie and I found two seats. Mom and Dad sat on the steps. It turns out that our bullet boat was broken!


PS: The rest of the ride went smoothly!