Friday, May 08, 2009

My Yiheyuan Hangout

On our last trip to Yiheyuan, the Summer Palace, we explored a whole new section, the section in the very corner by our alleyway neighborhood. In a deserted garden, Dad and I decided to climb some rocks. We did not know yet how close to the alley we were.

We looked out from the top and saw our alley, the drive we walk down to get to the Summer Palace, and the main road. I went to the wall of the Summer Palace, hopped up, and looked down. There were people coming and going to and from the Summer Palace.

What did I do? I waved! For about ten minutes, I waved, and most people waved back. That's just one little moment in time to brighten peoples' days.


PS: I waved to buses, migrant workers, and laobaixing. Even to some smokers!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Practicality In Everything But Fashion (Especially Footwear)

In my opinion, the Chinese are as practical as people come. They find uses for everything and solutions for everyday issues by relying on "necessity as the mother of invention."

Your roof is loose? Put a few bricks on it. That will keep things from moving. Need to take down a building? Get together a bunch of helpers, level the place with pick axes, and cart the debris away in your sanlunche. Need to make a few kuai? Set up a blanket on the top of a pedestrian bridge and display your items (from watches to old shoes) for passersby. Maybe these techniques do not sound fancy by western standards, but they get the job done quickly and efficiently.

What is fancy, though, for Chinese women, especially between the ages of seventeen and forty, is their fashion and footwear. While it may seem natural to see women in cosmopolitan areas like Xintiandi in Shanghai or Sanlitun in Beijing walking in skirts and four inch heels, the marbled, stone, and cement steps around China's historical sites seem a bit out of place for such pageantry.

Time after time, tourist site after tourist site, we have observed woman after woman decked out in their zui hao de yifu. My personal favorites were spotted at the Great Wall, as a woman in a skirt, leggings, and high-heeled boots scaled the steep wall of Badaling, and another at the Giant Buddha outside of Chengdu, who made her way down the steps of (as Steve calls it) Cirith Ungol. Equipped with a parasol to protect her from the harmful tanning rays of taiyang, four-inch heels, and a rather snug skirt, she slowly but surely descended to the bottom with a smile, as if reaching the end of the runway.

I never cease to be amazed here...24...7...


Màn Zǒu

Perhaps one of the sweetest Chinese phrases, these two words that are spoken by people to one another as they are parting means, literally, "walk slowly." The underlying meaning is "take care," and is always accompanied by a friendly smile. Most of the time, we hear it spoken by service personnel as we leave restaurants or stores, but we have also exchanged this pleasantry with friends and acquaintances throughout China.

Warm sentiment, cool saying.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Làng Takes China By Storm!

Some of you surely have noticed that, for some reason, I have a real fondness for Mountain Dew. I know, I don't ride a skateboard or ski off rock faces. (I have been known, though, to jump off a cliff here and there!)

I remember, one time, being asked at a meeting just what it was I was drinking. (My Mountain Dew was in a clear plastic cup that day.) The response I got was something like, "Mountain Dew!? I haven't seen that in years!" Yes, it's lonely being the outlier in a room full of Diet Coke drinkers!

Well, it's been even lonelier here in China. Now, don't get me wrong...There are plenty of great things to drink here, things that are just not available back in the States. I have really enjoyed all of the green teas, peach juices, and more exotic selections.

And so there I was, walking with Julie a few months back through this alleyway neighborhood outside the gates of Southwest University in Chongqing. We were both stunned when, in this really small street-side stand, there they were...The first time we had ever seen them in China...A row of bottles of Mountain Dew, alongside the normal offerings of Coke, Pepsi, and Sprite.

The only problem? It was the middle of Lent, and I had given up soda for the season. So I just kept on walking past that stall, thinking my China Mountain Dew experience had passed me by, at least for the foreseeable future.

Desi and the kids, though, had other ideas. Unbeknownst to me, four bottles of Mountain Dew were smuggled from Chongqing back to Beijing. Now, as it turns out, we were spending Easter Sunday in Chengdu, which is way out west in Sichuan, not all that far from Chongqing actually. One of those renegade Mountain Dews was therefore carted back across the country. (Imagine carrying a bottle of soda from Denver to New York, and then back to Denver.) No wonder that bag was so heavy!

Well, you know the rest of the story. I thoroughly enjoyed sipping my Mountain Dew while strolling through the Panda Research Base/Giant Panda Breeding Center. And there were three more bottles waiting for me when we arrived back in Beijing.

Then things just kinda tore loose. The other day, Desi and the kids came rushing into my office, excited that they had stumbled across a rack of Mountain Dew in the Zhongguancun Lu Hyper-Mart. Little did they know, that just minutes earlier, I had had exactly the same thing happen, only for me it was in this little alleyway xiao tanr that principally caters to students of the school across the street and migrant workers constructing the new law school building next to the School of Government. With this level of penetration, it seems that Ji Lang has truly arrived, not just in the sense of being a drink that crazy expats seek out, but as an everyday option for laobaixing themselves.

Perhaps this is just China's way of making a pitch for hosting the X-Games some time down the line...


Sunday, May 03, 2009

What's Missing From This Picture?

This is the bicycle parking lot outside of the School of Government at Peking University. Yes, there are a lot of bikes...And this photo was taken during a three-day holiday weekend. (Last Friday, May 1st, was Laodongjie. You know it as May Day.)

One bike, however, did not make it into the picture...MINE!

The story, at first glance, is pretty simple. I went down to grab my bike and ride across campus to go get lunch, train tickets...Something like that. After walking up and down the rack for like five minutes, even a dummy like me began to realize what was going on. (Really, what had already gone on!) I guess I am now a true Beijinger!

Now, before you go lamenting the sad state of public security on campus, my take on this is that it is really a story of me getting more and more comfortable with my life here, to such an extent that life decided to bite me back. Here's the progression...

In the beginning, I always brought my bike up to my office when I arrived on campus. This had the appearance of making me look ridiculous, as hundreds of students and faculty members lock their bikes outside every day.

Caving into this benign pressure, I pretty quickly began leaving my bike downstairs during the course of the work day. If, however, I was taking the bus home, I would be sure to run downstairs, fetch my bike, and cart it up to the fourth floor for its overnight stay on campus.

Eventually, I stopped doing even this. Students and faculty leave their bikes all over campus, outside their residences, and in other areas where you can find scores of bikes lined up, even during the month-long Spring Festival break. At one point, during the winter, my bike was outside of the School of Government for weeks straight.

More recently, during our spate of back-to-back-to-back trips, my bike once again had the chance to chill out for an extended period. I left it there despite a potentially prescient observation that Z made about the deteriorating condition of my bike lock. Now, not only was my bike vulnerable in terms of sheer time spent outdoors, it was also perhaps a relatively obvious target for a thief with the right equipment. You definitely don't want your bike to stand out in any way here in China!

Desi has now passed her bike on to me...A gesture made possible only by the "one size fits all" nature of ordinary street bikes. (Let's put it this way...Z looks way better on a bike of this size than I do!) And where is this bike right now? Yep, you guessed it...Parked outside the School of Government building...At least I hope it is!