Saturday, April 07, 2001

China 2001 - Olympics

I was there while china was trying to convince the IOTC to give them the 2008 Olympics. Here are some of the things that they did to make their city acceptable. The hutongs are groups of buildings, hundreds of years old. If they are to run down and near a highway that the IOTC might pass by they are torn down' and all the surrounding buildings are painted the international colors. Don't know what the international colors? I didn't know either but according to what china told their people they need to paint their city in white with blue stripes, gray, forest green, pink, or baby blue before the IOTC could approve the city for the Olympics. Hutongs would get torn out and trees planted, so there are now these fields of sticks waiting to grow branches and leaves when it starts raining here in the fall. Along the toll road where these huge posters of pretty flowers and fields blocking the view of run down parts of the city; but the placement was so obvious. In February they turned off the heat of all the people in the center of the city for 3 weeks to try to get some of the smog to settle to the ground. There are already hundreds of billboards everywhere advertising like they already have the nomination. It reminds me of when I was living in Utah when they got the bid for the 2002 winter Olympics. The obvious corruption that came out of that one I am sure is here at work. When I was living in Los Angeles it was a completely different feeling of the city being awarded instead of this surety that I see everywhere now. But the people really want the Olympics. They like sports and their Olympic teams are something to be proud of.

Friday, April 06, 2001

China 2001 - E3 Spy Plane

Boy it really brings it home that you are not in your country when the place that you are in gets in a stand off with your country. I don't know how big of a deal the E3 spy plane making an emergency landing was in the U.S. but since we were staying with people that worked at the embassy it was pretty interesting to see them say, “hey there's my boss,” when we were watching CNN. It is really strange to think that here are all the newspapers in china that are saying the same thing that we know are wrong, and how do we know? Because the papers we read say so.
The only difference being we could use to check other countries newspapers on the Internet.
It was a reality though when we went to the American embassy. There were twice the number of guards on the outside and a good number of reporters and cameramen waiting at the gate for anyone important to come out.

Thursday, April 05, 2001

China 2001 - Xian

We arrived by train at 6:30 in the morning. We met the guide and paid for the driver and return tickets that they had reserved with their own money. We paid 400 Yuan ($50) for the driver for the entire day. We headed off to the hotel to get breakfast. It was closed so instead we headed for the terracotta warriors and ate our granola bars on the way. We got there at 8:30 right when it opened, which I would recommend since it was really nice to have the huge buildings to ourselves without the school trips in yet. We hired a tour guide for 50 Yuan ($6) for a 2-hour tour, which I would recommend if for no other reason to fend off the guards while taking pictures. (The flash will make whatever color they did have fade more, so I didn't use mine but the guards really could have cared less even about the people that were using them.) The local people in Xian will claim it to be the 8th wonder of the world. It was worth making the trip down there but it was not on par with the Great Wall or the Grand Canyon. Since we got there so early all the venders were still setting up and we walked right past after that we went to the Huaqing hot springs. Since none of us wanted to take a dip it was a nice relaxing walk until the school kids finished their lunch. If you ever want to feel like a rock star then go to China. Huge groups of kids would come running up to say "hello", "goodbye", and "what's your name". On leaving Beijing the number of people staring went up but you ignore it. (I say that slightly joking since one thing that kept happening to me is I would turn finding someone staring at me, they would then look down, of course making me look down to make sure my zipper was not down.) After that we went on to see the Taoist Baxian Temple. Now we were expecting to go the Big Wild Goose Pagoda next, which we knew was enough of a tourist trap to have a restaurant. Instead the driver took us to a giant tourist trap store. Since we were not part of a tour bus imagine 3 people in a 3-story building where the prices are quite a bit higher then here in the U.S. This happens because the tour guides get kick backs for taking you there. If you find yourself in China please don't buy anything to encourage this practice. Imagine getting your tour of what you came to see cut short so that you would shop. The only reason we didn't demand to go was that we were way ahead of schedule and it was quiet. We got to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda and had lunch by pointing at the menu. I couldn't get across that we wanted bottled water so I finally got up walked to where it was and got them. I repeated the word and they all had a good laugh at the word I was hacking to bits for water. The Wild Goose Pagoda was interesting because they had just made a major add on. So here is a 1500-year-old tall pagoda surrounded by brand new buildings with marker still on some of the stones. It was then off to the Big Mosque. This was the last of the places of allowed types of worship for us to see and I would have to say this was the prettiest. They kept everything greener and the coloring the buildings fit together more. We had gone so fast that we got to the train station 4 hours early. So we spent some time just wondering the streets looking for goodies for the trip back. The waiting area had a VCD playing switching back and forth between the good old Tom and Jerry that they don't show anymore because it has real violence and what I am guessing was telling people to get a breast exam. When people started lining up for the train we got in the back. Now since we had reserved seats we knew we would be okay as long as we made it on the train so we didn't really care about the people butting, but I wanted to see to what length they would go to. So I kept standing closer and closer to the chairs that they where squeezing by. It got to the point that the guys squeezing past had to grab onto the backrest of the chairs and repeatedly yank on their bags to get them through all without saying a word before my wife yanked me back to the center with a sigh of exasperation.

China 2001 - Train Ride

The train ride down to Xian was interesting because of the people we met. There were a lot of backpackers. I met with some from Germany, France, Australia, and one lady from California. On the way down we got the top bunk so there was only enough room to sleep up there so we spent most of our time sitting on fold out seats. One of the men on the middle bunk was the marketing person for a Beijing dairy farm. He had lived in Kansas for a year learning the trade so he spoke very good English. What he did was take the train from place to place and sell bull semen and embryos to the farmers in China that he had bought in the U.S. He had a nice big jug of semen frozen in liquid nitrogen. I looked through his catalog. It had pictures of each bull along with the stats of milk and protein of his average offspring. L. and T.J. were both used to living near train tracks so they slept fine but for me each time the train stopped it sounded like a train wreck because the cars were knocking into each other. It was a 13-hour train ride but most of it was at night. When we arrived in the morning people had climbed onto the train to offer us hotels, drivers, and tour guides. We were lucky that we already had all that taken care of since things like return tickets can't be bought until you are already there.

Wednesday, April 04, 2001

China 2001 - Temple of Heaven

This is where the Emperor would hold his yearly ceremonies for different reasons. I really like the architecture here, it might have been because after the cultural overload that I was experiencing that this building was different. The many levels, the roundness, and the interesting play on sound really added to it all. There is the wall of echoes. If you face the wall and talk in a normal voice anyone also facing the wall will hear you. It didn’t work that well while we were there because some kids got the idea that if they could hear you talking what would happen when you yelled. There was also a platform, which if you where standing in the exact center your voice was amplified for only you. Even a foot out of the center would make it not work. It was the funniest thing seeing people talking so softly in the middle of the circle thinking they are yelling but the people they are talking to ignoring them since they can’t hear the speaker.

China 2001 - Confucian Temple

Across the street from the Lama Temple is the Confucian Temple. For all the satire poked at him, all the things that are attributed to him, this is the place that he was when writing a lot of them. Things that he wrote controlled Emperors and people a like, not on any religious principals. Just because they were such obviously smart things to do. (It didn’t hurt to have the emperor on your side at the time either.) They had a display of instruments in one of the halls and one of the women there played “Happy Birthday” on giant jade slabs that produced a wonderful chime sound. It was such a paradox of a feeling to hear that song ringing through the ancient building.

China 2001 - Lama Temple

This is supposedly the largest Lama Buddhist temple outside of Tibet, and since China was nice enough to have the last two lamas flee to India this is also the current center of Lamaism. We spoke with a girl that was working on getting her degree as a tour guide
(yes, that is a very prestigious thing to be in China.) She mentioned that the reason for the signs to not take pictures of the Buddha was that it was believed that it would shorten your life. So instead of any religious reason, which is why I thought they did not want you to take pictures, they are really just looking out for you, the tourist. Which I thought was really nice of the monks to think of. Me personally I wouldn’t want people wandering around while I was trying to pray and obtain nirvana. It would seem easier to not think about any outside influences if the outside influences were not so loud. But when I spoke to a monk he was happy to have tourists because he liked to people watch. He also gave me permission to take a picture the biggest darn Buddha that I will probably ever see. The Buddha is 18 meters tall, carved out of one tree brought over from Mongolia. One thing that I noticed while here is that there was a lot of stuff that was really huge that they where able to move over these huge distances- those guys in Egypt building the pyramids have nothing on some of the things that they where moving around in China. The ticket that we got for the temple was actually a VCD with a whole narration of the site. I think it was the coolest thing and really wish that more places would start doing that since its better then any video or pictures that I could have taken in one visit.
One interesting thing about this temple is that the only way that it survived the Cultural Revolution was the head monk pasted a picture of Mao on the front gate. To get in the people’s liberation army would have to rip the picture in half. This would have been a violation in its self, so they had no choice but to leave the temple alone long enough until someone could defend the temples position politically.

China 2001 - Embassy row

All of the Embassies are in one area. With the whole thing going on with the downed spy plane there was double the number of guard at the embassy, a group of cameramen outside waiting for anyone important to come out but they completely ignored us. As we walked past the embassy I made the remark that here we had flown all the way to china and just on the other side of the wall was American soil. Someone else made the comment that “I’m sure China does not see it that way.” We all laughed then walked to Dairy Queen to get some ice cream while we waited for L.’s uncle.

Tuesday, April 03, 2001

China 2001 - Flag rising at Tiananmen Square

We woke before dawn and took a taxi to Tiananmen Square to get there for the flag rising at sunrise. What I saw I must say was awe-inspiring. Since we were there in the off season everywhere that we went was not crowded, but there at least 2000 people there just to watch them raise the flag, and we were the only foreigners there. Right at sunrise, in perfect formation out of Tiananmen Gate marches the color guard. Traffic comes to a complete standstill on the road. That in its self is a feat considering the driving style in China. Everyone around me suddenly hushes and stands still while they march out. They raise the flag and speakers everywhere start playing the Chinese national anthem. The flag goes up and the changing of the guard happens. Within ten minutes life is back to noisy reality. The square is filled with people walking, exercising, selling post cards and flying kites. But for that short time it seemed like one of those slow motion shots where the world stands still. It really made me feel more patriotic for my own country watching how these people felt about an every day event.

China 2001 - Coal Hill (Jingshan Park)

This hill was created as somewhere to put the burnt coal ashes. Over the generations it became rather a tall hill. It really serves as a good place to look down on the rest of the city. It was considered a clear day since we could see past the Forbidden City. I guess the smog abatement for the Olympics was working. I really think that it adds a lot more as a city park to have this huge hill in the middle then the newer city parks that I am used to that are much flatter.

China 2001 - The Forbidden City

This really is a city, with 999 rooms. Even still it seem like I would go stir crazy being stuck inside this place all the time. Back when this place was still in use it must have been a crazy task to try to locate someone, no phones, no PA system. Everywhere there seems to be something in the architecture to suggest the power and hugeness of the emperor. It really was awe-inspiring. The only problem was that with it being only for the emperor and the workers it’s grandeur was wasted on only building the egos of royalty. Europe has Marie Antoinette as their pinnacle of living in an allusion. The beauty and all encompassing architecture must have had a heyday on the grip of reality royalty had that lived here. As more pomp and circumstance separates the rulers from the ruled it seems that it is always a good sign that their reign is coming to an end no matter what the country.
We wandered around for hours and still only saw about two thirds of the part that is open to the public. Courtyard inside courtyard, they really are beautiful, but not knowing enough of Chinese superstition and ritual I didn’t know the purpose for a lot of ornate architecture and layout. The more studied, the more enjoyed I guess.
The house of clocks was a whole set of buildings that where dedicated to just housing the clocks that were given to China by other countries.

China 2001 - Tiananmen Square

After the flag raising we went home, ate breakfast and picked up the people that had slept in. When we arrived back at Tiananmen Square it seemed like a totally different place from what I had experienced just a few hours before. Just to cater to the more morbid side of myself and since it was such a low tourist time that the line was non- existent, we saw Mao’s Mausoleum. It was really weird seeing the man responsible for Communism in China preserved under the crystal coffin. Very eerie, I had chills go down my spine thinking that here was the man responsible for so much death. It was also interesting looking at the other people as we went through. Everyone seemed solemn but there didn’t seem to be the respect that I was expecting. It seemed like more people were interested in getting to see his body as if it were a famous painting. There was an area to buy flowers, but for the number of people buying flowers and the number of flowers in the stack in front of his picture I really think that they were recycling them every few hours. I’m sure we looked strange being the only foreigners in the line being shuffled through.
The square itself is 99 acres so it is quite large, at one end is Tiananmen Gate or the Gate of Heaven and at the other end is the worlds largest Kentucky Fried Chicken among other shops. I think the analogy is pretty good with Imperialism at one end, Capitalism at the other and all the communist stuff jammed in the middle.

Monday, April 02, 2001

China 2001 - Acrobats

While in Beijing it seems like you have to see a show. Since we don't know much of the history or language in china we decided to see the acrobats instead of the Chinese opera. The things these guys do with twisting themselves, flips, splits, and balancing each other really makes you hurt just watching. I could not help but to think that these guys could make a really good living at any of the evening markets in the U.S. like the sunset festival in Florida or 3rd street promenade at Santa Monica Beach California.

China 2001 - Summer Palace

Amazing, huge, tons of stairs, Ok maybe that last one was just because we had just been at the great wall. The summer palace was where the emperor would go during the summer when trying to escape the heat of the city. A tall hill covered by buildings, shrines and temple; the stones worked into the landscaping just add to it all.
Peeking into the windows in the rooms just full of gifts from other countries gave a really interesting glimpse into the world of what it could have been like back then. Room’s left locked with ancient locks that have not been used forever. Just the logistics of having to build rooms and buildings just to house all the gifts that are received from other countries is something that I would have never thought about having to do.
Long hall is the longest hall of artwork there is. All of the paintings are on the roof and support beams so you have to look up to see them. We couldn't try it but supposedly if you ran down the hall while looking up there were enough pictures flashing by of a stork to make a short animation. One of the pictures in long hall is the story of Zhugeling. Zhugeling was the assistant to the emperor that was in charge of logistics. He got to be so good at his job of accomplishing anything that needed to be done that it made some of the assistants mad. They suggested to the emperor to test his ability as the ultimate go to guy, if he failed he should be killed. The emperor agrees without knowing what task they want to assign him. They tell him that he must come up with 10,000 arrows in 2 days. He says fine without flinching but asks for 3 instead of 2 days. He sends off his assistants with orders to round up as much straw as they could and to line up all the ships of the country. The next day his assistants come to him for that days orders and he tells them to wait until tomorrow. They, knowing that he will be killed if he fails, start to panic. He calms them by letting them know they must wait for tomorrow. Sure enough fog rolls in the next day and they string up all the hay on the boats to look like men. They slowly sail past their enemy on the opposite shore. Thinking that it is a major attack they shoot as many arrows as they have directly at the ships, and the last thing that comes through the for as the ships start to sail away is Zhugeling yelling, “Thanks for the arrows.” That is just one out of hundreds of pictures that are in this one hall.
This is also where the marble boat is. One of the empresses had spent most of the country’s money on rebuilding the summer palace. When her navy requested that she spend it on building ships she built the marble boat. Needless to say she was the cause of losing the war they where in at the time.

China 2001 - The Great Wall

Since we had a driver, we left first thing in the morning. After an hour we got to the bottom of the hill. Now there is this huge hill to just get to the wall- we were lazy and took the cable car. The wall at minatory has 2 ways to go when you get to the top of the cable cars. To the left is a huge hill that only crazy people try to concur and the easier flat way to the right. We went left. After some regular walking we arrived at the steepest longest set of stairs I have seen. There where no more vendors out this far so it was just a quiet climb to the top. By the time that I got to the top of where they let you go I was wheezing and starting to feel sick, but at least I beat L. and T.. After resting my curiosity got the best of me and I continued past the restored area up to the highest point of the wall for miles around. I could see for miles on the north side of the wall. The south side was smoggy from Beijing. It was weird to think that thousands of years ago before smog that they still had the technology to find the defining mountain ridge that split the north and the south. It just took a few thousand years of smog to prove they were right.
There is a saying that you are not a true man until you have walked on the great wall, it is something that a lot of people in china aspire to do since there is a huge amount of pride for having the great wall in china, but most people cannot afford to see what I did. It was a humbling experience.
On the way down the stairs vertigo starts to set in, people lean back and the stairs feel like they start to lean away from you. On the way back to our starting point we were all in agreement that they had been building stairs that we didn't remember seeing before. Going the other direction on the wall there where more venders. Instead of taking the cable car back down they had an alpine slide, it was a blast flying down the mountain. A perfect ending to a surreal trip to something that I could not believe I was doing and never thought that I would.

Sunday, April 01, 2001

China 2001 - Ming Tombs

The Ming tombs are really split up into three different areas- the spirit way being the first, which is the entrance to the tombs. Then about ten more minutes down the road is the empty tomb you can see the inside of and five minutes past that is the tomb you can see the outside of.
The spirit way reminded me so much of a child’s playground. The kids had such fun climbing on all the statues.
Most people go to the Ming tombs because it is on the way to the Badaling portion of the wall. From what I have read of Badaling it is not worth going to. At the Badaling part of the wall you are also able to see the Ming tombs, you'll see the architecture elsewhere and the one that they let you tour through is empty except for some stone thrones surrounded by plexi-glass. The interesting part about the tomb was along the same lines of the tradition of throwing coins into wells for granting wishes. The problem is that they have bills that go all the way down to one twelfth of a cent instead of coins. So for anything old instead of throwing coins they would throw bills at them for luck. It surrounded the stone thrones with little wadded up colorful bills making the otherwise gray tombs more interesting.

China 2001 - Church

There are 5 official religions here in China that people are allowed to attend. The churches are not allowed to follow any authority outside of china. The church L.'s aunt and uncle are took us to is not one of them. However since I am a foreigner we are allowed to worship as long as no China nationals are allowed in. When we arrived, at the office building where they were renting a meeting room in, they checked our passports. We all received stickers to wear to prove that we were not from China and could therefore attend church. The meeting was in English but during the songs I heard people singing in both English and Chinese making for a interesting twist for songs that I had heard a hundred times. There were maybe 50 people there, mostly American businessmen with their families. For our other meetings we all grabbed one of the office chairs that we were in and wheeled them into another room for our other meetings. In one the meetings along with church announcements we heard basketball scores and after church there was a lively discussion on the fastest way to get a package through customs.