Chinese Medicine

I would have killed for some dayquil yesterday.  I left my supply at home, which is foolish, because there is nothing like it available in China, as far as I can tell.  I’m still sick, but feeling better than I was, but I have no idea what these pills are that I have been taking.  Either way, it seems that they have done the trick, or at the very least, they have been a good trick.  Nothing interesting today, but check back tomorrow.

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The Long Post: Shanghai, China

I have heard, on so many occasions, that Shanghai is the New York of the east.  Whether or not this is true I think will be difficult to say, but I can assert that it is like nothing that I have seen anywhere else.  It is a twisted Chinese Paris, a New York that wakes up every day and wonders at it’s own success, a world not yet accustomed to the power that it really holds.

And yet I was under-whelmed when I stepped off of the train;  Perhaps it because I was sick, or because of the knowledge that I had nowhere near enough time to fully explore the city, but either way I was initially unimpressed.  It certainly had the earmarks of a western city, but I felt like it had no character.  Now before all of you Shanghaiites start judging me, lets get along with the rest, as my opinion does change quite a bit.

Our hostel was located in a pretty nice area of the city, and although it wasn’t that close to the subway, the walk was great and I was quickly enamored with the tree lined streets, a perfect and well planned layout that seemed free of the spontaneity I have found so characteristic of other Chinese cities.  Beijing, though once a very well planned metropolis, is a sprawling city that seems to have forgotten itself within decades of ferocious expansion.  Shanghai, sprawling as it is, appeared to be much more coherent, a very intentional city that still holds so many of the European characteristics that arrived with foreign powers in the early portion of the century.  It would not be wrong to say that I experienced a reverse-culture shock, having great difficultly finding much that I could identify as ‘very’ Chinese.  The streets were clean, the traffic obeyed (most) of the rules, and every other shop was a boutique selling something that I will never be able to afford.  This was nothing like Beijing, and I was not sure what to make of these new surroundings.

At 19 million people, Shanghai is huge.  It is merely a wonder that such a large mass of people can identify themselves with one place.  How could so many people ever agree on any aspect of the culture that they share?  It was clear, at least in the area we were in, that people thought they were pretty darn cool.  Snazzy suits and clean fit dresses were the apparent attire for walking the streets, and thought I do not think this represents all of Shanghai, I think it says quite a bit about a big portion.  People here were well dressed and able to spend quite a bit more money than I am accustomed to seeing in China.  I also noticed that there were far more overweight Chinese here than anywhere else I have been in China, a sure sign of prolific capitalism.

Our first day was not particularly exciting.  It was tremendously hot, and we were all a bit tired from the train ride in.  We spent a portion of the afternoon out in the Pudong region, home to the well known Shanghai Skyline.  Although Shanghai does not have quite the number of massive skyscrapers that you find in Manhattan, they do have a few that are quite a bit taller than any in New York, and they seem all the taller due to the lack of competing buildings in the immediate vicinity.  If I were to pick one major difference between New York and Shanghai, it is the difference in space;  While New York is very rigid in  it’s placement of buildings, often feeling boxlike, Shanghai seems far more open and relatively freeform in the way large buildings are arranged.  There is very little semblance of a grid pattern, making it a bit more difficult to navigate early on.  Looking skyward, I was grabbed by the huge and strangely pink pearl tower, a piece of architect that has become synonymous with Shanghai.  From a distance, it is a great thing to behold, but up close I found that it just seemed to be dirty and outdated, almost a relic of the shift away from socialism (The Pearl Tower was built in the mid-90s, during the upswing of economics).  It reminded me of some of the old structures from the World’s Fair in Corona Park, creations that once symbolized the hope for the future, but have since become antiquities, forever locked in a short piece of time.

We took some time looking at the buildings, and headed back to the hostel not too late.  It was still hot, but the night air eventual came around and there was no reason to stay locked up inside. We closed the evening taking a simple stroll around the neighborhood, where many of these nighttime pictures were taken.  People gathered on the streets just as they had in Beijing, around family business and restaurants, the nighttime summer air drawing out a crowd that had been absent all day.  It was in this hour or so that I experienced the personal side of Shanghai- a massive city that has managed to maintain a small town feeling.

Day brought us a good old tourist experience.  Starting the day off, we headed straight for the Bund, the world renowned line of buildings left by the foreign powers, the concessions as they were called, that forcibly opened China for trade.  While these foreign powers have long since left, the buildings that they created remain, each holding architectural elements of their respective  nation.  It was at this point that I really saw the grandeur of Shanghai as a metropolis, with the incredible skyline curving around the opposite side of the river.  Shanghai cannot possible be a New York, as it is really unto itself. It is Shanghai, and as far as I can tell, it is quickly headed toward the center of the economic world.  The walk along the Bund looks shockingly similar to portions of Jersey City and Battery Park, well known places along the Hudson River back at home.  There were moments, looking up at the skyline, when I had strong understanding of the fact that I really was in China, walking through this strange city by the sea.

The Pearl Tower no longer looked as foreign as it had the day before-it fit in with it’s surrounding, tying them together.  In the background you can see the amazing Jin Mao tower, a gothic-looking steeple of a building.  Immediately behind that stands the Shanghai World Financial Center, a very modern skyscraper with an odd keystone-like hole through the top.  This building is much larger than it appears in the picture, as it is almost a mile away from where we were standing (it stands at 1,614 feet high).  The cost of going to the topmost observation platform was something in the neighborhood of fifteen dollars, and while this would probably have been amazing, we decided that out money would be better spent by going to the bar on the 92 floor.  For about half of the price, we were able to have a very nice beer, and sit by a window with a 180 degree view of the river and the city.   For miles around us, the city of Shanghai kept at it’s own business, tiny little cars and buses picking up passengers on their way around town.  We could see cranes and trucks working on building the new pieces of the city. Lurking in the air around us stood the tops of the few lonely buildings that came even close to our height, a couple of daring giants ignorant to how much higher they stood than the structures all around.  Sitting at this almost arrogant height, looking at out the urban sea around us, I had the sudden feeling that my trip to China had begun.  I did not come to China to see Shanghai, nor did I want to stay for much longer, but someday, I would not be opposed to going back.

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The Night Train to Shanghai

As is the case with so many adventures, my trip to Shanghai began with little notice and a hustle to pack a bag quickly enough to get to the station before the last train left.  I was confident in my plans, as I was quite sure that there was no chance that I would be able to buy a ticket an hour before the train left.  It can be particularly difficult to buy train tickets in China, as there is great demand for cheap, long distance transportation.  It is over 800 miles from Beijing to Shanghai.  My friends paid just over $30 for their tickets.  They were also without a good seat for 13 hours.  I have no pictures from the ride itself (I felt too crappy to even pull the camera out), but our train looked just like this one.

There was a tremendous storm growing as we left our hostel, and by the time we arrived at the main station it appeared that the world would soon come to an end.  Massive claps of thunder and ethereal pink lightning turned Beijing into a movie set.  As far as I can tell, the typical Chinese urbanite does not enjoy getting rained on, and on first sign of precipitation they flock to the closest awning.  I had to push my way through crowds blocking the entrance to the station, only to be told that I would have to go back outside and to a different building to buy my tickets.  At this point it was raining like Saving Private Ryan, and I was quickly saturated.  This is probably where my cold started.

Luck would have it so that I managed to score a bed for the long ride to Shanghai, and though this would seem to be of great fortune, it proved to be quite the opposite in the long run, but we will get to that soon enough.  I have never ridden a Chinese train before, and it was a bit of an experience figuring out what car and room I was meant to be staying in.  I stopped at each car, asked the attendant where I should go, and all of them made a sign with their hand looking like they were imitating a gun, a momentary dip into childhood that I took to signal an invitation into the car.  I was confused that every attendant I asked did the same thing, but would quickly thereafter tell me to keep walking.  Finally arriving at car number eight, I remembered that the Chinese are fond of using a series of hand gestures to represent the numbers one through ten, with eight being portrayed with the thumb skyward and the pointer finger straight out.  The youthful weapon.

I got my bunk, a thin, lightly padded board suspended about six feet off of the ground.  A more expensive ticket would have garnered me a ground level bunk, a less expensive would have put me four feet higher above mine.  The middle seemed just fine to me;  I had a bed, and my friends did not, and being in the middle meant that there wouldn’t be a crowd of Chinese men playing cards on my sleeping space.  I dropped my stuff on the bed, and sat next to the window in the adjacent corridor, assuring that no one would try to get savvy and switch my spot.  I was only carrying a small backpack, and it would not have been difficult for someone to toss it to the side and drop their own flag.  Space is scarce on such rides, and it is important to carve out your territory as early as possible.  Somewhere at the far front of the train, my friends were doing the same thing, only they had elected to use camping chairs in place of the seats they had failed to obtain.

And soon enough, the train began to inch forward with the distinct clank of old style rail cars, a chorus of clinks as each car begins to pull the weight of the carriage behind.  My throat had the dangerous tingle that often indicates the onset of sinus trouble, but this was of little matter;  I was on an impromptu departure for a place I had never been, the most populous city within China.  Trains are a great place to get a sense of the greater China, with the large collection of classes and backgrounds aggregated into one mob, a high speed community  of 13 hours life.  I quickly got into a conversation with one of the men sharing a berth with me.  He had an entire arm bandaged up, the kind of bandaging that usual follows significant surgery.  It was a bit comical, as he was also staying in a middle bunk, the climb up to which can be quite challenging when using both arms, let alone just one, or better yet, one good one and one that is incredible susceptible to injury.  It did not seem to hinder his spirit, but I worried that there would be blood.

We sat by the window for a while, and talked about China, what I was doing and about government in the United States.  It seems that people always want me to contrast the United States and China.  I have never been able to decide if they are expecting me to say something in particular, or if they are actually truly interested.  I often end up feeling as though I have justified some belief that they already held.  In reality, I find more an more that Americans are quite predictable.  In many ways, so are the Chinese.  Our conversation came to an end, and as he got up and moved away, he was quickly replaced by a younger man.  This gentleman was very eager to speak in English, and I was tired enough that it was probably for the better.  We spoke for a long time about all manner of things, but once again, government and life in our two different nations was the trend.  Once again, I left feeling as though each of us already knew what they other was going to say.

I ended up going to bed not very late, as I wasn’t feeling great and didn’t want to be exhausted once we arrived the next morning.  This is where things got a bit interested.  Chinese men have any number of habits that vary from the unpleasant to the strange and hard to understand.  The most common of these, and (for me, at least) the most unpleasant, is the massive number of cigarettes that a Chinese male can smoke while killing time.  As I understand it, you are supposed to go into the carriage gap between cars if you want to smoke, but this is China and such things tend to be more of a suggestion.  Smoke away, my bunk mates, smoke away.  We also happened to be sharing a bunk with a man who had some of the most profound flatulence that I have ever encountered.  I’m talking Elephant after a cabbage binge.  This was entertaining at first, but in conjunction with the smoke just became more sick than anything else.  And because we happened to be traveling on an old and slow train, the cars banged more than usual.  Each time we made for a stop, there would be a tremendous jolt as the eight cars behind us tried to outrun the seven cars in front.  The result was a quick hit into the side of the bunk.  I would have found this quite enjoyable, save that it kept me very much awake to experience the other events in their full glory.  Clank, Flatulate, Smoke, Repeat.

And so it was that I arrived in Shanghai with a fantastic head cold, to the point where my teeth hurt.  It was close to 100 degrees and the last thing that I wanted to do was go out, but I had made it all the way here and didn’t want to spend the day in bed.  A short nap and a shower did wonders, and with some encouragement from my friends (who had a far less traumatic experience riding in the standing section) managed to head out into the new financial center of the world.

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Back From Shanghai

I ended up in Shanghai very much on a quick decision.  People that I had met in Beijing were flying out of Guangzhou in a few days, and were planning on stopping in Shanghai first.  Given that I did not have a hostel arrangement worked out, there wasn’t much to be lost by going for broke and hopping on a train.  There is a huge amount more to that story, but please look for it tomorrow, as I think it deserves a bit of time to lay out in a proper fashion.

It is strange to be coming back to Beijing alone, where just two days before I was with such a large group.  And in the end, this is one of the more drug like qualities of solo travel.  You meet people, you leave people, and the process repeats.  Known friends lead to new friends, new friends age into well known friends and that great circle just goes around.  It’s all well and good, but I would like something a bit more stable.  This will come in time.  I miss my family, my girlfriend, the people I have just left, and the reality shift between Shanghai and Beijing could not be stronger- I think it is not dissimilar to leaving Manhattan and finding yourself in Albany.

But between all of that mess of feeling, I’m quite sure that Beijing is where I should be.  Without going in to detail that will most certainly be repeated in tomorrow’s post, Shanghai is a China anomaly.  Had I simply been dropped off in a blindfolded test, I would not have immediately placed it as a city within the PRC.  Someday, I would be glad to live there, but for now, I think Beijing is a more appropriate choice.

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Random Temple Paintwork

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t take  a single photo today.  It was a good day to take a break from such things and to spend time thinking about what to write.  Writers block is bad, but having too much to write about can be just as much of a mess.  Nothing worse than a piece that meanders over too many topics.  The best solution is to spend time observing, not trying to put something together.  Wait until it arrives in your mind, and then make your move.

And so it is that I don’t have anything particularly interesting for you to read on this fine evening.  Instead, I will leave you with a simple set of pictures that I took in a pavilion in the park that surrounds the Temple of Heaven.  The pictures are, just as the park, simple and self explanatory, a peaceful moment in time.  As I find more and more, China is massive to the point of bleakness.  Look at it as a whole and it will leave you feeling lost and often alienated, a mass that I find anything but homogeneous.  A closer inspection is always required.  It is often within the fine details that you are able to see the depth of beauty.  Until our next encounter-

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Story of a Picture

A camera is perhaps the best instrument that you can give a shy person in a foreign country.  Taking a good picture, a picture that you have really thought about, forces you to connect with the world around you.  It is a very personal experience.  I’m not talking about those fools who walk around shooting everything they see with a telephoto lens.  That works, but it’s just too distant.  And truly, it is nice to ask the people you are shooting if they are okay with it, at least if you are really trying to get in close.  Close is what you need if you want to see those fine details in between the lines.  I hate asking people if I can take their picture.  I am awkward and shy in English, and who knows how I sound in Chinese, but the camera provides a reason for discussion.  Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they look at me with confusion, but most of the time a conversation results.

When you think about it all, it would be wrong not to talk to those who are in your photos.  How could you possibly understand what you are looking at, with so much information contained in the lives of the people around you?  If you don’t speak to them, you are only getting a small piece of that greater picture.  I am not here just to take pictures, I am here to tell a story, but there needs to be something to tell, and this is where a conversation is a must.

There is a world within each of these people that I pass along the street, a living link to the deeper elements of culture that I so desire to understand.  I passed a man in a hutong and watched as he cut and bundled  long green shoots that resembled chives.  I asked him what they were, and, learning a name that I have now forgotten, proceeded to ask what they were used for.  I’m not sure what he explained, but I think it is safe to assume he said “they are used for everything”.  To him, this was everyday.  To me, this was amazement.

I find myself saturated with questions that I would never have had while at home, strange wonderings about this alien place in which I find myself.  Coming back home last night, I spoke for quite a while with our taxi driver.  I asked him how long he had been a driver, and what he thought about Obama and the United States.  Of course, he offered us cigarettes and asked how I felt about Beijing.  Do the Chinese around me have the same questions that I have about them?  I don’t suspect so, except for the individuals who I have actually subjected to my strange inquiries.  I doubt that the man sorting a pile of odd green shoots finds much mystery in his job (is he a full time shoot-bundler?), and yet I’m sure that it was very odd for him to hear that I was interested in the workings of his task.

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Life on the Street

A walk on a Beijing street is unlike anything that I have found in the United States.  There is so much more activity, so much more commerce, that it simply does not work well to compare.  The street is, in many areas, the heart of the local community, a venue to the older generation that enjoys spending the hot summer months playing cards, smacking mahjong tiles and pedaling any variety of services.  Between my hostel and the subway station, I can have my bike repaired, get new keys made, pick up any variety of fruit and choose from a galaxy of things barbequed on a stick, all of which are out in the open air.

A simple walk down the road can say quite a bit about the China of today.  It is on the street where you can truly get a sense of the Beijing that is slowly being washed away by the tides of new money and broad development.  This is felt probably nowhere more so than within the confines of the famous Beijing Hutong communities.  While I originally set out to write today’s post on life within the Hutong, I quickly found that there was no way I would be able to capture such a world within a quick post.  Hutong have a rich and long history, one that is worthy of an article that may be out of my abilities, both in writing and photography.  At some point I will try to capture these groves of culture, but with limited time today, I suspect that I wouldn’t only do such a piece an injustice.  I will save that for later date.

The street holds the glowing embers of the old world, a place in which thousands of years of old culture come to battle with the last three decades of modern development.  In Beijing, you can see Audi’s and rickshaws cruising in tandem, the elite and the working class sharing one space.  Despite the seemingly endless shuffle along these routes, the edges are lined with people who enjoy nothing less than watching it all go by.  Card games, older men with their birds in cages, and migrant workers squatting in groups during their break.  I have heard so many people return from Beijing and speak of how it really isn’t ‘China’, but when I see these workings of the old and new world side by side, I cannot but think that there is no better place to understand the changes that are taking place.  Look closely and you will find that this world on the edges runs very deep.

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The Forbidden City, Revisited

If yesterday was a furnace, today was a steam bath, the kind of weather that makes your head swim and your clothing stick. This is, as far as I can tell, a true Beijing summer. I was going to sit in the bar and drink a beer while writing this, but they have just started to play the Black Eyed Peas, and I just can’t handle that crap. That’s worse than a potential credit default.  Oh yes, and be sure to pay special attention to the color of the sky in these pictures.  Smog is awesome.

I made a second trip to the Forbidden City today, determined not to lose heart once I arrived at the ticket line. I discovered that there is a subway that brings you much closer to the main entrance, cutting the initial walking distance almost in half. When I last made the attempt, it was Saturday, and I was hoping that a Monday would prove to be less formidable in terms of the crowd. This proved to be true, and with little hesitation I strode up to the ticket window. A moment later, I was headed into the second most popular attraction in China, the monstrous Forbidden City.

And I mean monstrous. Originally the home of the emperor and his court, the city was built almost entirely with the intention of awing those who visited and thoroughly excluding those who did not have the privilege. The city was a world unto its own, a mystical location closed to the outside world. Emperors required that their foreign visitors (dignitaries, famed explorers) visit them exclusively within the city, bringing gifts from afar as a sign of tribute to the great Middle Kingdom.

The Emperors are gone, but the echo of their existence has not quite left. The magnitude of excess displayed within is on a level that cannot be described. The city is of such size that I found it difficult to focus on any one particular detail, simply out of the extent of grandeur that exists. The spaces within are incomprehensibly large. I suspect that this was the goal of the creators; a space so open that it does not seem enclosed, a world of it’s own. It was the rest of the world on the outside looking in.

The effect that results from such size is strange to behold. As a whole, the different sections of the city do not look remarkably different from one another, at least on a macro examination. Come a bit closer in, however, and you find a world of detail that is astounding. Ornate carvings, bronze sculpture, 200 ton slabs of marble. There are numerous themes repeated throughout the palace, but there are any number of details that are one of a kind and specific to the area of the palace where they are placed. Different sections were designated for different and very specific uses. Some of the pavilions were used for greeting guests, some for rituals, and I even found one that claimed it was the site used for the selection of the emperor’s concubines. It seems that the Chinese court led a life very bound to tradition.

I have been to the city once before, and it was cold to the point where I spent most of my time looking at the ground and just waiting for the trip to end. We started at the main entrance and didn’t stop to look at anything, making a straight line for the far northern exit. Walking straight through without stopping to look at anything can take a half and hour, but if you decide to explore even a little bit, you could easily spend several hours in the city. I have read that there are more than 9,000 rooms total. You are only able to access about half of the city, but this would keep you busy for a very long time.

I tried to get pictures not so much of the greater objects, but more of the fine details and the people around them. There is something about domestic Chinese tourism that I find fascinating. The throngs of people, the manner in which they group together at certain locations, and the montage of umbrellas. The heat exaggerates these effects, as huge groups come together in the shade of buildings, a mass of fans waving in the heat.

With or without emperor, the city has held its own. Sitting at the direct center of Beijing, this is, without a doubt, the center of China. There is something eerie about the stature held by such a tourist attraction. Though it has not been used as a palace in just about a century, the city has still grown outwardly in the manner that was always intended. And while every other wall in the city of Beijing has been brought down, the walls of the Forbidden City remain. Even the Zhongnanhai, the nerve center of China’s government, sits just to the west of the city, a reminder that there is no longer a ruler on the throne, but that the great hand of power has not moved very far.

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The Temple of Heaven

Another massively hot day here in Beijing, and I must say that the number of smells is quiet impressive.  Of all the places that I have been, China has a remarkable manner in which it can manipulate it’s scent.  I headed out around 11 this morning to one of Beijing’s most famed tourist attraction, the great Temple of Heaven, located south of Tiananmen square.  The park which holds the Temple of Heaven is (I believe) the largest park in Beijing, so even if you have no interest in seeing the more pedestrian sights, it is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of urban Beijing.  Huge amounts of shade from trees, the sound of cicadas and any number of groups of elderly Beijingers doing Taichi, singing and finding places to cool off are characteristic of the summer months.

I am not typically a huge fan of this kind of attraction within China, as they tend to be similar to the point of predictability.  Beyond this, it seems that you always find yourself in need of purchasing a different ticket.  I wanted to head to the park simply because I knew that it was going to be another furnace-like day, and the shade of trees and feel of something other than concrete were calling me.

You can enter the park on a basic ticket that costs less than the cost required to enter the Temple of Heaven itself, but once I was in the park I figured that I would probably only visit the attraction once, and why not today.  It was an uncharacteristically blue skied day for Beijing, and great for some photos.  The place was very crowded, but I suspect that it can get much worse.  Once again, I found myself skittering from shady spot to shady spot, chugging down large amounts of water as I crossed what seemed to be miles of paving stone.

Despite it’s name, the Temple of Heaven is not quite a temple in the traditional sense.  According to  the Lonely Planet guide,

“The most perfect example of Ming architectural design, the Temple of Heaven is not so much a temple as an altar, so don’t expect to see worshippers in prayer.  As it’s essentially Confucian and esoteric in function and cosmological purpose, don’t expect to find any of the intriguing mystique of active Taoist temples or the incense-burning of Buddhist shrines here.”

Do expect to find the standard and ever aw-inspiring temple colors, each representing elements of the earth.  The same colors are also found throughout the forbidden city.  While the temple certainly is quite old, they spend a good amount of time making sure that one of the City’s prized sites remains in great shape and color.  No fading round these parts.  The sheer size of the structure is something to behold, along with the throngs of domestic tourist that crowd around any of the opening to the inside, a cathedral-like opening to the top.  The main building served as the sight at which the emperor would have giving offerings to ask for good harvest and the prevention of natural disasters.  Better be quite a grand place.

I ate some dumplings on the way to the temple on one of the most ‘authentic’ streets that I have been on so far.  They gave me quite the look when I asked them if they had any, and on further investigation I came to the conclusion that it was actually a dumpling factory of sorts, with a small (small) restaurant as a front.  I haven’t felt quite right since, so I’m hoping it is just too much grease and not a less savory issue.  Until our next encounter-

Previous Post: Boiling in Beijing, Tiananmen

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Boiling in Beijing, Tiananmen

There is something about China that seems to attract the weirdos.  I’m  by no means trying to say that I am not weird, but at the very least I  hope to be able to garner the Chinese lifestyle for what it is.  There is nothing worse than a traveler who can only complain about the place that they are in, and this seems to be quite the regular event in Beijing.  Sure, it’s loud, it’s inconvenient and it has the ability to make you feel quite alienated, but this is what the traveler should want to experience, is it not?  This is the true meaning of broadening your understanding, of reestablishing your perception of the world.

I have been eating pretty regularly at a dumpling and steamed bun stand down the street.  They speak no English, and cater to a much more working clash contingent (20 dumplings = $1.50).  While grabbing breakfast this morning, I happened upon a fellow American who I had briefly met a day or two before at the hostel.  This fine representative of our nation had quite a bit to say about China, the main points being that it was loud, the Chinese are rude and ultimately that they are ignorant.

Do I completely disagree?  Yes and no.  China is easily the loudest place I have ever been.  Get over it, it isn’t likely to change.  Are the Chinese rude?  Well in American standards, yes, they are very rude, but we are not in the confines of the contiguous states and, as such, you simply need stop trying to make one into another.  Square peg, round hole, my friends.  And finally, ignorant?  Well I don’t think I’ve been here long enough to truly answer that.  Experience in a new culture is not dissimilar to learning a new language.  There comes a point when you have understand that some things will never translate.

That jaunt aside, I spent a good bit of time drifting around central Beijing.  I wanted to get out of the hostel and to keep myself active, and so I decided that I would visit the Forbidden City.  This was a bit of a strange decision, as I have been there once before and completely hated it.  It was frigid beyond compare, and I ultimately found little within those great walls that held my attention.  For better pictures and a story, Check it out here.

This time, in great contrast, the weather was stupid hot, somewhere around 90F, which, when combined with zero shade, legendary pollution and the largest open square in the world, meant that you were cooked like a chicken in about an hour.  I mean cooked.

I got to the square with little difficulty.  The subway stop at Qianmen exits directly onto the southeastern end of the square, which is very convenient.  I noticed almost immediately that a huge number of Chinese were carrying umbrellas.  Though I was inclined to laugh at the extremely flamboyant nature of  a Chinese male with a satin umbrella, I quickly grew jealous of the shade afforded by the simple device.  Immediately on entering the square sits the famed Mao Mausoleum (haha, a Maosoleum).  With his embalmed body still contained within, it is one of the most famed tourist sites within China, and continues to draw massive crowds.  Despite a surface temperature that was probably near 100 degrees, a line of Chinese stretched all the way around the building and doubled back on itself.  I would not be surprised if the line covered close to a mile start to end.  More than 30 years after his death, Mao Zedong is still of massive significance in a nation that would appear to have removed itself from so much of his policy making.  There was a great article that I read a while back that contained interviews with people standing on this line.  It compared interviews taken from those who were pre and those who were post Mao, a near polarization between the feelings of the two groups.  For those who remember his time, he is still relevent, and for those who do not, the memories of the generation before them hold strong enough that that his presence has remained.

I never made it in to the forbidden city.  I got to the ticket booth, and saw lines that must have been half an hour long, followed by another half an hour to actually hand your ticket in at the entryway.  No chance was I going to wait that long on this stone furnace.  Feeling very dehydrated but entertained by the experience, I headed back home.

Best Random English T-Shirt of the day “I’m not easy, but we can discuss it”

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