China Trip - August 2007

Wednesday, August 8th

Wednesday started out much clearer than the previous two mornings, but still hazy (pic, pic).

First destination was the Olympic plaza. The stadium (pic) is done, and looks neat from the outside, but again, we couldn't go in.

Right next to the village was this series of several more condos (pic) buildings. Note all the cranes. There were probably a few hundred operating in Beijing while we were there. I'm pulling that number out of nowhere, but you can't prove me wrong. Ha! Construction workers are going from dawn to dusk, trying to get everything done in time for the Olympics.

Engrish alert (pic).

Next was the Summer Palace (link). This was the, uh, summer home of the Emperors and their families on the other side of the city (pic, pic, pic). Across the (man-made) lake was a large Buddist temple (pic), built by the particularly important Empress Dowager Cixi with money taken from the Navy.

Ping said a lot about Cixi, though without even mentioning her name. But the most illustrative thing she said was how Cixi would have 128 courses prepared for her for each meal, then eat a normal amount chosen from that. The rest was usually thrown away. All this was when China was particularly poor and under constant threat of invasion. Some people would call that opulence. Those people are understating.

One of the cooler things - there was an older fellow practicing his calligraphy using a wand with water and probably a little detergent or something to make it last longer (pic, pic, pic). Ping said he was writing ancient poems.

Side note about age in China. Most women retire at 50, and men at 55. Sometimes it gets stretched out to 55 for women and 60 (rarely 65) for men, but 50/55 is the norm. Then you're expected to contribute to culture, including raising the grandchild[ren]. The parks were especially populated with men playing chess and everyone doing tai chi and the like. I don't know how the pension system is, if they even have one, but a small one is usually provided in a Communist society.

Engrish alert (pic) "Slack"

The Summer Palace had its own four-building hutong, in which Cixi exiled her own nephew to she could continue to rule. This coutryard was naturally larger than the typical one we'd visited, but it wasn't huge (pic, pic). The east and west buildings were bricked up (pic) to keep the Emperor from escaping. The south gate (or north - I forget) was guarded, and the other only led to water.

Along the lake was the "longest corridor in the world," maybe half a mile long (pic). Every 100 meters or so was a small gazebo with a decorated roof (pic) and a unique military-themed painting (pic) at either end.

Closer views of the temple (pic, pic).

Since you had to pay to get into the palace complex, the vendors were fewer and less pushy, since they didn't want to get kicked out.

Cultural side note: like the States, there are people who make a living digging through trash for recyclables.

Cultural side note: my best friend's in a wheelchair, so I notice when places aren't accessible. China is definitely not, despite just starting to try (pic). Those doorway thresholds are everywhere, requiring everyone to step up to get across - if you can.

I was wearing an Aggie shirt, and got approached by a woman who works at Texas A&M-Qatar (you heard me!).

We took a dragon boat ferry (pic, pic) across the lake back to the bus. The boat also had some nice paintwork (pic). Cixi had her own boat made out of cement or just stone (pic), but it didn't actually float. I guess that would be too practical.

Cultural side note: With so many tourists tromping through their cherished historical sites, the Chinese have to try to stave off particularly disruptive behaviors, but to speakers of dozens of languages. To the best we could tell, the prohibited behaviors in this picture are as follows:

No motorcyles No hippies No sitting like a gay man
No getting hit by cars No lepers No trumpets or cornets
Apolo Ohno banned No Europeans or Latinos No revolutions
No bestiality No collapsing buildings No Girl Scouts

Around this time, the group was starting to discuss tipping for Ping and the driver. Was it appropriate? Expected? Should we do it individually, or take a collection and present it as a group? I said I would see Victor later (remember him?) and ask.

After the Summer Palace and lunch was a pearl factory. As you might guess, we were getting a little factoried out by now. Instead, I got a picture of the Christmas decorations in August (pic), and this picture of ten workers doing nothing (pic). We stayed about 20 minutes, after staying at the silk and jade factories maybe 45-60. They even gave us each a free (worthless) pearl during the speech, to no avail. The joke is that I just don't love my wife enough.

After a short break at the hotel, six of us met up with Victor and some of his student group and went to the field hockey game. It was a small Olympic-qualfying tournament they were using to break in the field hockey stadium, test their procedures, etc. The matchups that night were Australia/Malaysia and China/Pakistan, though we only stayed for the first (Aussies won) (pic). I didn't know field hockey fields were watered - at halftime, they brought out the zamboni (pic). Near the end of the first match, three Pakistani couples came in, the wives decked head to toe in black. That must have sucked in that humidity.

Victor was very pro-tipping for Ping and our driver, but wanted to pool it with his group and split with their guide. I told him I'd go back to our group to discuss it. I was on the fence about the idea.

It was only that night that we had time and the inkling to discover that we had CNN International on the TV in our room. So we got to learn about the stock market's malaise. And the mine collapse in Utah. And a small tsunami in Indonesia. Yay!

Tuesday, August 7th |Home| Thursday, August 9th