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Beijing

On my way home – Trashy in China, Part 12

As I’m packing away my things before the long trip home, I thought I’d share a few final reflections.

The sheer magnitude of this city continues to amaze me. Everything is so over the top that the top has been hidden by the smog a-way above. From the buildings that vary widely from style to style, to uber-aggressive hawkers at the markets, to the 75 pages menus  in the restaurants, Beijing doesn’t do anything half-way.

I am sad to leave but looking forward to seeing my family, breathing clean air and sleeping in my own bed – though concerning the latter, there may be some issues with the whole sleep thing.

I’ll post again during my layover in Vancouver if I’m bored.

再见北京

蹩脚

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A Canadian flag at Tiananmen Square, Trashy in China, part 11

Due to Harpy’s visit, there are oodles of the red ‘n white along the main thoroughfare that transects Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Though the maple leaf looked a bit small on the flag… hmmmm… significance? Maybe if Stevo sidles up nicely to the Chinese, the leaf will be bigger next time around…

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Another yummy and spicy dinner last night… at a nice spot called South Beauty -they serve some heat that would melt lead!

008Note the sheen of perspiration.

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Arghh! The robot is following me! Trashy in China, Part 10

Hey! What the hell is HE doing here????

Stevo is on the front page of the China Daily this morning – both on-line and the hard copy… The Harperites have apparently come to the conclusion that it is best not to piss off the world’s largest growing economy.

Smart.

I don’t really expect anything surprising to come from this. There will be the usual shaking of hands, photo ops with top Chinese officials and the signing of a few trade deals. But the real significance will be in how the Chinese leadership interprets this trip. Is it mostly political posturing (You betcha! The ReformCons are targeting those Asian-rich 905 ridings in the GTA and the ethnically similar ridings in and around Vancouver) or is it a real attempt to mend some fences and move forward?

I wonder if I’ll get invited to have dinner with him tonight? I’ll have to decline though since a “hot pot” is on the agenda.

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Ups and downs – Trashy in China, Part 9

As my journey to China is nearing it’s end (I fly out on Friday evening and land early Saturday morning) I thought it would be a nice distraction to go over some of the thumbs-up and thumbs down about my visit to the Middle Kingdom. It would be repetitious to go over the obvious, such as the trip to the Great Wall or the Forbidden City cuz they were just, uh, thumbs through the stratosphere!

Thumbs-up

  • THE FOOD! An amazing array of epicurean delights around every turn. The quality and variety is unlike anything I have experienced. I counted the number of dishes that our gracious dinner hosts had brought to the table last night and there were 14! Even better, the cost is very palatable – I have not yet spent more than 110 Yuan for dinner – about $20.. and that includes beer!
  • The price of goods aside from food and how the price is arrived at… I hate shopping, I really do… but I had a lot of fun dickering for a numbers of things at the Pearl Market and at the Silk Market…. I started my offered price at about 20% of what the seller initially told me… and worked from there. Quite an experience but not for the weak of will…
  • While I am not normally a big fan of over-the-top extravagance, the sheer size of everything in Beijing – whether it be the massive glass and steel office towers or the breadth of the Soviet-style streets – all are on a grandiose scale that bespeaks the importance of image to the Chinese.

Thumbs-down

  • The ever-present smog (or should I say “fog” as the Chinese don’t have specific word for that layer of fine particulate that hangs over the city like a fluffy pillow. On one day, the visibility was about 200 metres, the smell was acrid and everyone was coughing. About one in ten Beijingites (um, that doesn’t sound right) wear face masks to provide some measure of protection from the gunk in the air. A nice little side industry has sprung up in the custom face mask area… some very chic designs.
  • Again lung-related – the smoking is driving me crazy! I have not had to use my puffer so much since I quit the damned addiction 5 and a half years ago! You cannot get away from it – restaurants, washrooms, hallways – smokers are everywhere!
  • The traffic is both a thumbs-up and a thumbs-down. While it is entertaining to watch pedestrians try to cross one of the broad boulevards while dodging cars, busses, rickshaws, bikes and trucks, being one of those pedestrians is downright scary! You think Montreal is bad? HA!

But really even the not-so-great things are not really that important and are FAR outweighed by the magnificence that is all around. From the crazy xmas decorations (I thought they were atheists here!) to the knee-slapping attempts at translating English from Chinese (I think I’ll do a photo post on this), this is most definitely a different world.

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Ancient Chinese satellite dish

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Who’d-a-thunk that Bell Express Vue was around in ancient China?

I wonder what the Emperor did when the signal cut out or when his screen pixelized?

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On the closing of distances and the speed of technological change – Trashy in China, Part 5

Not so very long ago, the sight of my colleagues and I would have brought about looks of curiosity in Beijing. White faces were not all that commonly seen among the average populace. Visitors stood out and were usually visiting government officials of western businessmen. They were most certainly not seen in the alley markets and shops where the common folk shopped.

Today, after the opening of Chinese society to the West, the integration of the Chinese economy with the rest of the world and increased tourism, Western faces are now commonplace. True, my colleagues and I did stand out from the crowd in some places more than others. And true, I would imagine that there are many places outside the urban centres where a white, bearded bald guy would still be a curiosity, but overall, we aren’t that big a deal anymore.

And it is not only the social, economic and cultural changes that have contributed to this demystification of white folks. Think about the time that it takes to travel here. At one time it would take a year or more by ship. Then it was months by train using such magical routes like the Orient Express. The advent of air travel made the journey even less. And today? Well, with some favourable winds over the North Pole, we arrived on Tuesday afternoon after only 13ish hours in the air. In my lifetime the journey has gone from one of days to mere hours.

The shrinking of the distance between our two societies is not confined to the spatial/ physical. Through the wonder of the Net and Skype, I spoke with my family this morning. And using a webcam, could see them as I spoke – in real time. For free.

Culturally, I imagine that the lay of the land is much different now in the early 21st century than it was before the opening of Chinese society and the shrinking of the distance between our worlds. Much of the original culture is preserved – and rather ferociously, I imagine. A theatre listed only 2 of 9 features that were from Hollywood. In spite of a schooling system that insists on 5 years minimum of English language training, English is seldom heard and rarely understood. Rickshaws and bikes are still a prominent way to get around. In side street markets there are scorpions and beetles on sticks – to eat shish kabob style!

014Even in the very modern buffet restaurant where we have lunch each day there are foods that I don’t recognise.

But there is a KFC down the street from my hotel. And apparently a Wal-Mart at a mall down the street. And a Scrawny Ronnie’s too.

My colleagues in the Chinese government tell me that they sort their household wastes into different boxes before pick-up. They compost organics. They worry about landfill space.

We cut through a high-end mall that could have been in Ottawa, Toronto or Montreal… complete with eyeball-searing lighting, model quality floor staff and fashions that wouldn’t look out of place in the Resident Love Goddess’s closet. And Audis and Hyundai’s are replacing the bikes and rickshaws. It might be happening slowly, but ever so surely, western norms are an invasive species.

I wonder what this place will look like in 50 years…

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Beijing at night

Taken a short walk from the Jianguo Hotel in Beijing.

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Random thoughts – Trashy in China, Part 4

This was the first day of meetings and presentations … yeah, the reason I’m here… so no reports on exotic sites… that will have to wait till after the Saturday trip to the Great Wall. Our Chinese hosts have also set up a tour for Monday afternoon and a banquet for Tuesday night. I’ve heard about these banquets. Don’t expect a new post on Wed. morning.

But I do want to note a number of observations that I have made this day.

  • Despite the fact that energy is very inexpensive in China, compact fluorescent light bulbs are used everywhere.
  • Streets and sidewalks are damned clean. And the technology used to keep them clean – a crude broom – makes it even more remarkable that they are so damned clean.
  • As a pedestrian, Montreal drivers used to scare me. But not any more.
  • Peking duck. The real thing. Can’t begin to describe it. And in a place in a back alley the like of which I wouldn’t set foot in parts of Ottawa.
  • Sharing a subway car with 300 of your closest strangers. Can’t begin to describe it.
  • I love noodles.
  • How do the Chinese stay so slender when all they eat is this delicious cuisine?
  • People spit. Everywhere.
  • Bamboo grows in Beijing.
  • There is a much bigger span between the upper crust and the lower in some countries than others.
  • It only costs 40 Yuan to rent a bike for a day in Beijing… about $6.50.
  • The cost passed on to the relatives of the deceased foreigner cyclist – much more than 6 and a half bucks.
  • Western holiday traditions? Hee-hee. figger this one out:
  • A brunette snow white with reindeer?

    A brunette Snow White - with reindeer?

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Lotsa walking – Trashy in China, Part 3

You want smog? You can’t handle the smog!

Walked at least 10 klicks this morning in a fog /smog enshrouded city. A cold breeze combined with the sulphurous air combined to make Trashy a bit wheezy – but it was worth it.

In spite of the conditions, I and my travelling companions trekked to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City… stopping along the way at a number of stores (souvenir expedition on Sunday) and an Audi dealership.

Quite a sight, that Square. A mass of humanity, assorted sights and sounds and so foreign to my Western senses. After a wander through some side streets (Dirt Markets, they’re called, because most of the vendors and wares are from the rural areas).

016After dealing with the complete culture shock that ensured thereafter, we arrived at a nice little park complete with willows and bamboo trees. Not a panda in sight though!

026Then it was on to the Forbidden City.

Quite an architectural, cultural and historical marvel! It is bloody HUGE! If you ever do go there, give yourself lots of time. There is so much to see and absorb.

Everything was so old. So ornate. And so very imposing. If there is one thing I have learned in my very short time here is that the Chinese are somewhat like the Texans in one respect: they like grandiosity!

019And ya just have to love some of the translations!

035Tomorrow, the biz part of the journey begins.

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In Beijing, none the worse for wear – Trashy in China, Part 2

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I’m writing this at 3:30ish on Wednesday morning – 2:30 Tuesday afternoon for most of you – and that ain’t so bad considering some of the horror stories I have heard about adjusting to the time change the first few nights.

Definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. After a beautiful flight over Mongolia through to Beijing, we were welcomed to the capital by a brownish orange haze that extended to about 5,000 feet. When possible to see the ground on the final approach, a vast footprint of humanity was seen beneath us. It didn’t look like a very highly developed burg from that perspective, but then we deplaned….

And Holy Hot Dumpling, Batman! What an airport! There was quite a bit of new construction that took place pre-Olympics and the airport was one of those places that benefited. Within this monument to modern engineering and sprawling seemingly forever, we went through quarantine screening (they use infrared cameras to detect fevers) and immigration only to board a train to take us to the next terminal to fetch our bags. Not a quick 2 minutes journey was this part of the trip. I have been to O’Hare where there is that little commuter train that quickly ferries you around. No… the Chinese do everything “big” as it seemed though we covered enough ground to take us the next province while in fact we were just shuttling around within the same complex.

And the complex itself? Wow! A huge and beautiful architectural marvel with ceilings about 10 stories above, walls and ceilings of glass and sprawling floor space built to accommodate any degree of traffic. Howard Roark would have LOATHED it!

After that, we were picked up by our hosts and taken on a 45 min. trip to our hotel. After a scrumptious – but fairly light – dinner of spicy tofu, fried green beans, dumplings and rice (and beer, of course!), that was it for the day.

Today? Who knows… probably see some sites before our work in earnest begins tomorrow.

Random thought – I bet the Chinese government didn’t have to deal with citizen committees, consultations or environmental assessment plans when they installed these wind farms!

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