Tiananmen reflections part two

People watching is one of the best ways to learn about another culture. And hands down one of the best places to people watch in Beijing is in Tiananmen square and you will no doubt see mostly Chinese tourists. If you want to check out another post about my Tiananmen reflections, check here. 

Many of these Chinese people are visiting in hoards of groups, with a majority of them being middle-aged or elderly. They usually are wearing a ball cap of some sort perhaps a yellow hat or red one. Their leader is carrying a Chinese flag and continually reminding them to follow accordingly. Most of the Chinese men are thin and wearing dark clothing that is ten sizes too big for them. Their skin is dark and they enjoy taking breaks to have some sunflower seeds and their wives are unpacking the food they cooked themselves perhaps brought all the way from home wherever that may be. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is how wide-eyed they are looking around like children in a candy shop which is the best way to look around.

I wondered how far these Chinese tourists had traveled to see Tiananmen square. Was this their first time in Beijing? Was this the first time they had left their home town? Did they like Beijing cuisine?  What is their home town like? Did they my shorts were inappropriate? These are the things I think about, y’all.

Right next to Tiananmen square is The National Museum which is fabulous to see. It’s exterior represents Stalinist Russia’s influence on 1950’s China. Its interior has some fabulous exhibitions, especially ancient China’s exhibition. But perhaps the most  striking thing was reading the captions of some of the exhibitions because they clearly had a flair of propaganda infused throughout. For example, This quote comes directly from the entrance to an exhibition:

” The current exhibition is presented in memory of the past and to warn future generations. Let us stand closely around the CPC central leadership with Xi Jinping as the general secretary of CPC and take efforts to build socialism with Chinese characteristics. We should stick to peaceful development and world peace. Let us continue our endeavor to build a moderately prosperous society in all respects, to build a strong democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious socialist country and to fulfill the Chinese dream of great renewal of Chinese nation! Let us continue our peace and development for all of human kind. ”

There were many other quotes similar to this and as I was reading it to myself in the museum, another foreigner walked up to me and said ” Don’t you find this all a little strange?” And while I did, after living in China for a year, I felt that I understood it.

I showed this quote to all of my Chinese colleagues and they  too thought  it sounded very propoganda-laden  and over the top but to a different generation, these words still ring so true.  As I was taking a photo of this quote, several elderly Chinese men and women walked up and proudly posed in front of the quote in Chinese and I could see them all smiling and nodding their heads. These were the same people I had seen so wide-eyed outside of Tiananmen.

The amount of change that this generation has experienced, still boggles my mind. Some of them have been alive to see  a country go from one of no centralized government to one of the most powerful nations in the world. They have seen their families quality of life improve more   in the span of one generation than six or seven generations prior. I’m sure some of them have suffered in different ways due to drastic changes in the country, but they still stand so very proud of their country.

And that’s pretty cool to see.

 

Advertisements

A Beijing Summer

As I feel the first pangs of an autumn wind in Beijing I thought it appropriate to reflect on a Beijing summer.

Summer in Beijing is quite different from its other seasons. For one thing, , dare I say this, it’s far more crowded. Tourists are flocking in from all corners of the globe to get their hands on some Peking duck and to have a go at The Great Wall. But, what I’m surprised about is the sheer number of Chinese tourists in Beijing. When I head home from work I see an armada of buses full of tourists unloading at the subway. As I crane my head upwards towards the massive buses I see tourists with little red hats and tour leaders frantically waving their yellow flags around to keep everyone in order.

Although it’s crowded, it adds a whole new energy to the city. Students from all over the world are flocking to different parts of the city. My favorite areas like Shichahai  near Houhai and The Drum & Bell Tower are filled with families and children enjoying the summer sun. For anyone that has read my blog consistently, you know that Beijing’s hutongs have a special place in my heart and they come to life in the spring and summer.

Take a stroll down any hutong and you will see groups of elderly men and women waving their bamboo fans trying to cool themselves off . As they fan themselves they also sip tea from their thermos and comment on the quality of the food they’ve bought today. Lots of older men and women are wearing traditional Chinese slippers with high white socks and sitting on small Chinese stools that look child size but can hold the biggest of men. Their grandchildren are running around the alleyways pantless and looking for things that interest them. Occasionally their grandparents will yell at them “Guo lai!“Which means ” Come here!” Beijing’s three-wheeled silver box cars and bikes are fighting for space in the narrow hutongs ,weaving around children and their grandparents ambling about.  Sometimes I feel like Beijing is a world of babies and elderly people.

As the day slowly turns into night, little restaurants  haphazardly put table and chairs on the street. Men walk up to the restaurants rolling up their shirts and passing around their cigarrttes.  They take a seat on their little stools and order a round of Yanjing or Snow beers which only come in big bottles in Beijing. A small Chinese woman brings out ten bottles of beer single handedly and as the night goes on, the beers accumulate on the table and are never cleared until the party has left. It’s not uncommon to see fifteen beer bottles on a tiny little table on the street. Dish after dish is brought out to the table, which might leave you wondering how so few people can consume so much food . Head over to Gui Jie (Ghost Street) in the summer  and you will experience one of the best summer eating atmospheres in Beijing. Spicy crawfish and seafood  is a speciality on this street and as people wait for a table , they chew sun slower seeds and throw the shells on the ground. It’s not uncommon to feel like you are walking on a floor made entirely of shells.

Step out of any subway at night and your senses will be overwhelmed at the amount of little food stalls you see. Fried pancakes and  are being served up alongside my favorite freshly squeezed pomegranite juice. Mountains of grapes and peaches are being sold on little carts. Men and women are asking you to take a ride in their three-wheeled cart and the smell of cumin is intoxicating as raw meat is being rolled in the cumin and then put on an open-flame.

So for those of you that are hesitant to come to Beijing in the summer, you really shouldn’t. It’s a magical time  and you too will enjoy the pantless babies, crowded hutongs, oversized beer bottles and wonderful chaos.

My top 10 favorite foods in China

If you are thinking about coming to China or are getting ready to come to China, I hope this post gets your taste buds warmed up. You could travel to China, skip all the sites , and solely do a culinary trip because the range of cuisine is as vast as the country itself. Everything revolves around food in China and food pulses in the veins of this country. The question ” Ni chi le ma?” which means ,”Have you eaten?”, is sometimes more often used to greet people than hello. Food is always a topic of conversation and rightly so because this country has so much culinary delights to offer. Without further ado, let’s dig in to some of my favorite dishes in China.

1. Jioazi (Dumplings) 饺子

A staple Chinese food that is eaten all around China. The great think about jiaozi is there are so many fillings! Endless possibilities. During the Spring festival you will see everyone eating them! Have em’ steamed, have em’ fried, have em boiled. (Boiled are the best!). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had jioazi in China and I never get tired of this savory dish. Make sure you get a side of vinegar and for the adventurous, drop a garlic clove in the vinegar to give it extra flavor. If you like spicy, mix in some of the red chilli peppers sitting on the table into your vinegar. And if you are alone or your company doesn’t mind bad breath, eat the garlic after it’s been soaked in vinegar. It even comes in different colors at some restaurants in Beijing!

IMG_2224

 

2. Chuàn 串 (In the North it’s pronounced “Chuar”)

Chuan is what Westerners would think of kebab and these”kebabs” can come in all sorts of ways. Vegetables, meat, chicken, bread, squids you name it. Usually the chuan is rolled in a delicious cumin/pepper concoction which smells divine and tastes even better. Look for a crescent moon outside of some restaurants and you can be sure they sell  Muslim chuan. Most of the chefs who cook chuan’r wear short, round, white caps. They are likely from Xinjiang, in the northwest of China, where chuan’r originated.

IMG_7614

 

3.Bei Jing Kao Ya (Roast Duck)  北京烤鸭

Beijing Kao Ya is truly that delicious. It’s fatty. It’s tender. It’s sweet. It’s perfect.  You absolutely can’t come to Beijing without having this dish. Fun Fact: Only until about 100 years ago, only noble people were allowed to consume this dish! So lucky for all of us common people today!

IMG_8623

 

 

IMG_8842IMG_8624

4. Huo Guo (Hot Pot) 火锅

It’s said that this dish originated from Mongolian nomads who would boil hot water in their helmets and throw in whatever was around for their meals. If you are in Beijing during the winter, this is your go to dish. Imagine a huge pot full of flavorful broth and you get to decide what goes inside. Choose lots of raw meats, vegetables, fish etc. then put it in the pot until cooked. It’s heavenly and gives you the heat you need in a  cold Beijing winter.

IMG_6829

5. Má là tàng 麻辣 烫

This isn’t as much of a dish as it is a process. Walk into a small restaurant ,grab a tray and put as many raw vegetables, noodles, meat, eggs, etc. Then hand it to the server who will take it to the kitchen where they will cook it up into a noodle ish dish. The dish comes with a side of peanut sauce where you can dip your goodies in the peanut sauce. This is a great option for people who are looking to get a big vegetable serving for the day.

images

6.  Baozi  

What eggs and bacon are to America, Baozi is to China. Baozi is similar to dumplings but the dough is more fluffy. Think of a small sausage ball. Forget your hotel breakfast or cereal.Go to any small shop early in the morning and dine with the locals. Make sure you eat your boazi with vinegar and chilli paste. Oh and  a plate of baozi will cost you all but $1 American dollar.

IMG_6819

7. Guillin Noodles 桂林米粉

These noodles come from the south of China and are to die for. If you like spicy noodles, this is your jam. Lots of meat and vegetables cooked in a spicy broth. It’s my absolute favorite noodle dish in China.

8. Lǘ ròu huǒ shāo (Donkey Sandwiches)驴肉火烧

The names don’t lie. It does come from donkey but please don’t let that get to you. Once I took a bite of the sand which I was sold and once you do, you will be too. This was actually one of the first dishes I had in China- approach the cuisine full speed ahead, right?I still remember how hesitant I was when I saw a picture of a donkey smiling at me as I took my first bite of the sandwich. But once I had that bite, there was no turning back.  For Sandwich lovers out there, you have to try these. They will change your perception of a sandwich. This is China’s answer to a hearty American meat sandwich. Don’t skip out on  your China experience without trying this piece of ass.

IMG_7242

9. Má pó dòu fu 麻婆豆腐 ( Mapo Tofu)

This is tofu done the right way. This tofu is cooked in a delicious sauce filled with lots of spice. If you are a vegetarian coming to China, this will be a go-to dish.

10. Gung Bao Ji Ding 宫保雞丁 (Kung Pao Chicken)

Any Kung Pao Chicken you’ve had in the west is nothing like the kung Pao chicken in China. This dish is one of the most well-known in China and it comes from the famous Sichuan province. This dish is full of intense sweet and spicy flavor due to the peanuts, pepper corns, scallions and sugar made with the dish. There are different variations around China, but i can promise you all of them are anything better than you have had at General Wang’s Chinese restaurant in the States.

300px-Gongbao.png

 

So, what is your favorite Chinese dish?

The Curious Chinese Way

Chinese people are curious.  Their curiosity isn’t subtle. It is overt and I’ve learned to love it.

This past weekend we headed to the coastal city of Beidaihe which is about a three-hour train ride from Beijing. Even though this was a short train ride, the only tickets left were in the sleeper section. This section is made up of a compartment consisting of six beds with three on each side. So you’re looking at a stack of three beds. As soon as my got on the train, the curious eyes fell upon us. In our compartment were three other people. Two middle-aged Chinese men and one middle-aged Chinese women. They had already made themselves comfortable by taking off their shoes and opening their tea thermos full of tea. They were sharing tea with each other when they noticed we had arrived. We said our hello’s and then sure enough the questions started to rattle off in Chinese.

Woman: “Where are you from?”

Me:“America. ”

Woman: ” You can speak Chinese?!”

Me:” Yes, but my pronunciation is bad.”

Woman: ” No, it’s really good!”

Woman:“Oh, you all look French!”

Woman:” Why are you in China?”

Me: ” We teach English in Beijing.”

Woman:” Really! How much money do you make?”

Woman:” How much is your apartment?”

All of these questions came within the first ten minutes of setting our bags down on our bunks. I was sitting on the bunk with the Chinese woman and Billy was sitting across from me with the middle-aged man. I  took my shoes off and crossed my legs and we all continued chatting. At this point other Chinese people from other bunks had peered their heads into our compartment. Three little Chinese boys were especially curious about Billy. They came over to our bunk and just stared at him and smiled.

While some Westerners might find this invasive, I have grown to love the natural curiosity. It’s refreshing for people to be blunt about their thoughts without withholding any information. In the West, people might whisper to each other and wonder about the whereabouts of a person, but in China the questions are direct and to the point. It isn’t considered rude by any means, it’s just how things are.

We continued talking for another thirty min or so and with each coming question, my level of speaking was challenged. However, I tried my best at some of the more difficult vocabulary and continued speaking. I don’t know what it was about this whole scene, but it was a very reflective moment for my time here in China. Our of my whole beach weekend, this train ride was my favorite part because I felt like a part of a bigger community.  I was sharing tea with the Chinese woman and laughing about how expensive house prices are in Beijing.  I knew how to answer her questions.I felt like I truly have been living in China for a long enough time to begin to truly understand the culture, the questions, the people.

I’ve read several books about China, I speak an elementary level of Chinese, I have Chinese friends and I live in a Chinese apartment but I’m still going to say that understanding China and Chinese people is very complicated. It’s almost as if the more I live here the more complicated it gets in some ways. Perhaps complicated isn’t the right word, but  I realize that every culture has many layers, especially China, and each passing day is a way to peel back a layer and discover something new.

 

 

China’s fleeting spaces

Today was the fourth time our refrigerator has broken down in the ten months we have been here. When I told Billy that it had broken, neither of us showed an ounce of surprise. On top of that, the panel beneath our sink is slowly withering away due to a water leakage from our sink. Our air conditioning system has lost its cooling and our bathtub constantly leaks when we take a shower. The kitchen doors have been falling off their hinges. Oh and we have had an electrician come to our house several times to fix our lighting.

But, if you look at our apartment, both exterior and interior, I’m assuming that most people would think it’s a pretty nice apartment. The entire complex consists of four buildings, all of which have thirty-two floors and more than a dozen elevators. The complex itself can be seen from very far away because of its size. One time I was describing my apartment to a taxi driver in Chinese and as soon as i said, “ The one with the green Chinese characters.” He said, “Oh i know that one.”

We were thrilled when we got our apartment in Beijing. But over the next few months, the problems started to settle in. By the time April rolled around, it was like we consistently had a pesky little friend staying with us.

And let me clarify, it’s not like we have ignored the problems. We probably had six or seven visits from electricians over the course of our stay. Each time they come in very quickly and fix the problem and then a month or two later, it breaks again. I know i’m not the only one who has been having these problems. My other co-workers have repeatedly told me that they have problems with their apartments. They too have had electricians quickly come in, fix the problem and leave. Only to leave them with a broken sink one month later.

So what is the underlying problem in our Beijing apartments? Why do I repeatedly hear stories of people’s “nice” apartments slowly falling apart?

When my parents visited China, they hired a great guide for their stay in Beijing. His major was in fact Chinese architecture so what more knowledgeable person to ask a question about my crumbling apartment. He didn’t even have to think for a second before he said, “ Your apartment was built-in the early 90’s. It will probably be torn down in a few years.” My jaw fell open. “ So wait, my apartment complex has a 20 year shelf life?”. This couldn’t be. He then said, “ Many apartment buildings in China are built very poorly, even if they seemingly are nice.”

I am no expert on property foundation but I know that very large apartment complexes are built to last more than 20 years. I went on and did a little research and found a very interesting tidbit about the construction industry in China.

“Chinese researchers have suggested that many buildings could reach the end of their lifespan in as little as 20 years. The average lifespan of a Chinese building is 35 years, according to property consultancy Cushman & Wakefield. That’s abysmal compared to the average 74 year life span of US buildings and 132 year lifespan of buildings in the UK.At the end of the day, [if] construction companies and developers can get away with current practices, they tend to do that,” she said. “I would say a combination of high demand, low compliance tests [and] legislation that is lagging behind.” – China economic Review

So I found my answer. That’s why my apartment is slowly following apart.

But why?

It isn’t just my apartment, to be honest. In my time in China, I have witnessed this mentality of, “Fix it quick. Let it break. Fix it quick. Let it break.” It’s a mentality of impermanence.

Our bikes constantly break down and we constantly get them fixed. I had one expat friend who began seeing a bike repair man once every single week. Our printers have broken down more than a dozen times in our office. Each time it is efficiently fixed. And each time it slowly breaks down again. This can even be applied to restaurants and shops. I  see restaurants Beijing built just as quickly as they are Beijing renovated and turned into something else. Restaurants turn into massage parlors, massage parlors turn into pet stores in the blink of an eye.

I’m currently reading a book titled “ Country Driving.” It’s by Peter Hessler and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in wrapping their heads around today’s China. In parts of his book he essentially says that because China is constantly changing, many people are only concerned with the quick fix the quick buck. They aren’t sure if  He says that “ It’s the nature of a country that is in transition. something is always being abandoned while something else is always being built.”

So what does this idea of impermanence mean for China’s future?

If you take a train over a long distance in China, you are probably bound to see rows upon rows of mega apartment complexes being built. It almost looked like a combination of a post apocalyptic/ futuristic situation. It was almost eerie to see so many empty apartment buildings with no site of being inhabited.  You will see more construction cranes in your time in China, than in any other country in the world. This is actually a fact. But are these buildings being built to last? Will those buildings succumb to the same problems as my building in 20 years?

 

Hiking Huangshan Mountain

Imagine standing above the clouds and watching them roll over mountains like a waterfall. Imagine granite peaks, unlike anything in the U.S., shooting up from the depths of the abyss below you. Imagine a perfect setting in which you realize that your view is the inspiration for so many famous Chinese paintings. This is Huangshan.

IMG_6679

Prior to coming to China, hiking this mountain was at the top of my list. It is said that James Cameron found much of his inspiration for the scenery in Avatar from this location.

About Huangshan

Huangshan is considered one of the top three most famous places to hike in China. Located in China’s Anhui province in south-eastern China, this mountain range is not to be missed for any avid outdoor enthusiasts coming to China.

Hiking Huangshan

There are MANY routes throughout Huangshan. Over a 100 to be exact. However the two most popular routes are as follows. Walk up the Eastern steps and down the Western steps or, you guessed it, walk up the Western steps and down the Eastern steps. Walking up the eastern steps is MUCH easier than walking up the Western steps. I hiked up the eastern steps and walked down the western steps and was more than satisfied with the experience.

IMG_6677

walking down the western steps

Getting There

From Shanghai you can take a regional flight to Huangshan airport, about 40 miles from the mountain range. If you want a cheaper option, there are many buses that run daily from Shanghai South Bus Station. The ride is about 5 hours.

Average Costs

Hostels: $25-30 USD  for two person room. $10 for a bunk bed in a communal room.

Meals: $5-$10

Huangshan entrance ticket: $40 USD

Do’s

  •  Bring lots of snacks
  • Try to go from September December when the crowds are less and the weather is cool.
  •  Spend the night on the mountain. You must do this. Seeing the clouds roll over the mountains at 6:00 was one of the coolest things i have ever done. There are lots of hotels on the mountain. If you are going in summer, MAKE A RESERVATION. There are several hotels, i believe six, that are on the mountain itself.
  • Make sure your hotel has a restaurant. You will be hungry. Our first hotel didn’t have a restaurant so we checked out and went somewhere else.

IMG_6595

  • Hydrate
  • Sunscreen. Seriously though, in a lot of parts there isn’t much coverage and you will fry without sunscreen.
  •  Relax after a long day of hiking, have a mountain beer and enjoy the most incredible sunset.

IMG_1465

Don’ts

  • Carry a lot of luggage. There are some very steep steps and your legs are going to already be sore as it is the next day.
  • Hire a guide. You will be ripped off. There are lots of maps around the park.
  • Rely on cable cars. In the summer you might have to wait for two hours just to get in line.
  • Be this girl.

IMG_6656

Suck it up and hike the whole thing. It is SO worth it!

 

 

Back to America I go!

After eight months in China, I’m heading back home for a short bit. As I sit on my couch and drink  my Chinese tea and look at my Chinese plants,my head is swirling as to what America will feel like after being away for so long.

While I’m only returning for a short time, I think that is going to make it all the more strange. Here are some of my expectations of what America will be like.

1. The air will taste clean

I’m pretty sure I’ve adapted to a new normal here. I think one of Beijing’s most beautiful days looks something like an average day in the states at best. Having perfectly sunny days with no pollution, are few and far between so I have a feeling that everyday on the coast of North Carolina is going to seem like a brand new oxygen tank . I have this image in my head that I’m going to look like a person in a yoga class inhaling and exhaling deeply when I first arrive.

2. I will see far less elderly people

One of the reasons I love Beijing and China so much is the influence elderly people have in their children and their grand children’s lives. I see more grandparents in my apartment lobby than I do parents. It’s a wonderful sight to see grand parents toting their grandchildren around everywhere and teaching them about the ways of the world.

3. The world will seem MUCH quieter

As I’m writing this I can hear children and mothers shouting outside, men talking on their phones and motorcycles going by my apartment. Beijing is constantly noisy and there is constantly something going on one of the many charms of the city.

4. Southern Tide, Sperrys & Bowtie overload

I grew up in Texas and went to school in North Carolina so while I was in the states I was pretty accustomed to the “preppy” southern look. However, in China the style is nothing of the sort and I can’t quite put my finger on what the style is another post on that soon. It’s going to be strange and awesome  seeing men wear sear sucker suits with gin & tonics in their hands. Women will be wearing brightly colored printed dresses with cute clutches. I have a feeling my whole time in America will feel like I’m flipping the pages through a preppy catalogue.

5. There will be far fewer people using their phones

Even after living in China for eight months, i am still shocked at how much cell phone usage there is. It’s like American usage on steroids. I’m going to go ahead and say that Beijingers,I’m not saying Chinese people because Beijing is a wealthy city,between the ages of 15- 35 are never without their phones. My Chinese colleagues take pictures of absolutely everything that happens at all times. There are selfies galore and if you are out with young Chinese friends you might have to stop every few minutes to take a posed picture in front of a building.

6. I will have a sense of personal space when in public

I have gone ahead and thrown my personal space out the window while traveling on the bus and subway. I was expecting to do that prior to coming here. However, i think it’s going to be wild and thrilling to be sitting in the back seat of a nice car where i can roll down the window, stretch my legs  and feel that CLEAN air brush across my face.

7. Hugging won’t be awkward

I’m a hugger. I often hug people upon meeting them. I don’t see a lot of same-sex hugging in China. I”m really close with a couple of my Chinese colleagues and I continue to force hugs on them even when they don’t hug me back and they kind of feel like a limp noodle.

7. American sarcasm how I’ve missed you so

This one is hard to explain. The way Chinese people socialize amongst themselves in public is something very different from Western people. Many Chinese people rely on small talk in public and don’t bring up big pressing world issues, or topics where one would have a definitive opinion.Now I’m talking about the public sphere here, not when a Chinese person is in their own home.  It’s something I completely respect about Chinese culture and understand, but to be honest I’m really looking forward to being in a room where there is more than just three Americans. I”m looking forward to people telling jokes and hearing real American sarcasm although I do applaud my students for trying to understand sarcasm. I’m looking forward to people willingly express their worldly opinions in public.  Most of all, i’m looking forward to the good’ole belly aching American laughs.

These are my expectations, time will tell if I was right!

 

 

Tiananmen reflections

I recently asked a Chinese man what the biggest change he has seen in Beijing over the past twenty years in Beijing. This was a kind and gentle man who is soft-spoken, one of those people who has kind eyes. To be honest, before he answered I was expecting him to say one of the following things because I think it’s what I would say if I had lived here for long.

The destruction of the hutongs

The destruction of modern values

more foreigners

more KFC

more traffic

more people

less family time

more international products

more movie theatres

But he replied with, “people smile more.”

This man arrived Beijing in 1988 to attend university. Beijing was the biggest city he had been to and at that time he said it really felt like China’s version of a “college town.” At the time, every student wanted to come to Beijing for university and students were everywhere around the city.

While it was an exciting time for him, he also said it was a tumultuous one as well. He told me that many of his fellow classmates were angry with the government and Beijing was becoming a hotbed for political unrest. Students felt cheated by communism  and were starting to questions communism and its merits.

He said, “I remember being near Tiananmen Square and hearing big tanks rolling into the square. They were everywhere and I was so scared. I wasn’t one of the brave ones that stayed that day, I left and went back to my dorm.”

He was referring to the day that is known around the world as the, Tiananmen Massacre. I honestly am getting chills just writing about it right now because I’m living in the very city where this happened right before I was born a city that looks so different from it did that day. He reflected on the fact that he easily could have been one of those unarmed protestors who were killed but he decided to return to his dorm once he heard the tanks rolling in.

I was truly shocked that he opened up to me about this topic, I would expect some of my younger Chinese friends to be OK discussing this event, but not someone who was in the midst of it all.

He described it as a time when “nobody knew what was true and what wasn’t.” We will never really know how many people died that day.”

He sat there for a minute, half smiling and we were both silent for a split second, but then his face changed into a large grin and he said “but now, it’s amazing! Everyone is smiling.”

Humans are awesome.

China is in a constant state of preservation vs. destruction.The Tiannamen massacre happened because people were wanting change in their government, they wanted a democratic movement. The government fought to preserve its communist values. Now, we see a China that is still communist, but with so many democratic and free-world undertones.  Five star hotels sit next to 500 hundred year old alley ways. Women who are fiercely convinced that hot water is the only temperature of water to drink, talk about their new iPhones. Men and women who experienced the ups and downs of Chairman Mao’s rule, now buy organic food online. I hope you see what I’m getting at.

Now, I know all the above information isn’t unique to China. We see this phenomenon in every corner of the world. However, what makes China so unique is that for thousands of years, this country was fiercely private and valued itself on tradition. It isn’t uncommon to be walking around some hutongs and have elderly men or women tell you that wearing open toed shoes is unhealthy for your body’s “chi”.

It was only in the last one hundred years that common people, and not royalty,  were allowed to eat Peking duck.

The man went on to say, “although so much has changed in Beijing, people are happier than they were before. I’m happier than I was before and I’m happy about that.”

China has experienced the most rapid economic growth than any other country in the history of the world. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with so many changes but I think that getting back to the core of the little things like smiling, is what is really important. While there will continue to be a battle between preservation and destruction in China, at least people are smiling more than ever before.

 

Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu section of The Great Wall

This past weekend, we hiked an incredible part of The Great Wall. This hike entailed a trail that leads from an older more unrestored section of the wall called Jiankou, to a much more developed area called Mutianyu.  Hiking from Jiankou to Mutianyu allows you to experience a contrast between old and new and provides  insight to the two different sides of the Great Wall of China that are world’s apart.

IMG_8784
unrestored Zhengbeilou tower on Jiankou section

IMG_8824

restored section of Mutianyu

Our journey began by taking bus 916 from Dongzhimen’s long distance bus station.We then got off in Huirou county and got a ride from one of the many people offering to take us to sections of the wall. Negotiating a price is a must for the trip from Huirou to any section of the wall you wish to access.

We started our journey at the Zhongbeilou tower of the Jiankou section and walked east towards Mutianyu. This is one of several sections of where to start hiking along Jiankou, however, it is said that starting from this point because the views are incredibly stunning and said to be some of the best on any portion of the wall.

There are four basic ways to reach Zhengbeilou: via the Great Wall from the east (Mutianyu), via the Great Wall from the west (Jiankou), via trail from the south (Shun Tong trout farm at Zhenzhuquan near Wofo shan zhuang), and via trail from the north (Xizhazi).

We accessed the trail from the south at the base of the trout farm and it was a tough two-hour hike before we even reached the wall. However, the trout farm was really cool because there is a local restaurant where you can catch a trout and they will cook it up for you for lunch.  So if you like a challenge, definitly go this way to reach Zhongbeilou. However, many sites recommend accessing Zhengbeilou form the north(Xizhazi) because it’s much easier.

IMG_8796 IMG_8802

more unrestored sections of Jiankou

Also, it is highly recommended to hike from Jiankou to Mutianyu and not the other way around because it is much more strenuous and dangerous.

From Zhengbeilou to Mutianyu it took us around three hours with breaks for water and snacks. All in all, our trip from the trout farm to Mutainyu took us five hours. Once you reach Mutainyu there are several ways to descend. There is a cable car, a slide and a walking path down to the base of the mountain. There will be noticable signs around for those options. Due note that the  cable car and slide close at 5pm.

IMG_8809

once you reach this guy selling some goods at one of the towers, you will know you are almost to the restored section of the wall

IMG_8831

view of some of the towers on restored section of Mutianyu

We stayed the night in a local person’s home and it was a great experience. There are a good number of options where you can stay in the Mutainyu village. The beds are modest but cheap and the owners will cook you up a great meal after a long day of hiking. This affords you the opportunity of waking up early in the morning to see the wall in a different light.

If you are traveling with some visitors or really want to splurge on an awesome location, stay at The School House at Mutianyu. This is a series of courtyard homes that have been turned into a pretty cool boutique hotel. It’s also environmentally friendly and they offer a range of activities for children and adults and they even have a spa. Oh, and each room has a view of the wall.

If you want to head back to Beijing reach the bus stop before 4pm and you can catch the 876 bus all the way back to Beijing. After 4pm you can catch the 916 bus to Hauirou than another bus back to Beijing.

Overall, this experience was one of the best I’ve had in China. You truly see some amazing scenery and the contrast between the different sections of the wall is something that you just can’t see anywhere else in the world.

The most hated organization in China

“They are the most hated organization in China.”- A quote from my Chinese manager. 

 You would think I was talking about the government.

 There is rumor that every hour a new movie theatre is being built in China. And I can see why. Movies are a great way to find common ground among Chinese people. Going to movies is still part of the everyday dating scene. It is still a popular pastime for about every Chinese person I’ve talked too. While it’s arguable that the movie going experience is dying elsewhere in the world, it is still alive and kicking over here in China.

 While there is an insatiable craving for films among the Chinese population, there is still a scarce amount of films being shown in the theatres. There is a large Chinese committee that has control over all of the screenings that are allowed to be shown in China. And while there are several of American movies that come to China throughout the year, there aren’t as many as you would think. This has caused quite a stink among the Chinese community who are demanding  more international films.  If there is an obvious demand for movies, why can only a few are shown?

 Let me paint a picture for you. Everyone knows the American film “Independence Day”. This film is full of action, drama and aliens. It sounds perfect for a Chinese audience. However, there is one scene in which the President gives a speech and says the following:

 And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

It seems that this speech was a big no-no in the eyes of the movie screening committee. Too many political undertones for Chinese history. This organization has gone on to strictly regulate any other films that could be “dangerous” for the mass population because they wouldn’t want a movie giving the average person the wrong idea. While China is increasingly becoming more involved in the world stage, organizations are balancing the demand for more information from its population while at the same time remaining in power.

So this movie was banned with China along with many others that have come out over the years. However, in recent years, as technology has improved, many films have been edited with edited with scenes taken out but the film is still shown in theatres.

So ladies and gentleman, if you’re visiting China in the near future, I can go ahead and tell you that your options will be “The Hobbit” or “The Chinese Monkey King.”

Now, don’t let this information make you think that you can’t pop down to Yashow Market in Sanlitun to buy your copy of Independence Day, but the sales of these copies are technically illegal in China. However,  one day the counterfeit movie store where I buy my DVD’s will be open and the next day it’s closed for “renovation.”