Friday, June 9, 2006

sino journal two

Sunday June 4th, I woke up early to go to the Great Wall. I wanted breakfast and more importantly, coffee. The nearest McDonald’s was closed at 6 a.m. so I went across the street to a 24-hour Chinese fast food place. I ordered coffee, an egg, and spring rolls. Food is really cheap here. McD’s food is relatively expensive but they have the deal on coffee. My coffee was as expensive as the whole Egg McMuffin meal. Now I have a new rationalization: I buy the coffee and McD’s throws in the food for free.

I was again jet-lagged, my foot was sore but now taped, and I was not prepared to deal with a guide (i.e., I wanted limited human interaction) so I checked my Lonely Planet guidebook (no pun intended) for how to get just a bus to the Wall. By 7 a.m., I was at the Beijing Bus Tour office next to Tiananmen Square. The prices were higher than the guidebook quoted but still reasonable. The bus was completely full and all Chinese except for four Pakistanis and me. Our tour guide spoke nothing but Chinese and she spoke that lot.

On the bus ride out of town I noticed again all the beautiful parks. I also noticed that the expressways have flowers and manicured shrubs and in the median and on the sides. I especially enjoyed the roses planted along the side of the highway. (Can you imagine downtown Syracuse with roses in bloom and other shrubs along the side of I-81?)

At the Wall, it was very touristy. I took pulley cars up rather than walk. These were like a small car that went up a roller coaster track. The walk on the Wall is steep and tiring. I am very glad I went early in the morning. Beijing is very hot and muggy this time of year and I was very glad I took an early bus.

On the way back, we stopped at Ming Tombs and some other nonscheduled stops where the guide got a cut of what people sent. I did hang out with the Pakistanis, an older man in his 70’s and three twenty-somethings, since I was over my anti-social attitude and they spoke English. The older man was very charming and funny. He had lived ten years in Beijing before, during, and after the Cultural Revolution. He had plenty of stories, all told with a wonderful sense of humor. However, it was obviously painful for him to recount some of the things he saw during the Cultural Revolution.

We had a coffee together during one of the longer unscheduled stops. After we had established a good relationship, the old guy set me up by asking about the Iraq War. I hesitated but then told why I thought our civilian leadership guaranteed the present debacle and why we could not just pull out. The younger guys were polite and asked questions but did not like what I said.

The older man later pulled me aside and spoke quietly to me, “This younger generation is so ‘romantic.’ They are not interested in facts.” Then I was sure the three were fundamentalists and that he wanted them to be exposed to an American viewpoint. I was used but it was for a good cause.

Monday June 5th was rather uneventful as I just traveled back to Shanghai. In the afternoon, I did walk over to another wonderful Chinese park/garden less than a block from the new hotel. There were basketball courts, very crowded, at one end, hidden by trees from the rest of the park.

Tuesday June 6th I went tto the park at 7 a.m. for some quiet time. Bad idea. The park was crowded with people exercising and even two groups of older women doing jazzercize. We had a briefing in the morning and met the other seminar participants. The afternoon was a bus tour of Shanghai. We also went to the observation level of the tallest building in China. Later we stopped at a classical Chinese garden in the oldest part of town.

There was one woman who I thought looked very familiar but I could not place her. Then I realized she looks very much like the mother on That 70’s Show. She even has some of the same mannerisms. She is a very neat person. 18 years ago, she spent a year in SW China and visited most of the places we will visit. Today she was sitting on a bench looking vacantly into the distance. I went over, sat next to her, and asked if she was in some sort of culture shock. She was. Nothing she remembers is here anymore. It is like a different country. The once quaint provincial capital, Chengdu, looks like just another big Asian city with skyscrapers

Today, Wednesday June 7th, we left the hotel at 5:30 a.m. to catch an early flight to Chengdu in Sichuan Province. We had a lunch banquet of Sichuan food. It is the spiciest and many think the tastiest food in China. One dish was memorable. It had chicken, peanuts, chopped onions and these little red raisin-like things. I ate a couple of the red things mostly because they were the easiest thing to pick up with chopsticks. Soon after my mouth was burning, I was in pain; I started sweating profusely. Then my ears started ringing.

The others at the table commented how brave I was to eat the dried peppers. (When they said this, they had very concerned looks on their faces.) They then told me that people are not supposed to eat the peppers, that even the locals do not eat them.

After awhile my ears stopped ringing, the pain subsided, as did the activity of my sweat glands. However, I had this mild sense of euphoria for a couple of hours afterward (post pepper buzz?) The rest of the afternoon was kind of cool even though I do not think we did anything worth remembering.

I did call a man Tom Story knew from last summer. I am to meeting tomorrow morning to discuss plans for a stay in Chengdu later this month.

I went out for a walk tonight. I love walking in cities. However, this place does look like just another big Asian city. However, I do not think I will ever get tired of Chinese parks and gardens.

Be blessed!

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