Hanging in Hangzhou

A friend and I are leaving soon to spend the weekend in Hangzhou, a city near Shanghai.  I first learned about the wonders of the city when I was  studying Chinese.  My textbook had a dialog that went like this: 

A:  What is the most beautiful city in China?
B:   Suzhou and Hangzhou.

Wanting to practice my Chinese and demonstrate my knowledge of other Chinese geographical place names, I would suggest other answers–Guilin, Xiaman, Changchun–but was always gently reminded by my teacher that the correct answer to the question is Suzhou and Hangzhou.  As my circle of Chinese friends grew I would ask them the question, and sure enough I always, ALWAYS got the same answer–Suzhou and Hangzhou.  Whether or not the person answering had ever actually been to either of these cities seemed to be completely irrelevant. It was just something that every Chinese person knew. 

Well, it turns out that there is a famous ancient poem that has this line:  Shang you tiantang, xia you Su Hang.   Up above is heaven, down below there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.  And that is why it is considered a statement of fact that Suzhou and Hangzhou are China's most beautiful cities.  It's there….in the book!

So, wer'e off to Hangzhou, a very nice city, but certainly not the nicest city under heaven.  My friend and I travel tons for work, so we're really looking forward to this trip, which has absolutly NO work component to it.  Three days in a Holiday Inn with no computers, email, or internet—come to think of it, that does sound heavenly!!

Happy Thanksgiving!

World’s Most Spoiled Dog

I live in a fairly upscale apartment complex in Beijing.  A lot of people who live here have a lot of money, and the flaunt it–I can’t keep track of the new Beemers, Hummers, and Lexus SUV’s that my neighbors collect.  I, one of a few foreigners, peddle in and out on my Giant bicycle.  People in this jia yuan (housing estate) are also into pets.  There are more yippy yappy little dogs than you can shake a cat at.  But one neighbor has a big dog.  A really big dog.  I’m not up on my dog breeds so I don’t really know what it is. What I do know is that this dog has a sweet face and is spoiled rotten.  I used to see it’s human making valiant but futile attempts to take him for walks.  But he wouldn’t budge.  She’d pull on his leash.  When that didn’t work, she’d get behind him and try to push him.  He stood firm.  More than once I saw her pick the guy up (he’s gotta weigh 50 or 60 pounds!) and carry him.  Hmmm. Who’s taking whom for a walk?

Well, it seems that my neighbors have given up and settled upon the quintiessential rich person’s solution:  hire him an aiyi — a baby-sitter, or in this case we should say dog-sitter.  Every afternoon she appears outside with the dog, puts down a blanket for him, and knits or chats with her friends while he naps (on the blanket) or watches the world go by.

Like I said, the world’s most spoiled dog!!

Perhaps you’re wondering about the red door that looks like a very big elevator door.  It’s the door to a very large elevator that takes cars into the underground parking area.  Seriously!

Down to the Marrow

This one falls into the category of "just when you think you've seen (or heard) it all, and there's nothing left here to shock me."  Quite obviously, only fools think like that.  A colleague and I wneto to our favorite neighbhorhood restaurant for lunch today.  After we ordered our usual dishes — gongbao jiding (kungpao chicken) and spinach with garlic,  I noticed a woman at the table next to us gnawing on a giant bone;  I mean a big one—not from some little chicken, but from an animal that obviously needed four legs to keep it up. She had a plastic glove on to keep her hand from getting greasy.   Now I've never been a fan of eating meat down to the bone.  I'm the one who leaves half the meat on a piece of fried chicken because the closer my teeth and lips get to the bone (and other creepy stuff), the queasier I get.  So, when I saw her chewing on the bone, I must admit I averted my gaze.

Just as our food arrived we suddenly heard a giant sucking sound from the table of bone gnawers.  It was some serious sucking, the kind you get when you're trying to get the last drop of chocolate milkshake from the bottom of the glass.  Don't want to miss a drop.  Not being able to imagine what was being sucked (we don't drink tea with straw), I glanced over and saw the 4 diners at that table, all with straws embedded deep into the bones, sucking the marrow out.  Remove top of bone.  Insert straw.  Suck with all your might. 

It was neither a pretty sight nor a pretty sound, and unfortunately by the time they had sucked the marrow dry my appetite was gone!!


Singing in the Hutong

This afternoon some friends took me to a newly opened Christian gift shop in a hutong near Xi Si.  As we were inside looking at all the stuff, I spotted a cute little girl standing just outside the door singing away at the top of her lungs. I grabbed my camera and headed outside, to discover that she was serenading the entire hutong with her rendition of The Old Rugged Cross!

Whenever someone asks me when China is going to change I suggest to them that they are not paying attention.

A Chinese Phelps

From The Foreign Expert website comes this translation of a very funny post floating around on the Chinese internet.  It's called "If Phelps were a Chinese Athlete…"

If Phelps is a Chinese athlete, and as a Chinese wins the magic 8 gold medals in the Olympic Games, then what will happen?

First, the threshold of his house will be flattened by billions of
journalists, leaders, and neighbors coming to interview his relatives
during the Olympics. And everyday, in his house, the common room will
be crowded with people watching the games together, and hawkers will
take the opportunity to sell fireworks around his house.

He will be awarded various prizes from provincial and national
governments. You know, each gold medal is worth more or less 1 million
RMB. And those rich entrepreneurs in China will also be quite generous
towards Phelps. Besides that, hundreds of companies will come to ask
him to appear in their advertisements. Not surprisingly, within one
month after the Olympic Games, he will become a multi-billionaire.

Of course, he needs to pay taxes, and in lieu of the taxes American
citizens pay, he’ll need to pay lots of taxes with Chinese
characteristics. He needs to send each of his teachers, from
kindergarten to the current national team, from his masseuse to the
chef in the canteen, a red envelope with a large amount of money
inside. And his relatively poor relatives will also count on him to
donate some RMB to them. Moreover, all the organizations or clubs he
belongs to will also require a portion of his total income.

Keep reading for an interesting glimpse into the world of Chinese athletes and a taste of Chinese humor.  I laughed out loud!

If You Don’t Hear from Me for Awhile….

…I will be glued to my computer wading through some LIFE Magazine’s entire collection of China photos, that have recently been made available through the Google Image search.  Old pictures of Beijing.   Old pictures of Shanghai.  Old pictures of a China that no longer exists. It’s just too much for this history and photography buff to resist.  Here are two of my favorites so far:

This image is looking north at what is today Tiananmen Square.  Qianmen Street runs between the two towers in the lower portion of the photo.

I’m not sure, but am guessing that this corner of the old city wall is Xizhimen.  That’s the only place I can think of where the wall (and today’s Second Ring Road) ran at that angle.

Here’s the general search for China. 

Here’s the general search for Beijing.   And Peking.

Have fun!  Don’t let your boss catch you!

On the Train

This past weekend I was in Hong Kong to speak at a conference.  My topic was "China in Transition: Transitioning to What?" It was a brief look at 4 potential scenarios for China in the next 15 years.  Afterward I was asked for predictions.  I started out by making the disclaimer that only fools make predictions about what will happen in China, then said this:  "I will make, with confidence, the same prediction I have made every year since 1992—-that the next 5 years are the critical years for China; if she can make it through the next 5, she'll be fine….." 

I'm back in Beijing now, and ran across this quote on a blog called mbytes that I wish I had been able to use in my talk: 

"As one of my guides said – “China is a train – if you get on board and head in the same direction, you’ll get there with us.”

As the British say, BRILLIANT!!

Bound for Hong Kong

I"m leaving early Friday morning for a weekend in Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities in the world.  I'm heading down for a speaking engagement, but will also have some time to meet up with old friends, and take some strolls down memory lanes.

My first taste of East Asia and Chinese culture was in 1979, when I spent the summer there.  Wow, almost 30 years ago!  That was also the summer that I made my first trip into China (we still called it "Red China" back then).  It was the first year that China was 'open' for Americans to visit, so I signed up for a 3 day tour to Guangzhou.  I also remember riding the bus up to the border town of Lo Wu, where we could climb a hill and gaze into "Red China,"  What we saw at that time was a rice-paddy filled valley.  That valley is today the booming metropolis of Shenzhen.  I never imagined then that 29 years later, China would be such a big part of my life!  Amazing.