I think I've found my new favorite place to 'office' — the Northwest Airlines WorldClub lounge at Tokyo's Narita airport. This is the view I've had for the past 4 hours while working away on a variety of stuff. The reason I'm in the Narita airport all afternoon is that I am on my way from Beijing to Taipei. Yes, I know, there are shorter and more direct routings between Beijing and Taipei (regularly scheduled non-stop flights, even!), but I opted to use frequent flier miles and pay 20 bucks instead of forking over 500 bucks to get there. My FF ticket is first class, so I got to spend the day here in the lounge! It's been a bit surreal listening to boarding announcement for my usual destinations from Narita: Beijing…..Minneapolis, and not be running to catch one of them. Well, not today, anyway. But next Monday, (after getting back from Taipei on Saturday) I'll be right back here at Narita, on my way to Minnesota!
My main reason for heading to Taiwan is to speak at a conference, but I must admit that I'm most excited about spending tomorrow at the National Palace Museum, home to most of the treasures from the Forbidden City that were brought to Taiwan by the Nationalists (rescued perhaps?) in 1949. After numerous visits to the Forbidden City in Beijing over the past 25 years, and wandering around the meager exhibits, it will be great to finally see what really used to be there.
Birthday greetings to my mom (also known as Gracie by those who were her travel companions in China last week). Unlike 2007, when she and an entourage of 12 came to Beijing to celebrate her 80th, this time she flew back to Minnesota before we could get a big celebration off the ground here.
We did have a fantastic time last week, though, and managed to pack in a boatload of activities, mostly centered around seeing people and eating. Eating out of bowls. Big bowls. Gorgeous bowls. Funky bowls. It seemed like every restaurant we dined at my mom wanted to buy their bowls to take home. I was especially relieved when her attempts to secure a giant granite bowl (yes, I said granite) from a Korean restaurant failed. Guess who would have had to carry the behemoth home?
Here's a photo of Gracie with some delightful students:
She probably would not admit to this being a highlight, but we did manage to drag her off for a foot massage one night (which begins with soaking the feet in a barrel of 'tea') where the young fellow working on her feet used a very sharp instrument to remove a nasty callous on her toe—thereby allowing her pain-free walking for the first time in months!
As we bounced around Beijing in taxis and mini-vans, laughing all the way, one of my friends dubbed us "Gracie's Girls Gone Wild." Don't worry, we kept our shirts on. Well…..most of us did anyway. One friend opted for a traditional Chinese medicine 'procedure' that involves alcohol, fire, and funny-looking jars. That night she had the best night of sleep she'd had in ages!
After that trip, she proclaimed that it was her last and that she would not make the trek again. That resolve lasted only until a college friend piped up in the fall and said she'd be willing to travel here with my mom, and since she works for an airline, she'd bring her in first class. Persuasion time was exactly 3.25489 seconds.
So that's how it came to be that my mom and now two college friends are right now over Siberia on their way into Beijing. They will be here until Sunday the 19th. Stay tuned for updates!
That sure seems to be the case in Beijing this year, where we went from mid-50's to 80's practically overnight. Even the trees are feeling the effects. Beijing's famed cherry blossoms are blooming in the morning and falling off by the afternoon. Blossoms on speed!
With temps near 80 yesterday and today, I decided to defy 3000 years of conventional wisdom and break out the sandals. With a bit of text messaging inspiration from a colleague (stanza 2 specifically), I penned this theme song for the occasion (to be sung to the old Sunday School song "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus."):
I have decided to wear my sandals; (3x) No turning back, no turning back.
The sun before me, the stares behind me; (3x) No turning back, no turning back.
Though grannies scold me, still I will wear them; (3x) No turning back, not turning back.
Though colleagues snicker, I will ignore them; (3x) No turning back, no turning back.
I have decided to wear my sandals; (3x) No turning back, not turning back.
Today (April 5) is Qing Ming Jie, or Grave Sweeping
Festival in China. It's sort of like Memorial Day in the US, but with more religious overtones. On this day, Chinese are supposed to
tend to the graves of the ancestors. This is done out of much more
than respect, but as a way of actually caring for and looking after the
departed ancestors. In traditional Chinese folk religion, the deceased
enter the realm of the spirits, and continue to exert influence and
control on the living. In other words, they're still there. And in a
Confucian society, people have an obligation to not only worship, but look after
the spirits of the deceased. One motivation is the
duty-driven notion of filial piety, that each generation venerates and
cares for the generation above it. Another is a bit more pragmatic.
Since these spirits have powers, it's best to stay on their good side
by caring for them and their graves.
Besides tending to the graves of the ancestors, Chinese
traditionally used this day to send the deceased things they might need
in the afterlife, but that apparently are not available. Money, of
course is the main thing. So on this day, the living burned paper money that would be carried to the after world in the
smoke and ashes. But since no one actually wants to burn real money,
there is special "hell money" that is sold in the days and weeks preceding the festival. Hell money vendors suddenly appear
everywhere. In modern times, it's not just money that is sent, but
other things the ancestors might need as well, such as paper cars,
paper bank books, paper villas, all of which are burned on the
streets in the evening.
All over town tonight, people will make small fires on the streets
to burn the money and things to send to their ancestors. It's an
interesting contrast to the upcoming Fuhuo Jie, or "Return to Life Festival" that will be celebrated on April 11.
(Note this is a repeat of a post from April 2006, originally titled "Hell Money." )