Where the Poplar River Meets Lake Superior

This picture was taken at Lutsen Resort, on the North Shore of Lake Superior, one of my favorite spots in Minnesota.

Four Days, Four Books

I’m safely ensconced in a warm condo along the North Shore of Lake Superior. The fire place is on (switch-operated) and outside the temperature is 2 (!), with a howling wind. It’s a perfect reading getaway!

I may not succeed at knocking all four of these books off in the next four days, but I’m going to try:

China 1921: The Travel Guide, by Carl Crow and Paul French

China 1921: The Travel Guide

From Amazon:

“Set the time machine for China, the year 1921. Experience first-hand the Middle Kingdom’s Golden Age of Travel, a time when steamships and railways had opened up new possibilities for the adventurous sojourner, yet the country had “lost none of its unique charm” and remained “as interesting and strange as it was to Europeans who more than five hundred years ago read Marco Polo’s amazing account of the land of the Great Khan.”

This Camphor Press book is a specially abridged version of the original The Travelers’ Handbook for China by Shanghai-based American newsman Carl Crow. It comes with maps, illustrations, and has a new introduction from Paul French (Carl Crow biographer and author of the true crime bestseller Midnight in Peking).”

Tower of the Sun: Stories from the Middle East and North Africa, by Michael Totten

Tower of the Sun: Stories From the Middle East and North Africa

From Amazon:

Prize-winning author Michael J. Totten’s gripping first-person narratives from the war zones, police states, and revolutionary capitals of the Middle East and North Africa paint a vivid picture of peoples and nations at war with themselves, each other, and—sometimes—with the rest of the world.

His journeys take him from Libya under the gruesome rule of Muammar Qaddafi to Egypt before, during and after the Arab Spring; from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights in Syria on the eve of that country’s apocalyptic civil war to a camp on the Iran-Iraq border where armed revolutionaries threaten to topple the Islamic Republic regime in Tehran; from the contested streets of conflict-ridden Jerusalem to dusty outposts in the Sahara where a surreal conflict few have even heard of simmers long after it should have expired; and from war-torn Beirut and Baghdad to a lonely town in central Tunisia that seeded a storm of revolution and war that spread for thousands of miles in every direction.

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia, by David Greene

Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia

From Amazon:

Far away from the trendy cafés, designer boutiques, and political protests and crackdowns in Moscow, the real Russia exists.

Midnight in Siberia chronicles David Greene’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, a 6,000-mile cross-country trip from Moscow to the Pacific port of Vladivostok. In quadruple-bunked cabins and stopover towns sprinkled across the country’s snowy landscape, Greene speaks with ordinary Russians about how their lives have changed in the post-Soviet years.

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church, by Michael A.G. Haykin

Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church

From Amazon:

While the church today looks quite different than it did two thousand years ago, Christians share the same faith with the church fathers. Although separated by time and culture, we have much to learn from their lives and teaching.

What are you reading this Thanksgiving weekend?




The Man with the Key

A few weeks back, before the snow started to fly, a friend and I were walking around Long Lake Regional Park in New Brighton, one of my favorite places to walk. As we were walking I commented to her on the random pipes I’ve noticed sticking out of the ground — pipes that have lids on top of them and locks keeping those lids closed. I wondered if she knew what they were and she said she didn’t.

“Someone does,” I said. “In fact, in some office in some building in this county there is a man with a key!”

That was intriguing to me because in China to be in possession of a key is to be in possession of power. When trying to get something done, one of the most dreaded phrases you don’t want to hear is “the man with the key is not here,” which can either be a statement of fact or simply another way of saying “go away, I don’t want to deal with you.”

Where is the man with the key to these pipes, I wondered.

The next week, as I was walking in the park by myself, I spotted a pickup truck just off the path, and a man standing next to one of the pipes.

It was him! The man with the key!

I wandered into the woods where he was working and asked him to tell me about the pipes. He told me that they were old wells and his job was to monitor the water quality. Once upon a time there had been a refinery on the site and the state was making sure that their clean-up efforts were effective. He told me that he checks them twice per year, and when they are sure that there are no more contaminants then they will allow the nearby property to be developed.


It was a great day. I had found the man with the key!

Happy Birthday “Beijing”

No, today is not the birthday of the founding of Beijing. That happened too far back in history to be able to pinpoint a date. Recorded history goes back around 4000 years and Peking Man dates back more than 200,000 years.

Qing Tombs

So why wish “Beijing” a “Happy Birthday?”

Well, because it was 36 years ago that the Chinese government decreed that henceforth all Chinese words written in English should use the Pinyin Romanization system instead of the Wade-Giles or Yale systems.

Peking became Beijing.

Canton became Guangzhou.

Mao Tse-tung became Mao Ze-dong.

Chou En-lai became Zhou En-lai.

36 years ago today, the Wall Street Journal published an article announcing and explaining these changes to its confused readers. Here’s how journalist Barry Kramer reported it:

“Foreigners reading about China in their own language may soon be scratching their heads over references to Chinese personalities such as Mao Ze-dong and Jiang Qing, or places such as Zhongqing and Beijing. Beijing’s State Council has taken another step toward simplification of China’s cumbersome written language by ordering that all publications printed in China in English, French, German,  Spanish, and other Roman-alphabet languages use only a standard phonetic transliteration system, called Pinyin, to spell names and places.”

You can read the entire Wall Street Journal article on the Today in WSJ History page here.

I wrote about the difference between Peking and Beijing (spelling, of course) in post back in 2010, explaining that the characters didn’t change, only the approved romanization of the characters:

The more complicated (and accurate) response is that in Chinese it didn’t really change. Before the 1970’s the name of the city in characters was 北京, and those characters are still the name of the city today. What changed in the 1970’s was the official pronunciation of those two characters.

The character 北 means ‘north’ or ‘northern.’ The character 京 means capital, so the two characters together mean ‘northern capital.’ The problem lies in the pronunciation of those two characters. In the dialect of northern China (around Beijing) they are pronounced bei and jing. In Cantonese (the dialect of Guangdong Province and Hong Kong) they are pronounced pe and king. Since written Chinese is ideographic, two people who speak different dialects can look at one character and both will know what means, even though they would pronounce them differently. This is the case with Beijing.

So as I said at the beginning, Happy Birthday “Beijing!”

Related Posts:

Beijing or Peking?

Imagine Learning Chinese without Pinyin


A Beijing Winter Olympics?

You may not know this, but Beijing is bidding to host the Winter Olympics in 2022. I must admit the first time I heard this, I had to stifle a laugh. Shouldn’t a Winter Olympics host city have, well, snow?  Yes, it does (on occasion) snow in Beijing, but if any of it stays on the ground for 24 hours or longer, it turns black from the coal dust in the air. And yes, there are mountains that surround Beijing, but they don’t get much snow either. Beijing ski “resorts” consist of one or two snow-covered runs (man-made snow) on an otherwise completely brown and barren hillside.

Oslo dropped out of the bidding last month, leaving the IOC with the task of deciding between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan. Yes, you read that right. Here’s how Dan Balz, writing for Yahoo Sports puts it:

The effect is the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games, which is now down to just two cities. The final vote comes next summer.

There’s Beijing, China, which doesn’t actually sit within 120 miles of a usable ski mountain, and there’s Almaty, Kazakhstan, which in its bid touted itself as “the world’s largest landlocked nation.”

It’s down to these two cities not because the IOC narrowed the field, but because every other city in the entire world said no.

Seriously, every other city said no.

Here, my friends, is the promotional video the Beijing Committee released last week (go here if you can’t see it in an email):

There are no words!

In case you’re wondering what it was like in Beijing during the 2008 Olympic Games, you can check out my archived blog posts:

Stranded in Beijing

The Flame-Mobile

Surprisingly Normal

Autumn in Beijing

Tennis, Anyone?

No People? No Food?

The Return of the Marxist Mamas

Weather Report

Watching CCTV

A Day at the Beach

No Joy in Mudville

A Traumatic Memory

Little Wheel Bike Race

Plotting Supper

Please, No More Songs

Early Morning Lightning

Break-dancing Fuwa

Out with a Bang