Archive forMay 27, 2011

Due South

Not this kind, unfortunately.

“Shaun Lawson!” I say to myself sometimes, in shock and disgrace.

“Shaun Lawson,” I said half an hour ago in the shower, “you have to be across town at the airport by 6 AM. Ignore the major problem here, which is that you will be missing the Man U-Barca championship game for this.” (EDIT: Beautiful game! Thank God for Messi and Villa, credits to Sir Alex’s side as well!)

“There is a serious logistical problem here,” I said sternly. “You are tighter with money than a Swiss hedge fund, so you’ll spend two hours on buses crossing town, thus spending .8 yuan while your classmates are spending over a hundred in taxis.” I nodded in agreement. (EDIT: I also had to take an airport shuttle, so it wound up being 1.2 yuan, or about 18 cents US)

“All of your friends in the neighborhood are asleep or sick of you. It’s too late to go to your host family’s other house and let them drive you in the morning. If you go to bed you’ll oversleep. You could go to Sanlitun, dance for three hours, then go back home and go to the airport, but that would be ridiculous and the taxi fee would be 100 kuai, and we’re back to the “Swiss hedge fund” factor. If I read a bunch of Chinese stuff I’ll pass out. 

那怎么办呢?” After a moment of thought and shampoo, I realized that I should finish blogging about my trip and everything else this semester, so that way when we come back from Jiangxi next weekend I’ll be up to date.

So I’ve put on some De La and want to finish this tonight! So Shanghai! And Suzhou! And back to Shanghai! And other places!

So we didn’t actually spend very long in Xiamen, but the general consensus among those who went was that it was the best place we went out of the trip, so Kevin and I wrote a lot about it.

I mean, it looks like this, come on.

 So after touring the tulou and the city of Xiamen itself–I am skipping over some things like our awesome tour guide, Alex, a very cool, intelligent, focused guy who really represented all the best things about the people of south China, and a tandem bike trip Professor Yang and took. Xiamen was kind of unusual for a Chinese town, I think, in that westerners aren’t really anything remarkable. This is probably due to 2 things–they were originally a treaty port and have been involved with intercontinental trade for centuries, and they were one of the first special economic zones to be opened up to outside investment in the 80s, so white people have been around.

But a twenty-year old scruffy American kid on a tandem with a Chinese woman a generation and a half older than him got stares. So I told a couple of onlookers that we were newlyweds and got a laugh out of them, and a slap on the back from my professor. Also, we were biking against the flow of the city’s annual marathon, and a bunch of people were running around the island. A nice atmosphere, really, but kind of odd. Yang and I had some nice discussions about Chinese politics, anyway.

So Shanghai.

Shanghai! Not very flatteringly! But I kind of like this photo because you can see a much more realistic portrait of all Shanghai, not just the crazy modern superimposed Pearl Tower in the background but a living, messy, complicated city.

We got up very early in the morning–

That's the eastern side of town. That early.

 …so that we could go and avoid the lines for the China pavilion from the World Expo, which was hosted in Shanghai last year. Last autumn was actually a really irritating time to be in China, actually, every single communication medium was saturated with references to the damn thing.

Also, this pudgy Gumby knockoff.

And that thing.

It reminded me of stories I’ve heard of the Nazi Olympics in the 30’s as an event hyped to exhibit a nation’s revitalization, unfortunately without the badass African-American athletes beating the living bejezus out of white supremacy, sometimes literally.

But the architecture was pretty okay, even if kind of silly by western standards, and some of the exhibits were all right.

As fabulous as I look, it doesn't really capture the scale or the style of the building well…

That's a little better.

During the peak season last year people waited in line for eight to ten hours. To see what is basically a very expensive 3d powerpoint presentation on why China is awesome. There's some really messed up sociology at work here.

I mean, it was a really sweet presentation. They had a giant escalator surrounded by artificial rainfall and gardens talking about water use and desertification, and the fact that they used that much water to make that point non-ironically is both hilarious and typically China.

 They devoted quite a lot of space and energy to talking about climate change with some pretty graphics, which was nice to see. The centerpiece was a scroll of a cityscape from the 10th century or something that had been electronically animated, and that was gorgeous.

06092010 796

Like this, only moving and larger than your house.

Worth the trip, definitely, just kind of silly at times.

After that we took a high-speed train to Suzhou, a nearby city famous for its gardens. The city itself wasn’t much, to be honest, and mid-December is really not the best time to go garden-hopping, but it was still nice. Particularly worth visiting was the old town area and the canal areas; we took a boat down one that was particularly pleasant.


But I'd way rather have this and no other tourist groups than have to choke our way through summer heat and crowds.

just a nice little group photo and AAAH GLARE AAAH

Back to Shanghai.

At this point, our exploration of Shanghai had consisted of “those places our teacher dragged us to, plus that one lame shopping mall that’s mostly just obnoxious if you’re white,” and our hotel was really close to the Bund, a sort of classy European boardwalk kind of place that looks gorgeous at night, and very close to Nanjing Road, the center of Shanghai, as much as such a thing exists, so I decided to take a walk. Everyone else was lame and just passed out or watched TV or whatever.

And we shall soon discover who has the best winter holiday facebook albums, my friends.

Also, because I am the kind of person who wishes the present era was the kind of place the 80s thought we would be in 30 years, I took the underground Bund sightseeing tour. Which was a fascinating combination of strange, tasteless, ugly, expensive, and underwhelming.

To be honest, the emotional cocktail was almost worth the 45 kuai the ticket cost. That's a good day's wages in this country.

Dinner time!

 That night was New Years’, so we all went out on the town. Some of us had local contacts they went to go party with–Trang and Kevin, for example–

Others spent their time differently.

But yeah, it was kind of weird.  It was like the entire city was looking for someplace to watch fireworks, a difficult prospect with strict fireworks bans and the city’s weaksauce topography. We settled in this sort of commercial square cafe area with several hundred people, watched a handful of fireworks from whatever “official” annual celebrations were going on around the corner, mostly reflected in the windows of office buildings rather than being able to see them directly. Topography. And because it was a gathering of hundreds of listless loiterers, there was a huge police presence that slowly but rigidly dispersed the crowd.

What else did we do in Shanghai…we saw a little circus-acrobatics thing, and that was cool but not conducive to blogging.

Oh yeah, we went to a fun art gallery the next day. This is made entirely of rice, which I thought was really cool.

Also, I met Deng Xiaoping and discussed the results of his economic reforms.


Trippy! And the touchpad says something like "inheritance" or "tradition," for us art-deaf proles.

Ole! Soy un torero magnifico. I kind of have a thing for classical Spain, longstanding fantasy of being an International Brigadier notwitstanding.

But yeah, what else in Shanghai…um, we met my…host-brother-in-law, I guess. He lived with the Huang family several years before I did, and asked about Chen Chen (our mutual host sister) and we talked about his work in Shanghai and his Japanese then-fiancee (whom I later discovered at one point was brought “home” to meet his Chinese family after they met at Beida; my paternal host grandparents’ families were all brutally murdered by Japanese soldiers, forcing them into the Communist army, causing some initial embarassment on the poor girl’s part until my grandfather explained that it had nothing to do with her as a person or her generation). Very nice guy, fantastic Chinese. And Kevin’s doeppelganger.

Wow, that’s only Shanghai! Datong and this semester will be easier. But I need to get on that bus now! Talk to you guys again in a little less than a week! Ciao!

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