Well, I hope by now I've given you a pretty good feel for what it was like to be lost in translation in the People's Republic of China. I may need a thesaurus to come up with new adjectives to describe it if I go on much longer. I've tried hard to explain, and show, what it feels like to be dropped in a country so far away and different. China's history is measured in thousands of years where ours is in hundreds. From our view seven thousand miles away, it's hard to know exactly what 'communist country' means, especially when you read about how fast their economy is growing. They are definitely spending a considerable chunk of their surplus on infrastructure. Construction is everywhere. Most may not earn much from their government job, but all that are able are working.
The more obvious reminders of communism could be found in their one newspaper, The China Daily. You won't find any stories of protests or alternative political viewpoints. Try to access Facebook or Blogger or YouTube, and you will be greeted with an error screen. My brother is only able to post his blog through a VPN in San Francisco somewhere, and even that's been difficult lately, as the government has been trying to crack down on that method of access to the outside world.
I never felt unwelcome by strangers. It just seemed like more of an apathy. Most were just going about their daily routines and didn't seem to care much about the guy packed in the subway car next to them who had facial hair and an American passport. They couldn't speak English, and I could communicate only as fast as I could type into Google Translate on my phone.
My last day in Beijing was filled with pagodas and markets and harmony temples, made much more interesting by the company of Tea, (pronounced Te-uh), a burly woman from Croatia. She was a foreign diplomat and had a deep, gravelly laugh. She taught me important worldly lessons like never give a Russian person the 'thumbs up' and made me laugh when she said, 'I hope this meal does not have consequences', in her thick, raspy Slavic accent, after our tour lunch at a place that definitely made both of us gastronomically anxious. She spoke about a dozen languages, and I recently found her on the Croatian conciliate website, so I know she was the real deal.
I was even more grateful for her company when I met a guy from Minnesota who was sitting next to us during lunch at the dark and dirty Chinese restaurant. He was eating silently with his local tour guide. I said hello, and we all chatted for a little while. He was ecstatic to be able to speak English to someone, since his was a tour of one. He too was visiting his brother, who is working in Beijing for Caterpillar. He was a farmer and only had one arm, which fascinated me, and made me wonder two things. What piece of farming equipment took his arm, and two, how hard must it be to be a farmer with only one arm. Ah, the characters you meet when you travel outside your comfort zone.
Here are a more few images from day two of my Beijing tour..
Some of the Guard leaving the Forbidden City..
One of the hundreds of ornate giant vessels found all around the Forbidden City. In pre-plumbing days, these were filled with water, ancient fire hydrants if you will..
Friends who have been to the Forbidden City, when they see this photo, are amazed how empty it was on this day. I guess traveling to China in January wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Another stop on our tour was to a pearl market. Who knew cultured pearls could number in the 40's for a single oyster. Even the oysters are crowded in this country! It's no wonder natural pearls are so much more valuable.
Next stop on our cultural/shopping tour, a silk market. Here a woman explains the life cycle of the silkworm. Made me miss the giant mulberry tree that fell on my garage last October during the Halloween blizzard.
Pulling the silk into a swanky new blanket..
It was a fascinating, and often challenging three week adventure, and as I mentioned earlier, was an experience that has settled into my memory quite nicely. I admire my brother and his wife for accepting the challenge of living there. Their children will soon be fluent in Chinese which shouldn't be a bad thing to have when they hit the working world. The smog situation is actually worse than you might imagine, and I fear for their little lungs though. I really do hope the government uses some of that extra cash to solve that growing problem.
This was shot on the fast train somewhere between Beijing and Shanghai. And it was much worse in the city. Like a fog that never lifted. And had a subtle odor of the downwind side of a campfire.
Thanks for indulging me while I relived and recorded my observations. Like most of the rantings in my trusty Ice Cream Diaries, I hope to someday thumb through them again like an old, tattered journal with yellowed pages stumbled upon while cleaning out a long forgotten box in the attic.
I leave you with a large Chinese cabbage made out of jade. Why, you ask?
The Chinese people consider cabbage, a staple of their diet, to be a symbol of prosperity.
And there's something else I didn't know before I got on that long flight to Shanghai.
May your 2013 be bursting with cabbage.
I'm not sure what next January has in store, but I look forward to it already..