STUDY TOUR OF CHINA - JUNE 1998
I was in China June 8-29, 1998, with a group of ten other college professors on a study tour sponsored by ASIANetwork, an organization that promotes Asian Studies at small colleges. The study tour was led by a professor from Minnesota whose wife grew up in China, and was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation. This journal is based on three emails that I sent from Shanghai, followed by journal entries written in Inner Mongolia and Beijing.
EMAIL TUESDAY JUNE 9
Greetings from Shanghai! I'm sending this from the library at East China Normal University. Yesterday afternoon we landed in Beijing, then flew on to Shanghai. It was interesting to see familiar signs in the airport -- Coca Cola, Visa, American Express, Panasonic, etc. Driving across town there were many neon signs in English in addition to Chinese.
We are staying in the guesthouse of the university. Two twin beds and a private bath in each room. We went to bed as soon as we got here, after the 15 hour flight to Beijing then a shorter flight to Shanghai.
This morning we had breakfast on campus, then rode a minibus into downtown to the Shanghai Museum. It is a great museum with ancient bronzes, coins, calligraphy, paintings, etc. There was a special exhibit on archeological finds on the Silk Road. We also visited a famous garden, and had lunch there. Walking around Shanghai is like walking in a Chinatown in the U.S. -- except that the whole city is Chinatown! It reminds me a lot of Japan, only the buildings appear older. I enjoyed seeing the sidewalk stalls and watching people on the streets and in the parks.
This afternoon we had a lecture and discussion with a professor of economics. We learned that in the last 20 years of economic reform, state-owned businesses have changed from 70% of the Gross Domestic Product to 38%. There has been a major shift towards a market economy, in order to increase production. However, politically the country is socialist and that cannot be challenged.
At dinner tonight we were joined by two students from the tour leader's college in Minnesota who graduated last year and are teaching English here this year. We'll sit in on their classes tomorrow morning and meet their Chinese college students. Tonight, one of the graduates, is showing several of us how to use the computers here, and later he'll show me where the local pubs and a nearby disco are located.
It's great being on a college campus -- feeling at home here. But I'm feeling at home anyway, given my prior experience in Japan and being in many Chinatowns before.
EMAIL THURSDAY JUNE 12
After leaving the library Tuesday night, the graduate and I walked 20 minutes to the Planet Hollywood disco. I had a blast. They were playing American disco and House music, with a dance beat that I enjoy most. The crowd was all Chinese, except for the graduate and me. It was fun to dance and to watch them. After dancing 2 hours we walked back to campus, since we both had to be up at 8 the next morning.
In fact, I went to the graduate's English class in the morning. Some of his students were giving class presentations. One was about the problem of supporting the elderly in China. In the past, children supported their parents after they retired. But with the one child policy, there is only one couple to support two sets of parents. So the government has been building homes for the elderly. But this is difficult to fund, as the government turns more and more to a market economy.
We then broke up into groups and I talked with a group of 5 students. They were very interested in my research on dating and marriage. They said that in China, they are not allowed to get married while they are in the university. If they are caught having intercourse, they are expelled. Arranged marriages now only occur if you reach a certain age (say 26) and haven't yet found your own spouse.
After class, one of the students took me to his dormitory room, to show me what it was like. Each room was about the size of a dorm room in the US, except that it had 8 students. There were two sets of bunk beds on each side of the room. There were two narrow tables in the middle of the room. There was no room for books, so students had lined up their books along the wall on their beds.
I then attended another English class, taught by a Chinese graduate student. Her students put on a skit about riding the bus in Shanghai that was a scream. The class then worked in pairs on a workbook, and I worked with one of the students.
In general I found the students to be very bright, friendly, and interesting. I really enjoyed interacting with them. I invited them to join us at the disco Friday night! Later in the day I saw someone on campus handing out free passes for the disco, so I got a bunch!
Wednesday afternoon we saw a demonstration of calligraphy and painting by an art professor. He makes "woodblock" prints by cutting paper to make the woodblocks -- he does portraits, bookplates, and large prints of bridges that are beautiful.
That evening we had dinner with the director of the International Exchange program and several faculty members. Many of them had been on exchange programs to St. Olaf's college. They were very friendly. I sat next to a psychologist who does research on prostitution and drug abuse.
After dinner, we were invited to professor's homes. Two others and I walked to the home of a professor in the department of Tourism (a business program to work in the tourist industry). He and his wife have one son, 19, who attends a vocational school. He was playing a Sony PlayStation game when we arrived! The game was all in English -- a soccer game. He also played the piano for us.
On the way back to campus we passed several shops where people were gathered around TV sets watching the world soccer games. (Most shops are small with a pull-down metal garage door at the front).
I expected to find Shanghai interesting, but I didn't expect to love it as much as I do. I especially enjoy living on campus, and meeting the students and professors.
On Thursday morning we went to the Shanghai Acupuncture Institute, where we saw patients being treated with acupuncture. There was a young baby being treated for cerebral palsy, a boy about six being treated for hyperactivity, a woman being treated for arthritis, and a man being treated for asthma. Often acupuncture is combined with herbal medicine. Many people go to a western-style doctor for diagnosis, and then go to a traditional practitioner for treatment, except for illnesses requiring surgery or serious illnesses like cancer.
The library is closing now, so must quit. I'll try to continue another time.
EMAIL THURSDAY JUNE 15
Thursday morning after visiting the acupuncture clinic, we went to the Medical History museum of Shanghai College of Chinese Medicine. I saw turtle shell oracle bones with Chinese characters on them that were 3000 years old. Also prehistoric rocks and bone needles used for acupuncture. We then visited a temple and had lunch at a vegetarian restaurant -- the best vegetarian food I have ever had. Indeed, all of the food here has been very good, even on campus.
That afternoon we heard a lecture on the environment by the Chair of Environmental Sciences at ECNU. Shanghai is the industrial capital of China, so it has factories with air and water pollution. It now has16 million people, who are driving 1 million vehicles. It is difficult to balance environmental protection and economic growth; this is a problem in all developing nations.
In the evening we had dinner in the TV station building in an elegant shopping district. I saw a very expensive department store. We then saw an acrobatics performance.
Friday morning we had a lecture on urban problems. We learned that 13.5 million people are permanent (registered) residents of Shanghai, and 2.5 million are "floaters" -- migrant workers from rural areas. The latter do most of the construction work in the city (and there is construction going on everywhere). Usually men come alone, but if they bring families there are problems finding housing and enrolling children in school. Much of the property crime is attributed to floaters.
After lunch Friday we visited Pudong, the new international trade zone. We went up to the top of the new TV tower -- but it was raining that day, and all we could see were clouds. We walked along the river and had a beautiful view of boats on the river. We also visited a Coca-Cola bottling plant. There are now thousands of joint ventures with foreign businesses, with billions of dollars of foreign investment. The new official motto of the communist party is "Development is irrefutable" -- we saw it on a huge sign on the freeway! The new view is that if some people get rich, they will help others get richer too (which sounds like trickle-down Reagonomics). China is not the same as it was 20 years ago before economic reform.
Friday night I took 3 others from our group plus 3 students to the Planet Hollywood disco. We dance for an hour, and then my colleagues took the students back to campus since they have a curfew. I stayed, and ran into the graduate and a Chinese friend of his and had a beer with them. I then danced for another two hours. It was a blast!
Saturday morning we drove to Suzhou (soo-joe), about an hour south of here on the way to Nanking. It is known as the Venice of the East. It has a Grand Canal through town. We visited two gardens and a temple. On the way there we passed through farmland, where we saw rice patties, vegetable patches, and fish ponds.
Saturday night three of us took 5 students to the Cotton Club downtown to hear some live music. There was a Chinese jazz band, then two Americans playing guitar.
Sunday was a free day, and the graduate had arranged to have students act as our personal guides. A van took us downtown, then we were on our own. My guide was a young woman named who acted as interpreter as well as guide, which was great. We first walked along the Bund, the colonial offices of the British, French, and Americans who forced Shanghai to trade with foreigners 100 years ago. We toured a museum that told of how the colonial powers treated the Chinese as second-class citizens in their own city -- the colonials had private neighborhoods and parks where the Chinese were not allowed except as servants.
We then explored Nanjing Lu (Nanking Road), which is the downtown shopping area. It has modern department stores where you can buy almost anything. We had a nice lunch at People's Square, near the Shanghai Museum. We then took a taxi to Old Shanghai. We explored the "antique" stalls, where I had fun bargaining for a few "antique" items.
We then went to the City God Temple, where I heard music in a backroom. When I poked in my head, they invited me in. They were very pleased that an American wanted to listen to their music. They were practicing for Clinton's visit. The leader of the group is a world-famous flautist; there were 9 in the group all playing different classical Chinese instruments. I wanted his picture, so after they finished, his group played anther song just so I could get pictures! He wanted me in the picture too.
We took a taxi to see the Jade Buddha Temple, but it was closed. I had seen modern high-rise apartment buildings, but wanted to see some older housing. So we walked a block from the Temple and I took a picture of an old building. When I looked to see what was in the building, I found a room full of computers! There were kids there playing computer games. They pay 4 yuan (50 cents) an hour to rent the computers.
Around the corner, was a 100-year old housing complex called a hutong. There were small alleys. Each family has two rooms -- typically there is a bed, table & chairs for eating, and a color TV in the front room. The back room is smaller and just has a bed. One of the families I talked to had 5 people living there. There is no kitchen or bathroom inside. There are small kitchens (the size of gardener's sheds) in the alley, and sinks in the alley for washing dishes and clothing. There are public restrooms down the street. The people were warm and friendly-- and surprised to see an American, especially one so tall.
Two blocks away there was a modern high rise apartment with a gate and a guard. My student guide said that about 30% of the population still live in hutongs; they should all be replaced by modern housing in a few years. I learned from the ECNU professors that there is a program now to help people buy their own housing. In the past, housing was assigned by the work unit and provided rent-free. But providing housing is expensive for enterprises that are competing on the world market.
We took the subway to another expensive shopping area. I saw a mall that was filled with computer stores -- all the latest hardware and software.
This morning we heard a lecture by a psychologist who talked about marriage, divorce, and premarital and extra-marital affairs. This afternoon we went to another town outside of Shanghai, Zhuo Zhuang, where we saw more canals and bridges and old houses and a farmers' market.
The library is closing now, so must run. Tuesday we go to Hohhot in Inner Mongolia. We will not be staying at a university, so I probably will not have access to email again until we get to Beijing in a week.
As you can tell, it has been incredibly interesting here and fun.
Monday night June 16, after the library closed I went back to Planet Hollywood disco. When I arrived, a group I had danced with last time greeted me and invited me to dance with them. Later the graduate and his Chinese friend came. His friend asked me, ŅWill you come back to Shanghai?Ó I said that IÕd like to but I donÕt know when I can. He seemed disappointed. ItÕs hard to say goodbye to new friends.
When I returned to the Guesthouse, after the guard opened the gate for me he handed me a bottle of Chinese liquor that my student guide had left for me; she knew that I was interested in getting some. That was nice!
Tuesday June 17 in the morning there was a very useful talk by a professor of Chinese politics. He pointed out that China has a long history of autocratic rule; replacing it with the rule of law has been difficult. As a result, political corruption is a major problem and democratic reforms have been slow. A major concern of the current government leadership is maintaining stability both externally and internally. He answered many questions that we had about foreign policy.
In the afternoon we flew to HOHHOT in Inner Mongolia. On the way into town from the airport we noticed many pool tables outside in front of buildings. The buildings were farther back from the road than in Shanghai. There was much less development than in Shanghai.
Wednesday June 17, after breakfast we visited the Inner Mongolian Museum. There was an exhibit of dinosaur eggs and skeletons. One skeleton was about 20 feet tall! There also were archaeological artifacts from different ethnic groups -- including a teepee and bows and arrows! An additional exhibit told how the ethnic groups were liberated from foreign oppression by the Communist army. The army brought in many Han Chinese, which reduced the minorities there to 20% of the population.
We visited a pet market where there were birds in cages and other animals for sale. The people there were less friendly and more leery of us; not many foreigners live or visit there.
After lunch at a Muslim restaurant, we visited a Tibetan Buddhist temple, where we met the Living Buddha. He is believed to be the 11th reincarnation. After an audience with him, he gave us each a scarf to honor us. He was a neighbor and is a good friend of our tour leaderÕs wife, who grew up in Hohhot. During the Cultural Revolution he was laified and married; afterward he was allowed again to lead the temple.
Next we visited a vocational high school and sat in on English classes. The students had prepared presentations, then asked and answered questions. Afterwards we posed for pictures with the school officials, who were proud to be visited by American professors.
In the evening I went to the Pirate Ship disco. The guy who had made all the tour arrangements for us in Hohhot, accompanied me. He felt personal responsibility for my welfare, so he stayed. We talked while drinking beer (which was served with ice cubes!). He teaches English at a forestry college, and works at the tourist bureau as a second job. Then while I danced he called a friend on his cell phone; the friend and his girlfriend came. Many Chinese want to go to America, after seeing American movies; but the American embassy limits the number of visas/immigrants allowed. The people that I danced with invited me to have beer with them, but I had to leave in order to get up early the next morning.
Thursday June 18 at 6:30 AM we went to PeopleÕs Park. The park may belong to the people, but it costs 1 yuan (12 cents) to get in! Even the parks are commercialized in China now. We saw elderly people exercising; the only young people were two guys carrying tennis rackets. A friend of our tour leaderÕs wife demonstrated martial arts exercises. We also saw a group dancing in couples or in lines to slow music. One man held his hands like he had a partner even though he didnÕt. We also saw a few men swimming; they said they were members of the Winter Swimming Club.
We had breakfast back at the hotel, then went to a Chinese Muslim mosque. It had some Muslim characteristics (as in Egypt) but was also very Chinese -- in bright colors, flowers, designs. It had a rectangular tower. They gave each of us a Muslim cap. We saw the water cans and the showers used for purification before entering the temple. During the Cultural Revolution local Muslims protected the temple from destruction by the Red Guards. Now the government leaves them alone.
There are 30,000 Muslims in Hohhot (a city of one million). About 300 pray in the temple regularly; 5000 on holidays twice a year. The women pray at home. The women donÕt wear veils, but do cover all but their faces. The men do not pray at work (as they do in Egypt), only at the temple or at home. The call to prayer can only be heard in the temple courtyard, not outside, to reduce noise.
Nearby we visited the butcher shop of the wealthiest merchant in the Muslim community. Then we toured a cashmere sweater factory, where the looms were worked by hand. Most of the workers were young women from other areas, who lived in a dormitory next to the factory. Since it was a joint-venture factory, their jobs werenÕt guaranteed if they took maternity leave, so the women delayed marriage.
In mid-afternoon we went to the Inner Mongolia Institute for Finance and Economics. We met with the director and some teachers, who asked about trends in higher education in America. In China, they are consolidating institutes into more comprehensive colleges. The curriculum is becoming more international. They are trying to change teaching methods to have less lecture and memorization, and more interaction. They have computers, but only one college in Hohhot is connected to the Internet.
We walked around campus then ate dinner in the cafeteria where the students eat. There were many food stations with a great variety of foods to choose from. Each student had a metal bowl or pail, and a spoon and chopsticks; they piled all the food into their bowl. A few students were drinking beer with dinner.
After dinner we went to the faculty cafeteria for a party with students. We sat and talked. Then some students sang songs. The drama professor in our group performed a scene from Shakespeare and a scene from a modern play. To please me, they put on disco music and we danced. It was fun! It was hard to say goodbye to the students.
Friday June 19 after breakfast we drove out to the Hunghua Grasslands. We were accompanied by the head of the Friendship Association of the Muslim community, who were our official hosts in Hohhot, and who had come along to cook a whole lamb for us for dinner.
We came upon a place where the highway was blocked. The right lane was being paved (by hand) and the left lane was blocked by a trailer full of bricks; it had broken free from the small tractor that had been pulling it. Our hosts immediately started unloading bricks from the trailer. Finally, they were able to move the trailer out of the way. The paved road eventually became a road full of potholes then a dirt road.
We passed two villages. The houses had walled yards. The houses were made of brick or adobe, while the walls were of rocks or dirt. I noted that there were video CDs for sale at several places -- even in remote mountain villages in Inner Mongolia! We finally arrived at a cluster of yurts, obviously set up for tourists; the Mongols no longer live a nomadic existence any more. Next to the canvas yurts we stayed in, men were building brick yurts and a big resort building.
After lunch we went for a short horseback ride which was really a photo op. Then we drove to Yellow Flower gorge, where there was another cluster of yurts along the rim. There was a beautiful canyon, with granite rocks and luscious birch trees. Some of us rode on horseback to the bottom of the canyon. It was fun!
During dinner, after the first course, a whole cooked lamb was brought out and carved by our hosts. We then drank liquor in the following ritual: Several young women in costumes come up to you and pour clear liquor (bai jiao) into a small chalice resting on a scarf; you take the chalice and dip a finger into it. You flick some liquor up to heaven, flick some liquor down to earth, then wipe some liquor across your forehead. Then you drink all of the liquor at once, and everyone cheers.
After dinner the staff presented some Mongolian dances and singing. Then they put on some disco music and we danced with the Mongolian staff. We were joined by some other tourists, who were studying Chinese in Beijing; they included 2 Swedes, an Italian, and several Japanese. Even though we were of different nationalities, dancing together we were all one.
That night we slept in the yurts. The shared bed was a platform with a thin quilt on it. Each of us had a heavier quilt to put on top of us, like the douvees in Europe. It was more comfortable to sleep on top of the douvee, so I started out that way. But I got cold, so I crawled under the douvee and the bed was hard. In addition, one of the three other guys sharing the yurt was snoring, so I didnÕt get much sleep that night (as I had expected).
Saturday June 20 at breakfast I asked one of the Swedes the names of discos in Beijing. I noticed that the staff was friendlier than yesterday, after having discoed with them. Two guys gave a demonstration of Mongolian wrestling; they wore leather tunics, which they grabbed to try to throw each other down. Since it was cold and windy, they also wore t-shirts -- with a small emblem for the Chicago Bulls!!
We drove back to Hohhot and showered and rested before meeting our homestay hosts. My host family lived in the Muslim district. They lived in a building owned by their previous work unit, a factory that had gone out of business. They now had a button shop. The wife was a high school classmate of our tour leaderÕs wife. They have two sons. The older son runs a second button shop; he graduated from college in PE and has a girlfriend. The younger son is a senior in high school.
None of them speak English, so they invited a neighbor to serve as translator. The neighbor graduated from college in accounting; he was accompanied by his visiting brother-in-law who does not speak English.
I showed everyone some postcards of California and a photo of my family. We had some bai jiao (Chinese liquor) with dinner. After I filled up on the first set of courses, they brought out the main dish and two side dishes, which I didnÕt know were coming!
After dinner we went to the neighborÕs house to meet his parents and sister. They served me some plums and ice cream, which they had bought for the occasion. We then returned to my host family where we played Mah Jong.
Sunday June 21, my host father, the neighbor, the neighborÕs brother-in-law, and I all rode bikes to a Muslim restaurant for breakfast. We had lamb innards shredded in broth with cilantro; I had previously eaten it on the grasslands, and found that it tastes good. We also had a biscuit with a nice crisp crust.
We then biked to a park that has a museum about the first Chairman of Inner Mongolia. We went there to see a dance group. The neighbor told the dance leader that I liked to dance, so he put on some disco music and I danced with his group! We also saw another dance group; a woman was teaching line dancing with popular music. We then toured the museum; it was mostly photos of the Chairman with various dignitaries, but did have a few interesting artifacts including an oil lamp.
We then rode the bikes back and relaxed. The younger son made a chop (seal) for me. He looked up the characters for my Chinese name (He Chang le) in a book to see what the ancient form of the letters were, copied then onto paper, and reversed them. He drew them onto a rectangular stone, and used a tool to chip away stone to raise the characters. It took him about two hours. When he inked it and stamped it on paper, the result was beautiful.
I had given a T-shirt to my hosts and another to the neighbor. The hosts gave me a carpet wall hanging of a five-pagoda temple, which was beautiful. After lunch we took a taxi to see the temple (there wasnÕt time enough to bike), and then to see both of their button shops. They also took me to the Nationalities Department store to look for Mongolian clothing. I found a beautiful robe, waist scarf, and hat. We then took a taxi to my hotel. While I showered they visited with our tour leaderÕs wife.
Dinner was a banquet in the hotel for our host families. There were many toasts of bai jiao liquor and many photographs. We went to the hotel lounge, where there was a hodgepodge of music. We heard classical western music on piano and violin, classical Chinese music on Gusheng, slow dancing, and disco. I taught the host parents to disco with me!! Various individuals and groups also sang. We then said goodbye to our host families. It was a fun evening.
Monday June 22 we rode to a village to see an army buddy of one of the host fathers whose wife was a classmate of our tour leaderÕs wife. We first met the head of the village and his family; we stepped into his home to get out of the rain. He and his wife have two rooms, and his son lives in the other half of the building. One room has a kamm and cabinet, and the other room is the kitchen. The kamm is a platform that serves as a bed at night and a sitting area in the daytime. Underneath are channels made of brick that allow smoke from a kitchen stove to heat the bed. (We later saw a kamm without a cover in a house that was being constructed).
After the rain stopped we walked down the road to the school. It was a two-room school for primary grades (there is another school for older kids). The kids were so cute and so excited to see us. The kids were using workbooks. We walked to the cornfields and hoed a few weeds, much as other visiting dignitaries might do. I learned later that this was our tour leaderÕs idea, not the villagersÕ; they were surprised that we wanted to see a farm village.
Walking back to the houses, a couple of us were talking and lagged behind. A group of kids followed me -- I felt like the Pied Piper! When we got to the army buddyÕs house, a crowd of kids and adults gathered around the entrance to the yard. They watched in wonder as a couple of us Americans talked; they might never have seen foreigners before. I finally went inside to eat lunch with the others. When we came out, most of the crowd was still there. I waived to them as we left in the minibus.
We drove back to town then to a tomb south of town. The tomb was of a woman who had been a concubine of the Emperor; she was married to a Mongolian chieftain to create harmonious relations. There was a huge man-made hill over her tomb, with a pagoda on top. The hill had good views of surrounding farming plots. Usually each farm family has 3 or 4 plots in different fields for different crops. There also was some calligraphy on panels in a long pavilion along the back wall -- in Chinese, old Chinese, and Mongolian.
After dinner, group members read excerpts from their journals. We discussed our impressions of Hohhot. Afterward I had a drink in the hotel bar with the history professor in our group).
Tuesday June 23 we went to the airport. We said goodbye to our guides and others. It was hard to say goodbye.
We flew to BEIJING. Traffic was terrible driving into the city; here had been an accident on the road. We checked into a hotel downtown, then drove to office of a graduate of St. OlafÕ who also has an MBA. We had lunch as he talked about his experiences working for companies doing business with China. Previously foreign businessmen were viewed as traders; the attitude was to get the cheapest price possible. Now as he deals with factories, there is more concern about quality and service, not just price.
He said that it costs about $240,000 a year to bring in an American manager, since they have to provide housing, school tuition, etc. Burnout is a problem, so increasingly they hire local Chinese as managers. There are more culture conflicts with managers from elsewhere in Asia than from America; Americans look different, so Chinese workers expect them to act differently, but Asians look similar so they expect them to act the same as themselves but they donÕt.
We had the afternoon to rest up, but I decided to explore the neighborhood around the hotel. I walked to the closest intersection, then explored a side street. There were many teenagers milling around, and I thought that perhaps school had just let out. But there were also many adults. I thought they might be waiting for buses, but I didnÕt see any bus stop. My presence caused quite a sensation, as people looked at me and made gestures about my height. I greeted them and took a few photos. I couldnÕt find anyone who spoke English to ask why they were there.
That evening we had dinner at a California BBQ. I couldnÕt see what was Californian about it. Shredded meat was cooked on top of a rounded smooth metal grill, which I had thought was Mongolian. We then watched excerpts of Peking Opera at another hotel. The excerpts included dialogue, singing, and acrobatics.
I had noticed a disco just two long blocks from the hotel, so I walked there to check it out; it was called How So. Two colleagues walked there with me, but didnÕt want to stay. Since I was a foreigner, they invited me in free instead of charging me 30 yuan (4 dollars). While I was drinking a beer, one of the waiters came up and spoke English; he is studying English at Beijing Language Institute. I also met a chemical engineer from Canton. When I started dancing, a crowd gathered around to dance with me, as happened in Shanghai. It was fun.
Wednesday June 24 after breakfast we rode a minibus to Tienamen Square. First we went into a Friendship store; these originally were stores just for tourists who were not allowed to shop in regular stores. I found a tunic that I liked. I also bought some books about Beijing.
We walked across Tienamen Square to MaoÕs Mausoleum. Mao was in a glass coffin, just like Lenin had been in Red Square in Moscow. But at the exit of the mausoleum were shops -- some with Mao memorabilia, but others with other goods. How ironic to have such a commercial area next to a Communists leaderÕs tomb! I found a hat and some playing cards.
We drove to Sun Yatsen park. Sun was the person who founded a republic in China after the fall of the last emperor. We went to one restaurant in the park, but found it was the wrong one. We tried to drive to the other side of the park, but the way was blocked by construction workers who were eating their lunch; their vehicles blocked the way. So we backed out, but a policeman gave the driver hell for backing out. The driver got mad, and he and the policeman would have come to blows had not our tour guides pulled him back. The policeman then closed the gate leading back to the other restaurant to block our passage, but our guide from East China Normal University in Shanghai explained to the policeman that we were visiting dignitaries so he finally opened the gate.
We then ate at the restaurant at which we had originally stopped. After lunch we went to the Beijing Opera School. This is a fine arts school serving kids 10-17. It includes instruction in singing, acting, acrobatics, etc. Two-thirds are boys and one-third are girls. Tuition is 2000 yuan a year ($250), which seems low to us but is high to them since salaries typically range from 400 yuan ($50) to 1000 yuan ($125) a month. Two auditions are required for admittance, and only about one-fourth are admitted. We watched a girlsÕ ballet class, and boysÕ dance class, and gymnastics; then 3 boys and 2 girls sang Peking Opera excerpts for us. It was fun to see students, since we werenÕt staying at a university in Beijing.
We drove to a cloisonnˇ factory, and watched women making the pottery by hand. They started with copper vases, and glued small circles and other shapes of copper to make designs. They then filled in the spaces with enamel, using either small paintbrushes or syringes. A lot of work! I saw displays of merchandise for sale, and bought a few small items. Outside the factory I found a stand selling t-shirts and bought a couple.
We drove to the Temple of Heaven, the round blue temple whose replica I had seen in Epcot Center at Disneyworld in Florida. It was very beautiful. Unfortunately the sky was overcast, so the colors were not as vibrant as they should have been.
We had dinner in the park near the Temple. We laughed a lot. Back at the hotel I lay down on the bed to rest a minute, and fell asleep at 9:30 PM!
Thursday June 25 we went to the Forbidden City, which is now called the Palace Museum. We saw large reception halls, a fabulous exhibit of old paintings, some ancient pottery, the emperorÕs living area, and the concubinesÕ quarters. The emperors had many concubines, and many eunuchs to guard them.
We had lunch at a Mongolian hot pot restaurant, where we cooked meat and vegetables in boiling broth. This was similar to a restaurant in Hohhot, except that we each had our own hot pot instead of sharing a large one.
We then went to the Dream of Red Chamber garden. The Dream of the Red Chamber is the most popular Chinese novel, which was written in the early 1700s. This garden, built about 10 years ago, depicts pavilions and scenes from the novel. You can dress up in costumes and take your picture in the various settings.
We went to the California BBQ for dinner. Before dinner I quickly went across the street to a state department store and bought the biggest suitcase I could find. Only one suitcase can be checked on flights inside China, but two can be checked for overseas flights, so I bought another suitcase to hold all of the books, postcards, and souvenirs I had bought.
I went back to the How So disco. The crowd was larger, and instead of dancing in groups everyone was dancing in a line, copying the lead dancers (three young women dancing on stage). This was frustrating at first because it made it hard to watch and dance with others. Later I drank beer with two guys who only knew a couple words of English, but they laughed a lot so we had fun.
Friday June 26 was a free day. I had made arrangements to spend the day with a colleague from Whittier who happened to be in Beijing doing research, and two Chinese scholars who will be visiting at Whittier this next year. They and a driver from Capital Normal University picked me up at my hotel. My colleague wanted to see the Heavenly Temple and the Dream of Red Chamber garden, since she will be teaching about them in her classes next year. I didnÕt mind going back to see them again, since it was a chance to get acquainted with the two Chinese scholars.
We also went to the Summer Palace, which I had not seen. It had a complex of pavilions along a lake, with a small Buddhist temple on top of a hill. We walked up to the top, where there was a great view. We also took a boat ride across the lake and back. The whole area was very beautiful.
We then had dinner with the Dean and the international exchange staff at Capital Normal University. They were delightful hosts. Whittier College has just reestablished an exchange relationship with the school. Back in the 80s some students from Beijing had been in my classes at Whittier, but the exchange relationship was interrupted by the events in Tienamen Square in 1989.
That night I went back to the How So disco again, and saw the two guys I had met the night before. I had fun dancing.
Saturday June 27 we rode to see the Great Wall at Mutianyu. We walked up the hill past the souvenir shops and took the cable cars up to the top of the mountain. It was interesting walking along the wall. Beautiful mountain scenery -- some craggy rocks, brilliant greens and blues, and misty layers of mountains in the distance. The bright sun was hot, however,
Going to the right on the wall I came to a stand with a telephone offering international calls! So I called my wife in California and asked her to guess where I was. Going left along the wall, there were several guard towers that provided shade with cool breezes inside. On the way back to the bus I bought several t-shirts.
After we returned to our hotel, our guide from Shanghai took two of us in a taxi to the Beijing West Railroad Station. We wanted to see about taking a train tomorrow to a place 120 km away which has beautiful mountains like in south China. Our guide said that the place was not listed on the schedule posted on the wall. It was a small stop on a local train. The seats were wooden, the train would be hot, and we might not get a seat and have to stand for almost three hours. He was afraid we would get lost, so he advised against going. We decided to take his advice, since our plane home was the next day, leaving no time to get stranded somewhere.
But the trip to the station was still interesting. There was no English or Pinyin (English spelling of Chinese) there because no tourists used that station. There were people of various Chinese ethnicities there, sitting on the sidewalk waiting for trains. They were probably migrant laborers; judging from their stares they were not used to seeing foreigners. But as I was walking across the square, one of the young guys working at a stall selling vegetables saw me and ran up and gave me a hug.
We went back to the hotel, and a colleague and and I decided to check out an alternate activity for Sunday. The night before, our guide had said that I had to change rooms in the hotel. At first they had not told him why, but then they explained that President Clinton would be visiting the church next door on Sunday and security did not want anyone in rooms overlooking the church. So my colleague and I decided to explore the church.
We walked around behind the hotel and found a hutong. Around the corner was the Beijing Christian Church. We walked into the courtyard and into the church, where a few men were setting things up. We asked what time the service was on Sunday and whether we could come. We were told that the service was at 9:30 AM but we should come at 7:30 AM.
For dinner we had Beijing duck. We then went to the San Wei bookstore, which has a coffeehouse upstairs. Often jazz is played, but tonight it was traditional Chinese music. I especially like the instrument that is like a long harpsichord with many strings and bridges. I also found interesting the one-stringed instrument played with a bow. I was less fond of the pear-shaped instrument with four strings that is played like a banjo (even though I like banjos); or maybe it was just the songs that that musician played.
I had to go back to the How So disco again. The crowd was smaller, which was surprising since it was Saturday. But it was fun to dance there one last time. I saw one of the guys I had seen the two nights before; we walked back to the main intersection together before going our separate ways. I will miss his infectious laughter.
Sunday June 28 after breakfast I went to the church behind our hotel. A guard was limiting the people who walked down the street, but he ignored me as I walked past. I also walked right into the courtyard of the church past another guard. Inside there was a metal detector we had to walk through. Inside the church I had to search hard to find a seat that was not reserved. Two of my colleagues were in the fifth row -- they had arrived at 7:10. I didnÕt arrive until 7:50, since I had been out at the disco the night before. I finally found one seat that was halfway behind a pillar. The three of us were the only non-Chinese in the church except for the photographers setting up.
At 8:50 a young woman led the congregation singing hymns in Chinese. This continued until 9:30, when President Clinton, his wife, daughter, and other members of his party arrived. I had a good view of him coming into the church. He sat in the front row on the aisle, where I could see the back of his gray head throughout the service. The service was led by a young minister, and was short until there was a very long sermon by an older minister. He read it, and after every three lines a translator said it in English. Clinton then gave a very short but appropriate speech, stressing friendship between the Chinese and Americans.
After the service, Clinton quickly exited through another door while the audience remained seated. After I left the church, I found a long line of cars out in the street in front of the church. In the cars were Chinese police and American military with weapons.
I had a couple of hours before the next group outing, so I took a taxi to a shopping area that a colleague had told me a about; I wanted to buy some Christmas gifts. I strolled along the street, and noticed several entrances to hutongs. In the big department store on the corner I found what I was looking for. I also found a cassette recorder that I wanted at a good price, but I didnÕt have enough Chinese money and they wouldnÕt take a credit card there. When I went to leave the building, I found the main entrance blocked off and a crowd gathered. They were expecting Hillary Clinton to shop there. I waited awhile, but then exited through a side entrance.
I took a taxi to Tienamen Square because I knew there were other department stores there. Taxi rides cost 10-20 yuan ($1.25 - 2.50). This is expensive to Chinese, who typically make about 5 yuan per hour, but cheap to us. The first store didnÕt have the model of cassette recorded I wanted, but the second store -- a large state one -- did have the model and did accept a Visa card. I was very pleased with myself for accomplishing this on my own without a translatorÕs help, something I had previously done all over Europe and Japan but which was harder in China.
The group then went to a Tibetan Buddhist temple, which has a huge wooden statue of Buddha. We then went to a park behind the Forbidden City, which has a ceramic mural with 9 dragons on each side of a freestanding wall. It also has five pavilions along the edge of a lake. On one of the pavilions there was a man holding a cane with what looked like a nylon sock tied at the end; he dipped it in water, and then drew calligraphy on the sidewalk. After he wrote each row of characters, the water evaporated while he wrote the next row. There also was a woman singing songs from American musicals in Chinese. People relaxing on benches around the pavilion found her amusing. We had dinner at a restaurant in the park.
After dinner we read excerpts from our journals. I packed my suitcases. Since I had to get up early to go to the airport, I did not go to the disco. But I still wasnÕt ready to go to bed, so I went for a walk. Since I hadnÕt had a chance to ride on the subway, I decided to check it out. There was an entrance at the intersection near the hotel. The subway costs 2 yuan (25 cents) to ride. It has a loop of 18 stops, and a single line connecting with the loop. The trains were modern and nice; stations were labeled in Pinyin as well as Chinese, so it was easy to keep track of stops. I rode around the loop and then went back to the hotel to go to bed.
Monday June 29 we went to the airport. Our flight was delayed 40 minutes due to some mechanical problem. We flew to Shanghai, went through passport control, then got back on the same plane and flew to LA.
I will miss China, and what I will miss most are the people I have seen and met.