Beijing: I Want My New York Times
Beijing was my favorite city in mainland China, despite the pollution that makes your throat ache and your eyes burn. The history of China is absolutely incredible, and to see it with your own eyes is truly something memorable. What was not so memorable, to me at least, were all the dynasties I learned about in high school. So, to review, for my review at least, here are some of the main dynasties throughout Chinese History.
Qin: 221-206 BC
Han (Eastern and Western): 206 BC – 220 AD
Jin (Eastern and Western): 200s-420
Song (Northern and Southern): 960-1279
Still, even after everything we saw, for some reason, I think the photo of Mao on the wall of the Forbidden/Imperial City is the coolest place in China, except perhaps for the Great Wall I suppose.
Can you see my shirt above? It’s the ObaMao tourist souvenir t-shirt. And make note of the fire extinguishers (more on that later).
As we entered we saw a basketball court which I thought was interesting. Side note: did anyone see where Dennis Rodman went to North Korea this spring? Basketball really should be the ‘ping pong’ democracy for our country in the 21st century.
Instead, I resorted to taking shots of little scenes throughout.
Here is an excellent example of Qing pottery, the divine cock.
Do you see the large pot? It was used to hold water and was part of their firefighting system hundreds of years ago (again, more on firefighting later).
The royal garden was beautiful
After the Forbidden/Imperial City, we walked up to the top of Jingshan Park which overlooks the Forbidden/Imperial City. Only there can you really get a sense of how massive the Imperial city is.
On our way up
A view from the top. Look at how big the Forbidden City is!
Some sort of willow tree was in bloom there at the time. They were shedding so much it looked like it was snowing.
Both Kiran and I and the person behind her tried to capture the snowstorm
Here is Kiran trying the karate chop the willow puffs
Here are some other shots from the summer palace
Pan out to the lake view
Towards the top
Finally at the top there sits a Buddhist temple
Two of the sections we wanted to visit were closed for repair, so we only went to Badaling. But trust me, it was more than enough. We could only make it through the northern portion and by then we were exhausted.
Geri-packers take note: If you are planning on taking your trip of a lifetime to the Great Wall, get in shape and do it SOON. You are not getting any younger. The hike up and down can be very steep, and it damn-near wasted us and we’re in our thirties!
I can’t imagine doing it 30 years from now, but at least there’s a cable car if you’re really out if shape (or lazy).
Seriously, get in shape. I experienced complete muscle failure by the time we almost finished, and had to walk down backwards (using my calf muscles) the final few hundred yards because my thighs were literally incapable of walking forwards on a downward slope.
And of course we saw the Olympic stadium. Kiran is an Olympics freak in case you didn’t know, and she has a life goal of visiting 10 Olympic stadiums in her lifetime. Beijing was site number five for her. Her next site will be Athens later this month.
Strangely there was a fire fighting exhibition on the grounds. Who knew firetrucks have become so advanced? Maybe they should put one in Tiananmen Square (can you tell I’m really building the suspense for firefighting?).
We went to Beijing’s only North Korean restaurant.
Kiran read that people stand up and sing songs to honor Kim Jong Il every day around 6:30-7:00, so we definitely wanted to see that. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any singing, but did have some pretty good Pyongyang cold noodles, and had some really good bibimbap.
We ate some Peking duck, imagine a photo I’ll post it some other time.
Cantina Agave reared its ugly head on Cinco deMayo. A warning to anyone in Beijing or Shanghai: be careful of those Cantina Agave margaritas!!! We went back to the Mexican embassy a few days later to take a picture in honor of that night. This was about as good as the night was, the bad will be forever between me and Kiran (and maybe Zahra Giga).
And my Tevas broke that night (after 3 & 1/2 months?!?), so we went to a fancy shopping mall to get some new water shoes. Kiran loves water fountain shows and for a moment it felt like we were back in Los Angeles at the Grove.
Now, about this firefighting. It was pretty special being in Tiananmen Square. As you may recall, hundreds to thousands of Chinese people were killed in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989 when Chinese troops armed with assault rifles and tanks descended upon the square to clear the groups of protestors clamoring for freedom. The exact number of casualties has never been known since China bans all official discussion and reporting of the massacre.
Can you see the fire extinguisher?
Fire extinguishers are set up throughout Tiananmen Square because of all the Buddhist monks who have come there in the past to set themselves on fire in protest of the Chinese Governement. You think I’m kidding? I’m not. See?
In case you forgot, the Panchen Lama is the second highest ranking Lama after the Dalai Lama in the Gelugpa line of Tibetan Buddhism. The 11th incarnation of the Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, was named Panchen Lama by the Dalai Lama in May of 1995 when Gedhun was just a little boy. Shortly thereafter, the Chinese government kidnapped the Panchen Lama at the tender age of six years old, and told everyone they had named a different Panchen Lama for the Buddhists. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is still held in ‘protective custody’ to this day. Side note, the Chinese Government also continues to name for itself Catholic Bishops and Cardinals without the Vatican’s approval. WTF China?
Something like 42 monks have set themselves on fire over the past year in China, but none recently in Tiananmen Square. I think over 100 monks have also set themselves on fire in Tibet over the past couple of years as well, but reports vary and are hard to verify since China bans foreign correspondents in Tibet and generally quashes any reporting of self immolation (setting yourself on fire) in China.
Anyway, China is still pretty cool – human rights issues aside – and I’m hopeful and optimistic that their current leader, Xi Jinping, will transform China for the better.
Speaking of transformation, as you know if you’ve read our previous posts, China blocks access Facebook in China (thankfully you can get FB in Hong Kong). China does this not so much to suppress free speech as it is does to protect China’s own version of Facebook, QQ. But QQ is only in Chinese and only Chinese people use it;the rest of the world uses Facebook.
In China I met three really cool guys and had extensive conversations with each: A lawyer working in international law; a Beijing police officer; and, a masters-prepared chemist with an MBA who was considering applying for a PhD in economics at Berkeley. Only the police officer made an effort to exchange emails with me, but if China had Facebook, I could have easily stayed in touch with all three.
I argue that increasing relationships and discussions between Chinese and Americans is of greater vital interest to China than is protecting a single company, QQ. And since there will be more tourists in China in the future than less, I say today, “Mr. Xi Jinping, tear down that digital wall.” Or, “Tear down that electronic wall.” I’ve coined both phrases.
Sadly, we got lazy on our last morning. We were supposed to go see Chairman Mao’s embalmed body, but we decided to sleep in instead. Sadder yet, I never got to take the photo I had wanted to take for so long. I had dreams of creating a Facebook flag and getting a photo of me planting that Facebook flag in Tiananmen Square, sort of like the classic graphic of the astronaught planting the MTV flag on the moon. Oh well, next trip perhaps, if China lets me back in. At least New York Times published my reader’s comment that Prime Minister Xi Jinping and President Obama might become Facebook friends after their upcoming summit, so I take that as a consolation prize.
We left Beijing on May 9th and I began writing this post from Hong Kong where I finally had access to WordPress, New York Times, and Facebook!!! In case you didn’t know this either, China started blocking New York Times last year after The Times reported that the family of Wen Jiabao, the former Prime Minister of China, had essentially become billionaires while he was in office. His mother was a humble teacher, but somehow had a single investment worth $120 million dollars. Wen Jiabao’s entire family was estimated to be worth 2.7 billion dollars, almost all of it amassed during his reign.
China! You are a world leader, start acting like it. No country survives without freedom of the press, so give me back my New York Times already!
Lastly, during our stay in Beijing, both Bibi Netanyahu (Prime Minister of Israel) and Mahmoud Abbas (President of the Palestinian Authority) were in town. On our way out to the airport, our bus stopped at an intersection. It waited. And waited. And waited. There were Army troops standing all around. Five minutes later, guess who drives by? Bibi Netanyahu! How cool is that? We were going to Israel a couple of weeks later, maybe we should have hitched a ride.
The five or ten minute traffic closure was infinitely better than the mayhem that happens when ObaMao comes to Los Angeles and shuts half the city down for hours. I wish he’d take some notes from Bibi.