Yellow River of Sorrows

Lanzhou

Earlier spring, we were in Lanzhou, out West, Gansu province, upper reaches of the Yellow River–China’s second longest, after the Yangtze. It is, I read, China’s river of sorrow, for its history of horrific floods, some of history’s deadliest natural disasters.

Taoist fortunetellers, Lanzhou

In a 50-year period between 1887 and 1931, Yellow River floods killed an estimated seven million people, including in epidemics that followed.

Lanzhou’s famous beef noodles

Notoriously, during the second Sino-Japanese War, Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists created a man-made Yellow River flood (not here but to the east) to halt the enemy advance, killing perhaps a million Chinese people and no one knows how many Japanese soldiers.

Lanzhou

The floods’ cause (in part) is in the name: the “yellow” is silt, from a fine, easily eroding rock (loess) that collects and raises the river till it spills over. (Loess is finer than sand, carried by wind, mostly quartz, highly subject to erosion.) We called that beige stuff “Gobi sand” and it got in our eyes, packed into our ears, and had to be dumped out of pockets and bags for days. OK, it was sandstorm season. But never have I seen a dustier place than Lanzhou. Not inches of dust, but piles a foot high in the dustpan after people swept. Mounds collecting indoors in room corners, outdoors against buildings, streets.

Lanzhou: Muslim community

The river’s not so “yellow”– more brown. Industrial waste has rendered it (source: UN) unfit for drinking and also for agricultural and even for industrial use.

These inflated sheep carcasses keep afloat rafts that locals and visitors hire (with a driver) for fun, to float along the Yellow’s filthy length. We did not partake. It made me sick to look at them.

This blog has attracted a VERY nice American follower who lives in Langzhou and I apologize, Dave, but in spite of the cool provincial museum (home to the famous, iconic bronze horse, one of the best archaeological treasures, almost thrown into a smelter during the Cultural Revolution), the awesome hand-uplled beef noodles(flavored with cinnamon & star anise as well as ginger and cilantro) and several active temples & mosques, I do not hope to return to Lanzhou.

Old Street, Lanzhou

And the Yellow River, past and present, made me sad.

Mosque-on-a-boat? Yellow River

British School of Beijing Under-13 Basketball in Shanghai

The British School of Beijing’s FOBISSEA squad


By Kenny

Part II of the FOBISSEA (Federation of British International Schools in Southeast Asia) tournament


Day 2: Basketball

The BSB Bears FOBISSEA squad had high expectations of winning basketball due to the fact that we won an Under-12 tournament in Beijing. So we thought it couldn’t be that hard.

Our first game was against Dulwich COLLEGE Beijing (not a college). We didn’t start out very well. They were up 6-0 when we (I) finally scored a point. It was an amazing layup off a rebound. We were then 6-2. Then came our team magic as we scored 8 points. But they were still ahead by 3 points. As we lose the game, 10-13. Very big let down, cause we could’ve beaten this team.

Game 2, the Soul [Seoul] Foreign British School: My coach knew they were a lot better than us. They kept scoring and scoring. Nothing could stop them. They kept pressing, scoring, fouling: their s[e]oul was on fire. But luckily, I scored 4 points – 2 amazing lay ups, to get us, at the half, 10-6 Seoul. But we kept doing down, down & they got even better. By the end of the third it was crazy, they were up 17-9. My coach took me and the rest of the starting lineup out to give other players on our team a chance. We lost that game 25-9.

Game 3, Dulwich College Shanghai (still not a college). They looked scary. They had a ton of tall guys and a ton of small guys. Their starting center — taller than me — did the face off. I won the face off. They start out beating us 4-0 but then my magic comes in, scoring 4 points to get us tied at the end of the first quarter. Then they keep scoring. At one time they were up 10-8. I came in and was dribbling. I got fouled, took the foul shot, and scored. Less than a minute left in the half we were up 11-10 — a good start to that game.

Second half we keep fighting, keep scoring, they keep scoring… It wasn’t good enough. We tried to do fast breaks and tried to drive and score, but it was no use. With a minute left they were up 17-15. We shoot, we miss, game is over. Another loss. But personally I had a good game, scoring 9 points, a career best.

Game 4, the Taipei European School (a school that does not belong in FOBISSEA because it’s not British, it’s European), my coach knew we’d also lose to them. So we played our best knowing we stood no chance. They were scoring three pointers, going in shooting, our defense had trouble coordinating. But we were better on offense, I scored 4 points in the first quarter.

Worst part was, in the whole first half, I got fouled 6 times. Four opportunities to score, 8 free throws — I missed all of them.

Second half we were losing 10-15. My coach knew we did not stand a chance so he took out the whole starting lineup, including me, and let some other players play the last half. We only scored 2 points and we lost to them 23-12.

We had no chance of getting into a medal round. We were fighting for 5th place. We had a lunch and got into the next game against fake Harrow (it’s not the original Harrow, in London). We start the game with a decent lead. I scored 3 points first quarter and finally, I made a foul shot. We play hard. They somehow get ahead of us. By the end of the first half they were up 9-8 but we still knew we had a chance. We started playing well. I scored 7 points that game.

With 30 seconds left we were down 2 points. Then we started fouling them. They don’t make any of the shots, we make the rebound and we dribble up. It’s our last chance. A teammate has the ball, he drives, he shoots… We hear the buzzer, the ball’s in the air…and he misses. We lost that game 18-16.

There was one last game, also against Harrow. Our coach and Harrow’s coach agreed to let the players who hadn’t played that much play.

We tied for fifth.

…To be continued (soccer)

Dazu: Chongqing’s Astonishing Buddha Caves

Walk thru bamboo woods…

It was Kenny’s idea to go

Dazu: ten thousand carvings, “monumental cave complexes” about Buddha, 2 hours outside Chongqing, in Sichuan. They’re not hacked out of mountains, but tucked into natural caves, dripping with jungle plants. It’s laid out, as one scholar notes, like a scroll unfolding, in a horseshoe-shaped valley. Nature is a temple.

Funeral – entering nirvana

The Dazu caves show life nearly 1,000 years ago. To win ordinary people over to Buddhism, the cave sculptures explain Buddha’s compassion with illustrations of motherhood: breastfeeding, a midwife beside a woman ready for birth, and even a carving of a mother moving out of the way where her baby peed in their shared bed. They also show the taming of animals, and the earliest evidence of a gun (a “bombard,” early-1100s).

Dazu escaped the violent frenzies of the Cultural Revolution, maybe because, in southern Sichuan province, buried in dense overgrowth of mountain valleys, the site was hard to access, hidden from harm.

Carved and painted during the Song Dynasty (960-1280), they were funded by a powerful patron. On q quiet, rainy day with no one there, the Buddhas offered themselves for contemplation.

The stories depicted contain Confucian and Taoist elements–indigenous Chinese influences absent from China’s older Buddha caves, which are more Indian, from before Buddhism fully enveloped China. (Unlike the other caves we’ve written about which are strongly influenced by Persian, classical Greek, and other cultures.) Dazu caves, the latest, are also the finest re: delicacy & complexity.

Dazu has been comparatively speaking little studied–through the mid-’00s, only two scholarly works in English. In 2006, USC held a conference, the first ever U.S.-China dialogue on Sichuanese temple-cave art.

In the caves’ renderings of buildings (see the big pic below, top & bottom) — cities, temples, architecture — there’s an unexpected spatial realism. Buildings aren’t frontal but 3-dmensional, comparable to perspective in Renaissance art.

Wheel of life


The university where I lectured on journalism & writing (Southwest) was kind enough to send us in a car, with a team of student caretakers who held me like a frail, old lady! Thanks for being pushy about it, Kenny. He wanted a feeling of completion, since we’ve seen the other great Buddha caves of China. This is the last, and in some ways –the storytelling, the naturalness in the woods, the Chinese-ness, the fine state of preservation and phenomenal artistry — greatest.

Lambie was happy, too.

Dirty Words Football


Chinese soccer fans are big on dirty words. Guoan is Beijing’s soccer team, and national champions, much beloved. Imagine tens of thousands–some small children–screaming this all night: “Guoan [pointing at the field]! Sha bi [pointing at the other side]!” Rough translation: “Guoan fucks them!’ I understand it to literally mean, “Yeah, Guoan! The other side is a stupid vagina!”

The kids have been pleading for Gusan tickets. Great friend Vincent got us tickets to last night’s game vs. Dalian (northern industrial coastal city). They cost about $16.

Note: instead of tossing beach balls in the stands, as at Met games, oh the innocence, here the items of choice for hitting around the stadium are inflated condoms. Guo, by the way, means nation. An means peace.

I don’t know if there’s a history of hooliganism but Dalian fans got their own fenced cage, surrounded by riot police. Riot squads also ringed the field and the sidewalk outside.

My friend of 23 years, Bill Hoffman, joined us, visiting from Ho Chi Minh City where he travels for work. Good to see you, Bill!

Beijing’s Hidden Buddhist Treasures


Recently, we hunted down Beijing’s Western Yellow Temple–Xi Huang Si– squeezed between midtown (N.E. 2nd/3rd Ring Road) high-rises and thoroughfares.
Xi Huang Si is called the best surviving Lamaist (Tibetan Buddhist) structure here, and exquisitely restored. Noted for its white pagoda, it was built in 1782, during the reign of Qing Emperor Gaozong. Not sure how good (?) sources say it holds the personal effects of the sixth Dalai Lama, who died in Beijing. The Manchurian Qing, (as many of the Han and Mongol dynasties before them), loved the Tibetan faith.

Empty, tightly guarded, closed but to the monks we followed in, through a side alley. No sign, just a green patch a square block wide, hidden within the modern city. Anywhere else, it would be a number one sight, guidebook-cover material. But it’s Beijing, so rich in imperial treasures–though they’re hidden, fewer than before, at risk, hard to find, disconnected, surrounded islands nearly choked to death.
Hate the air, the traffic, the wanton destruction, prices, overpopulation, traffic, sprawl, madness, dust, water–it’s still Beijing, unique, unequaled. Home to what feels like a limitless wealth of Chinese cultural treasures. We’re not even halfway through our list of must-see temples.
Though it was closed, our friend and frequent traveling companion, Chinese-American studies professor Kuilan Liu (Kate Liu), charmingly sweet-talked our way in, looping her arm through the guard’s. We don’t know why it’s closed. The pagoda’s superb, complex reliefs are some of the most beautiful we’ve seen, and in mint condition.

Southern China by Ethan

Temple in Old Chongqing

By Ethan

Friday Day 1: Today we left for Hong Kong at 5 in the morning. I could hardly wait. We arrive din Hong Kong at 11:30. WE had lunch at a Yunnanese place but we didn’t know that until after we got our food.

Next we went to the famous escalator and went up the mountain. After that we went down the mountain to find the trolley. We got a little lost so we had to take a taxi to the Peak Tram. The tram goes to the top of the mountain. Here’s a fun fact: the tram has been working for one century. At the top we bought ice cream. It was too bad that we could not see the full view because it was fogged in.

Then we met my mom’s friend from when she was 28 years old and we had Cantonese food.

Saturday Day 2: We woke up and I read. At about 10 o’clock we finally left for the fishing village but at the bus station we had to wait quite a while so we decided to go somewhere else. We spent a little time on the beach. There were some really cool islands with mountains on them. AFter that we went to a pretty small shrine on the beach that had a folklore village god. After that we looked at a town Shek O a bit. Then we left for Stanley Market and looked at a few stalls. Then we had lunch at Stanley Beach Market. I had a MacDaddy hamburger with onion rings. We took a bus back along really steep cliffs.

The bus dropped us off by the harbor so we went to Kowloon. In Kowloon, we did the Chinese Walk of Fame. (The Walk of Fame is a walk on the harbor with stars an din them the name of famous movie stars from Hong Kong.) Then we went to the History Museum. In the History Museum there was an exhibit about the people who used to live in Hong Kong. That night we went out on the water in a ferry to see it lit up. It was really cool.

Sunday Day 3: We woke up and had some dim sum. In the dim sum there was a kind of puffy croissant which inside had lots of melted cheese and it was delicious. Then we went to a temple and saw some cool Taoist gods. Then we went to a mall that was in an old building (Western Market). Then we took a train to Guangzhou, a city in Guangdong that my mom’s work colleague teaches at. When we got there it was dinner time so we had dinner with one of the professors (aka my mom’s work colleague). We had a big feast. Then we went to bed at the university hotel.

Monday Day 4: A student picked us up and took us to Xiamien Island and I have a little joke: Lets go have some ramien in Xiamien. Ramien is how you say ramen in Chinese. Xiamien Island has a lot of old European consulates and estates. We saw some 5-year old girls practicing a kind of a dance. Then we played ping pong with a real kind of coach and don’t tell my mom, I had some Coca Cola. That night we walked to a beautiful restaurant in the jungle and had another huge feast and it was good.

Tuesday Day 5: We woke up and did the breakfast routine except this time we left for Chongqing. When we got to Chongqing it was already lunchtime so we went to a very good Chinese food place and had a very good lunch with my mom’s friend. My mom thought I was drinking whiskey when I was only drinking water. After lunch my mom had to do a lecture so me and my brother played ping pong with some students. One of them is better than the professional Chinese players. Soon it was dinner time. We had dinner at the same place we had lunch and then we took a tour on the side of the river (Jialing and Yangtze) at night.

Wednesday Day 6: We woke up and had breakfast. Then we went to 宝顶(Baodingshan), Buddha caves where a monk carved lots of Buddhas. The Boadingshan grottoes were the latest grottoes to be made in China. They are about 800 years old. It is really easy to see the detail in the carvings’ faces. The caves are in the mountains, there’s lots of bamboo growing.

Next we had lunch. Then my mom had a short lecture at Southwest University. I played ping pong with my brother and some students. Soon after we had hot pot for dinner. I liked it. Then my mom lectured again and here I am writing this in the hotel.

Thursday Day 7: We woke up and had breakfast then we went to Chongqing old town in the rain. In Chongqing old town there’s a temple that has a pagoda. Me and my brother climbed it. On each floor there’s a bell. We rung the bell but only on one floor was there actually a ringer and it wasn’t tied to a rope, it was just leaning against a wall so you had to hold it up but it was surprisingly light.

Next my mom had yet another lecture. While my mom was lecturing, me and my brother payed the Miniclip game “Deep Freeze.” Next we had a 17-course rushed meal, emphasis on rushed.
Then we went to the building that’s built on a hill so even when you’re on the 12th floor you’re still on the ground.

Then we flew home to Beijing.
The End

Hong Kong Rocks


This post is completely emotional and off-the-cuff. I just can’t hold it back. This place is just so damn beautiful. I realize there are downtrodden sections and tons and tons I missed but I couldn’t help but be blown away by the natural beauty of this setting…
…like San Francisco, like Istanbul, where water meets mountains — in this case of bright, jungle green — and the press is FREE and the food is CLEAN and many of the people aren’t traumatized by recent history and the subway isn’t so crazy big the same station’s four entrances could be a mile apart. Sorry!!

We rode a double-decker tram with Jake — thanks, Jake!!!

There’s a reason U.S. officials in China get combat pay. China is hard. Hong Kong’s Cantonese culture is part of NY and feels a lot like home. Same with the smell of the sea. It feels so good to see a headline about the dissident Cheng Guangchen splashed boldly across the South China Morning Post, the main paper’s, front page. It’s so good that food isn’t being sold in the gutter beside a dog pooping and peeing. I saw that the day before we left Beijing, in my neighborhood:

Went to the beach at Shek O, Stanley Market, rode the escalator to the SoHo Midlands and saw Sheung Wan and the Man Po temple, Kowloon promenade, Victoria Harbour by day and night, the Peak Tram, history museum, stayed in Central, dim sum. Lots of rain storms. Just an incredible place.

I’d love to get back here. You hear that, Hong Kong University? I’m talking to you.

We’ll talk the rest of our lives about all the reasons for the disparity, centuries of history, politics, conquest, economics, custom, population, but end of the day, this place is just spectacular and as the train pulled us back into Guangzhou, the Mainland, this afternoon, my heart sank and then sank some more.

No offense to the wonderful university hosting us here or our friends in town. And I know none would be taken, at least not by the Chinese professor who arranged my visit, who told me today she takes the 2-hour train over to HK every time she needs a new supply of baby food for her 2-year-old.

Beijing Summer

“Avengers” subway poster.

Summer traditionally begins with several consecutive days over 22 degrees (mid-70s). It’s here, “Avengers” focus and all.

I’m editing student essays on working in a factory, on losing a mother to labor migration, on how grandparents escaped starvation, on a mother’s manual labor:

“My mother and her coworkers are on duty at 7 in the morning and stand on the fruit canning line till 10 or 11 at night, seven days a week. There are two half-hour breaks, for lunch and supper. The workers are supposed to go home at 6 in the evening, but given that the overtime pay increases from 4 yuan to 6, most of them choose to work until night. What can 6 yuan buy in Beijing? One-third of a hamburger at McDonald’s.”
On the lighter side: The Knicks were eliminated, but they live on here

As summer gets into full swing and the sun is strong, women everywhere are out with big, lace-covered parasols to avoid darkening their porcelain skin.

Welcome to the Victorian era.

(If that fails, there’s always Dove’s Asia-specific whitening products.)

Meanwhile: more mutual monk attraction, ongoing at CoplansinChina . Maybe my friend Maya has it right, they were Buddhists in a previous life. Kenny allows that the bar mitzvah, however, comes first. The 10 Commandments, then the 8-Fold Path.

Beijing: You can get used to it. We’re OK with the dense crush, in a basement cafeteria, firetrap of a wholesale market, packed mile-long subway station or 12-lane highway that just happens to be a ‘normal’ city street.
China’s struggles at this moment, the sudden unexpected tension & excitement around Bo’s cinematic fall and Cheng‘s dissident challenge, the surprising optimism of many Beijing students whether or not it’s justified, the mind-blowing history lived by just about every person you meet over 50–and change so rapid you can detect it in 9 months–it’s all  fascinating & important, it’s a privilege to witness.

Tomorrow a leading Chinese environmental reporter-turned-spokesperson for The Nature Conservancy Asia addresses my students. Nabbed thanks to Brown friend Beth Conover, who made the connection.

Working Bikes of Beijing

Visiting one of the hutong areas, working bikes everywhere.

Ferrying plants.


(David left me his groovy mt. bike, but if I go down, there’s no one else here for the kids. It kills me not to ride…though outside the hutong, Beijing isn’t a biking city anymore. Cars, cars, cars – & lots of motorized scooters.)

They carried old TVs…


…books and tourists…

Hutong McDonald’s delivery…


And babies. Even in 2012 Beijing the hutong (what’s left of them) remain bike-friendly, even bike-dominated.

This photomural of Tiananmen is in a museum gift shop.

Here’s another kind of transportation…a spring week-end, Ethan drives a (slow) battery-powered boat on Houhai Lake, beside the hutong. Putting a child behind the wheel elicited frowns from other boating parents!

A Mongolian Views America

Hillside, Ulanbaataar, Mongolia

It’s always us doing the observing, judging, describing. Time to turn the tables. Just back from dusty Ulanbaataar, Mongolia. Instead of my impressions (later), here is Boston — through the eyes of a Mongolian food-safety expert. (Pix are my snaps from Mongolia.) I must be as inaccurate on China as she is on America.

by Dr. H. Jambalma, in current issue of MIAT magazine

“In America, freedom means people deal properly with everything, in accordance with the rules and laws, which apply to everyone on an equal basis. People get on with eachother with friendliness and with a smile.”

“It is impossible to distinguish the rich and poor Americans by the clothes they wear and the food they consume. I had a chance to visit [a Rockefeller descendant’s] house. She has a medium-sized private house, by American standards, near Harvard. She passes the summer in the state Maine. In other words, they live like other common people.”

Gandan temple (Mongolians practice Tibetan Buddhism)


“The advantage in American society is that the entire population, the rich and poor, are supplied with safe food. There are no apples intended for the rich, or for the poor. It is an individual’s choice to consumer organic food or produced food. The essence of the Americans’ freedom seems to be this availability, the possibility of choice.”

Socialist realism mural, UB city library


“In Mongolia, there is little competition, the people are too peaceful. America exists due to competition. Even the secondary school children compete. They compete to gain knowledge and skills, not to get high marks. When American university students begin to study a subject, they have to read numerous books to be able to distinguish the old from the recent findings to draw a conclusion.”

Mongolia, one of earth’s last wild places


“Boston is famous for its universities… I read in a newspaper some scientists from MIT were planning to visit Mongolia. Brandeis, where I work, was established by Louis Brandeis in 1948. He is one of the top lawyers in America. He is a Jew. He founded Brandeis to compete with Harvard, because there had been a quota for Jewish young people to enroll at Harvard.”

Vista over hills, Ulanbaataar (that trap the smog)


“During graduation, the universities invite successful graduates in different fields to address the new graduates, such as world-renowned politicians, scholars or composers. Mr. Bill Clinton and the Dalai Lama visited our university. The famous violinist YoYo Ma came to Brandeis and gave us valuable advice.”

Suhbataar Sq., Government House


“Boston is not short of athletic teams compared with other cities in America. On the contrary, it exceeds them. There is a baseball team, “Red Sox,” a basketball team, “Celtics,” and a football team, “Patriots.” The Bostoners like to wear a hat with a picture of red socks, and a green shirt.”

Traditional masks, 1 of many echoes for me of Alaska


“The winter in Boston is not cold.* Usually it doesn’t snow too much. Occasionally, a lot of snow falls all of a sudden here. Cars weigh down with snow. Then the snow melts and black ice is formed on the car. The first year we were not experienced and our car weighted down with ice.”

The ger (yurt) can be seen even in the capital.


*Note that Mongolian winters are routinely 40 below zero, and it gets colder.

Peony

The national flower; my favorite flower. Subject of classic literature, imperial paintings. I’ve been waiting for this bloom for nine months. The Beijing Botanic Garden has 670 species of tree peony (herbaceous peonies a whole ‘nother collection; not flowering yet). A peony garden so large (acre after acre, hill after hill), so beautiful, so varied, it could make you cry. Or pose. Or paint, or picnic. The tulip fields (below) were also at peak.



Tulip fields, & early-spring perennial beds, Beijing Botanic Garden.

What Happened to the British Curriculum? Part 1

By Kenny

A warm up, in vain

So if you’re asking, “What happened to the British Curriculum?” well, what happened — I don’t know.

I know you’ve all been waiting months to hear what happened in Shanghai at the FOBISSEAA (Federation of British International Schools in South East Asia & Asia) Games. Well, this is what happened:

Day 1: We go to a 50-metre (c’mon, not meter, it’s British) swimming pool. I am in 3 events–50 m freestyle, the medley relay, and 100 m freestyle. When it was my turn to start the 50m, I was worried. We were not doing very well that day in swimming and my soul sisters — from the Seoul British School — were on the medal podium for every event. Do you remember the earlier British Curriculum post about a football tournament where I got shouldered in the chin & got a big black & blue mark? (I think he’s Scandinavian — no offense to my Scandinavian friends.) I was racing that guy! So I was hoping to get revenge on him.

I heard the gunshot. I was racing.

I took the lead. Then as I got to the midpoint, I was getting up my speed, but the guy without a soul, from Seoul, somehow had gotten ahead of me. It was a very close race for first. Just as we had 5 metres to go, we were centimeters apart. He touches, I slow down. I come in silver.

Me accepting silver


Hey, that’s actually not bad, though it’s only silver. Due to the fact that, at that time there was only one other boy on my team who had a gold medal.

After I got to accept the silver medal — standing higher than the guy from Dulwich COLLEGE Shanghai (not a college) — I felt great. I knew I’d be coming home with a medal, & be able to brag to my friends. And that my old enemy, from Dulwich COLLEGE Beijing (still not a college) came in last place.

Just as I got off the podium I heard my name called: “If there’s a Kenny Coplan, come to the judging panel immediately! Your team is waiting.”

I put my medal in my bag, I go meet with my team, we’re ready to start. We’re all having a secret thought: Our secret weapon was on our team, doing the butterfly. Brian. The guy swims twice a day, every day of the week. We wanted to do better than the BSB girls, who won a silver in the medley relay. I was under a bit of pressure since I was the last person to swim (the anchor) for our team.

As I heard the gun, my teammate started swimming backstroke. I was crossing my fingers for him. When I looked up, he was fighting hard for 5th place. The Soulless School from Seoul was 10m ahead. When he finished, my friend who’d already won 2 bronze medals in swimming, was up for breast stroke. He swam really fast & got us out of 5th, into 4th place. When he got to the other end of the pool, our secret weapon was ready. I’ve never seen anyone swim harder (other than in Olympic events). He got us into 3rd place, by only a meter. Then it was up to me to hold our 3rd place.

I started swimming, all the pressure being on me. My teammates watching. Dulwich COLLEGE Beijing (not a college) had gotten ahead of me. There were only 10 meters left. It was between him and me for 3rd place. We get to the flags. He touches less than 10 cm before I do. So we ended up placing 4th.

But luckily, there was still the 100m freestyle – the event I was most worried about. If you’re thinking, “Why would you be so worried?” well, here’s the answer: I’m not very good at 100m freestyle. I put myself all out on the first 50 m so I’m tired for the last 50 m. I was hoping to at least place 3rd.

So as I hear the gun, I push off. I start pacing myself. I go slowly. I hear my name being called. I hear people cheering for me. I get to the halfway point, I do a flip turn. I see 3 swimmers behind me. I’m happy that I’m in 3rd. I was really hoping I could hold this lead. I touch the board — I came in third. My expectations were met–almost a perfect day. Although there was a disappointment in the medley, I received the second highest number of medals for our school, BSB.

The swim meet was finally over.

Me and my friends in the FOBISSEAA Games parade

Day 1 afternoon:

It was time for the track and field meet. I would be participating in the U12 division discus and the U13 division shot-put. The afternoon started with the running events.

At first I was full of energy.  Out of the 18 running events the British School of Beijing participated in, we won 3 medals, 2 being silver both won by my friend and 1 bronze won by an anther friend. Now it was time for the field events. It started with four triple jump events. We won a bronze medal. Next was the high jump, like the triple jump four events; we won 2 bronze medals. Next was my event — the discus.

I got 2 practice throws. I threw 0ver 20 metres on both throws. I watched the other participants, it looked like I had thrown the farthest. But now it was the real deal. I was the first to throw. I threw, it went over 20 metres. I got applauded from my coach. I watched everyone else throw. I had thrown the farthest. Now it was time for my next throw. I threw, the discus went about 25 metres! I watched hoping no one would throw farther then me. Luckily, no one. And it was now my last throw. I threw, it was an okay throw. Then my coach came over to me & said, “Kenny, you have a good chance of winning this.”

Kenny accepting the gold.


After everyone had thrown, the referee had the paper with the results, he had called every player’s name except for me and 1 guy on the Seoul Train. The ref said, “The winner: KENNY COPLAN FROM THE BRITISH SCHOOL OF BEIJING.” I felt like running around and screaming but I didn’t.

The next event was the shot-put. Since I had come late, I was the only one that hadn’t thrown so I got 3 throws in a row. My first throw was 6 m, my second throw was 6.7m, my third throw was 7.3 m. My result was in: I had placed 5th in the U13 shot-put. Hey but not too bad for an U12 throwing in the U13. My coach Mr. Small (he’s not small) walked around with me looking a little disappointed. He met with my other coach that had coached me in discus. They talked to me. Mr. Small asked, “How did Kenny do in the discus?” He said, “Oh, Kenny? He only won the event.” I saw a smile on Mr. Small’s face. He shook my hand and said congratulations.

British School of Beijing Bears holding the 30 medals we won at FOBISSEA that day


I had won 3 medals that day and as a team we won 30 medals 8 of them being gold.

To be continued…

Wedding Photo Shoots

As we passed these shoots in a Beijing park, one after another, kids seemed surprised they weren’t traditional Chinese weddings.


They’re surprised mainstream Western things (McDonald’s, poufy white dresses) are fashionable, though they seem mundane or trite to us.

Cultural imperialism — & China’s century of cataclysmic breaks from its past — aside (if that aside makes any sense), Chinese things seem much more interesting & precious than they’re treated.  We’d have expected more overt appreciation.

Fun With Art

The kids like roaming around Beijing’s modern art scene. The Ai Wei Wei post was somber. This is the lighter side: going crazy at the art playground known as 798, on old factory train tracks, locomotive engines, working steam pipes, ramps, pieces you can climb.

798 is an amalgam… of commerce based on the creative industries, a symbol of China’s political opening, a showcase for individual creativity.

(798 is a set of 1950s, East  German-built Bauhaus radio tube factories now full of restaurants & radical-slogan-t-shirt shops as well as galleries and museums, anchored by the Ullens Contemporary Art Center. The factories peaked in the 1970s and failed in the ’90s, right at political opening. A sculptor of big outdoor pieces (Chen) and his artist wife (Wang) then set up a workshop in a furnace, & gradually added studios, offices, heat, publishing houses, exhibition space. By 2004, it got a ‘Protect Heritage’ law.

Last time here, spotted huge John & Yoko mural. This time, an old poster of Israeli Amos Gitai.

Cartoonist/caricaturist/children’s illustrator Zhang Guangyu, the pop hero whose name no one knew, was subject of a warehouse-size, first-ever show we loved. He drew China’s incredibly well-known “Monkey King” (folkloric) tv show, unbeknownst to most people.

(“Monkey King” cells now for sale, $10.) Earlier in life, Zhang was a revolutionary artist, “a culture laborer” as he said, making posters and murals for factories, printing newspapers & leaflets, and drawing a million political cartoons. A Peter Max/Lichtenstein/Shel Silverstein/Disney animator/Dr. Seuss/Gary Trudeau/etc rolled into one. Now at 798, his pop art is being recognized for the a influential, pioneering work it is.