“It’s totally foreign”

Photo credit Jake Rosenberg for W Hotels

Photo credit Jake Rosenberg for W Hotels

So, it was a short fashion (“Styles” section) article so I don’t mean to say this is even trying to be authoritative. But it’s a bit meaningful in the category understanding/misunderstanding eachother. This pretty pic caught my eye in Sunday’s paper, a NYC-based fashion designer on a junket to Beijing, seeking inspiration at the Summer Palace, walking distance from where we lived. She says the first thing she did was hope on the subway:

“Nothing is written in English so you need to get detailed descriptions of what the characters look like for where you’re going…It’s totally foreign.”

As riders of Beijing’s massive subway system know, not only are all the signs in English — and maps and electronic notices. There is also an announcer’s voice, that comes on at every station, to say where you are, IN ENGLISH!

All Beijing subway maps are in Mandarin and English

All Beijing subway maps are in Mandarin and English

So what’s up with that? Is the narrative of “It’s totally foreign” so overriding that it has the power to overtake a really clear & obvious physical reality? Or maybe she was never really on the subway? Just thought it would be cool to say that? (Or is she a teeny bit crazy? Or did the writer make it up?) The other thing that’s odd about it is this designer has lived in the Arabian Gulf, and a few cities in Europe, before moving to the US.

The semiotician of colonial framing in me says, this is othering that happens unconsciously, even when it contradicts actual reality.

It’s really pretty considerate of Beijing – in a country that is Jekyll-&-Hyde, at best, in welcoming foreigners, but generally speaking is not that fond – to have all the capital’s subway signs, maps & announcements in English as well as Mandarin. More than you can say for NYC!!!!

[Lots of people probably noticed! The next day this ran online:

Correction: An earlier version of this post included a quotation from Ms. Nonoo that referred incorrectly to Beijing’s mass transit system. The subway has signage in English as well as in Chinese; it is not the case that “Nothing is written in English.” The quotation has been removed.”]

For Temple Lovers Only: A Beijing Temple List

Chengde Puning Temple

Chengde Puning Temple

Baijynguan Taoist monk

Baijynguan Taoist monk

We have a joke (actually serious) about visiting active temples / monasteries: ‘It’s time to leave when you reach the monks’ underwear.’ Drying on a line, I mean. There comes that point. You can go no further.

We love that. We couldn’t see enough temples.

Beijing, having sucked the wealth from a continent, for millennia, has unknown minor temples that would be cover stories anywhere else.  There is Yonghegong & the Temple of Heaven. And there are many more. Here is the list had — and didn’t quite finish. Our 14 Beijing Temples List.

1)    Guanghua On HouHai/Shichahai, beautiful, very active Buddhist temple. 31 Ya’er Hutong, Xicheng, Beijing. The boys were given amulets there by the abbot.

IMG_59062) Zihua. At certain times, the monks play ancient Buddhist music. It is the only place of its kind.  A bit hard to find in Dongchen, about 14 blocks below Jianhuomen on Line 5; about 15 blocks above Chaoyangmen. Below Lumicang hutong, above Dafangjia hutong.

3) Mentougou 1 hr. outside Beijing. Best hire a driver for the day. The temple complexes are Tazhe Si, and nearby Jietai Si, from 600s & also very famous.

4) Chengde (many temples) ‘Little Tibet’, about 3 hours’ drive. Summer getaway of the Qing. Main palace in a vast forest park, plus (even better) the many outlying Tibetan-style temples built in tribute, and to rein in faraway lands. Need a car. We went in one too-long day. Best for a week-end. Less crowded at the outlying temples. Many under construction…or should be.

5) Dazhong Si (Great Bell Temple) Right in Haidian, buried in urban craziness. Huge bell! Has its own subway stop. Great.

jietai

6) Wanshou (Temple of Longevity) 5-minute walk from Beijing Foreign Studies U., and from Purple Bamboo Park. Ming. 1578.  Before fall of the Qing, a rest stop for imperial processions traveling by boat to the Summer Palace and Western Hills (it’s on a canal). Managed by Beijing Art Museum, houses collection of Buddha images. Suzhou Jie, Xisanhuan Lu, on the north side of Zizhu Bridge, Haidian District

Dajue Buddha

7) Zhenjue No.24 Wutaisi Cun, Baishiqiao, Haidian District, Beijing. (Chinese: 24; pinyin: Bĕijīng Shì Báishíqiáo Cūn 24 hào). We did not make it here! It’s still on our list!

8) Dahui (Temple of Great Wisdom) Haidian. Ming dynasty. Dahui Lu Si near Xueyuan Nan Lu. Built 1513; restored 1757.   We did not make it here, either!

9) Biyun Si (Temple of Azure Clouds) (Chinese: Buddhist, eastern part of the Western Hills, just outside the north gate of Fragrant Hills Park (Xiangshan Gongyuan). Can also see Sun yat Sen memorial & Fragrant Hills (has a chairlift if you don’t want to climb) We walked up, chairlift down. Taxi works well.

10) Dongyue Si  (Taoist, mid-Chaoyang) – probably the most important Taoist temple in Beijing, Buried in Chaoyang. Near the Russian market.

Dajue Tea House

Dajue Tea House

11) White Cloud Temple (Bai Yungguan) in Fengtai (southwestern) district. Home to the Taoist Association, very large, active temple in the middle of an ordinary residential neighborhood. There is one English speaker (top photo) who was so helpful with explanations.

Near Baiyunguan: a buddhist pagoda not on the premesis

Near Baiyunguan: a buddhist pagoda not on the premesis

12) Xi Huang Si – Western yellow, best lamaist architecture ,1780. This is fantastic gem, unknown. We found it closed to the public but talked our way in. I think its northeast 2nd ring?

IMAG1663

13) Bei Tai (White Pagoda) The temple atop the island hill in Beihai Park

Beihai

14) Dajue Si  at foot of Yangtai Hill, 1498 – Lovely site built into a mountainside. Has oldest extant Buddha statue in garden. Hire a taxi but have clear directions, no one knows where it is. Out beyond the secret military installation, kind of past/near Fragrant Hills. Gorgeous expensive tea house.

dajue spring and building

Kenny’s Wudang Shan Album

kenny climbing stairs to golden peak

Kenny and Tingting

Kenny and Tingting

kenny by the quiet temple

It was “Karate Kid” (the Jackie Chan remake) that first made Kenny want to see Wudang Shan, the legendary birthplace of taiqi, in Hubei.

Truthfully, a recent watch of the movie suggests they actually shot parts of the Wudang Shan scene (where Jackie & Jaden Smith climb the mountain & he drinks holy water), at Hua Shan on the other side of the country, at Huang Shan maybe, and even some aerial shots over Guilin very far in another province! (Basically, a roundup of picturesque China!)

Golden Peak

Golden Peak

Be that as it may…he really wanted to see it, and I agreed. We took a 22-hour train ride there (new direct route, no need to stop in Wuhan) from our summer teaching base, Qingdao.

Incense burner projecting over cliff - (where the female master in the movie hypmotizes a cobra)

Incense burner projecting over cliff – (where the female master in the movie hypmotizes a cobra)

The Taoist holy mountain exercised a powerful effect. The legends of the immortals, who used medicine, meditation and mountain power to find life everlasting. Hiking through misty valleys to the rocky outcrops where they gained immortality, where now temples stand (small and large, built by the Ming emperors — unlike the Qing, who preferred to underwrite & practice Tibetan Buddhism).

Southern Cliff Palace

Southern Cliff Palace

The astonishing Ming palaces (Taoist word for temples & monasteries), which have been very , so it appeared to amateurs, tastefully, properly restored, or just shored up well, preserving their wood carving, stone work, amazing architecture, paintings.

"Holy Water"

“Holy Water”

More on all that later. Here is Kenny’s album. Studying tai qi with Master Gu at his school, WuDang Wellness Academy, and hiking around the many holy peaks. These are his selections for his favorites.

kenny doing tai qi

kenny in mist near golden peak

kenny near golden peak

kenny on misty stairs

kenny on steps to southern cliff palace

kenny sitting at temple

kenny with golden peak behind

kenny with others at golden peak

Southern Cliff Palace

southern cliff palace landscape

with master gu at the training grounde

chinese national interesting place It is, indeed, as the sign says, a “Chinese national interesting place.”

Yemen: America’s Next War Zone?

Old Sana'a, Yemen

Old Sana’a, Yemen by Jill in 1992

The U.S. shut down embassies around the Middle East based on (we now learn) communication from Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula out of Yemen. Hundreds were freed in a prison break. Anti-American violent leadership is now Yemen-based. Militants are flooding in to Sana’a, from around the region, the BBC reports, as part of a (foiled?) plot to attack perhaps ports, oil installations, or U.S. diplomats. In return or in anticipation, U.S. drone strikes have been increasing, and drone surveillance to intercept more terror communication. Yemenis are said to be suffering post-traumatic stress from so many buzzing drones carrying death.

Is Yemen America’s next war zone?

spectacular row buildings kawkaban 1sanaa 1

This painful set of developments has me thinking of Yemeni friends I made there 20 years ago — a young couple. He was mid-20s, training to run his family’s mid-range hotel in Sana‘a, the capital, the old part of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (…for now)….will it go the way of Aleppo? His wife was a teenage girl, living with her parents, not really wife yet, she’d get there later. They seemed happy hanging out.

my friends indoors 1my friends young couple 1

The people are what we miss in war stories, with notable exceptions like Anthony Shadid‘s incredibly rich and profound coverage from inside Iraq.  The people, their culture, the experience of exchange that comes from being places and immersing in conversations…

(…sometimes stoned out of your mind on the local stimulant of choice, qat, chewed with a mint or while sipping tea. Below, my friend is buying.)

Buying qat to chew in Sana'a, Yemen

Buying qat to chew in Sana’a, Yemen

The war against terror informs — distorts — inflects, effects, all we do overseas and how we experience the world as Americans. Who are these people of Yemen but harborers of terrorists? Al Qaeda’s new haunt?

So, I share my 20-year old photos of Yemen & some Yemeni people.

market stall sanaa 1Terror movements need 3 things: alienated constituents. People willing to be complicit. And a legitimizing ideology. This isn’t me; this is scholarship (Louise Richardson formerly of Harvard, now Vice Chancellor of the University of St. Andrews). It is motivated by 3 goals: revenge, renown, and reaction from the enemy.  By this logic, massive military campaigns, ours (and Israel’s, in many cases) simply give the enemy, here Al Qaeda – both the great renown and the horrific overreaction it seeks. There are “the stimulants it needs to prosper” (Richardson).

buildings kawkabam street 1man with jambiya 1

Yet, scholars like Richardson tell us, what  anti-terror campaigns prove (Turkey’s against the PKK, Peru’s against the Shining Path, Britain’s with the IRA) is that what is fundamentally a political challenge can only be addressed politically. By separating the terrorists from their base in the community, by addressing their grievances seriously.

Success requires maintaining the moral high ground. Which, to me, means remembering people. Faces, friends. We haven’t met them (yet). We don’t know eachother, most Yemenis and most Americans. But they will bear the consequences if we take the war to yemen. If we are to be fully human, let’s at least try to connect before we destroy.

grrain seller sanaa 1herb seller 1

Under-Age Drinking: China’s ‘Germanytown’

architecture germany bldgChinese friends generally say they had their first drink around age 9. There is no drinking age.

So in Qingdao, China, industrial city of 8 million (while teaching this summer at China Petroleum University), in the famous ‘Germanytown’ area, home to Tsingtao beer, I let my 13-year-old drink.
architecturegermany bldg 3Germany controlled this strategic port city , on the Yellow Sea, a quick ferry ride from Korea,  from about 1900 through the Second World War. They bequeathed their love of beer, visible in kegs stacked at every corner store. About 100 German stone mansions remain, many on winding, tree-lined, hilly seaside roads.

kegs in qingdao.qingdao on map2

Germans built the Tsingtao Beer brewery in 1903,  now (modernized) China’s top brewer & beer exporter (85% market share). Chinese tourists love Qingdao’s beach, cool sea breezes, beer and seafood (we avoided it–sadly…too much industrial effluence in these waters). About a year ago, the world’s longest over-sea bridge opened here (26 miles).architecture tsingtaotanksWhile historic Chinese vernacular architecture is constantly lost, (admittedly, it’s wooden), Qingdao preserves its German heritage (stone construction helps?). Maybe it’s an undue reverence for Western things.
architecturegermanmansion

Some are museums; some are hotels; some apparently are Party resorts, offices–holiday residences? We had wienerschnitzel at the one above, the largest, a museum.

architecturegermany bldg2architecture germany church2I mistakenly let my kid have a whole bottle of beer the first time. Insight: being 6’1″  will not keep a person who has no tolerance from getting way too drunk. I downgraded to a regular-size glass at a banquet with the dean, where he made a kind of awkward spectacle by going on and on about Ai Wei Wei. Then we moved to teeny tiny glasses, which works. I think it has successfully de-mystified beer.

kenny with a beer

architecturegermany bldg1

architecture germanycoastIn Qingao’s waves, they say, swimmers resemble dumplings floating in a pot. (The red at the water’s edge in the photo above is rocks, where people gather edible shellfish.)

architecture mr lis

This German building houses the omnipresent northeastern Chinese chain restaurant, Mr. Li’s (a Chinese-American version of the KFC ‘Colonel… I hear he lives in California). We find Mr. Li’s  food watery and bland, but love this building.

No beer for sale.

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Mod Chinese Architecture

China Petroleum University gymnasium

China Petroleum University gymnasium

Our campus (China University of Petroleum, Qingdao) is only about 3 or 4 years old at this location. Some of the buildings are cold, but surprising and dramatic. We didn’t seek out interesting new buildings; they’re everywhere. Train stations, universities, are part of the economy-stimulating infrastructure-building boom that’s both kept China’s economy kicking through the global slowdown, and — now — threatens to take it down as all the  (bad, or corrupt, or ill-considered) loans and spending comes home to roost.

mod gym campus architectureWe passed this each day on campus.

Hangzhou West train station (Zhejiang)

Hangzhou West train station (Zhejiang)

Train stations — this one in Hangzhou — are Hollywood-futuristic. They’e moving millions of people so it’s not surprising they have 10 escalators, not 2 or 4. Many we saw had 8, standard. It makes sense, but still looks daunting, futuristic & impressive. The driveway taking cabs to the Hangzhou station just is as we (’70s kids) once imagined the future.

lots of escalators nanjing

Nanjing's city public library, downtown Nanjing (Jiangsu)

Nanjing‘s city public library, downtown Nanjing (Jiangsu)

Jinan's train station (Shandong province)

Jinan‘s train station (Shandong province)

Right, note the huge lotus sculpture in a massive (Soviet-big) plaza in Jinan, largest city and transport hub of Shandong — the province home to the most Party leaders at the national level. Left, we randomly passed this on the streets of Nanjing — the public library.

If only the book collection inside was as expansive as the open-to-the-sky design.

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Beauty, Crowds, Wealth, Beauty (West Lake, Hangzhou)

Hangzhou on West lake

Hangzhou on West lake

West Lake, Hangzhou Lotus Blooming in Garden

West Lake, Hangzhou Lotus Blooming in Garden

West Lake, Hangzhou: lotus and pavillion off Su Causeway

West Lake, Hangzhou: lotus and pavillion off Su Causeway

This province (Zhejiang) is rich (for China); this town Hangzhou is money, money, money. But also…between the Lamborghini dealerships and babes in heels at glass-mod bars, it’s also full of it’s renowned beauty — sung by poets for centuries. China’s postcard.

west lake kenny on bridge stairs
west lake willow and bridge

If you don’t take these kind of photos, you can be arrested.

That is a joke. Here are some of our obligatory beauty shots.

I have edited out the fact that it’s incredibly crowded. Almost impossible to bike through the throngs of tour groups. Party black sedans pulling up here and there and extruding lovely things in summer dresses, a grandma and cute one kid in Hawaiian shorts.

Hangzhou temple on West lake

Hangzhou temple on West lake

Ate in an old alley away from the lake (pickled bamboo, and — they have it in Zhejiang!!!) what we never had in China before, what we would previously have called “American Chinese Food”: ‘General Tso’s’ candy-coated meat! They love sweet here.

Just dont’ get run down by scooters, cars, bikes, buses.
west lake island pagoda view

hangzhou west lake boatman

hangzhou west lake boatman

West Lake, Hangzhou: Too many waterfront gardens to tour...

West Lake, Hangzhou: Too many waterfront gardens to tour…

Hangzhou new and old

Hangzhou new and old

Hangzhou's West Lake for real: the new city!

Hangzhou’s West Lake for real: the new city!

The Rape of Nanking, Remembered

Massacre Musuem, Nanjing

Massacre Museum, Nanjing

China has its Yad Vashem. Nanjing’s Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre is experiential architecture. You are funneled through tight spaces, traped in black granite chutes. (Architect Qi Kang is one of the leading figures in Chinese architecture).

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

It’s an immersion in nationalism and grief. And most noticeably, in insistence — there hasn’t been widespread acceptance that the massacre here in 1937 occurred — particularly by the right-wing in Japan, which denies the massacre vehemently, including in court, and has attacked (even murdered) those who’d tell their stories. Such as remorseful Japanese veterans, whose testimony is moving here. And Chinese memoirists, sued for libel.

nanking rape 300000

This is the “wall of witnesses” — as if they need to be documented as much as the victims.

Wall of witnesses

Wall of witnesses

You ponder the monstrousness that overtook invading soldiers, who gang raped and then mutilated — the bestial madness, and the uniquely vicious victimization of women (estimated 20,000 rapes, from children to the elderly). And then one thinks of Japan. I’ve spent a few weeks there, and love so much about it. Not to dwell on cliches but there’s no denying the often exquisite aesthetic and manners and cleanliness and love for beauty and so many cultural heights. And then you struggle to comprehend what occurred in this dark time.

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

And one thinks: The day will come when China honors the victims of its own (domestically perpetrated) atrocities.

And the day will come when the U.S. does.

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Many Japanese figures — authors, industrialists, and trade unions (and presumably the Communist Party, on the plaque pictured above) have expressed solidarity, memorialized and honored the victims. A manufacturing family gathers flower seeds from Nanjing and has planted them all over Japan in an act of honoring the victims.

One last haunting aspect: I read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, a breakthrough book that for perhaps the first time really told the story, as late as 1997 (compare that to Holocaust commemoration.). Her book recapitulates (and enlarges) the museum’s messages, reproducing many of its photos and testimonies. Chang, a Chinese-American journalist from the midwest, committed suicide a few years ago at the age of 36. And another heroine of this place– known as the Living Buddha of Nanking, American missionary Minnie Vautrin, a girls’ school director in wartime Naning who protected and hid tens of thousands of innocent civilians, also (after returning home to Illinois after the war) took her own life.

Some things are too great to bear.

(The Vautrin link above is to the extensive Yale Univ archives on the massacre, the most important repository of its kind.

Peace.

Nanjing’s (great) City Wall

Nanjing’s city wall inspired the Ming sections of the Great Wall.

The great mystery: Why are these magnificent, 50’-high walls still standing? Ransacked and demolished, bombed and attacked … yet in such good condition?
jill on nanjing city wall
(On UNESCO’s “tentative list” of world treasures http://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5324/ ) “It is witness to the brilliant achievements of ancient China in the planning of urban defence facilities, craftsmanship of city wall construction, and overall development of feudal capitals,” UNESCO says.

Gate, Nanjing City wall

Gate, Nanjing City wall

I think it was the Nationalists, who made it their capital. They improved it — adding some 6 new gates, for more efficient traffic flow. I think the modernization — workign the walls into the evolving city grid — may be the reason. The city was integrally already growing around and through the walls. This is my guess.

Alice, a Chinese grad student working in American literature (thank you to fellow former Fulbrighter of 2011-12 Jim Ryan, who taught at Nanjing University), told us at dinner that Nanjing people never wanted to be politically powerful, like Beijing, never wanted riches, like Shanghai. But were content being more laid back, neither north nor south, neither rich nor poor, neither powerful nor powerless. So with the city’s walls: why take them down?

The walls’s era is early-Ming Dynasty era.(1300s). Yet even to the end of the Ming (1600s), and its move to Beijing, Nanjing’s remained the world’s longest city wall, surrounding the world’s largest city.
nanjing historic photo japanese enter wall
Nearly all the gates, and the Ming wall, were there at the time of the Japanese invasion in fateful (‘Rape of Nanking’) December 1937. The massacre museum shows the army’s entry through the Guanhua Men.

Today, Guanhua Men is the top tourist spot for Wall viewing. It’s less “gate” (men) than fortress of several layers, laying up against the wall.
keny on nanjing city wall
After the Communist Revolution, 1/3 of the wall was torn down, around ’54. But not more. From ’81, Nanjing local government began to restore, reconstruct, maintain. Unlike Xi’an’s walls — square / rectagunlar – Nanjing’s zigzag, conforming to surrounding topography of mountains and rivers, lakes. It’s other distinction: most bricks are marked with Chinese characters, noting the brick’s origin, the official in charge of its manufacture, and the name of the individual brickmaker. It’s the only record of its kind.

Decapitated Buddha

nanjing buddha cave10 really many

The Thousand Buddha Cliff, at Qixia Shan outside Nanjing in central-eastern China, was empty when we went. It’s an active center of learning — there were lots of middle-aged Chinese laypeople studying in a study hall down below, then having quiet lunch in rows of tables facing forward. But up on the mountain, Qixia Shan (“Chisha” Shan) was really no one — and the sad sight of headless Buddhas in these many caves.

nanjing buddha cave 4

They go back, in some cases, to 500 AD. Others date to the Ming and Qing (500 years ago and less). During the Seecond World War, when Nanking (and nearby areas’) residents were fleeing the “Rape of Nanking” during the awful period of Japanese invasion, many took shelter here. The caves are among the oldest in China so damage goes back to many period, for many reasons. Some damage, however, must date to the Cultural Revolution. Research in English is sparse.

nanjing buddhacave headless

nanjing buddha cave 11

Buddha caves  were sites for meditation, initiating new monks / nuns, and veneration of Buddha.

IMG_0625
They were put in mountains where the beauty and peace of nature made the places right for spirituality. Many were also on trade routes, for easy access — and to encourage patronage by wealthy traders passing by.

Qixia Shan, near Nanjing, Jiangsu province

Qixia Shan, near Nanjing, Jiangsu province

The caves provide vivid testimony of faith, and of political turmoil in China.
nanjing buddha caves by building

By the way, there are only 250 caves on the Thousand-Buddha Cliff, but…who’s counting.
nanjing budha closeup 5 headles

Laoshan: the Taoist Holy Mountain and the Beer

lao shan seasidekeny in temple gate
Laoshan is a Taoist holy mountain near Qingdao (the business & economics department was generous and sent us in a car with Kenny’s tutor and a lovely 15-year-old boy who hangs with Kenny) Guidebook says it has 72 temples. We saw three — on the coast and up on the misty, rocky peak.

Sea fairies

Sea fairies

The air is clean and wet. The landscape is pine and some bamboo forest ( native?). The mountain’s history goes back 16 centuries, but mostly to the 110s when a Taoist sect was established here, and monks lived in caves.

Laoshan cave

Laoshan cave

There are several peaks, not too high (a few thousand feet) — we summitted one (with the help of a chairlift!).  As always, with Chinese holy mountains, you ascend and descend via staircases. This one was surrounded by streams (used to chill drinks being sold trailside) and cultivated flowers. I noticed wild foxtail lily. Also plenty of tiger lilies.

Taoist shrine, Laoshan holy mountain

Taoist shrine, Laoshan holy mountain

The Taoist pantheon is still beyond me. But I noticed the elements of nature — so powerful in Taoism — appear as decorative borders on the gods’ robes in the shrines: rainbows, the waves of the sea, clouds, mountains. A few worshippers — not many.
hollyhocks at temple
A sign in the parking lot: “Feudal superstitious activity” is explicitly banned. These kind of old Communist signs don’t have any real relationship to the China we know; though — to be sure — if you were gunning for a big job and you were known to avidly practice a “feudal” faith, I’m sure this would impede your career prospects.

No feudal superstitious activity such as fortune-telling or divination!

No feudal superstitious activity such as fortune-telling or divination!

Laoshan holy mountain's rocky coast

Laoshan holy mountain’s rocky coast

The coastline is a whole new Chinese landscape to us. Korea isn’t far — a cheap ferry. Wish we had time! Qingdao’s a popular resort, with a golf course and lots of fancy villas where — I don’t know — the rich, Party members, both, take holidays.

Laoshan Taoist temple with trumpet vine

Laoshan Taoist temple with trumpet vine

But it’s not only the elite that enjoy the resort: (see blow) — even Taoist dogs get a terrific place to live at one of Laoshan’s temples.
taoist dog house

lao shan stairs
I’d heard wealthy businessmen have begun funding restoration of some of the old temples (Taoist and Buddhist). I thought this suggested a risign interest in heritage and preservation. Kenny’s tutor said that in his opinion, it was an attempt by people who had ill-gotten gains to cleanse their consciences of their many sins.

dragon detail

laoshan taoist god of the sea and rainbow

lao shan trailside tea house

lao shan above the lake
Taoism is associated strongly with herbalism (originally, alchemy) and we saw some extraordinary herbalists along the trail. Not only the usual array of mushrooms, grasses and fungus buttons, but in this case, sealife: dried snakes, anemones, seahorses.

laoshan herbalist selling dried snake

laoshan herbalist selling dried snake

lao shan herbalist seahorses

lao shan herbalist dried lizard
Laoshan’s clear mountain streams were originally used in Tsingtao beer. Laoshan is a holy mountain– & a beer label. Laoshan Beer  was acquired recently by Tsingtao. We completed the day with a toast. Possibly Kenny’s favorite part.Laoshan beer: a toast after hiking Laoshan

Laoshan beer: a toast after hiking Laoshan

Beer is, of course, a central theme in this stay in Qingdao/Tsingtao, China’s beer city. Personally, I liked the Qingdao better. The Laoshan was drier and crisp — good. But named after a holy mountain? You’re expecting an almost godly experience in a glass. Not so much.

Laoshan Beer (now owned by Tsingtao brewery)

Laoshan Beer (now owned by Tsingtao brewery)

We did the hike on July 7, which our wise 15-year-old noted marked the day Japan invaded China about 70 years ago. The anger even now is still fresh at the table when they talked about the war — young people, as if it was only yesterday.

Doctor of Tropical Medicine

Gratuitous sunrise shot: Early drive to Manhattan

China isn’t (mostly) tropical. But we suspect maybe one kid picked up a so-called ‘tropical’ disease there.

Today we left before dawn to see Kevin M. Cahill, M.D., author of Tropical Medicine, a textbook now in its 8th edition from Oxford University Press. One kid’s gut problems have lasted 7 months (since visiting the Tibetan yak herders in W. Sichuan), plus, lately, terrible headaches and dizziness. All the pediatricians, gastroenterologists, lab tests (soon he’s also to see a pediatric neurologist) said head and stomach pains were UNrelated. That seems odd. And they said no, it wasn’t infectious, from China.That also seemed, maybe…wrong.

Food- and water-borne diseases are bad in China, still, including in cities. The other child got giardia (a parasite) there, with timing suggesting he picked it up in Beijing. Docs told us they see it constantly. (Along with the better-known Traveler’s Diarrhea, a bacteria.) Parasites are, for one, in the water. No one drinks the water, & we brushed our teeth with bottled water. Still, water comes into contact with things you eat.

Dr. Cahill is the U.N.’s chief advisor on medicine in humanitarian crises, and has written or edited about 10 books on tropical medicine. He is renowned for his parasite knowledge. He’s said to shun commercial labs and to examine specimens under his own microscope. One reference he showed us notes that a study (NYC, 2010) found 70% of parasite and amoeba test results at commercial labs were faulty.

Just an antique: Dr. Cahill sharing his 18-th century acupuncture kit.

Why were our docs so sure, why didn’t they suggest seeing a tropical medicine specialist (I note with gratitude that my friend Aviva did)? Dr. Cahill said medical schools here spend no time on tropical diseases. Well, why? Unlike the U.K., he said, this country never occupied conquered colonies. Aside from the odd adventure traveler, Peace Corps volunteer, or U.N. official, there’s no call for tropical medicine in the U.S. — among the elite. And there just isn’t much concern for the (mostly poor) immigrants who suffer from these things.

When budget cuts come to NYC hospitals, as he put it, “what gets cut are the things the Dominicans get.”

Dr. Cahill’s souvenir acupuncture kit, a gift from a patient.

He also told us (before doing a sigmoidoscopy, sampling the intestinal wall) the stool tests our doctors rely on won’t show parasites or amoebas because the creatures live inside the intestine walls — not in stool.

Dr. Cahill thought a parasite might be the cause of things. We’ll find out tomorrow for sure. I desperately hope so, because this child is suffering.

Heartfelt thanks to friend Eric Pearl, & Cousin Liz, who recommended Dr. Cahill.

PS – Thank you, our 33 new subscribers this week! That’s so lovely to have you. If anyone else wants to get notified by email when we post, click “Sign me up” on the right.

Post Script: The great Dr. Cahill found an amoeba, E.Histolytica, the thing that causes amoebic dysentery (among other symptoms). The illness is called amebiasis and is said to affect 50 millionin the world, especially where it’s poor, crowded and hygiene is not good.  With 2 meds and some time to heal, we believe he’ll be on the mend. And I’d like to take this opportunity to again “thank” the pediatric G.I. we saw repeatedly who insisted there was no reason to believe the cause of this kid’s suffering was tropical or infectious.

One of Earth’s Holiest Spots

Why do we go out questing for certain hard-to-reach places? And when it seems worth it afterwards, as this time did, even then it’s hard to say why we did it.  Maybe the power came because we were close to leaving China. Maybe the spirituality was infectious knowing this is to be a more-than-usually religious year for us, ahead of Kenny’s bar mitzvah. Maybe it was just the density of chanting we came upon, unexpectedly, in this magical place.


It was unforgettable witnessing thousands of Mongolian, Chinese, and Tibetans monk and nuns chanting outdoors at one of the main temples of Wutaishan, the Buddhist holy mountain in north-central China (English: Mount Wutai). In China, where so few monasteries seem to be active, where holy mountains are thronged by tourists not pilgrims, this was a moving exception. The spirituality was contagious.

The architecture spans the centuries. The wild, empty heights are inspiring. We even said a few (Hebrew) prayers ourselves. It was unlike anything we saw in China.

At its heart is the valley made by 5 (wu) mountains. Scattered around are 100+ Tibetan Buddhist temples, built by China’s rulers over centuries–Mongolian (Yuan), Han (Ming), Manchurian (Qing), each of which which served, in its opulence, for each dynasty, to legitimize their rule. And to knit the disparate, diverse, tension-riddled, far-flung empire made of so many different groups, all together by the magnetic pull of the bodhisattva who once lived here.

For nearly a millennium, the powerful staked their claim, got a foothold in paradise, sought virtue and enlightenment, and made alliances with enemies, by building exquisite temples, pagodas and stupas here.

Why here? Because here once lived a real, historic bodhisattva, ‘wisdom being,’ an enlightened one who compassionately doesn’t enter nirvana, to save others. His name was Manjusri. In China, they call him Wenshu.

This sacred place, for Zen, for Chinese, for Lamaist Buddhists, kind of in the middle of nowhere, highest peaks reaching 9,000′, the  was once off limits to all but the emperor. Now Wutaishan, Manjusri’s earthly abode, is a powerful, inspiring, uncrowded place of Buddhist pilgrimage, its monasteries home to perhaps thousands of monks and nuns.

You’ll see, in towering Manjusri statues, he rides a lion or tiger–symbolizing the taming of the ferocious mind. He also holds a sword, to cuts through ignorance and illusion. Manjusri is the deity of wisdom, worshipped from Indonesia to Nepal to Japan. He is featured in many sutras (scripture) and is one of the oldest, most important deities. He’s especially important to the Gelug Tibetan line (the Dalai Lama’s school), who descend from his teachings.

The presence of so much Tibetan Buddhism here made us feel like somehow Tibet had broken off and landed in north-central China, in Shanxi province, one of the poorer areas (coal, over-farmed steep terraces) where 30,000 people still live in caves.

There were almost no tourists in these small alleys and steep stairways, just one bus of Chinese during our late-June stay (I’ve read it does fill up, but we didn’t see that). Decent tourism facilities are almost zero (people sleep in the temples), train and bus connections are terrible, and high altitude makes the roads impassable in winter; they call it “the roof of north China.” I totally didn’t want to go. But Kenny insisted it was the most important place, moreso than Wu Dang Shan (the Taoist holy mountain where Jackie Chan takes Jaden Smith in the “Karate Kid” remake).

Visiting looked unlikely when I discovered the train into the nearest town an hour away (Shahe) arrived at 2 am and there were no hotels there.* But when I discovered the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in NY had held an exhibition on Wutaishan, devoted a conference to it, and published a book, which we read aloud together, I decided (once again) he was right.

You can feel the history, the cultural richness, the power of devotion here.

The Rubin exhibition (now online) features a 6-foot wide “map” of the site, a fanciful, amazing painting done by a Mongolian monk. His vision doesn’t look anything like Wutaishan really looks, but those kind of hard- to-find places that mysteriously ignite the imagination–they rarely do.

NOTE ONLY FOR TRAVELERS TO WUTAISHAN:

*There’s no good Wutaishan travel info online in English. I really hope this blog helps. I reluctantly recommend what we did: book a Chinese tour–ours was 1- or 2-star, terrible food & lodging, disorganized, they even left us behind once at an outlying monastery (someone did come back for us after an hour, during which time I cried). To be fair, we were warned it wouldn’t be international standards. In fact it was below bad youth hostel. But so what. We got there. My student helped us book, through an agency in Chaoyang. It was hard locating the tour representative at the crowded Beijing West train station, but when seats were sold out, they managed to get tickets. They’d put us on the slow Beijing-Taiyuan train (a good thing: being slow, it arrived in the normal morning, not 2 am, so you could sleep). We didn’t find the Wutaishan tour we’d paid for waiting to meet us..a long dull story. Suffice to say, we caught a different tour bus ride to Wutaishan, 4ish hours, for no additional money, and once we were there, we were there! We figured it out on our own, with the Rubin catalog, and an excellent UNESCO guide online. Actually that link is Wikitravel, quite useful, but here is the even-more-useful UNESCO World Heritage Site guide. UNESCO wisely included it in 2009. We also got the stupid, disorganized, obnoxious, confusing bus back to Taiyuan on the third day.

The other option would be a private car/driver, out of Taiyuan (wrap it in with a trip to Pingyao and/or Datong, which is amazing) — but that was beyond our budget.

Making Fierce Mongolians into Babies

Xilinguole grasslands, Chinese Mongolia

Without refrigeration, Mongolian herders eat like their ancestors: meat, air-dried milk hardened into twists & flakes, yogurt that seems rancid to our fussy American palettes. Fruits and veg are too pricey, the growing season too dry and short. During our visit this summer, we were served onion grass (pickled, to last), what grows in the lawns of NJ.


It’s minus-50F in winter so there’s no problem then.
But we visited this hot summer. All night, wonderful lamb dinner leftovers sat on the table, mid-yurt. In the morning, we declined as hosts, guide, and the herders–tough cowboys–cut the old meat into salted butter tea.

We were near this hill, a pilgrimage spot, which Genghis Khan declared sacred, helping him to victory when he prayed there. Its image symbolizes proud heritage–nationalism, wounded ethnic pride today–as Chinese coal mining encroaches and settlers buy up the grasslands. We climbed it in a few minutes. A carpet shows its beloved image.

Traditional saddle, pride of herders

Life we saw was rugged, simple. One family where we stayed had this small windmill generator, enough for light but not refrigeration.

Our guide said he descends from the “Golden Family,” in English the Golden Horde (from orde, Turkish for ‘people’). “A Mongol brought Tibetan Buddhism out of Tibet and across China,” he said.

“We have a culture, and belief.” (Tibetan Buddhism, he meant–also called Lamaism). “Our Chinese friends have no culture, no belief–they pursue power.” He told this to my son. “I’m sorry, but if you know this,” he said, “it’s better for your future.”

Corrupted local Mongolian local officials had become millionaires, he said. Meanwhile, “We have no rights.” He compared his people to Native Americans. I was thinking that, too, of the Plains Indians, whom we visited in 2008. And as the AIM (American Indian Movement) was born on Pine Ridge, our daring guide was willing to mention the Inner Mongolian Democratic Party of the 1960s, an independence party. He alleged that China killed 150,000 to eradicate it (1960-1980), purging separatists. I don’t know if it’s true or not. Many perished during the Cultural Revolution years. He said the remnants left for America, Germany, Finland.

He is a horsehead fiddler and we talked to its sad lovely strains on an iPod, playing a song called ’60 Trees.’ “When my grandpa sings this song, tears come out. It describes the feeling, how they love those trees.”

I mention the anger, bitterness, nationalism, as lead-in to how Mongolians are packaged, souvenir-ized, at the airport and gift shops. You don’t have to be a semiotician to see what’s going on with the depiction of this fiercely proud, historically mighty people:

Infantalizing images

No threat from these cutie pie babies

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Grasslands of Chinese (Inner) Mongolia

Wish my lawn looked like this.

Mongolia — one of the great places on earth. You almost have to use superlatives: largest-ever historic conquest. Greatest unexploited mining wealth. Most pristine wilderness.

Mongolia is Inner (a giant province in, + totally dominated by, China) and Outer (a nation , former Soviet satellite). Below these important historical overlays, Russian vs. Chinese, is Mongolian culture and the incredible land.

Inner Mongolia, the Chinese province (pink on the map) is so dominated, its capital city (Hohhot) isn’t even Mongolian majority. Why? As in Tibet, influx of Chinese people consolidates political control, a struggle thru the dynasties — sometimes Mongolian (the Yuan), sometimes Han Chinese. China may hope to spread its overpopulated people from the heartland. But mainly, it’s the extraordinary mining wealth: coal + those coveted ‘rare-earth’ elements that high-tech mfg requires.

KFC, Inner Mongolia (Xilinghot)

The mines meet the grassland in the least-touristed area, it’s not even online or in books–by Xilinghot, county seat, northeast, where we spent 4 days early last month. It is, per a great Economist story, “no pastoral idyll” — especially not in June, 2011 when violence blew up between put-upon local herders and big, honking mining trucks (and “Mongolia” joined “jasmine revolution” as a banned Chinese search term).

Coal makes Inner Mongolia China’s fastest-growing province. A recent article (also in The Economist) calls the mines “devastation” and a “scar”. Yes. We saw those scars, still small vs. the vastness. But in a pristine ecosystem, their impact bleeds widely outward — in polluted air, water table, land. And in another powerful way, it bleeds the people, creating Mongolian powerlessness and anger, quiet and seething, mostly, as Mongolians’ dispossession grows, as land ownership is gradually transferred.

Already Mongolians are only 1/5 of the population, and if your parents choose Chinese school ingfor you (the only route to a non-herding job) you lost your ancestral language: most have.

The too-familiar plight of indigenous people.

Around Xilinghot city — where soldiers amassed last year — and its mines and trucks and railroads, spreads the Xilingole grasslands, the hugest lawn imaginable.

Our young Mongolian guide’s older sister went to Mongolian schools & couldn’t find a job; he took a degree in translation. Angel of a guy, with an endless supply of friends-of-relatives-of-friends, who put us up in their homes (guest yurts — they say “ger,” like girl without the l, ‘Yurt’ is  Turkish) over 3 days.

It’s majority Mongolian here; tradition survives, meaning hardship: no refrigeration, a diet of meat and the animals’ milk, horse-back herders, old Tibetan temples on the range.

Now 28, he herded as a child, for his grandparents. At 13, alone, fending off wolves by setting clothing fires and banging pots, he learned English from listening to the BBC. Then drastic legal limits on herd sizes (sheep, cows, goats) -per-land-owned were imposed, so the family’s herd was lost, their income plummeted, and finally they lost their land.

“The Chinese plant–they’re agriculture. We’re herders,” he said. “Then they dig mines, and at last buy your grassland. This is the steps. Because the Mongolian people aren’t easy to unite,” he said. “Now Mongols are weak.”

Guest yurt, with sink.

There are ribbons of fantastic, new, smooth Chinese roads here, making our trip possible so efficiently, so quickly (Outer Mongolia, you’d need 3 days to drive the horrid roads the distance you cover in a few hours on this side). We zoomed through sweeping horizons of incredible Chinese windmill farms (which our guide, BTW, loves).

We had hot pot in a beautiful, clean provincial capital city, Xilinhot, with a giant well-preserved Beize Tibetan Buddhist temple complex (Mongolians follow the Tibetan brand of Buddhism).

The Chinese give, and the Chinese take away.

Our young guide: “I am Mongol and my culture is lost, but in my heart, it’s strong. Over 60 years we had great changes here. There were 50 Mongol families in my hometown and only 5 families kept the traditions. The world is eating up ethnic people–the world is like this. It’s hard to keep traditional, to keep the old life.”

He said this as he checked his cell (signal always available, middle of nowhere) to see whether Spain was beating Portugal in the Euro Football semifinals.

“We lost our grassland. Every blade is we love.” He said this stroking a blade. “In Mongolia, you have words you must hide in your heart. There are no people to tell,” he said. “Every 800 years, a hero brings together the Mongolian people,” he said (referring to Genghis Khan).

“You’ll see. A hero is coming soon.”

Xilingole: Industry vs. Grassland

Shao Yao Jews

ImageWe are constantly changing trains at Shao Yao Ju, especially on Jewish holidays — when I go get the boys at school in order to go to synagogue. At first our Woody Allenesque way we referred to the station was, “Shao Yao Are-You-Calling-Me-a-Jew?”

Now we just call it, “Shao Yao People-of-the-Jewish-Faith.”

Image

 

Granddad, Janni Shoot China

Shooter, shot


Amazing and rare when your grandparents visit you in China.

Shooting Suzhou St., in the Summer Palace


They shot lots of pictures. About 14,000 between them. They’ll only keep 8 or 9. Those’ll be some damn good pictures! Granddad published this book of his work, My Depth of Field, for charity. Stupendous landscapes. Artwork.

They’re extremely good.


They don’t think shooting themselves is interesting. In China, they captured clouds over Huang Shan, misty rice paddies, temple ruins, faces. By the way they stop so often, we’re made to think more about what we’re seeing.

Forbidden City




Finally they rested over hotpot!

Dajuesi, Gem of the Western Hills

Second-to-last on our list of temples* or si (“suh”) was Dajue Si 大觉寺, 1,000 years old, though mostly ruined and rebuilt in the Ming era. Once Beijing’s largest, an exquisite Buddhist ‘scenic site’ (not active) at the city’s Western edge, outside a rustic village, perched on a steep rocky mountainside, Yangtai Shan, 扬泰山.

Most unexpected: Super-chic, gorgeous, beautifully dressed rich people eating elegant fruit plates and drinking tea in some of Dajuesi’s outdoor courtyard space, converted into a tea house. Tea menu options ran $100, $200+ (yeah, that much). Hot water and a tea set, to drink some in the garden, included. Party elites from the secret military installation in the Hills nearby? We got ice cream pops at a grocery, ate on some rocks, thanks!

I printed every possible map of the location (close-up, middle distance, long view) but still 6 cabbies refused the edge-of-town fare. Finally I got the number of a hotel nearby, who could give verbal directions, which did the trick. The 45-minute ride cost $15. Incredible how rural it gets so suddenly, just 25 minutes from this university district.
It was so shimmery clear a day, so blue, so fresh, AQI was in single digits!! After smog so bad the day before, I wanted to get your vision prescription checked. At Dajuesi a shine emmanated from each object in the world: every leaf, every stone.

One Liao-dynasty relic remains (916-1125), a stone tablet engraved with Beijing’s history. Nearby a frigid underground spring feeds square stone pools.

The precious-metal Buddhas in the halls are exquisite; the main one apparently artistically significant. It’s easy to climb a bit up the mountainside to a white, 300-year-old stupa surrounded by pine and cypress.

It was Kenny, again, urging us to do more, see more, use every moment, that motivated the trip. Another fantastic imperial Beijing Buddhist gem with its own unique qualities, that moved us, after–thanks to Kenny–we discovered it for ourselves.

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

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.

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.

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.

Ethan and the Smiling Camel

By Ethan

This is my trip to Dunhuang. We went there during Qing Ming, Tomb Sweeping, the holiday.

Day One – Lanzhou

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

On that zipline, you got hooked up to a line and because I was so light, I got weights put onto my strap (harness). Some other people who were older than me and a little bit heavier got parachutes put onto theirs to slow them down because they didn’t want them to crash. My dad had to hold onto a rope and get reeled in because he started going backwards on the zipline over the river!

Day Two – Dunhuang
On the first day in Dunhuang, we went to Crescent Moon Dunes. Crescent Moon Dunes are dunes that are taller than a lot of mountain ranges. The dunes are in the Gobi desert in Western China in Gansu province.

We actually tried to fly our kites in a sandstorm. The sandstorm was very, very, very, very, very windy. My string actually broke. My dad ran over to get the kite.

Lots of sand was blowing up in my eyes when I was climbing the dune.

Day Three – Jiayuguan
We drover to Jiayuguan on the Silk Road, the place where in the old days merchants would take their goods and bring them to the next towns. The Silk Road went from ancient Rome in the old days, to Xi’an in that time sometimes the capital of China. Jiayuguan is a fortress that was built in between two mountains to block the barbarians – aka some Mongolians – from getting into China. And there’s the beginning of the Great Wall there.

Day 4 – Camel Trek

We went over to the camels in their old kind of run-down stalls and I saw them eating. I walked over to one and pet it and it let me. THen it looked at me. I was afraid it was going to spit at me, but it didn’t. Then we got on the camels.

Our guide took us out into the desert. The camels were very comfy and very fun, but a little swaying at times. Sometimes they would go down a steep hill and sway a little too much so I would almost fall off. When we got to where we were going to camp in the desert, we got down and climbed a small dune.

Then we went back to the camp where our guide had started making a fire. Then me and Kenny climbed up a little bit of a taller dune and then we ran down. By that time it was getting a little bit dark. We put on some army coats and dug a little hole as a seat, which is a surprisingly good seat. We put on an army coat on top of it. Then we sat around the fire and our guide first made instant noodles as an appetizer. Then our guide, who was a very good cook, he made us chicken and then he made us lamb over the fire and boy was it good!

I also built a dune.

Next we set up our camp tents and we went to sleep. The next day we woke up and I made toast on the fire that our guide made and after we had breakfast, which was toast and jam, we climbed a dune that was pretty tall and very steep!

See us?

Gobi Dunes Photo Journal

A fun, sandy day climbing dunes & riding camels out at the Mingsha Sand Dunes in town of Dunhuang, Gansu Province, Western China, at the edge of the Gobi Desert. Couldn’t trek because the early spring sandstorms blow your tent away! Sand’s now in everything. It’s a long way here, and the conditions challenged, but no one got hurt. So I can say it was worth it!

The kids thought it would be so cool to fly kites in a desert sandstorm. The kites broke immediately.

I climbed, and then ran down, 2 dune ‘mountains.’ The boys did it for hours.

GanSu is wedged between Mongolia (north), Xinjiang the Turkic province (West), old Tibetan Amdo now aka China’s Qinghai province (South). And of course China’s heartland to the East. The capital (Lanzhou) is a massive new Chinese super-metropolis of 4 million+ plunked down on the (horrid brown) Yellow River and sprawling with skyscrapers in every direction, seemingly in the middle of desert nowhere…Danhuang, a 15-hour trainride from there, feels really removed. Dunhuang is an oasis town, a respite on the old Silk Road. (NY Times art critic Holland Carter won a 2008 cultural criticism Pulitzer for his coverage of Dunhuang’s unique Buddha cave paintings (Mogao), plundered by the museums of Paris, London & Harvard, now being destroyed by –mostly nationalistic Chinese — visitors’ exhalations … humans’ output of moisture & carbon monoxide.)

The desolation here reminds me of the Kara Kum desert in Turkmenistan, which I crossed in a train exactly 20 years ago, also this season. But I saw no water. There’s still a tiny “crescent” oasis at Mingsha that never dries up. Here it is through the blowing grit:

It must have been a relief to come upon that 1,000 years ago, after crossing the sand. Hard to believe a place this far from (what we consider) “anything” was once the busiest route in the world.

This is Real China

Longmen Caves


Longmen


Henan province–河南–birthplace of Chinese civilization. (Not Hunan, that’s south, but KHUUH-nan, the heartland). Four ancient capitals. Legendary Shaolin. Longmen Buddha grottoes…

Old Luoyang


Shaolin Pagoda Forest


…the world’s largest kung fu school at Shaolin Temple. I was sick in a hotel bed and saw none of it.

Shaolin kung fu


Kung fu


Thus, during my few feverish moments of alertness in the van, I saw only right-now China. That is: high-rise construction. Thirty years ago, Henan was one of the poorest places on earth, subject to killer floods and mass starvation. Today it’s growth is, if this can even be imagined, faster than China’s as a whole, dependent on “dwindling aluminum and coal reserves, agriculture, heavy industry, tourism, and retail” (Wikipeda). Here, without any romantic tourist tint, is the breathtaking reality. Have a look:

Luoyang, Henan


Henan is home to about 94 million people.

Zhengzhou, Henan


Sadly, because of corrupt blood-drive practices, many thousands here in so-called “AIDS Villages” are infected with HIV.

Luoyang


Everything 5- or 6-story is coming down and in its place, it seems only the 40-storey skyscraper will do. Another observation in restaurants: walls of bottles, tables covered with glasses. This is a big drinking province — hard liquor.

More modern Henan


It’s 6 hours from Beijing by bullet train, 9 hours on the slower overnight sleeper. Many Beijing students hail from Henan.)

40-storey, typically


Here is real China.

Henan sunset

Paparazzi

By Kenny

Us being photographed by a stone horse.

I guess some people find it amusing to see a western kid jumping on a stone horse. I would also take a picture of that.

This is what happened to us at the Longmen Buddha Caves in Henan Province in Luoyang city: having the feeling we were movie stars.

Someone wanted this photo with us

Well it’s a bit rare to see to foreign kids standing or meditating in a small Buddha cave. Must be more interesting the seeing 1000 year old Buddhas carved into cliffs.

…and the same thing happens again.

I would agree that the most famous stone Buddha in all of the province can always be better if you get a foreign kid to pose in it with you.

It is rather fun and not annoying to get a photo taken with other people.

As they say, 2 is always better than 1.

You definitely do not see a whole Chinese tour group take a photo around the rock and kid, now do you?

So this is what happens when David yells at you: “God damn it, Ethan, if you don’t get off those rocks then you are not going on your residential trip, do you hear me?” And then comes 1 Chinese guy who starts laughing, climbs up the rock to get next to Ethan so his friend can take a photo.

But the funniest part is that if Ethan did not go on the residential trip, he would be marked for being absent.

It’s nice when someone gives you a hug and photo…….

…but a kiss takes it to a new level. And by the way, that was my first time meeting her.

A good way to show off to your friends and prove you that you met a foreigner.

(And these are the reason for going to Longmen Caves in the first place:)

Longmen Cave's most famous big Buddha

Buddha's hanger-ons

Drying Tea, Pickling Cabbage

Tea dries, tulou

Cabbage, mud bricks

Grieving for Anthony Shadid, who died apparently of catastrophic asthma, covering the Syrian resistance, as always by giving voice to those otherwise unheard (“we write small to say something big” — quotes the Times op-ed). Our friendship began in Cairo ’91 or ’92; my best memories center on rookie days in NYC, Upper West and Brooklyn; Anthony terrifying me swimming in humongous waves off Jones Beach after a hurricane blew out to sea…loving his first Jewish chicken soup, Shabbat at my sister’s (“What do you call this?”).

Chess in tulou


The humanity of his reporting–so rightly praised by Pulitzer juries, readers, editors, colleagues. I tell all my students one of his great questions, useful almost always in interviews: “How so?”

Then you listen.

Hakka woman, pickling

A reporter who listens that well is practicing an art, fulfilling a godly obligation, in possession of a precious gift of compassion–and making a heavy choice, making sacrifices, to be in a position to listen for so long, so carefully.

Cabbage on wall


A very simple photo journal on drying plants in southern China, Fujian province, at clusters of tulou, “roundhouses,” a few hours from wealthy city Xiamen. The famous tulou (“too-low”) are dried-mud, multistory apartments 100s of years old. It’s tea- and cabbage-drying season. The Hakka, a minority group, pickle cabbage. They also sell China’s famous oolong tea.

Carrying tea

Harvesting greens


Tea-drying basket


Tulou exterior


Tulou cluster


Tulou central courtyard


Tourists overlook tulou


Ethan exits tulou


Road beside tulou

All the Animals I’ve Seen in Tibetan Monasteries

By Kenny

Here are some pics I took in a few Tibetan monasteries. Most of them are at Ganden Sumtseling, in Shangri La. One is in western Sichuan.

Enjoy.

Cat in monastery

Yak in monastery, Tagong, Sichuan

Pig in Shangri-La


Another pig, Shangri La

Cow, Shangri La, Yunan

Dog in monastery

Monastery chicken, Shangri La

China, Building…

Highway over farms


Our weeks of ‘ethnic-‘ or ‘eco-‘ tourism have me thinking about China’s build-out. Beyond our treasure hunts for un-razed old Beijing, I mean something much bigger. We seem to exclusively pursue the preciously pre-industrial. As if that’s all “Chinese” means–in a human sense, and re: the built environment.

Ethan spit a phrase back at me during our 2 weeks in Yunnan and Guanxi (provinces bordering Vietnam and Burma), a wake-up to how much we chase the quaintly scenic, the un-“spoiled.” In China, the building is happening so fast and all at once, I think it’s part of the knee-jerk anti-China senftiment prevalent now. I think the build-out scares Americans far more than our own (slower, older) devastation of nature.

One day, on mountain bikes, after a long hard climb escaping Lijiang’s city limits, on reaching dirt paths around Lashi Lake–and even there, after crossing giant highway construction–we reached peace, lake, horses, corn fields, big birds (could it be the rare white-necked Tibetan crane?!?).

And Ethan asked, “Are we off the beaten track now?”

Lashi Lake, near LIjiang

Mr. Livingstone, I presume?

Bai village family


I think many Chinese tourists regard, and experience, ethnic minority areas the way many Americans do the Amish. We wrap our fears about modernity, our sense of loss and helplessness, up in a sort of ‘love’ for their ‘natural,’ ‘noble savagery.’ I don’t mean to insult. These narratives are bigger than we are, unconscious.

China is building, everywhere. Yet until now we have hardly posted pictures of this. Our photos are, to some extent, lies. Wish fulfillment. (Fear, idealization, ‘love,’ big narratives, as above.)

Zongdian (Shangri-La) Yak Crossing

In Ariel Dorfman & Armand Mattelart’s classic How to Read Donald Duck , two Chilean radicals’ scathing, landmark 1971 booklet (now a collectors’ item) on imperial relations, framed as an attack on Disney comics, it’s a bullseye when they describe “the historical nostalgia of the bourgeoisie…[for] lost paradise”:

“A Wigwam Motel and a souvenir shop are opened, excursions are arranged. The Indians are immobilized against their national background and served up for tourist consumption. …Stereotypes become a channel of distorted knowledge. …[The] principle [is] … sensationalism, which conceals reality by means of novelty, which not incidentally, also serves to promote sales…”

Corn dries, Baisha restaurant.

So here we are ‘consuming’ China–not ours, actually, but someone else’s empire. Ostensibly looking for “reality,” “authenticity,” yet taking so few pictures of the changes underway, the infrastructure rising everywhere. Favoring instead quaint (powerless minorities), color, sensation.

Overpasses cross lakes and soar above villages. Towering dams cement cliffsides. Massive bridges span the Yangtze and tunnels bore through (near Lijiang in Yunnan) mountains. (Same deal in Western Sichuan, now sealed off due to more Tibetan self-immolations and unrest).

In one minority area we visited, near Dali, a fresh village mural educated people about electrification (how not to get electrocuted).

Near Dali, electrification mural

The building is part Keynesian stimulation, keeping the economy percolating (so we read) to avoid a slowdown that could provoke big social unrest. (Vs. the ‘small’ and medium-sized unrest, already occurring, involving hundreds rather than, say, millions.)

Ganden Sumtseling, Shangri-La, Yunnan

Maybe it looked like this in the Eisenhower era when America built out infrastructure.

Elevated highway construction, Yunnan

Kids can study at night in electrified homes. Educated kids won’t need to wade knee-deep all day in cold rice paddies. At that level there’s no righteousness in chasing the “lost paradise.” Hats off to China’s retiring technocratic generation, soon to be replaced.

Yet. What if the build-out is truly ill-conceived? If Party leaders (central and provincial) are so close to the elites who run the state-owned conglomerates, they’ve got hands in eachother’s pockets. If the governing elite simply hired the enterprise-running elite — the state owns the biggest engineering firms, cement manufacturers, transport and energy conglomerates. If they’re investing the nation’s wealth not in education or healthcare, but roads to nowhere, tunnels through mountains, out of nepotism, favoritism, intra-elite self-dealing?

Shangri La Tibetan women

If ethnic tourism is inherently suspect, so is the despoilation we ecotourists are trying to escape, if it’s without checks or balances. So is one-party rule without media watchdogs. All sides of the equation are troubling.

Dr. Ho, David’s Qi, and Ezra Pound

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, 15,000'


Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (15,000′) is holy to the Naxi (“nashi”) people, whose priest lives up there, with a tourist chairlift. The Naxi, a matriarchal Chinese minority related to Tibetans, traditionally worship the spirits of rocks, rivers, and especially this mountain, which grows some 500 healing herbs, many unknown elsewhere (also: 300 different rhododendrons).

In this botanical wonderland east of the Himalayas, in China’s southwest Yunnan province, David had a consultation with the famous village healer, Dr. Ho, a figure of great cross-cultural interest. “I was raised by Christian missionaries,” Ho told the Daily Telegraph, (in one of many news stories). “But there were many other religions, too – Muslim, Buddhism, Confucianism and Naxi.”

Tibetan monastery near Baisha, Lijiang

In 1986, Bruce Chatwin wrote a travel piece in the Times which made Ho, and his clinic in Baisha, a tiny mountain village at 8,000′, something of an international legend. Chatwin was fascinated (as we were, as everyone would be) with the Naxi: “Their religion is a combination of Tibetan Lamaism, Chinese Taoism and a far, far older shamanistic belief: in the spirits of cloud and wind and pine,” Chatwin wrote.

Shamanism didn’t go over well with the Red Guards. Ho lost everything (but his herbal–a 19th-century edition of The Book of Flowers–buried safely under his floorboards) to attacks and round-ups during the Cultural Revolution. His books were burned and he was thrown in prison.

Times are way better now. He treats visitors from everywhere for donations, and locals for free. We went initially hoping to find something for altitude sickness. We were welcomed into his cluttered home office, attached to a storage room with big jugs of powdered herbs, roots, and mountain flowers. He sat David down and began a consultation concerning his habits, aches and pains, and lifestyle and well-being.

Dr. Ho's herbal medicine storeroom

David would prefer to start this blog post this way:

“What I love is, in Baisha (Dr. Ho’s village, part of Lijiang), among innumerable Buddhas, shawls, tablecloths, time pieces, wandering dogs and free-range chickens, there is but one Dr. Ho. Perhaps 2 — his son, who is practicing to replace him. Though not anytime soon. The post has to give a sense of the stupid souvenirs. The dumb-ass stuff. And also that Dr. Ho has become part of the whole tourist trade.
That should be the beginning.” (David says).

“And include Tibetans throwing fireworks, not for the New Year but to get people away from the stalls of their competition. Write about the cobblestones, the dustiness of it, the bright sun, & almost overlooking Dr. Ho. And the woman before us who seemed to have a good consultation. And say that if you can’t afford to visit him for a consultation, you can reach him online for his teas (and the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Chinese Herbal Medicine Clinic) at jdsmchmcl@yahoo.com.cn.”

David continues: “He asked about my work, and detected from feeling my pulse that I had lower back problems and neck problems. He asked about my prostate and wondered if I had hemorrhoids (no). His check-up agreed with my known problems. He noted that unlike many Americans, I wasn’t obese. He checked alternating wrists 3 or 4 times and said my qi was pretty good. His skin was baby soft. He attributed it to his Healthy Tea, which he gave me wrapped in paper.”

"Healthy Tea"

“The donation we made was about $30, about the same as my co-payment in the U.S., and I got more face-time and bedside manner. The tea’s herbal mustiness reminds me of every health food shop I’ve ever been in. My qi may be balanced, but I got the sense he was going to outlive me.”

(Now 90, Dr. Ho is prepared to pass the baton to his son, Dr. Ho II, who chatted us up at the clinic. He said the Mayo Clinic has correspondence with Ho regarding a leukemia case.)

This story has several layers.

Unlike our David, Bruce Chatwin didn’t visit Dr. Ho for a medical consultation, but to learn about Ho’s teacher, Joseph Rock, an eccentric Austrian-American self-taught botanist who lived in Lijiang, funded by the National Geographic Society, 1920s-’40s, cataloging wild plants and traveling colonial-mandarin style with caravans of servants. Rock’s National Geographic articles inspired readers far from China, like the author of Lost Horizons — (who never left London). It coined the term Shangri La (probably a corruption of Shambhala, the mythical Tantric heaven-on-earth).

Naxi dance for donations

Ho’s mountain, and Lijiang (spelled “Li Chiang”) also turn up in Ezra Pound’s Cantos:

And over Li Chiang, the snow range is turquoise Rock’s world that he saved us for memory a thin trace in high air
Canto CXIII

Herbs of Lijiang

This northwest part of Yunan province — China’s ‘wild’ southwest, bordering Burma–is called “remote but accessible” (and Lijiang is “the best preserved ancient town in China”).

Lijiang canal

Lijiang cafe

A major road will soon cut through (we saw massive construction). The three vast gorges that rivers carved here, at the edge of the Tibetan plateau–the mighty Mekong, Yangtze and the Nu–are twice the depth (on average) of the Grand Canyon. (In the pic, we’re hiking a popular route on the Yangtze, Tiger Leaping Gorge.) The highest mountains exceed 20,000′. It can’t be a surprise that species, that traditional medicines, thrive here which exist nowhere else on earth.

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Corn drying, Baisha

I wrote earlier, from Sichuan nextdoor, that this area’s a “biodiversity hotspot“. There are rare mammals — leopards (but the ones for sale are only dyed dog skins). And separated by the peaks and river valleys, a dozen unrelated ethnic groups like the Naxi still speaking so many different languages, still wearing traditional clothing. Although the women dancing in the picture above were doing it for tourist donations. Several Naxi orchestras perform ancient music for tourists, as well.

Naxi Orchestra

“Uneasy symbiosis” ? Our tourist presence helps preserve the old cultures, deeply embedded in this astonishing landscape, which might otherwise disappear as young people move to cities. Logging caused massive flooding, so when it was banned, tourism became the biggest game in town. During Lunar New Year week, millions of newly middle-class Chinese families were out enjoying tourism just like us. (I kept thinking, it’s not their fault they are so numerous, that wherever they flock, and like us they go where it’s beautiful and culturally rich, that it becomes a swarm…a sea of humanity…a crush…a horde.)

Blissfully empty alley

David says he doesn’t mind letting me end things. Here: I hope the evolution our tourism inspires is as balanced — at the very least — as David’s qi.

Iconic Chinese Images

The Li River, in the south, near Vietnam, is pictured on the 20 remnimbi note. Loved by poets, climbers, & right now — freezing cold and rainy — still atmospheric, with the crackle & boom of New Year‘s firecrackers echoing off the limestone cliffs day and night.

Farms and rice paddies along the Yulong river, a Li tributary. The villages have some structures from the Qing dynasty (1600s-1911). Other than all the farmers on cell phones and billboards for English schools, visually not that much has changed.

We cycled. I’m glad the boys are old enough to handle the muddy, rutted tracks and tough about the freezing rain. Feed them enough and they go.

Water buffalo, And a man herding geese. Didn’t see the buffalo in the water. I think it’s too cold.

Bamboo rafts are for transporting tourists (and their rented Trek mountain bikes). Locals use PVC plastic tubes lashed together, which must last longer than bamboo.

In both cases, the river is the road.

Women wash clothes in the river, and a grandma was doing childcare, putting an infant to sleep rocking the baby on her back. We also saw a lot of women working the fields, and drawing water from wells. Some of the younger ones doing it in 5-inch high heels — all the more remarkable because of the mud.

…This woman was selling New Year’s flower wreaths. (He bought one, gave it to me later, but said it was just for me to hold. It wasn’t actually FOR me.)

The roses in the center are made of folded shreds of plastic bags.