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

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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Start the Day Right (Chinese Food)

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

Canteen windows: breakfast variety

We have cold cereal, yogurt & fruit, maybe an egg, bagel. French toast or pancakes on week-end. Breakfast isn’t very varied. Love it but — I’m saying, it’s not that involved. Totally different story in China. We were strictly using the university canteen (cafeteria) in Qingdao this summer, having no kitchen. Breakfast choices were just as varied as dinner, with more than a dozen windows, each totally different. Soup with beans or greens or noodles, buns, dumplings, all kinds of meat, breads, vegetables, eggs and lots of kinds of pickles, & much more.

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Fried little buns, like a savory beignet

Unfortunately, first sight entering the canteen is the slop tables, ladies scraping food garbage into giant stainless steel pails. Not a great image! But the ladies are lovely! Below, a few pix of soup, dumplings & breakfast in a Chinese university.

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Canteen ladies, China Petroleum University

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Breakfast wontons (hwin dun)

Canteen tables, China Petroleum University, Qingdao

Love the dumplings!

Love the dumplings!

Grab your chopsticks

Grab your chopsticks

 

Morning soups

Morning soups

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!

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.

(Some) Coplans (Soon) in China

QingdaoNightThis is Qingdao at night. Beer lovers, yes: Tsingtao. It was once controlled for a few years (was a “concession”) by Germans. It’s on the ocean, about between Shanghai and Beijing, in the prosperous province of Shandong. The air is good, for China.

In our 10 months back in the U.S., we felt a bit guilty calling this blog Coplans IN China. But now (visas in hand as of an hour ago) we can safety say half of our family is returning to China  for a bit more than a month (in July). Kenny and I will be living in Qingdao at China University of Petroleum (CUP) .

I will teach business students international communications. Kenny, my young translator, will be kindly provided with a Mandarin tutor, and he also hopes to improve his ping pong and pick-up basketball.

He also wants to do week-end visits to cities we missed: Hangzhou and Nanjing (and possibly also Suzhou; our visit was so brief it almost wasn’t).

Other goals: Reconnecting & reaffirming bonds with friends and colleagues, especially while passing through Beijing, to set up the basis for future collaborative teaching. And (for Kenny) to — during the last 5ish days — get to Wudang Shan, the holy mountain most powerfully pulling on him, where we never made it.

More news when we’ve got it.

Meanwhile here is a picture of Kenny last year this time, giving a farewell speech, in Mandarin, to my students at a reception organized by my then-supervisor who runs the MA program in communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the wonderful Qiao Mu.

MVI_8229

An American Boy in China (watch video)

Adventures of a third grader in Beijing for a year. All about having fun in China, the land and its geography, history and politics, and visiting China’s different regions and peoples. Do shadow puppetry, ride a camel in the Gobi, make dumplings on a farm, and cheer for the Guoan (World Peace) soccer team.

China Books for Kids

 

Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Before we went to China, we started purchasing books to read (& to bring, English kids’ books are hard to find — and if you can, they’re expensive in China). I’ve wanted to share this list for a long time.

Picture books: Nonfiction

A Time of Golden Dragons by Song Nan Zhang & Hao Yu Zhang, ill. A picture book about the millennial year coinciding w year of dragon, most powerful sign

 Chinese New Year Tricia Brown photogr Fran Ortiz. Preparations for, & meanings of, new year in US Chinatowns. Colorful.

Picture books:Fiction (mostly reinterpreted folkore

Little Plum by Ed Young – a Tom Thumb tale.

All the Way to Lhasa A tale from Tibet by Barbara Helen Berger. We enjoy this.

The Hunter A Chinese folktale retold by Mary Casanova Illustrations Ed Young. Love folk tales.

The Beggar’s Magic A Chinese Tale retold by Margaret & Raymond Chang Ill David Johnson

Red Thread written/ill Ed Young.Great one.

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong. An animal tires of war. A favorite.

Lon Po Po A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (Caldecott medal) Ed Young. Another enjoyable one.

The Terrible Nung Gwama A Chinese folktale adapted by Ed Young from the retelling by Leslie Bonnet Ill Ed Young.

 

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a graphic novel (& an animated film)

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a graphic novel (& an animated film)

Middle-grades Fiction

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai by Wu Lin We got this graphic novel in China, at the synagogue-museum in Shanghai. (Speakign of graphic novels: highly recommend the award-winning American-Born Chinese, which takes place in America; we read it later). A great book.

Shen and the Treasure Fleet  Ray Conlogue. Kind of slow.

 The Golden Key (Tangshan Tigers)   Dan Lee. I think an Australian series. Not bad.

Young Adult Fiction

Spilled Water  by Sally Grindley–Modern Yong Adult fiction, girl indentured, compares t Hunger Games. Enjoyed this. I think you can call it middle grades.

 Year of the Tiger  by Alison Lloyd– historical adventure like Percy Jackson. Really loved this. I actually would call this middle-grades.

 Dragon Horse  Peter Ward, 10th century China fantasy & adventure, catalog compares to Eragon. We found it slow and decided not to continue. Too many time, place- and flashbacks to ancient times, or myth, too soon.

 Golden Rat   Don Wulffson- Young Adult, dark adventure.

 Dragonwings  Laurence Yep*- Boys’ historical adventure like Percy Jackson. Part of Yep’s wrote adventure series, Golden Mountain Chronicles. The best. We couldn’t put them down. Set in America, mostly.

 The Serpent’s Children: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1849 Laurence Yep

 Mountain Light: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1855 by Laurence Yep

 Dragon’s Gate: Golden Mountain Chronicles, 1867 by Laurence Yep

 The Traitor: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1885 by Laurence Yep

Memoir & Nonfiction

Brothers: A Novel  Da Chen — Moving.

Colors of the Mountain  Da Chen – award-winning memoir. Moving and lovely writing. More so-called “scar literature” which some Chinese today find unbalanced and overly negative. We found it useful to understand earlier generations’ experience, even if it’s not what’s happening right now.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution  Ji-Li Jiang.My middle schooler read this. I’d say it’s appropriate for middle grades. Excellent, searing, unforegettable “scar” literature about the damaging experience of growing up during the Cultural Revolution.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party  Ying Chang Compestine, modern young adult set in 1972, teen & Maoism, Cultural Revolution. Everythign I said above. Hard to put down.

The Tao of Pooh is good for older kids, not just adults

The Tao of Pooh is good for older kids, not just adults

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: both kids (middle grades) read it & really enjoyed it. Very simply written even though it’s an adult book on a complex topic.

China Chic in U.S. Magazine Ads

Who’s strategizing these full-page colorful China ads for American magazines? I’m struck by the sensibility – the Wall as raw, unspoiled, broken-down-&-dirty wildness, at odds with how 99.99% of folks will experience the Great Wall.

Trip on broken rocks at unrenovated Great Wall?

It’s like the eco-hiker sensibility, which is great, is the image. How we saw the Wall, with a hiking group, but very, very few visitors do. It’s great, though, we saw its wild sections, in snow, in autumn color. All the more power to Beijing Hikers. But since when is this China’s projected national image?Is the idea targeting the under-reached eco-traveler?

This ad also struck me – in a U.S. magazine, a full page ad for Moutai from Guizhou. Well, good. Never saw this before.

Brave enough to drink it?

Finally this last ad struck me, as well — for the Waldorf Astoria 5-star hotel chain, featuring a pretty young (chaste?) Chinese couple. In a U.S. magazine. Is the idea reaching Chinese visitors to the U.S.? Or is it that gorgeous Chinese models are the thing now in America? –How ironic that would be!!  — since in China the models are more often than not blue-eyed blondes!!

Be global chic: Be young, beautiful & Chinese.

Has a slim, sexy, doe-eyed young chinese couple become America’s new norm for chic, jet-set cool? I’m struck. I’m intrigued. I’m mystified.

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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.

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

Cow Pussy, & Other Mandarin Mysteries

Fabulously, Evaline Chao (byline: “a freelance writer based in New York City”) yesterday wrote a great piece of cultural translation — a philological analysis where we learn the layers of meaning embedded in new words in Chinese — for Foreign Policy:From House Slaves to Banana People – Seven new words that explain modern China.

Evaline Chao is author of Niubi: The real chinese you were never taught in school, which I’m going to buy for my son. (Philology is on my mind partly after seeing  the Israeli drama, “Footnote” (2011 foreign Oscar nominee) or הערת שוליים‎, He’arat Shulayim, which is all about how powerful it becomes to delve into a word’s meaning.) Chao’s book, the opening pages of which are readable online !,   precisely unpack, I’m delighted to say, TWO of our big life-in-China mysteries.
(1)  soccer vulgarity, which we pondered in “Dirty Words Football,” featuring tiny tots screaming “Vagina”
and
(2) repulsively inflated sheep carcasses — which we blogged about after almost vomiting at them in Lanzhou, at the edge of the Gobi. Evaline enlightens on page one:

“Cow Pussy, Yes, Cow Pussy

Let’s begin with…cow pussy. Or rather niubi (nyoo bee), which literally translates to “cow pussy” but means “fuckin’ awesome” or “badass” or “really fuckin’ cool.” Sometimes I means something more like “big” and “powerful,” and sometimes it can have the slightly more negative meaning of “bragging” or “braggart” or “being audacious,” but most of the time it means “fuckin’ awesome.”

The etymology of niubi is unknown…Some say the idea is that a cow’s pussy is really big, so things that are similarly impressive are called cow cunts. Others say that it stems from the expression chui niupi (chway nyoo pee), which literally translates to “blow up ox hide” and also connotes bragging or a braggard (someone who can blow a lot of hot air). In fact, the word for bragging is the first part of that phrase, chuiniu (chway nyoo). Once upon a time (an dyou can still see this done today in countries like Pakistan) — NOTE: ALSO IN NORTHWEST CHINA ON YELLOW RIVER– people made rafts out of animal hides that had to be blown up wit air so they would float. Such an activity obviously required one mights powerful set of lungs…”

But First, a Little Nosh

A monk’s ever-faithful white horse died here, hence White Horse Pagoda. Dunhuang, on the Silk Road in Gansu.

We could go on with the JewBu thing all day. Probably we will. But first, kippot off to David M. Bader for his Zen Judaism: For You, A little Enlightenment, from which I reproduce:

Be here now. Be someplace else later. Is that so complicated?
***

Tibetan plateau, Garze prefecture

***
To know the Buddha is the highest attainment. Second highest is to go to the same doctor as the Buddha.

***
To find the Buddha, look within. Deep inside you are ten thousand flowers. Each flower blossoms ten thousand times. Each blossom has ten thousand petals.
You might want to see a specialist.
***

Gobi desert, pagoda near Jiayuguan.

***
If you wish to know The Way, don’t ask for directions. Argue.
***
Though only your skin, sinews, and bones remain, though your blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet shall you meditate and not stir until you have attained full Enlightenment.
But first, a little nosh.
***
Zen is an end in itself. Your only goal must be the goal of having no goals, of striving not to strive.
“How is it possible to strive to not have goals?” you might ask. “Isn’t that itself a goal?”
Don’t be a smart aleck. You should be as goal-less and lacking in purpose as your cousin, the successful one.
***

Tibetan Hell’s Angels

JewBus or JuBus (Jewish Buddhists)

Ancient Hebrew scroll found in Mogao Buddhist Caves

What is a JewBu?
Jews and Buddhists have been hanging together for a long time. Take this scroll. he My rabbi (in email) tells me this scroll, it’s actually only a photo from a display, (the original was spirited away by tomb raiders in the ’20s, I think to the British Museum) is familiar (though the handwriting isn’t). It relates to Tashlich, the ceremony between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur when we throw breadcrumbs or pocket lint into moving water to symbolize being rid of our past sins. The priceless scroll is one of thousands discovered in a cache, later taken by European explorers. It’s from Mogao, or Cave of a Thousand Buddhas, a complex of almost 500 often-magnificent Buddhist caves used since 400 AD for meditation and worship, full of sky-high Buddha carvings, in the Gobi desert along the Silk Road near Dunhuang (map below). Holland Carter won a Pulitzer for this story in the Times on Mogao. There were Sanskrit, Tibetan, Mongolian, Chinese, Arabic scrolls…and our very own Hebrew.
Wherever you go, there you are.

Dunhuang, the nearest town (25 miles) from the Mogao Caves, is closer to Kirgyzstan than Korea–central Asia, not far from Pakistan and Eastern Mongolia. Around Dunhuang, the huge empty desert and Mingsha Dunes, it’s not that hard to imagine the caravans carrying the silk, the foods, the scrolls of many faiths and philosophies.

Buddhist nuns, Wutaishan, Shanxi province

China looks different through Jewish eyes. Our antennae pick up these ancient wavelengths and we feel our two people’s world-spanning presence and interaction. And we spend so much time in temples and Buddhist sights, because they’re most often China’s most richly interesting cultural treasures.

Buddhist caves at Yunggan, an early Buddhist cave

The JuBu experience is a path fairly well-trod, by practicing Jewish Buddhist thinkers such as Sylvia Boorstein. Who my rabbi emailed me about yesterday, as did my friend, the great Brooklyn author, journalist, “Sisterhood” blogger, guide to all things modern-Jewish-woman, Debra Nussbaum Cohen. The term JewBu was coined (or, popularized) by the poet Roger Kamanetz in his bestselling 1994 The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet’s Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India, a book I’ve always loved. It narrates the visit of Jewish leaders to Dharamasala, summoned by the Dalai Lama, so they might teach him how the Tibetans can survive culturally and religiously in their diaspora and exile. I had a meditation teacher when I was in high school, who’d just finished a decade at Tasajara, the Zen Buddhist farm retreat in California.

Ethan finds the character ‘Buddha’

(She was Jewish.) I haven’t thought about that 30-year-old time until I just wrote it but maybe that makes me a JewBu. The ‘American Buddhist’ classics she gave me Miracle of Mindfulness and of course the great Japanese monk Suzuki Roshi’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mindwere imprinted into my brain quite young. Perhaps this helps explain our frequent visits to Buddhist hallowed ground in China.

At Wutaishan…more on that another time

Yesterday I started reading Letters to a Buddhist Jew by Rabbi Akiva Tatz. I hope Kenny might read it as part of his bar mitzvah preparation. It begins with a story, not the rabbi’s own but a young man he knows:

“[The Dalai Lama] greeted me with his warm, loving smile and asked if I was Israeli.
‘Yes,’ I immediately answered.
‘Are you Jewish?’ he continued.
‘Indeed,’ I replied.
He was silent for a couple of minutes and then said: ‘You come from the most ancient wisdom…the source…You do not need to travel all the way here to seek the truth…You should return to your country and learn your religion well. Return here if you feel the need, but only after you have done so….’
At the time I was deeply disappointed and kept thinking: ‘Have I ventured all the way to Bihar to discover that I should learn Torah?’ ”

North peak, Wutaishan (Five-Peak Mountain), Shanxi

Of course, we should (learn Torah)–there’s never been any doubt, only a lack of time and commitment. We didn’t need to come to China to realize that. But here, we find ourselves slowly immersed in Buddhism and experience it becoming a filter for our Judaism, as in the other direction we see and feel Buddhism here (Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian) through the lens of our own ancient people. The JewBu (JuBew?) experience is an ad infinitumechoing hall of mirrors.

Temple cat, unafraid of temple lion

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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!

Jurassic Guangzhou

GuangWai Journalism lecture

Beijing is so dry, you’ll see people standing beside humidifiers rubbing mist on their faces. So while Guangzhou, in the south, may be best known for its adjacency to the Special Economic Zones, the first areas permeated by capitalism with Chinese characteristics, we were loving the jungle plants & moisture.

Colonial Xiamien Island, Guangzhou

Although Ethan, playing with a 2-foot wide leaf straight out of Jurassic Park, had an allergic reaction where all his skin began itching badly. Luckily, mom’s purse contains antihistamines–that’s why they call it ‘the ambulance.’

Wild park adjacent to Guangzhou Foreign Studies Univ, w/ Amy & Fred and Emma our host.

My host from the J-school, which offers courses in international reporting and multimedia, was incredibly gracious. About 300 students came to hear about Writing Better and the U.S. Media Crisis. Two questions from the Q&A (I paraphrase): “How can we get the government to stop controlling the media?” and “How will your government’s control of the media affect this year’s U.S. presidential elections?”

We squeezed in a bit of tourism, though the traffic was so bad we didn’t do much. It’s a giant city of about 13 million, home to the world’s tallest structure, a radio tower. The exhibition center was bigger than an airport. It has some pretty leftovers from the foreign occupiers and is said to have a strong international influence but it struck us as a very typical modern Chinese megalopolis…in the jungle.

Xiamien Island

Receiving gifts. Journalism prof. Emma Du, Guangzhou Foreign Studies U


Fantastic spending time with fellow Fulbrighter (art historian and Americanist) Amy Werbel and Fred Lane, and young Graham (fluent Mandarin speaker). They helped us reflect on how our perceptions of China, and we, have changed this year, and what Chinese habits we might like to adopt. Taking up less space…napping instead of caffeinating…lowering the volume of family – uh – discussions.

More on that soon.

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.

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.

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.

What Confucius Really Said

Confucius' simple burial mound

From intense parent-child bonds to–perhaps?–a tolerance for authority,* mainstream Chinese culture bears the Great Sage’s powerful imprint. His home was Qufu, an overnight trainride from Beijing. (*Highly contentious statement.)
Chinese friends we were with knew the ’24 Virtuous [Filial] Duties’ that Confucius says children must do for their parents:
– Give them medicine yourself (don’t have a servant do it).
– Give them your coat in winter.
– Carry rice for them.
– Give them deer milk. (I’ve begun upbraiding mine over this: ‘Again today no deer milk?’)
– Entertain them.
– Be brave enough to kill a tiger if it’s endangering them.
– Carry them on your back on a hard road.
– Guard their tombs.
– If mosquitoes are biting them at night, remove your clothes and sleep naked [so they’ll bite you].
But things get worse:
– If you get promoted to a high rank but the position is far away, say no [to the job].
– Taste shit to show your subjugation.
– Wash their chamberpot with your own hands.
– If one of your siblings dies, bury the child for your parents.
And finally:
– If they die and you don’t have the money for burial, sell yourself [into slavery].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(The Confucius Temple incorporates ‘pen’-like decorations; for the kids  the temple was a slide.)

Along with Confucian filial piety, his love of learning is a commonplace. China still venerates educators–even at the bank, where teachers are almost guaranteed mortgage approval.

Confucius valued knowledge,but not fame: “I will not be afflicted at men not knowing me; I will be afflicted that I do not know men.” (All the quotes are from our little children’s translation of some of The Analects.)

I teach, but never studied educational pedagogy. The visit offered many lessons: “The Master said, Not until he is eager to know, but feels difficulty, do I instruct; not until he wants to speak out, but fails to express himself, do I enlighten. If I present him one corner and he cannot from it infer the other three, I do not continue the lesson.”

And: “There are sprouts which can spring up but never flower; there are others which can flower but never bear fruit.”

Confucius wandered during his life, disappointed with various government jobs where people wouldn’t take his advice. He responds: “Is he not a man of lofty virtue who feels no annoyance though no one understands him?”

                                      

Confucius says your train’s on time.

He had faith in government, that it could – would, might — through virtue, win loyalty & achieve peace. But what if it doesn’t govern virtuously? Then he scorned it. But he scorned business even more: “The Master said, a superior man has a complete understanding of righteousness; the small man has a complete understanding of profit.”

Yet he became a source of power and profit after he died. High officials began marrying their daughters to Confucius’ descendants. Soon his thatched hut was a mansion beside the increasingly grand temple, as they linked their rule to his growing reputation. Though in his lifetime, the Sage would accept “no better present than a bundle of dried meat.”

Confucius can seem fastidious,a  perfectionist: An old, illustrated mural of his life at the temple says he played one song on an instrument for 10 days, though people begged him to stop, until he grasped it. Protocol violations drove him crazy — like vulgar music played at a diplomatic occasion. He hated utensils improperly arrayed. “Have no friends not equal to yourself,” the Master said.  He can seem priggish, like when he’s annoyed that people love beautiful girls more than virtue. Yet for Confucius ‘propriety’ wasn’t manners; it was a social contract, personal creed:

“Respectfulness, without the rules of propriety, becomes fussiness; caution, without the rules of propriety, becomes timidity; daring, without the rules of propriety, becomes turbulence; straightforwardness without the rules of propriety becomes harshness.”

And he could be ruthless, too, against the self: “When you have faults, do not fear to abandon them.” (And if you’ve been psychoanalyzed, you have to appreciate that word – “fear.”)

Confucius & family cemetery

          

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late in life, Confucius pondered the ages of man—a progression toward freedom, which he said could be ever-better exercised within (–despite? thanks to?–) constraint:

“Since the age of 15, I have devoted myself to learning; since 30, I have been well established; since 40, I have understood many things and have no longer been confused; since 50, I have known my heaven-sent duty; since 60, I have been able to distinguish right and wrong in other people’s words; and since 70, I have been able to do what I intend freely without breaking the rules.”

It resonates so for human life …while at the same time echos current language on China’s supposed-yet-not-really-happening progress toward liberalization. “Free[dom]…without breaking the rules”…

In his last days,  Confucius collated ancient documents, became a vegetarian, and prayed to the Big Dipper. He had amassed 3,000 disciples. Before he died, a rainbow turned into jade, which he received– a sign he was divine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the temple’s central hall’s main shrine, it’s painted: “He can be taught for 10,000 years.” The children we were with had been taught, and recited, their Confucius. Later we saw he was also selling liquor … and dream-interpretation videos.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Before we left, a Confucian poet-calligrapher in a shop there composed and painted, on-the-spot, this Confucian verse for our friend’s 7-year-old son:

Spring willow in the breeze. Teacher on a platform.

Don’t be distracted by nature. Base yourself in knowledge.

Your journey will be smooth. You’ll have a great prospect (a pun: your career & a view over a landscape).

Earth and sky are wide. You’re free.

If you’re really virtuous, you’re in control of everything.

Confucius says, Nice new Atticus Finch glasses, David!

Jews Built NE China?


Who knew?

Harbin, in northernmost China, was once a mini-Zion up in the snow, as if Michael Chabon’s imagined Alaska homeland in The Jewish Policemen’s Union had come to life. Harbin: the frozen chosen, indeed. A city rich in Jewish history, characters, gorgeous Jewish-built European architecture. Chinese Jewish life flowered gloriously, 1900-1950.

They arrived first in 1899 to present-day Heilongjiang Province, bordered on 3 sides by Russia, fleeing (like our ancestors) the Czar and pogroms. They took a rail line to Harbin from Vladivostok to the East. They called themselves Harbintsi.

1 of Harbin's synagogues

China welcomed them, so it seems; especially Israel Epstein (b. Poland, 1915) a‘40s revolutionary; he’s pictured in the museum here (housed in a former synagogue–the other synagogue is now a youth hostel!) with Mao, and in other shots with Hu Jintao, Deng Xiaopeng, etc. He married a Chinese woman and sat on China’s national legislative assembly. Who knew? Austrian-born Jacob Rosendal (also called in the museum, variously, Rosenfeld and Rosenfield) had a similar history; he fought with the People’s Liberation Army in ’41 and is pictured with legendary Liu Shaoqi, who signs the photo, “Beloved comrade.”

Jewish music teacher, Chinese pupils

Jews formed about 10% of Harbin (then-pop. 300,000 – now it’s 4 million) at their peak, 1920, having fled the Bolsheviks. (Numbers swelled again with Hitler’s rise.) They were mostly Russian; also Lithuanian, Polish, Swedish (a big Harbin Jew named Spiro was a Swede). Harbin Jews built a theater, cinema, printer, an art school called Lotus and several music schools (A leading musician was named Traktenberg) which trained Chinese as well as Jewish students and fed two local Jewish symphonies. Unlike Shanghai, a very quick refuge, this was a long-term affair. Jews built the electric company (1902) and oil refinery and involved themselves in governing (oilman S.H. Soskin sat on Harbin’s Legislative Assembly). They (can I say “we”?) managed the horse race track and operated a Jewish-Chinese Friendship Association. Jewish-owned factories made cigarettes, textiles, flour … and Harbin Beer! (Harbin Joint Beer & Beverages, founded 1905).


They created banks, department stores, insurance companies, hotels. On streets with Russian names you could find the Jewish bakery, watch shop, clothing shop, optics shop, musical instrument shop and pharmacy. E.A. Katz ran the restaurant. In the 1920s the museum says, they were Harbin leaders in education, engineering, law, newspapering and medicine; “They were the founders of Harbin’s industry.” (Harbin remains a prosperous town reliant on heavy industry.) Tycoons included the owners of Muling Coal, and of Songhuajiang Flour (founders: Kagan & Ginsberg). Jewish businesses exported sugar, wood & soybean oil. The largest exporter, Skidelski (Schidelsky), a soybean specialist, today has a descendant in the House of Lords; their company kept offices in Harbin, London & Vladivostok.

A few other Harbin Chinese Jewish institutions:
Harbin Siberian Jewish Culture Library
The Far East Jewish Commercial Bank, Harbin Jewish People’s Bank and the Harbin-American Bank (founded by Osibov).
The Old Synagogue (1918) and the New Synagogue (1931), the biggest in China.
Harbin Betar
Harbin Jewish Hospital

The Women’s Charitable Relief Organization (1906); chairwomen Grossman, Kaufman and Schwartz.
An art school (the museum was full of old oil paintings; Harbin Jews, it said, “were very choosy about displays [décor] and paid great attention to social manners and their children’s art education.”)

Jewish Middle School


Many of the beautiful, Jewish-built old buildings recall Paris. They’ve been renovated and form a lovely old pedestrian quarter near the River, which is like nothing we’ve seen anywhere in China. (As in all big Chinese cities, you pass MaxMara, Louis Vuitton, Salvatore Ferragamo, MontBlanc…and McDonald’s.)



One original macher, Kaufman, had a son who was a Harbin doctor. His wife gave birth in 1961 to the last Jew born in Harbin. “They brought Western culture and advanced science and technology to Harbin,” the museum says. Then they wandered onward — Israel (Ehud Olmert’s family were Harbintsi), England, the U.S. In a bit of overstatement, the museum calls Harbin “a foundation for [Jews’] economic life in Europe and America.”

One part of the museum acquaints visitors more generally with this little-known people known as “Jews.” Pictured on an eclectic “wall of fame,” amusingly in no particular order, hundreds of portraits including:

Leonard Bernstein, Jonas Salk, Yascha Heifetz, Marc Chagall, Steven Speilberg, Modigliani, Brandeis, Martha Graham (Jewish?), Martin Buber, Adolf Ochs, Disraeli, Kafka (perhaps in a uniquely Chinese Freudian slip — twice), Freud, Claude Levi-Strauss, Walter Benjamin (pictured), several Israelis (Ben Gurion, Weitzman, Jabotinsky, Hertzl) and – not to be forgotten – Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky and Marx. Einstein gets his own corridor. And last but not least, holding his own: Mark Spitz.

In Harbin, China, Jews took shelter, survived. Flourished.

More than Keifeng’s Silk Road Jews or the brief refuge found in Shanghai — Harbin makes you see China in a really different way.

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.

Lecture-Circuit Lessons

Lecture trip - Urumqi


I’d never “lectured”–teaching doesn’t count. Fulbright requires it, to spread widely whatever we know. I’m on a tear while David (through April) covers at home. When not traveling or teaching my own 60 students–grading-arm cramp!!–I just sleep. (Or watch Breaking Bad, our post-Downton Abbey obsession.)


I’m grateful for the challenge: Figuring out what I could offer a given group, & packaging it right. In Urumqi, the far-western capital of Xinjiang province (of Turkic, and other minorities, bordering Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan), I talked to a College of Foreign Languages that doesn’t have one native English speaker on faculty. I also lectured to ed majors there–future English teachers. The ad was a crazy big 10-foot billboard!

The hall of 250 filled. It was optional, so apparently they value the topics, communicating better in written and spoken English (with lots of Q&A). I also donated journalism books, in a nice ceremony. Shipped by the State Department, donated by New York friends in publishing. English journalism textbooks are impossible to come by here. Too subversive.


It’s a huge blessing reaching people who want, need what we have to give. And of course getting, in return, the connection — “Only connect” — across culture, language, the globe, and the rising, angry superpower-rival ignorance and blind prejudice (See: Mike Daisey). (Had we a basic level of respect, understanding, accurate information, our many legitimate human-rights criticisms would have far more power and credibility.)

Another lecture was at Shanghai’s University of Finance & Economics, for all their economic journalism MA students. Lecturing is an intensely focused few hours, almost performative. Afterwards we take pictures.

I really appreciate what journalism gives us–at the intersection of news, economics, the digital revolution, language, communication. My Shanghai talks were ‘Future of News,’ and ‘Why Business Journalists Missed the Financial Crisis.’ Yeah — 20/20 hindsight, shooting ducks in a barrel. Still, juicy.

The Bund

David came. It was a whirlwind day and a half.


Coming next: lectures in coastal Qingdao (of beer fame–Germany’s old concession), Guangzhao (1.5 hours from Hong Kong; I’ll bring the boys), and possibly elsewhere. Fulbright organizes many invitations.
I’m also guest lecturing around Beijing’s universities, and at the embassy’s cultural/education office (the Beijing American Center–the nice tables below). Last night: For scholars hoping to get into U.S. grad schools, on writing their personal statements (a foreign concept here!). The next will be better English writing for Chinese businesspeople. Huge demand.

Back at my own university, we’ve begun (nearly) weekly class lunches at the faculty canteen, where I can host a banquet for 10 for about $30. Another time for sharing, interaction, in an informal setting to break through their classroom shyness. Knowing I love and miss my garden, they gave me a teeny potted plant seedling — one delicate stem with 3 tiny leaves.

A good metaphor for our relationship, we Chinese and Americans.

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

Shaolin-Bound


We’re leaving momentarily for the night train to visit the Shaolin Temple (and nearby sights over 3 days, like Longmen giant Buddha caves, & ancient capital of Luoyang). In province of Henan.

…not to be confused with Hunan…or Hainan. Or Yunan. (Or since it’s Purim: Haman.)

More monk obsession. News soon.

Way-out-Western (Chinese) Barbeque

Ethnic separatist politics are hot in the Western Xinjiang province, where I lectured.

But possibly hotter? Their barbequed lamb.

They have amazing spicy lamb kabob everywhere, sold from these beautifully decorated metal street stands. Here, photos of the grill masters, and the blacksmiths who make the lamb kabob kiosks, in the Uigur (a Turkic people) quarter of the capital city, Urumqi.

This is a nan (bread) oven.

(PLEASE: Don’t click any spam-hacker links that may be embedded here, or in notification email. We were hacked. Ignore as we try to get rid of it! Sorry for the trouble.)

Bespoke (David)

He'd rather be biking

David is very tall. Also his arms are long, so clothing sometimes doesn’t fit. His wardrobe, while timeless in one sense (khakis, herringbone tweed, blue shirts) is also mostly of the 20-year-old, Salvation Army variety.

The man and his khakis

Not that there’s anything wrong with that!!

Still. For his birthday, we dragged him to a Chinese tailor for his first-ever custom-made clothing.

The tailor is making him a sports jacket, a cashmere overcoat, and a set of shirts. I don’t want to overdo the joy at underpaid Chinese labor, but let’s just say, Lands End wouldn’t sell you a jacket for the price of this package. Which will fit!

Happy birthday, honey!

In sports-casual mode

Bad Ideas–Like Bullets in Your Suitcase

Stupidest thing we’ve done: Checking Ethan’s toy airplane (swear, I thought it was brass tubes), in a suitcase & learning–while being briefly searched & detained at the airport–it was made of bullets.

Don't fly with bullets

We Blue-Eyed Devils aren’t so hated anymore. (The moniker dates to the Opium Wars; it actually is devilish to use addicting a country to heroin as a tactic for redressing a trade imbalance.) Now kids at KFC and McDonald’s, and young parents with toddlers enrolled in “Disney English” language schools wear all-American Abercrombie, Gap, Lauren, and Hilfiger. Or this:

So hot, so sexy

At Beijing’s Silk Market, where half (3/4?) the goods are pirated (Louis Vuitton bags for a few bucks, Adidas & Nikes for $20; new movies and DVDs for 80 cents), there’s a new sign of the times at the gate: Pirating is not OK! In place of enforcement, banners. Be Law-Abiding!

Protect Intellectual Property Rights!

Increase awareness!


P.S. We call him “Tongue Dog.” He lives on campus.

We love Tongue Dog

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

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.

Gunpowder! Explosives! NBA!

Warning unheeded

My kids are in sync with the Lunar New Year celebrations: They’re obsessed with explosions. We refuse to allow them (of course) but it doesn’t matter. People give them huge roman candles, or tiny ones you throw. Unless I chained them in a room I couldn’t prevent them setting off firecrackers. They’ve been ecstatically joining groups setting them off day and night. Small packs, giant boxes. They’re 3 feet long rockets or poppers the size of a match. Twice they joined a group of youths with enough to last an hour. Terrifying — I hid leaving Dad in charge. One kid has been coughing ever since he couldn’t outrun the smoke. It’s not even a city yet we hear fireworks almost nonstop, so it sounds like war. Flying last night, from the air we saw little explosions in every direction. The red paper leavings are everywhere, like the petals of spent cherry trees.*

Firecracker remains, Fuli

Tiny Chinese kids set off fireworks, some maybe only 3 years old. The fireworks packages are decorated with cartoon characters. (Maybe they were older…as Chinese folks seem to think our kids are 3 years older than they are — perhaps these little ones I saw I underestimated their age by 3 years. Our size differential is an unexpected cultural disconnect.) We saw these babes with gunpowder in a Guanxi farming hamlet, Stone Village.