Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hangzhou Below and West Lake, too

You may remember from an earlier post that the Chinese have an expression, "Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below." I cannot disagree. A year ago, I caught a small glimpse of Suzhou, but this year over the May holiday (now three weeks ago!), I went to Hangzhou. I am finally getting around to writing about it.

This picture gives you a flavor for the area. Credit:

It is a marvelous city, though hot and humid for most of three seasons and bone-chillingly cold in the winter. The weather was perfect for a walk around the West Lake (Xi Hu). The views of the Leifeng Pagoda were breathtaking and this picture does no justice.

There were hundreds of boats available. It was pretty penny to take a ride in one of these man-powered ones so we took a bigger motor boat.

The iconic location that the poet Su Shi created to keep people from planting water lilies or lotuses in a certain area is marked by three stone markers that anybody who has been to China will recognize from the flip-side of the one yuan note.

This interesting sculpture was constantly over-run by tourists waiting their turn for a picture.

Actually, if you want to see a lot of people, head to West Lake on a holiday weekend. As far as the eye can see along the causeway, it is shoulder-to-shoulder.

One of the most infuriating things that I saw was an ignoramus throw his lit cigarette at a peacock to force it to display. It took two doves of peace to succeed at this effort, though. I shot some video and wish that I had taken more close-ups of this regal bird.

I daresay the rear end of a peacock is nearly as attractive as the front.

The hostel where we stayed for our second night was delightful; out of the hubbub, but near everything. The staff were friendly and helpful. There were old buses with rigid wooden seats that had been modernized slightly, but still had English buttons that said "Retarder Dash." I don't know why that amused me. Maybe somebody who knows something about cars can edify me about what this button does.

Instead of going to the Leifeng Pagoda, we went, on the recommendation of a local denizen, to the ancient Lingyin Temple. You should read about it. Some of the most amazing sites were not photographable...unless I wanted to act like dozens of disrespectful Chinese tourists, who had their flashes flashing inside the five great halls.

There were a lot of really ancient things here. This Lingjiu Pagoda seemed to be among them. Master Hui Li is said to be buried beneath it. He was the founder of Lingyin Temple. It is the only pagoda in Hangzhou that can be traced back to the Ming Dynasty. It is hexagonal and seven stories tall.

There were fantastic laughing Buddhas and beautiful meditating Buddhas.

This picture was taken by my companion, as were the photographs of the temple itself (below).

This picture was taken by me inside a stone cave.
Please enjoy these pictures and let me know if you have questions about Lingyin Temple or Hangzhou.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mark Bittman is Right

My skills development class, which focuses on critical thinking, was assigned to prepare for a debate. There were three groups and one of the groups was focused on climate. The question presented: whether it's too late to avoid catastrophic events that will extinct the human species. (Debating climate science is so 1984.) Another topic was whether or not humans should eat meat so I have been following the New York Times essay contest--Calling All Carnivores: Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest--closely. (Here are the responses from the winner and the finalists.)

I read the public editor's follow-up piece, In the Middle of a Food Fight, with interest and today Mark Bittman, who was one of the illustrious judges along with Peter Singer and Michael Pollan, weighs in.

He reports, "Meat consumption in China is now twice what it is in the United States (in 1978 it was only one-third). We still eat twice as much per capita as the Chinese, but when they catch up they’ll consume more than four times as much as we do." But one commenter, Marilyn Diamond of Miami, FL, has written:
Eat like the Chinese used to eat? That caused 150 million cases of diabetes in China! The Lancet warned in 2011 that by 2030 the cases of diabetics will rise so dramatically in the U.S,, the cost of care will bankrupt our government. Think of the suffering! With negligence in caring for diabetes comes a 76% greater risk of heart attack, blindness, neuropathy and amputations, and kidney failure.

When we eat less meat, we are hungry. We guzzle soda, snack on junk, eat bread, chips, cookies, potatoes, sugar and all kinds of junk carbs. Then comes obesity, insulin resistance...and diabetes.

I was a vegan for nearly 25 years. I encouraged my meat-eating husband to follow my lead. After 18 years, I had wasted my skeletal and heart muscle to the point that I suffered from serious sarcopenia and anxiety attacks, emaciation and depression. My husband was diagnosed in 2009 with Type 1 Diabetes--with a Hba1c reading 1/2 of 1% point from death. Six months later, under stress, he had a near fatal diabetic heart attack.

There is great risk in cutting out meat for "ethics" and philosophy. Both my husband and I have rebuilt our bodies on a meat-based/plant rich, low carb diet. We'd never turn back. We've reversed decades of aging.

Subsidize organic meat generously, end corn/soy subsidies, ban Monsanto, replace corn crops with grass for grazing, fund community gardens, reforest our nation! Start there! Change the world by making things better, not taking away our most ancient food. 
I think the question is complicated. In his usual take-no-prisoners style, my friend (and Project Laundry List board member) John Ranta writes:
Bittman takes a very simplistic and naive view of meat as food. Here in New Hampshire, raising pasture fed meat is far more sustainable than raising many vegetables, grains and fruit. The soil here is thin, the growing season for vegetables is short. We can't grow grains, and we can barely grow most vegetables without pouring fosil fuel energy and effort into greenhouses and other mechanical aids. But we can raise beef, lamb, pork and chicken easily. Pasture fed meat requires no tractors, no tilling, no fertilizers, no artificial warmth or cover from frost. Raising pasture fed meat requires no weeding and little in the way of cultivation and harvesting. In New Hampshire, pasture fed beef, lamb, chicken and pork is far more efficient at converting solar energy into food than is vegetable or grain farming. Granted, this reality doesn't fit into the Bittman's mythology that "meat is bad and vegetables are good", but nonetheless is it true.
What do you think?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Credible Sources

The New York Times hosted this ad, which means they took money from the people who created it. Does that cut into the credibility of The New York Times? Does it help America to be more free or does it undermine principals and school boards across the nation, who have decided that Facebook, YouTube, etc. are distractions for their students?

I hope that many of you will weigh in.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nanjing, Nanking, Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

So, if you go for oysters and I go for ersters
I'll order oysters and cancel the ersters.
For we know we need each other,
So we better call the calling off off!
Let's call the whole thing off!       
                                                         -Louis Armstrong
Teaching English or the King's English, that is the question? Ay, there's the rub. My father says tah-mah-to (his mother was British); my Pilgrim-stock mother, toe-may-to. Is it honourable for an American to ask for aubergine? Is Greenwich really the centre of the world?

The old capital of China is Nanjing, but you will often see it spelled as Nanking in old documents. Like Beijing (formerly, Peking) this change is due to one of the great things Mao did--formalized Pinyin, a romanized system for teaching simplified Chinese. My friend, who is Chinese, could not understand the people in Nanjing and Hangzhou sometimes, because of their accents. One of the interesting parts of China is that the Mandarin, where Mandarin is even spoken, varies tremendously. Reputedly, Changchun and Harbin are among the best places for standard putonghua (aka Mandarin). If you go to Beijing, the accent is long on the er (儿)sound. I don't know how to characterize the Southern dialect.

Not only do the people speak funny, but they stared at us unabashedly. Perhaps, it was her beauty, but I am fairly sure it was my immutable melanin that attracted attention. Maybe I have mentioned before that there were vacationing families in Beijing that approached me for a picture and sometimes in Changchun I will walk past somebody or see somebody craning his neck back in a bus window to inspect the funny-looking white guy, but in Beijing and Changchun (and, of course, in Shanghai) that is the exception. On a holiday weekend in Nanjing and Hangzhou, it was the rule.

Anybody, who has traveled with somebody knows there are certain challenges. Anybody, who knows me, knows there might be more. All was well on Sunday when we got to Nanjing on the train before noon, as planned. We got on to a bus and I even said, "Wow, everything is going so smoothly." We got off the bus and walked into the hostel where we thought we had reservations. Full. We had come to the wrong place and it took us another hour or two to get to the right place, get checked in, hang our wet laundry about the room (the night prior, I had foolishly hung it out to dry hours before a 3AM Shanghai thunderstorm) before we could set out again. We could choose one thing to do with our little time. We headed in the direction of Purple-Golden Mountain and eventually to the gate of the Ming Tomb, where I had to implore my friend to come with me rather than sit down on a bench and wait two hours while I toured the area inside. In the end, it was more fun with two than one; I think we would both agree.

The Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum is the tomb of the Hongwu Emperor, the founder of the Ming Dynasty. We began by walking up the Sacred Way--an 1800-meter-long winding path that starts near the Sifangcheng pavilion. It includes two major sections: the Elephant Road and the Wengzhong Road. The Elephant Road is lined by 12 pairs of 6 kinds of animals (lions, xiezhi, camels, elephants, qilin, and horses), guarding the tomb. One pair stands; the other sits.

There was a beautiful field of green grass as green and as large as any I have seen since coming to China. The plant-life was fantastic, including this Japanese maple.

A man fishes peacefully with a very long rod

At one point, we looked up and the "Heavens [were] telling the Glory of God."

We had a lively debate about whether this shape was the same as the China Railway logo. (It is not, but it is close.)

We snapped pictures of the typical which is also the sublime.

...and I acted like a tourist
Afterwards, we took a bus back towards our hostel and found a wonderful place for dinner. We were looking for something local--a small, clean restaurant with local dishes, but decided to take a quick detour into a mall that sold Gucci and Luis Vuitton and every other luxury brand you can imagine.

A Great Meal

Picture yourself on the seventh or eighth floor of a high-end mall in the former capital of China, Nanjing. If you peered over the balcony into the foyer, you might see a piano that looked like a car, replete with hood ornament:

My terrible picture of a piano that looks more like a car.
The restaurant was sort of a Chinese version of The Cheesecake Factory in terms of the cacophony and the trumped up ambience. They had a couple of older women playing the pipa and singing as you waited your turn:

It was chaos. I think we were Number 86 for tables of two. We ordered a meal that far outstripped the Peking Duck Restaurant in Beijing. It included something that looked like a small lobster, but was bigger than the crayfish to which I am accustomed:

There are about six layers of staff and each has a different costume (like police in Beijing). Here they are ladling out soup.

It was a huge place with seating that wrapped around half the top level of the mall. When it is your turn to sit, you follow the man with the paddle, who is in nearly constant motion.

The Morning After: A Gate to the Past

Altogether, our time in Nanjing was okay; however, if we did it again, we would not have tried to cram three cities into six days. Nanjing would be the casualty. Our hostel was in an old munitions factory that is a long way from becoming the 798 Art District of the southern capital, despite its best efforts. The people were not overly helpful or friendly.

Down the hill from our hostel was a very famous gate and we paused to take pictures of it before hurrying off to do one more thing before our fast train to Hangzhou. It may be the only place in China where you can take a picture of something famous and not spot a few people in the frame. My companion claimed that it was in her history textbook as a child.


around year 1862
built by Lihongzhang
during the Westernization Movement

Crossing the Yangtze

In the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Museum, there were images of the bridge in Nanjing.

I wanted to cross the Yangtze and I wanted to see this mighty bridge. My initial intention for this May Day trip had been to meet a Vermont Law School LL.M. candidate, who is studying in Wuhan, and see the Three Gorges Dam. This bridge might be the second most significant human achievement (though with far fewer ecological effects) to span the Long River. This was my chance to cross.

We hooked a cab at the on-ramp to the bridge. I sat in front and shot pictures of the famous abutments and the statuary. When we got to the other side, we found a bus that would take us directly to the train station for departure to Nanjing. 

bad weather or bad pollution?
The metalwork was fabulous. The large number of barges going up and down the river, mind-boggling.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ancient Town and Modern Propaganda

On my first full day in Shanghai I went to Qibao Ancient Town from the lovely hostel where we stayed. The Rock & Wood Hostel was so amazing that we begged them to allow us to come back for one more night before we flew home. It had an award for cleanliness hung on the wall from and it deserved it. The delightful fish pool with a boardwalk. It had a long table and an airy, light-filled space, decent drinks and fried rice. Furthermore, the staff were friendly and attentive and the bed was tremendous. What else can you ask for in life...or in a hostel?

Qibao Ancient Town

School of Ancient Arts (
A guzheng
After meandering into the area from the state-of-the-art subway system, we came across a school that teaches the Game of Go (aka weichi); how to play the pipa, erhu and guzheng, as well as other traditional Chinese instruments; the art of tea; and how to do calligraphy and traditional painting. If you mastered the four skills qin (instrument), qi (Game of Go), shu (write in calligraphy), and hua (paint), you were considered a lady. The sentence in Chinese is 琴棋书画样样精通, which essentially means that if you were a girl from a respectable family, you had to master these four arts.

Qibao is full of places to shop and is famous with locals for its food, but for me it was also a treasure trove of fascinating history. I bought a ticket for 30RMB that allowed me to see eight sites. My friend went shopping and bought a beautiful dress for herself.

We bought a pig foot (good for your skin) at this stall.
It was hard to forgo these chicken legs and quails, but...

...this salt dome was filled with hard-boiled quail eggs and we devoured a small bag of these for breakfast the next morning.

One museum was about cricket fighting; another had a collection of more than 1,000 doll-house sized, traditional Chinese objects and relics; there was a pawn shop museum; still another walked you through the history of cotton textiles. The most interesting display here was a wax figure jumping up and down on a stone. Historically, he would have had the nearly finished textile beneath his feet and the jumping up and down would have given it a sheen..

One museum was similar to the Shanghai History Museum in that it had wax figures performing various crafts and domestic tasks.

This (waxen) man makes scales and has, obviously, an abacus and some tea on his work table.

At the entrance to the historic area, there was a bell tower, to which my ticket granted entrance. Like a child, I ascended and rang the bell. I was alone in the bell tower and it was peaceful.

I shot some lousy footage on my Blackberry at the museum about shadow puppets. There was an adorable, Jewish-looking French family with two curly-haired cherub boys and a girl accompanied by a stunning Chinese tour guide. She wrangled with the proprietor who opened the room where they sometimes do shows and the docent did a minute-long demonstration of shadow-puppetry from behind the screen.

Zhang Chongren
Finally, there was the Zhang Chongren Memorial Hall. Zhang Chongren was an accomplished sculptor and painter whose subjects included Francois Mitterand and Deng Xiaoping. He was also a noted painter. The museum has been open since 2003 and is inside a Ming-Qing Dynasty style brick and wood courtyard. His influence on Hergé, the creator of TinTin, is why he is best remembered in Europe. Wikipedia reports:
Hergé's early Tintin albums were highly dependent on stereotypes for 'comedic' effect. These included evil Russian Bolsheviks, black Africans as lazy and dumb, and an America of gangsters and cowboys and Indians.
At the close of the newspaper run of Cigars of the Pharaoh, Hergé had mentioned that Tintin's next adventure (The Blue Lotus) would bring him to China. Father Gosset, the chaplain to the Chinese students at the University of Leuven, wrote to Hergé urging him to be sensitive about what he wrote about China. Hergé agreed, and in the spring of 1934 Gosset introduced him to Zhang Chongren. The two young artists quickly became close friends, and Zhang introduced Hergé to Chinese history, culture, and the techniques of Chinese art. As a result of this experience Hergé would strive, in The Blue Lotus and subsequent Tintin adventures, to be meticulously accurate in depicting the places Tintin visited.

Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre

I really enjoyed meeting the proprietor of the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre. I asked him about how he got into it and I also asked if he had granted interviews. He referred me to his website and showed me his prized possession, which was a dazibao. We had an interesting conversation about the mistakes of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He acknowledges that China would be very different were it not for Deng.

His touching website description says:
Dazibao (Big Character Poster) Art
This collection of hundreds of Dazibao (Big Character Posters) came to me just by chance when they were used as wrapping paper for Cultural Revolution artifacts and photos that I obtained. When I unwrapped them, and saw these Dazibao, I was shocked. They no longer looked as they once did when they were posted on walls to rally public opinion for political struggles. Now they resembled freehand contemporary art. I have no intention of reading these pieces now, but just enjoy their art form. They are so special and beautiful.

Such posters were the most powerful artworks of the Cultural Revolution. Each one represents the fear, violence, paranoia and chaos of that era. It was a time in which students denounced teachers as reactionaries, either because the students actually believed those accusations or because they feared that any student who did not do so would be considered a rightist-sympathizer.

Many of the posters were imaginative creations. They bore almost no link to any truth, yet had a powerful ability to drag the physical world into their illusions. In fact, Dazibao were created by Mao as a weapon in the Cultural Revolution. China is the birthplace of paper, and Mao always thought of himself as a calligrapher. Perhaps he was the only person in history to start a revolution with a paper and pen. Describing these works of calligraphy as pieces of art, as opposed to historical documents, brings up ethical considerations about what art can be used for and what it can do.

Dazibao suddenly disappeared after the Cultural Revolution, as people hated what they stood for, and nobody saw them as having any value as an art form. After finding this collection, I put ads all over the country seeking other original Dazibao peeled from walls. Nobody replied to my ads, because such posters are so rare now. Our collection is probably the only one like it in the world.

I was a university student during the Cultural Revolution. The school campus was full of Dazibao, posted on walls. Even today, when I close my eyes, I can still see them vividly in my mind. I never expected that, years later, I would be showing Dazibao as art. I smile with satisfaction when visitors walk into the exhibition room and express great surprise upon seeing the collection. I am very proud to be the first person to discover the art value of Dazibao. These posters are unsurpassed as people’s art, not only as a historical witness of the Cultural Revolution, but also as priceless treasures of Chinese contemporary art.
Also, the museum had a large number of posters focused on American "imperialism" and he has a huge collection of Mao busts. There are some lovely posters of Shanghai ladies from the early- to mid-Twentieth Century, as well.

Friday, May 4, 2012

What Can I Say?

A number of friends have asked me to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Chen Guangcheng. I think my friend, Bill Bishop, has done an excellent job of asking the tough questions at his blog Sinocism. The New York Times has run a great cartoon by Patrick Chappatte of the International Herald Tribune:

A number of people have all asked me to weigh in on the controversy surrounding Neil Heywood's death. This is, by far, the more interesting story, but I have nothing new to say about this so would recommend that you sign up (and contribute) for Bill Bishop's Sinocism blog if you want to read the latest rumors, analysis, scuttlebutt, etc. There is no question that the future of China will be affected profoundly by how this all works out. I hope and pray that nobody else gets hurt.

If you have questions about these topics, you may post them as comments on this entry. I will do my best to respond in an accurate and diplomatic fashion.