Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Flying Tigers and Shenawlt

Before going to Chongqing, I had never heard of Chennault, despite his appearing on the cover of Time and Life during the course of the Second World War. I had heard of Four-Star General Joseph Stilwell, relieved of command by FDR in 1944, but was not familiar with Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault (September 6, 1893 – July 27, 1958). In one of the most infamous internecine debates of the war, Stilwell differed as to strategy with his subordinate, Claire Chennault, who had the ear of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In the end, Chiang Kai-shek asked FDR to recall Stilwell and replace him with anybody else, because "Vinegar Joe", who would die of stomach cancer a couple years later, could not cooperate with his Allies or Chinese leadership. 

A contentious officer, Chennault was a fierce advocate of "pursuit" or fighter-interceptor aircraft during the 1930s when the U.S. Army Air Corps was focused primarily on high-altitude bombardment. Chennault retired in 1937, went to work as an aviation trainer and adviser in China, and commanded the "Flying Tigers" during World War II, both the volunteer group and the uniformed units that replaced it in 1942. His family name is French and is normally pronounced shen-o. However, his family being Americanized, the name was instead pronounced "shen-AWLT."

My photograph of the bust of Gen. Stilwell on a rainy Thursday morning in Chongqing.
In Chongqing, there are two museums right across from each other. The one that gets the attention and glory is the headquarters of Stilwell, but there is so little to see and I was reprimanded for taking pictures of the sparsely furnished apartments. Across the street is the gem: the museum of the Flying Tigers. Lots of fairly well-written captions and a series of photographs brought me up to speed and filled me in about the air campaign in Burma during WWII. If the two museums would combine and seek some serious donations of planes and other paraphernalia, this sleepy little street could become one of the most important tourist stops in the city.

Further down this 1.5 lane, two-way byway is the gate to the property that served as the headquarters of Stilwell.

The entrance to the Flying tigers Museum could easily be missed.

The baseball bat used by the Flying Tigers. Sooo cool!

The dining room of the Stilwell residence. The only picture I was able to capture.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

For the Gorgeous San Xia!

I bought a book: The Magnificent Three Gorges Project. It was 120RMB with ten postcards thrown in for free. It is in dreadful Chinglish and the preface, signed by "Editors", concludes with:
  • For workers of the Three Gorges Project!
  • For people move out of their hometown in reservoir area!
  • For friends who loves the Three Gorges!
  • For the originators who brought culture here!
  • For the grandness Three Gorges Project!
  • For the eternal Three Gorges!
This chant should give you a sense of the book's perspective. There is even a section on how the dam is ready for the "menace of war." The book opens with the magnificent Mao Zedong's magnificent poem, called "Swimming" scrawled in his magnificent calligraphy.

Ma Zedong's "Swimming"
In 1956, the year my nearly eighty year-old father graduated from Harvard ("tough as nails, hard a bricks"), Mao is said to have offered a blueprint for the project, but the people of the Yangtze River valley would need to wait until 1992 for the National People's Congress to resolve that it should be constructed. Even Sun Yat-sen had designs on tapping the power of China's greatest river.

Lonely Planet, among other unreliable sources, contends that it is the largest dam in the world. By only one measure is it so. It has the world's largest instantaneous generating capacity (22,500 MW), with the Itaipu dam in Brazil/Paraguay in second place (14,000 MW). The highest dam is an earthen embankment type dam of 300 M in Tajikistan. Hirakud Dam in Orissa, India, is the longest in the world. It is 26 km or 16 miles long. Also, the Afsluitdijk in the Netherlands, build between 1927 and 1932, is 30 km long [32.5 km if you take the parts on land into account]. It divides the Zuiderzee [now called IJsselmeer] and the Waddenzee so it is really a dam, not a dijk.

It is not the largest lock in the world, either. It takes about 40 minutes to go through each of the five steps. This picture shows the second set of doors closing aft of the Princess Jeannie (our cruise ship), followed by a picture taken several minutes later that shows how it drains.

Of course, the beautiful parts of the Three Gorges are what remains of the natural environment.

One of the only places in the world where water flows uphill! (Just kidding.)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ad from the Chongqing Rail Transit

For obvious reasons, I am dedicating this entry to my parents, but with the caveat that I would find this ad repulsive in the United States, but in the land of Confucian filial piety, I find it even more horrendous and distasteful. Perhaps I am giving the Lee's what they want by sharing their ad. I hope not.

China and Building an Ecological Civilization

Global Trends Informing A Twenty Year Plan for Ecological Transformation

by Roy Morrison (Director, Office for Sustainability, Southern New Hampshire University)

 "We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide. I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.” Thomas Edison, 1931.

“47 days of desert sun would be equivalent to all known fossil fuel reserves, and 274 days would be the equivalent to all known and expected resources. The deserts have more potential in one year than all fossil fuels ever recoverable on the planet. Of course, that is on top of whatever solar and other renewable capacity is developed outside of the desert areas.” Gerhard Knies, 2006.

China in the 21st century is rapidly emerging as global industrial and economic leader, and faces challenges and opportunities that ultimately will be understood as representing the successful transformation from an industrial to an ecological civilization, or, alternatively, the descent into an epochal ecological crisis.

China, if it seizes the opportunity, can become the prosperous and sustainable leader of a growing global ecological civilization in the 21st century and beyond. The technology, the knowledge, the entrepreneurial energy,and the financial resources are available to accomplish this transformation. But this will require major changes in current path of economic development in China, and in the rest of industrial civilization.

(read the rest at

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Yangtze River Cruise on the Princess Jeanne

This post has some words that may not please your mother so be forewarned.

A lot has happened since I last updated you. Instead of going on the Chinese tour that left at 4PM on Saturday, I joined a 4-Star international tour which departed at 10PM after a 6:30PM boarding call. When I spoke to the necessary middleman who books tours for Tina's Hostel, I was already in the car sitting in the backseat. He did what so many of us do and started calling or texting and crashed the car! I think I am alright, but had a doozie of a headache till bedtime. We did not get hit from behind luckily, but he did serious cosmetic damage and destroyed at least a tire and probably a rim. Unfortunately, he did not know how to change a tire so yours truly did it. We hoisted the spare out of the boot and stayed in the left fucking lane, despite a municipal employee who stopped in his street-sweeper to say we should move over to the breakdown in front of two large trucks that were parked there. We were so close to the curb (perhaps a centimeter or two more than the width of the tire) that we could not turn the jack handle properly and the whole process took a long time, but just as I tightened the lug nuts, his friend showed up. He drove us to the headquarters where the bargaining commenced. I talked them down from 3000 to 2000RMB for this tour, which fulfills a life-long dream of mine, but I still think that I was ripped off.

Amusingly, aside from a group of eight German undergraduates ranging in age from 22 to 24 or so, the only other waiguoren is from Spain. Accompanying the Germans is a Swede; they are all international law students in Beijing. Mr. Sesma, the Spaniard, and Mr. Lee share a table for two (the only occupied table for two) in the dining room that is located right where everybody must parade past. It is embarrassing!

It is the Golden Week or combined holiday of Mid-Autumn Festival, which fell on September 30 this year, and National Day. Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration of the moon commemorated by the re-telling of the story of Chang'an and by eating moon cakes. I snapped this photograph of the moon on October 1st, as it was going down in the morning.

Sunrise on National Day, taken from the deck of our cruise boat.

The meals on board ship are excellent and we even had a half mooncake each for supper last evening. (Riddle me this: Are you supposed to wait two weeks to eat half a mooncake or should it have been eaten two weeks ago?)

My cabin is lovely and bigger than the hotel room that I occupied in Narita, Japan, care of Continental Airlines. Unfortunately, the air does not turn off, but I have a port-side window on the fourth deck. The game room and bar is ten steps from my door, but the majong and smoking stops at midnight so the noise does not keep me up. My preference is to descend to the third deck and enjoy some local tea from the Three Gorges region.

We are parked in a port now so that those who want to pay 270RMB can see the White Emperor City. I debarked and bought some tea, some Sichuan spices, and a jar of red pepper for my girlfriend, having bought a grab bag of special Sichuan and Chongqing culinary delights yesterday, when I went to the China Three Gorges Museum. That museum is excellent and free with numerous, diverse exhibits!

I really enjoyed the section of the museum dedicated to the disrupted ecology of the Three Gorges region, but the signage was over the top. One wonders if Hydro-Quebec is so bold in making claims about the improvement of Cree lives from relocation.

"A Steady Trip to Getting Rich"

"Personal Sacrifice for the Public Interest"

"No matter How Hard, not Delay Resettlement"

Other parts of the museum were also interesting. I skipped only the exhibit on ancient Chinese money, because it seems to recur in various forms at all provincial museums. There were the sort of Madame Tussaud-meets-Sturbridge Village manikins engaged in all sorts of ancient crafts, which I saw in Shanghai last May. One was doing the laundry!

Ebony, which I never knew before, is not a species of wood, but a sort of version of petrified
wood from thee bottom of rivers, if you trust the sign,

Amazing helmet!
The museum is located right across from the large assembly hall for which I paid 10RMB to gain entry. One can imagine Deng Xiaoping, Zhou Enlai or even Bo Xilai striding out on to the stage to whip up a packed house. It is an amalgamation of ancient Chinese architecture and the modern penchant for making everything out of scale.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hostile in Chongqing

My girlfriend, by text message, "don't hate the hostel"--Tina's Hostel Chongqing. Good advice, but I will just report the facts. Their English is so miserable that I don't know the name of the company or the direction in which the boat I take later today will go. They wanted to charge me 30RMB, but luckily I printed my receipt which clearly showed that it was 25RMB/night. Really, it is the principle of the damn thing. I do not need to quibble over 30RMB (five yuan more for six nights). I will only stay here three nights now. Last night and Tuesday and Wednesday nights. I think I will be on this boat for the rest of the nights.

They gave me a key to the dorm room, where two American women who prove Texas is the obesity capital of the world and a Chinese student of theirs were also staying. I bent the key trying to open the door because the lock was stripped maybe because the handle for the door was missing. Once inside, I wished to place my things in a locker, but the key for the locker, while less chintzy, would not turn the lock. I went upstairs and they laughingly told me that it was not my fault, the locker key never works for anybody! Nevertheless, they assigned me another locker and gave me a new key, but again it did not work.

The bathroom is customarily revolting. The Western toilets have been plopped down on top of the old squatters so that I am sure all manner of foul smelling expelled matter collects in the seams and grooves.

The directions say that you can easily see the sign from the street. Not only could they not get my can driver to understand, while speaking for five minutes on my phone, that we were right out front, but when the can driver finally brought me back to the location of said phone call, I got out of the car and walked right passed the steep stairs to the hostel, because the sign (at the bottom of the stairs) is totally obscured by a tree. It has been raining, which it always has since time in eternity, in Chongqing which means that it has been raining in the hostel. The whole place smells like a wet, unwashed towel and it brings me back to the after dinner terror of my childhood when mother would chase us about the kitchen with something we referred to as "the rag." (This practice continued years beyond when it should have.)

No breakfast so I am off to wander until 2PM when I must be back here to meet the taxi for the boat down the river, I hope.

But, you know what? The Internet works and the people who work here are pleasant!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chongqing Bound

I am leaving in an hour to catch a bus to the airport. I will land in Chongqing in the early evening and be to the hostel by 9PM at the latest. Here, courtesy of Lonely Planet and a wonderful CouchSurfer, are some of the things that I hope to do. How many can I cram in as a solo traveler?

Three Gorges Museum

This sleek museum showcases the history of settlement in the Chóngqìng region. A 1st-floor exhibition about the Three Gorges includes a model of the dam, and upstairs you can learn more about southwest China's minority cultures through their clothing and artwork. Some exhibits have better English captions than others, but the artefacts are well presented throughout.

Cíqìkǒu Ancient Town

The opportunity to glimpse slices of old Chóngqìng makes it worth riding out to this part of town, on the Jiālíng River west of the centre. Most of the buildings, many dating to the late Ming dynasty, have been restored for tourists, and the main drag can feel like a carnival, but away from the central street, a living, working village remains. You can easily lose yourself in its narrow lanes, peeking into homes and tiny storefronts. And there's plenty to eat here, both in the alleys and overlooking the river.

It's also worth poking your head inside Bǎolún Sì, one of Cíqìkǒu's only remaining temples. Its main building is more than 1000 years old.

Stilwell Museum

The Stilwell Museum by Eling Park is something of a novelty in China as it focuses on the American involvement in WWII. It is the former VIP guesthouse of the Kuomintang and residence of General Joseph Stilwell, commander of the US forces in the China-Burma-India Theatre and chief-of-staff to Chiang Kaishek in 1942.

Stilwell realised early on that a successful resistance required the cooperation of the Kuomintang and communist forces, and it was at his urging that Chiang relented for a time. Repeated efforts to bring the two sides together in a truly unified front against the Japanese largely failed, Stilwell said later, because of Chiang's obsession with wiping out the communists. Vinegar Joe's caustic personality grated with Chiang and others, so despite major victories including retaking the Burma front and procuring fighter jets for the Chinese air force to fly a key route over the Himalayas, called the Hump, Roosevelt relieved him of command in 1944.

Jiefangbei Square

Junction of Mingzu Road, Mingquan Road and Zourong Road, Yuzhong District, Chongqing 400000, China

Muslim Restaurant of Tian Shan

Serves the dishes of the Silk Road, meaning lots of lamb - braised lamb, stewed lamb and lamb wrapped in buns - eaten with a side of black vinegar and garlic. Try the lǎng (50 jiao), crispy onion pancakes baked to perfection on the side of circular ovens.

Hú Guǎng Huì Guǎn guild

The Hú Guǎng Huì Guǎn guild served as the seat of immigrant life 300 years ago in the Qin dynasty. Eager to increase the paltry population in Sìchuān, the government encouraged widespread immigration beginning in AD 316. By the time of the guild, the population was 800,000 and rapidly growing as settlers arrived mostly from the Hú (Húnán and Húběi) and Guǎng (Guǎngdōng and Guǎngxī) provinces, as well as ten others.

People came to the guild for legal processing and to worship and celebrate with other new arrivals. English guides are available, though you could easily spend a day wandering on your own through the beautifully restored guild houses and their collections of furniture, art and jewellery. Also worth checking out are the daily performances on the three opera stages, highlighting some examples of the traditions immigrants brought to Chóngqìng - from the tea art of Xīzàng to the quick-change biàn lián mask changing of Sìchuān. Free preview performances are put on at 14:30. Full performances with tea service are at 20:00. The guild is a 15-minute walk from Liberation Monument.

Lǎojiē Shíbātī Teahouse

A teahouse has stood for 600 years here at the top of the Eighteen Stairs. Come for a fresh pot served with small plates of dried fruit and cakes and an arresting view of the old city. There's beer too.
There's been a teahouse on this spot for more than 600 years and walking in here is like stepping into an antiques shop, with its wooden interior, period photos and fabulous furniture. The views are cool too as you look over one of the oldest parts of town, a maze of winding market lanes that can be accessed by walking down the teahouse's namesake alley, Eighteen Steps Lane (十八梯; Shíbātī).

Pirates Pub

Serves up the ingenious combination of pirates and disco. Local bands start playing most nights at 21:00 but the mutiny doesn't happen until 23:00. Look for three ship's sails.

Little Swan Hot Pot

Recommended for those who don't subscribe to the sweating-buckets-perched-on-a-plastic-stool hotpot experience. There's air-con, tablecloths, and five kinds of broth. Ask to 'zìzhù huǒguǒ' ( 助火鍋), which allows you to choose from 30 different meats, vegetables and noodles wheeled to your table.

Yangtze River Cruise

As I mentioned previously, it may be possible for me to get as far as Three Gorges. For the Yangtze river cruise, you can normally (except peak season or holiday season) to get the cheapest next day boat ticket at ChaoTianMen dock ticket offices in JieFangBei. The company is called Chongqing Travel Group. The domestic (3 star) boats cost ranging from around 400 RMB (no meals included) to 650 RMB (meals included), and from 2 days to 4 days.