Sunday, May 27, 2007

Chinese Modern Art

Last week was a class field trip to the 798 Art district here in Beijing. It is an extensive factory built in 1952 to make weapons that has been turned into galleries, lofts for artists, cafes, etc. I went with most of the folks from my class, some of us are in the picture below. We are French, American, Peruvian, Indonesian, German, Korean and Vietnamese.

The theme of contradictions was particularly strong throughout the entire trip. Artists who's ideas had been repressed during the era when this factory was operational were now almost overly expressive in their artwork. I enjoyed this scene in the picture. The red words overhead approximately say, "Make the factory a school for Mao Zedong's Ideology." Below the fading slogan are two designers on imported iMac computers busy at work. hmm..

Then we say many pieces of artwork that involved Mao like this pink statue...

And this interesting set of ads like this one that combined the slogan "Read Mao's little red book" with Western advertising slogans like Nike's "Just do it!"

Who knows...but Chinese Modern Art is certainly an interesting experience!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

My first mini-job!

I earned my first little bit of money here in Beijing today doing voice recording in English. I was contacted through the school and recorded some stuff for software for an electronics company. It was quite the experience. I spent 4 hours working for $100, was picked up and dropped off by a car, and then treated to dinner afterwards by the three guys that hired me. It was a fun experience, and it sounds like they will be calling me again. This is apparently something that lots of foreigners do here in Beijing, as people are always needed to voice record in languages other than Chinese. I actually got a lot of Chinese practice in during dinner and car rides, so I hope this becomes a regular thing. There are so many little part-time jobs like this one to be found in Beijing, and speaking fluent English is a much more valuable asset than one would think!

Clemson Folks come to Beijing

Last week was nice because I got to see some old friends a couple of times as the annual Clemson trip passed through Beijing. Jessica's dad, Mr. Campbell, as well as Josh Lawrence and three of my professors were in the group. I went out two days and evenings with the group and had a fun time experiencing South Carolina indirectly.
This is the first night in Beijing when we went out to dinner...

It was nice to take them to my favorite street and introduce them to all the friendly shop owners that have now seen me several times. These guys own one store that we always go into. Sometimes we buy things, sometimes we don't, but we always have good laughs in Chinese and drink tea with them. This time they gave me a free Beijing Olympics hat!

The guy on the right says he likes Americans a lot because of their direct and open attitudes...but he also says that we grow up to look a lot older than we are. Oh well. You win some and lose some, right?

When we were looking for something specific, one shop owner sent me to a place called "Wa'er ma." It took me a minute to figure out that she was talking about Wal-mart and then we all had a good laugh. I hadn't been to one in Beijing, so we went on a search. The first indication we were on the right track was this jovial street sweeper!

Walking into the Wal-mart was like a breath of fresh air. Clean aisles, low prices, and a wide selection of products separated it from our typical Chinese shopping experience. Although most products were adapted to the Chinese market, the style in which they were presented was still very much the same. Josh especially enjoyed it as it was his first time out of the country and this store relieved quite a bit of culture shock from the last two weeks!

The last taste of home was a lovely cappuccino and cake back at the hotel cafe with some hours of good conversation. A very nice visit, indeed! I hope to see more of you over here in Beijing!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Yunnan Part III: Lijiang

This is the third and final post from the vacation. Lijiang was our last city and it was my favorite. It is more difficult to get to because you have to cross through a mountain range on a big bus so the ride wasn't pleasant. The old city is quaint and well-done, even if it is mostly newly restored. It is in a valley between many mountains and at an altitude of about 2400 meters. We stayed in a guesthouse called "Mama Naxi" and Mama and Papa served as our travel agents the whole time we were there.
This is us with Mama:

And an older generation of Naxi people:

By the time we left we could swear that the altitude or overly sunny weather got to the people. The citizens of Lijiang all seemed slightly (or at times a lot) crazier than the other Yunnanese people we had met. Papa would yell questions at you with noodles hanging out of his mouth only to forget what you said five minutes later. Somehow, out of the chaos, they managed to do all kinds of things for us like rent bikes, reserve a car for a day, buy our bus tickets, etc. A bizarre system, but it worked.
This is the Naxi people doing a dance with some regular bystanders in the square. About 30 seconds into it I start narrarating:

And this is where we ate dinner the first night. Very crowed, a little touristy, but a nice spot next to a canal.

Lijiang had a park that we went to our last night that was gorgeous. At dusk it had the best view of the highest mountain in the area.

We climbed a hill at dusk to overlook the city. This was a view from the same park of Lijiang at night:

And when we came down from the hill, the entire park was lit up with multi-colored lights. What a beautiful place!

The last part of Lijiang that needs mentioning is our trip to the Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is a Gorge between two mountains that is actually deeper than the Grand Canyon. We went on a walk through the gorge. This is just a small introduction video.

Next time we go back to Yunnan, I hope we leave enough time to hike the upper trail!

Yunnan Part II: Dali

I'm sorry for the late arrival of part II. Dali and Lijiang were both smaller, unique cities in Yunnan. Dali is famous for the Bai nationality whereas Lijiang was famous for the Naxi nationality. Both had their own language, customs and different style of dress. In Dali we got off of the bus and jumped in a taxi that told us we shouldn't go to that hostel, but another one instead for various reasons. We took his recommendation and ended up at his buddy's guesthouse that turned out to be our favorite place in the whole trip. We checked in and explored what they called the "Ancient City" which was a walled-off section in the center. This is the three of us in front of the gate:

And the city after the sun went down:

Dali is famous for the three pagodas, the Bai people, a beautiful lake, the old city, and some other things. I particularly enjoyed the day we rode around a lake, visited a cave and the Bai village. All along the way there were people in every nook and cranny of the rice fields working with the pointy hats and an ox nearby. It really reminded me that a larger percentage of the Chinese are not in a big city like we were, and how different their lifestyle is from what we consider our normal Chinese life.

This woman ran to sell us fruit when we stopped to take a picture:

And this is me with three Bai women:

Finally, the South is more mountainous than Beijing. Bicycle entrepreneurship takes a little more effort sometimes...

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Adventures in Yunnan Part I

This past week was a labor day vacation in China- a whole week where no one goes to school or work, and everyone travels! We took off to Yunnan and saw Kunming, Dali and Lijiang cities while we were there. If only we had more time! Yunnan is a beautiful province with gorgeous landscapes and many colorful minority cultures. It was certainly a different China from the Beijing that we live in every day.

Getting there was a challenge. The "23 hour" train ride turned out to be a solid 48 hours, and we didn't know that until we were 3 hours into it. Somehow we passed the time looking at increasingly green surroundings with farmers working the fields, playing cards, and reading the travel book. Leaving Friday night, we finally made it there Sunday Morning.

I figure I'll use this blog to talk about Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, and then write the others later. Kunming is a relaxed city, probably around 5 million people. We saw a Buddhist temple and the Grand View Park that were especially impressive. This is a shot of the temple...

We stayed in the Camellia Youth Hostel at the beginning and end of the trip for a mere 30 Yuan per night. ($3.75) One night we went out for Muslim food because we had read that the Muslim population in Kunming was prominent and there was an entire street with their restaurants and snack stalls. Dinner wasn’t the greatest, mostly because we didn’t know how to order, but we walked around a beautiful pedestrian area later. The buildings are lit up like a cross between Beijing and Las Vegas and everyone floods the streets at night for a stroll.

Right now China is such a fascinating merge of cultures. Everything seems to be bi-cultural, with essences of Eastern and Western twisted together. For example, in the plaza there was a demonstration of traditional minority culture dances but one of the groups did a routine to the song, “Who let the dogs out?!” What? I could do nothing but watch it with my jaw dropped.

We saw the Grand View Park on Saturday, our last day before our flight to Beijing. This was a highlight because it was so beautiful, relaxed and fun.

All flowers were in bloom, and the park was full of beautiful walkways, waterways and open areas. Being the last weekend of the holiday, the park was full of people including couples, families and groups of elderly people.

I thought kids running around in human-size hamster balls were particularly interesting:

We took a gondola-ish ride…for only $1.25 per person. Sure beats Venetian prices! This was our boat..

We also rode bumper cars and the boys did a crazy ride that shot them up in the air.
Just a quick video of the bumper cars:

Adrian bought a kite and we spent hours trying, succeeding and failing at flying it. There were bunches of kites in the air, and the funniest moments were when we got them tangled and had to do a dance with the pro-kite-flying Chinese men to get the wires untwisted.

Other than that, we just made hats out of clovers and got completely sunburned enjoying the afternoon. I will have to write about Dali and Lijiang cities later. They were beautiful and also full of adventures!