Thursday, February 22, 2007

Seeing Red

Let me clarify: Saturday was Chinese New Year’s Eve and Sunday was New year’s Day. Unfortunately, my employer has no respect for the local cultural holidays – we worked Saturday and Sunday. But I’ve never been one to let work get in the way of life. : )

As I said in the last entry, I stayed out all night Saturday watching fireworks and just went into work Sunday morning without sleep. I was suprisingly functional all day: after a productive morning’s work, I went to church, then to lunch, then to a New Year’s festival at Ditan Park (the temple of the moon) then back to a friend’s apartment to watch Madagascar. Since waking un on Saturday morning at 5:40 AM, I didn’t crash until 10:30 Sunday night.

Loosing a little sleep was definately worth it though. These two days were some of the most fun I have has since I arrived here. Of course fireworks were awesome, but the festival at Ditan was also lots of fun – even more than I had expected. This festival was nothing extraordinary – not much different from a county fair back home, but it was a great excuse for a group of twenty-something adults to all act a little silly together (see pictures below.)

Dressing the Part

Didn't quite taste as good as it looked...

Carnival Games!

My Prize: Little Bubu!

Happy New Year!!!

Chinese New Year’s Eve is just about the biggest party in this hemisphere. I had a blast!!! Traditionally, Chinese will return to their hometowns to reunite with their families for a few weeks during the new year. To celebrate, besides downing lots of rice wine and eating lots of dumplings, they also shoot off loads of fireworks everywhere, even in the cities. I have never seen a display like that night, and probably never will again. Even as I write this, I can see fireworks outside of my window: Chinese New Year lasts more than a week, and constantly every night, (and day) fireworks are exploding all around.

Chinese fireworks are awesome! For one, they are real cheap by American standards – I payed 380 RMB (USD $47.50) to fill a duffel bag with sparklers, roman candles, screamers, missils, black cats, and a few middle sized rockets. These fireworks were more than worth it! I set them off with some friends from church near the hotel and then some of us bummed around the city all night just watching the incredible display. Enjoy the pictures!

I will Serenade You!

I was roped into celebrating Valentines Day last week (it was actually quite fun!) I’ve got a good group of young singles friends at church, and the girls planned a girls’ night out on Wednesday. Well, long story short, the guys crashed girls’ night. We made a grand entrance – boquets of roses and random seranading were quite popular with the ladies. So Valentines Day was great! Good food and great company go a long way for me.

The Barber-shop Quintet in action!

Rich and I trying our damdest to look cute.


"Real China"

What is real and what is fake? This is a question that every visitor asks when they first come to China. Are the watches real? (no) Are the Northface jackets real? (no) Is the shoe leather real? (probably not) Is the Jade real? (probably not) The movies? (definitely bootlegged) The food? (most cooks don’t have a license.) The mixed drinks? (You ever tasted rubbing alcohol?)

Most name brand and copyrighted merchandise is ripped off here, but what about the history and culture, the people, and the national spirit – surely these are more representative of what is “real” in this country. Well, my friend’s chauffer complains that professional beggars make more money than he does (and have better cell phones.) The wealthy drive brand new (always black) Mercedes, Mazzarattis, and Beamers and the not so rich drive hand-me-down bikes which look 100 years old. Official policy levies fines against public spitting, but I still see small children crapping on the sidewalks. Official policy also bans prostitution, but scores can be found outside our hotel (and inside) on any given day. The weather is awful, except when the government shuts down its factories and regulates traffic to reduce pollution when important foreign dignitaries come to visit (best weather I have seen so far was during the big Sino-Africa economic conference here in Beijing.) Flashy, modern commercial buildings, apartments, and restaurants line the main streets of Beijing, but one has to wonder how many years these hastily constructed structures will last. Only a little way off of the beaten path, modernity gives way to much dingier streets with ancient houses crowded together, or, becoming more and more common, tall and efficient economy housing complexes.

So what is “Real” China? Is it the bustling modern city or the traditional neighborhoods? The politics, the economy, or the traditional culture? My answer is: I don’t know. Reality in China for the Chinese people cannot be defined in terms of wealth, because there are many thousands of wealthy who have very much, but countless millions who have almost nothing of material value, and these classes experience two completely different worlds. Likewise, China cannot be defined simply in terms of culture because there are so many people groups here with such radically different histories and traditional values. China does not even have a unifying language (though this is changing.) The common man in Beijing cannot communicate with the common man in Shanghai, or Hong Kong, or Xian, or Lhasa, or anyone outside of the Northeastern provinces. The political system cannot even show us what “Real” China is, because an un-representative government does not necessarily reflect the desires and needs of the majority of Chinese.

What is “Real” China? It’s funny; I found out that some of my Chinese friends are also wondering the same thing! To answer the question, I dunno, and I guess the Chinese don’t either. Only time will tell what role this still relatively newly independent nation, and even newer economic giant will play on the world stage, and also which roles its people will play and what their values will become.

Beijing itself reminds me of an impatient adolescent child. The city is growing and modernizing very quickly, but in many ways its people have not all quite caught up, and there are still quite a few rough spots: this adolescent has acne, its voice cracks sometimes, and it even smells funny. But acting as a witness to this growth is fascinating, and I am glad to be here to see Beijing’s awkward stage as it prepares for summer ’08.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


I just got back from the most awesome two-day weekend ever! We had two days off for the Super Bowl, which showed at 7:00 AM Monday morning in China, but I didn't watch the game, I went snow boarding instead!

Me, Stephen, Chris, and Jason (left to right) headed for the slopes of Wan Lan, one of China's finest ski resorts, about 4 hours outside of Beijing. Wan Lan has nothing on any of the resorts in Colorado, or New Mexico, or Utah, my friends tell me, but it was still beautiful and tons of fun! The time I went boarding on Christmas day I spent more time on my arse than on my feet, but now I feel much more confident and I made most of my runs on Monday without wiping out once.

Snowboarding is counter-instinctive. Nothing was clicking when I went on Christmas day. This is what happened: When I am sliding down a mountainside on a piece of plastic I cannot control which might flip me at any second, I want to start off slow. I also want to keep from being flipped, or at least when I do, to keep it from hurting very much. Instinct told me to lean backward, so that I fall to the rear an not flat on my face, but in order to go slowly I have to be able to cut in and out by turning, and to turn a snowboard, I has to keep my weight on my front foot, but I was afraid of falling on my face, so I leaned backward, and just kept sliding faster and faster, until I either lost control and wiped out, or gave up trying to control this piece of plastic with a mind of its own, and sat down to stop of my own accord.

This weekend though, I finally started to trust my board to do what it is supposed to when I do what I am supposed to... and snowboarding is so much fun! I don't know when my next opportunity will be, either here or back in the states, but I can't wait to get out there again!