Friday, June 21, 2013

Faces on a Wall in Beijing

The other day I saw several faces on a wall bordering the Renmin University of China.

portraits of Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe on a brick wall

faces on a wall

As I looked at them I recalled the different faces I saw on a wall in Ho Chi Minh City.

That's all for now. Time to return to an ongoing series of adventures at a bank.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Meeting of Gizzards and Erguotou in Beijing

A little after 5:00 p.m. on Monday, I was enjoying spicy chicken gizzards and chopped Chinese brocoli at a small restaurant in Beijing when a man asked if he could sit across from me at the same booth. In some settings in China eating at a table shared with strangers is common. But in this case it seemed a bit unusual, especially since a number of other tables were empty. Regardless, I told him he was welcome to join me.

After setting down his various belongings, including a music player, he complimented me for choosing the gizzards dish (of course). While he waited for his dish of sliced raw tomatos with sugar, he offered me a cigarette and some of his 46% alcohol erguotou. I don't smoke and wasn't in the mood for more erguotou taste testing, so I declined his offer.

Since I had to go somewhere else, I didn't have a chance to learn more about this man. I can't say for sure why he chose to sit with me, but I think it's reasonable to consider this yet another example of the friendly people I have met in China.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Shinier Day in Beijing

Today I found myself marveling at a blueish sky in Beijing.

A view of the sky from the Dongsi Mosque

Although the air was "unhealthy for sensitive groups", it was much better than yesterday's air, and the clearer view inspired one Baltimorean to tweet "Beijing is so shiny on blue sky days". I don't know if tomorrow's sky will be similar, but the readings for Beijing's air quality since I took the above photo are not encouraging so far.

I'll have more to say about Beijing's air in a later post, but first I'll be delving into other topics. More soon.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tiananmen Square on May 47, 2013

At Beijing's Tiananmen Square between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m. today, whether it was tourists posing for photographs or the "very unhealthy" air, nothing seemed particularly unusual.

Here are some scenes:

man sitting and a police van at Tiananmen Square

group having their photograph taken at Tiananmen Square

young women walking at Tiananmen Square

young man checking a young woman's backpack at Tiananmen Square

people in front of a large video display at Tiananmen Square

food and beverage truck at Tiananmen Square

foreigner posing for a photograph at Tiananmen Square

young woman walking and checking her phone at Tiananmen Square

little girl riding a pink kick scooter at Tiananmen Square

people sitting on the ground around a lamp post at Tiananmen Square

girl spinning at Tiananmen Square

twin boys squatting at Tiananmen Square

people watching a large video display at Tiananmen Square

woman taking a photograph of her daughter at Tiananmen Square

three men walking at Tiananmen Square

red flowers at Tiananmen Square

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Virtuously in a Mass of Mass

After departing Qingdao, I headed to the city where I would spend today's Dragon Boat Festival holiday. When I arrived at Beijing South Railway Station, one of the first things I noticed was the chipped paint on the ceiling.

This looks like a sea of serenity in comparison to my memory of the crowd around me at the moment I took the photo.

I was immediately reminded of the similarly chipped paint I've seen on walls inside a number of newer university buildings I have visited in China. However, I failed to ponder the connection more deeply due to my survival instincts kicking into gear while I was in the midst of a large crowd of people who seemed to be attempting to get on an escalator all at once.

As I made my way from the station, the statement "Beijing is a mass of mass" bubbled into my consciousness. To better appreciate what may have inspired such a deep / meaningless thought, Qingdao, a city of over 8 million, now felt like a quaint small city to me.

But regardless of its mass, it was exciting to be back in China's capital, and I tried to get into what Beijing now claims to be its spirit.

How can you go wrong with Patriotism, Innovation, um.... aha... Inclusiveness, and Virtue?

By "tried" I mean I took a photo of one of the many signs with the Beijing spirit slogan.

More about Beijing later. But if you're now pining for a bit of holiday spirit, then you can see my Dragon Boat Festival post from two years ago with scenes from a temple and two parks in Chengdu, Sichuan province, here.

Excavators and Safety Precautions in Qingdao

I saw a notable example in Qingdao, China, of people disregarding barriers. However, sometimes it isn't the ineffectiveness of barriers which catches my attention but instead the lack of them.

excavator digging up portion the sidewalk as people walk by

It's not possible to tell from the photo, but the man operating the excavator did not pause his work as the men walked by. I can recall a number of similar sidewalk experiences in China where passersby were able and sometimes needed to walk close to construction vehicles at active sites. The above scene also reminds me of the level of safety precautions I saw taken by a metal cutter here in Shenzhen, China, and a welder here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

And in case you're wondering, yes, I walked by the moving excavator too. Why? To get to the other side of course.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

On New Barriers and Departures in Qingdao

Earlier, I posted about the collapsed portion of a pier in Qingdao and a young man's comment about the numerous people ignoring its barriers one day. Last Thursday I walked by the pier yet again and noticed new barriers were in place.

barriers to a pier--some with images of the pavilion at its end

Many of the barriers at the beginning of the pier either had a small window or a large image of the pavilion at the end of the pier. The beach areas adjacent to the pier were fenced off as well, but the area in front of the pier was now open. At least when I was there, the changes appeared to be effective in keeping visitors off the pier.

Although more may be in store, I will no longer be able to personally chronicle and comment on the developments at this pier in Qingdao, because on Sunday I went to the Qingdao Railway Station...

trains at the Qingdao Railway Station

... and then departed Qingdao on one of China's many high-speed trains.

More about where I arrived in later posts. And as usual, more about a location I am no longer in is also on the way.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Street Market at Caishi 2nd Road in Qingdao

Close to Qingdao's Taidong Pedestrian Street and across from the Walmart there is Caishi 2nd Road (菜市二路). In the afternoon vendors set up stalls in the street and remain open into the night. The market is dense and many of the goods for sale target younger shoppers. There is not a sign like at Taidong Pedestrian Street claiming it to be "world famous", but it is an equally fascinating slice of China's retail & shopping culture. For a small taste of what you can find there, here are a few photos from my visit one recent afternoon.

Street market at Caishi 2nd Road

young woman looking at various mobile phone cases

shoppers at the street market

painting by numbers kits for sale at a street market

shirt for sale with the words "The Pretend is Near"

Converse All Star sign at a street market

pocketbooks for sale on top of a car at a street market

young woman wearing a hat with stuffed fake antlers

man with shirt lifted over his stomach grilling meat

Abercrombie & Fitch clothes for sale on top of a car

young woman look at items at a street market

woman talking on phone next to colorful bows for sale

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Scene of Past and Present in Qingdao, China

I've seen some foreigners who are knowledgable about China express their aversion to photos that explicitly capture the country's past and present together. One reason they may feel this way is that the photos can at least be reminiscent of those sometimes used to express something to the effect of "Look, China has both old and new!"--not an original point requiring much experience or knowledge to make. But I think you're missing out on something if you automatically dismiss such photos. Even after years of living in China and appreciating many of its nuances, some scenes of "old and new" still captivate me and stimulate a variety of thoughts.

So without any shame, I'll share a scene I recently saw in Qingdao:

sculpture of traditional scene in front of modern skyscrapers

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Path Ahead

a pier disappearing into the fog

Like last year in Xining and two years ago in Chengdu, most of what I saw as I walked around Qingdao on this June 4th was the same as what I might see on any other day. For some people in China the day was different. They may have further questioned what they should tell their children. Or they may have discovered that censorship in China now included blocking searches for "big yellow duck" and even words such as "today". Or if they were in Hong Kong, they may have gathered with tens of thousands of people holding candles in the rain.

What China's people will find on the path ahead remains unclear. But although censors can block the word "tomorrow", they can't prevent it from happening.

"This is China"

A week ago a section of the pier to Qingdao's Huilan Pavilion collapsed. Several days ago I saw that the collapsed section had been filled with large stones and that there were new barriers of metal sheets at both sides of the collapsed section, at the beginning of the pier, and around a large area in front of the pier.

Qingdao's Huilan Pavilion and pier with a beach in the foreground

The barriers appeared to be serving their presumed purpose. I didn't see anybody on the pier.

However, it was a different story when I walked by 90 minutes later. At one of the more open points in the barrier to the area in front of the pier, I saw a regular flow of people ducking under a bar and a "limit line" tape.

woman ducking under a bar and security tape

After ducking in myself, I noticed mobile police stations* remained at the same places where they had been before the pier collapse. Police were inside at least one of the stations and not reacting in any obvious way to the crowd of people.

I then noticed people ignoring the barriers at entry points from the beach.

people on the other side of a do-not-enter sign
A "do not enter" sign

The barrier at the beginning of the pier was porous as well, although getting around it involved more risk.

woman carefully goes around a barrier at the edge of an embankment

man carefully goes around a barrier at the edge of an embankment

And the collapsed section of the pier? Not only was one of its barriers equally ineffective but a low tide offered another route.

people climbing over a collapsed portion of a pier

There appeared to be some limits though. I didn't see anyone passing the final barrier and reaching the pavilion. Construction workers standing in the area may have played a role.

While at the pier I unexpectedly heard an appraisal of the situation by a young Chinese man from a city near Qingdao. When I was photographing the people ducking under a bar I saw him looking at me questioningly. So I said to him, "It's interesting."

After a few seconds he replied, "This is China."

His brief but loaded statement struck me as remarkable, yet it made me recall analogous cases I had seen elsewhere in China, such as people ignoring barriers to cross a potentially dangerous construction site in Changsha. As I walked away from the pier I considered why people are willing or allowed to break some rules but not others and how what I had seen was an instance of people enjoying a particular type of freedom.

Later in the day I happened to pass by the pier again. It was now empty of visitors, although people remained in the area in front of the pier. As in other cases in China where walls have been determined to be too porous, new barriers had been added.

fencing added to edge of a wall

I wonder if the young man who had previously spoken to me would say, "This is China too."

*Added note: To be precise, one station was for police and the other was for chengguan, police-like local government bylaw enforcement officers. The station I could easily see was the one for chengguan.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Tsingtao Beer To Go In Qingdao

This is how you get 2 jins of unpasteurized beer to go in Qingdao, China.

beer in a plastic bag with the Tsingtao logo
Another part of Qingdao's beer culture

Straws available on request.