Friday, January 16, 2015

Activities At Scenic Chaotianmen: Outdoor Karaoke

At the scenic Chaotianmen docks in Chongqing yesterday, I saw two men setting up a portable karaoke system in front of a scene which has changed significantly during the past 6 years.

man setting up a portable karaoke station at Chaotianmen.

Elsewhere at the docks, I saw another man showcasing his karaoke offerings as well.

man singing at a temporary karaoke station on the steps at Chaotianmen Dock.

Nearby on the steps, I spoke to two college students visiting from Xi'an, China, wearing newly purchased flower headbands.

two Chinese female college students wearing flower headbands

When I later walked by the same area again, the students were the first paying customers I saw at the temporary karaoke stations.

female college student singing karaoke outdoors at Chaotianmen Docks

For singing two songs, they paid 10 RMB (about US $1.60).

Activity at the outdoor karaoke stations may have picked in the evening when people come for river cruises to take in more of the city's rapidly evolving skyline lit up at night.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dramatic Change in Chongqing

A scene I saw today captures some key aspects of what has and has not changed in Chongqing, China, between my first visit here in 2009 and my return six years later.

In January, 2009, when I visited the docks at Chaotianmen I took a photo of the nearly-completed Chongqing Grand Theatre across the Jialing River.

view of Chongqing Grand Theatre across the Jialing River in 2009

Today I took a photo of the now open Chongqing Grand Theatre from a similar location.

view of Chongqing Grand Theatre across the Jialing River in 2015

The photos show how Chongqing's reputation for its fog and smog, both likely playing a role today based on weather and pollution reports, has been long standing and well deserved. They also both show some of the many boats popular with tourists.

But the differences between the two photos are even more striking to me. Not only are numerous new tall buildings readily apparent in the 2015 photo, but a portion of a new double-decker bridge crossing the Jialing River with levels for cars and trains can be seen as well. And if you look closely at an enlarged version of the 2009 photo (click it), you may be able to spot the cable car, now no longer in existence, crossing the river.

Most incredible, what is captured in these photos represents only a small portion of the change I have noticed in Chongqing. More to come on this theme.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Day's Journey by Air, Bus, and Rail in China

Similar to the recent dinner I had on an overnight train, the meal I consumed on a plane today will not enter my top ten list of meals I have enjoyed in China.

Chinese airline meal

The flight attendant told me the meat was chicken, but it didn't seem like a poultry substance. I am not sure what it was, but it reminded me of yak meat. The wet wipes had a nice smell and were made in Xinjiang.

I feel fortunate that my nearly three hour flight did not feature anything similar to one of the "flying China-style" problems which seem to often make the news these days. In other words, the flight was not delayed, no flight attendants were violently attacked, and no passengers attempted to open the emergency exit door for fresh air. Way to go, team.

The end of the flight did feature something I commonly experience when flying in China and which does not thrill me. Despite numerous open gates at the airport, the plane did not park at any of them, and instead we had to take a bus from the plane to the airport terminal.

airport bus

Once off the jam-packed bus, I considered the architectural style of the airport concourse.

After that, I was excited to be back in a city I hadn't set foot in for almost exactly 6 years. Rail was not an option for traveling from the airport before, but it was now.

Since the monorail train, which soon filled, traveled above ground most of the time during my hour-plus trip, there was ample opportunity to look around at the city and marvel at its size.

I paused to soak in one scene when I was switching train lines.

sunset in Chongqing

Not long after that, I was able to put the plane's mystery meat behind me by diving into some appropriately numbing and spicy local food.

Mala fish in Chongqing

That was definitely fish.

Some savvy readers may have figured out my current location in China, which is far from Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing. For others, I will provide one last clue: the beer which accompanied my outdoor dinner.

A bottle of Chongqing Beer

More soon about a fascinating hilly city where I have already noticed a tremendous amount of change since my last visit.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Very Unhealthy Whatever the Floor

What "Very Unhealthy" air looked like today from the 35th floor of a building in Shanghai's Xujiahui district:

View of buildings and air pollution from the 35th story of a building in Xujiahui, Shanghai.

"Hazardous" levels were reached a few hours later.

A few people wore face masks. Most did not. Some had a smoke.

One Gas Station Under God, Indivisible

After I wrote about a church with a movie theater underneath it in Zhangzhou, China, a reader in the Washington, D.C., area brought my attention to a building with a similar unconventional mix in the U.S. Instead of a movie theater, though, the "Our Lady of Exxon" church has a gas station underneath it.

"Our Lady of Exxon" -- Arlington Temple Methodist Church, Arlington VA
Photo by mj*laflaca on flickr (original and copyright information)

As The New York Times reported over 20 years ago:
It's a place of worship. It's a gas station. It's Arlington Temple United Methodist Church. Newcomers to Rosslyn, Va., a suburb of Washington, often gawk at the odd structure. But locals breezily refer to it as "Our Lady of Exxon."

The Rev. Jack Sawyer, the church's pastor, doesn't mind at all. "People can call us whatever they want," he says. "We're happy to have them here. We're happy with Exxon too."
A more recent independent report on "this architectural magnificence" indicates the gas station changed from Exxon to Chevron. Whatever the case, according to UMTV, the mix of religion and capitalism was no accident:
This ministry has existed in the middle of the marketplace for more than 30 years. Founder Dr. James Robertson wanted an urban church, but land was expensive. And Dr. Robertson rightly predicted that its value would continue rising.

The Rev. Jean McDonald-Walker: “He said that if we have a gas station underneath the church, the church will never be at a loss for funds. They’ll always have some income, even if there aren’t many members.”
Despite its uniqueness, like the church in Zhangzhou, the church in Rosslyn could be seen as symbolic of broader issues in its country. The environmentally-concerned Christian group who once ran an advertising campaign asking "What would Jesus drive?" to "gas-guzzling Americans" might have some suggestions.

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Church Higher than Movies in "Godless Communist" China

Last month a friend's acquaintance referred to Chinese people as "Godless Communists" in a privately shared comment about Yiwu, "the town in China that makes the world's Christmas decorations". I replied:
It's hard to call China's system these days "communist", whatever the name of the controlling political party. On that note, "The total number of Christians in China is approaching the number of Communist Party members". Yiwu also happens to be in a province with an especially large number of churches, even after a number were recently demolished.
The comment also brought to mind a large church I had recently seen in Zhangzhou, Fujian province.

church in Zhangzhou, Fujian province

It is not Zhangzhou's only church and just one of many I have seen across China, including a church in nearby Quanzhou. However, one aspect of this church was rather unusual. A commercial movie theater operated underneath it.

movie theater underneath a church in Zhangzhou, Fujian province

Although some may consider this a great mix of religion and capitalism, the story behind churches and movies theaters in China is complex. While numerous active churches (usually without movie theaters underneath them) openly exist, the Chinese government tightly regulates religion, as suggested by the demolished churches near Yiwu. And while China's many movie theaters (usually without churches above them) care about profits and "a market-based Chinese film industry has started to emerge from the shadows of the older, centralized and state-funded model", the Chinese "government controls which films are made and has a hand in every aspect of the film business, from production to exhibition".

In this sense, the unconventional church & movie theater building in Zhangzhou is symbolic of both how "Godless Communists" isn't often a useful phrase for talking about today's China and how it is challenging to come up with a similarly concise way to accurately describe China other than, of course, as "Chinese".

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Yellow Christmas in Hong Kong

When I spent some time in Hong Kong near the end of December, I saw many signs of the Christmas holiday throughout the city.

large Christmas themed band display
East Point City shopping mall in Hang Hau

young women wearing Santa outfits handing out promotional material
Promotion in Tsim Sha Tsui

large angel playing a large French Horn next to a Christmas tree
Cityplaza shopping mall in Taikoo Shing

Like the signs of Christmas I had seen in Fujian province, most were indicative of how the holiday has been embraced by many Chinese in a non-religious fashion.

A few other signs of the holiday in Hong Kong included an unusual theme though. Instead of the usual red and white Christmas colors, they often incorporated yellow, a color commonly used by those seeking fuller democratic rights in Hong Kong and who associate themselves with the Umbrella Movement or Umbrella Revolution. Although some uses of yellow may not have implied a political message, such as in the first photo above, some clearly did.

For example, on a shopping street in Mong Kok I was given a postcard expressing holiday cheer and the desire for "true universal suffrage".

Christmas postcard with message 'We Want True Universal Suffrage #Umbrella Revolution"

Elsewhere, #UmbrellaRevolution stickers with the message "We are everywhere" were handed out.

#UmbrellaRevolution stickers saying 'Merry Christmas' and 'We Are Everywhere'

And on Christmas Eve, some supporters of the Umbrella Movement were able to take advantage of Hong Kong closing several streets in Tsim Sha Tsui for the holiday, and they brought out the yellow.

young women wearing yellowish Santa hats and carrying Umbrella Movement materials

group dressed in Christmas spirit carrying various Umbrella Movement items

two young men wearing Santa outfits standing under a yellow umbrella

So while Hong Kong's streets are no longer shut down by protests and the commercial side of the holidays predominated, Christmas still offered an opportunity for people to openly express that they have not given up the quest for universal suffrage—a special type of Hong Kong holiday spirit.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Larvae With Cilantro

I am dealing with some internet connection issues. So instead of a train meal, here is another dish I enjoyed recently.

termite larvae (炸木头虫) with cilantro
The cilantro is a nice touch.

I can now say that deep-fried termite larvae have their culinary merits. Surprisingly, my American friend's 6 year old son agrees. I would say large spiders have more flavor though.

More, but far less buggy, posts soon.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Night Train Meal

On a recent overnight train from Hong Kong to Shanghai, this was my dinner:

dinner meal purchased on overnight train in China

Bought for 25 RMB (about US $4) from a train crew member pushing around a cart filled with dinner trays like this one—the only option available—the meal was pricey compared to similar options available at some convenience store chains. I can't say it was one of my finer culinary experiences in China, but it did help me pass some time.

During the past few weeks I have been in Shanghai, Zhangzhou, Hong Kong, and back in Shanghai. Due to travel, holidays, visitors, a cold, etc. I haven't posted much lately. I have much I want to catch up on, particularly related to my time in Zhangzhou & Hong Kong, so upcoming posts, like the meal above, will include a mix items.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Day After Tragedy in Shanghai: Crowds and Flowers at the Bund

The dense crowds during the New Year holiday today at the Bund, a riverfront area in Shanghai especially popular with tourists, didn't surprise me . . .

crowd at the Bund in Shanghai on New Year's day

crowd at the Bund in Shanghai on New Year's day

and neither did the number of people taking photos or enjoying the views.

people taking photographs at the Bund in Shanghai on New Year's day

But the crowd surrounding an area where the statue of Chen Yi, a previous Mayor of Shanghai, stands struck me as quite unusual.

crowd in front of the Chen Yi statue at the Bund in Shanghai

Just several days ago, my friend, who was visiting Shanghai with his wife and their two young children, asked about the statue. As typical, not many others nearby appeared to pay attention to it. Yet today, the statue was a clear center of attention—confounding some visitors who made comments in Chinese such as "What's going on here?" and "Chen Yi?".

For me and many others, no explanation was necessary:
Just before midnight, a huge crowd that had gathered for an outdoor New Year’s Eve celebration in this city’s historic riverfront district began to grow unruly. There was pushing and shoving. And then, in an instant, a stampede began that would trample at least 36 people to death and injure dozens more.

“We were just trying to walk up the steps to see the light show, and then people at the top began pushing their way down,” said a 20-year-old man who gave his name only as Xu, while waiting for a friend at the Shanghai No. 1 People’s Hospital. “Then I heard someone scream, and people began to panic. We got crushed.”

The stampede started after 11:35 p.m. on Wednesday near Chen Yi Square. Most of the victims were young revelers who had come to ring in 2015 on the Bund, Shanghai’s iconic waterside promenade.
I first heard about the stampede very early this morning after privately sharing my own New Year's activities with friends online. I considered that if my visiting friends had stayed just one more day in Shanghai or if I had not been invited to a home-cooked Filipino feast, there was a fair chance I would have been at the Bund just hours earlier. For the first time, part of me was glad my friends and their children had left Shanghai.

Although I certainly wasn't expecting such terrible news, I can't say something like this happening in China seemed surprising. Later, I will provide some context for why. For now, I will think of the people who met a horrible fate last night. And I will also think about how other people took turns openly placing flowers, standing in silence, and praying today in front of a statue in China.

young woman bring a flower to a memorial for people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai

young woman praying in front of a memorial for people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai

man praying while holding flowers in front of a memorial for people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai

man bringing flowers to a memorial for people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai

woman bringing flowers to a memorial for people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai

womand and man praying in front of a memorial for people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai

flowers left to remember the people killed and injured by the New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai