April 29, 2009

The Summer Palace

The most spectacular of the non-Great Wall sites that I have visited in and around Beijing has been the Summer Palace. It was a place of rest and entertainment for the ruling families, combining natural beauty with the comforts required by royalty. The three square kilometres of the palace are composed of majestic landscaping and architecture surrounding the man made Kunming Lake. I spent six hours at the regal complex, known in Chinese as "The Garden of Clear Ripples" or "The Garden of Nurtured Harmony" at different times in its history. The most famous occupant of the Summer Palace was the cunning Empress Dowager Cixi, who went from being one of the Emperor's many concubines to the de facto ruler of China for almost 50 years after his death.

I explored the temples, halls, pavilions, and pathways of the Summer Palace. I was visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Site a week before the official start of busy season, but the tourists were already out in full force. Many of these visitors opted for a relaxing boat ride to one of the islands in the middle of the lake. The best views of the imperial gardens are afforded from atop Longevity Hill, which was built using the soil that had to be excavated to form Kunming Lake. Inside the hall where opera and theatre performances took place is a room for the artists get prepared and put on their make up. Within this room is a hidden treasure - the first car to be imported into China.

I also strolled along the recently restored Suzhou Street, a canal with a bevy of stores bordering each side. This was built so that the royals could go there and pretend to shop like regular folks. I attempted to play a musical instrument that resembled a bowling ball at one store, while other merchants tried to sell me calligraphic versions of my name, noodles, and clothes that resembled what the emperors wore so that I could pose for a nice souvenir photo.


"For us who live in cities Nature is not natural. Nature is supernatural. Just as monks watched and strove to get a glimpse of heaven, so we watch and strive to get a glimpse of earth. It is as if men had cake and wine every day but were sometimes allowed common bread." - Gilbert Keith Chesterton

April 28, 2009

The Good, the Badaling, and the Ugly

My roommate's good friend from Ireland was visiting, so we made our way to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. This is the most accessible and popular portion of the wall. After Jiankou, it was the second part of the Great Wall I visited, but the first segment that had been been fully restored to its original state. Railings, garbage bins, and surveillance cameras had also been added. Heavily crowded with tourists, Badaling still retains its charm as a wonder of the world.

We caught a bus from the Beijing Hub of Tour Dispatch near Tiananmen Square. Before reaching Badaling we made a brief stop at Minghuang Waxworks Palace, where we were given a thoroughly historical overview of the Ming Dynasty via life size wax representations of various pivotal events.

In China, English songs are often played on the music system of stores and vehicles, although very few people may understand the true meaning of the lyrics. In a particularly cruel twist of fate, the in-bus entertainment included the song Don't Want No Short Dick Man. Among the passengers were dozens of Chinese men and I.

April 24, 2009

A Touch of Green

As St Patrick's Day approached, three friends and I attended the annual Irish Ball that takes place in Beijing. The upscale gala held at the Kerry Center is one of the highlights of the city's social calendar, with the dual purpose of celebrating Irish culture and raising funds for charity. Most of the socialites in attendance were pushing retirement age, with the youth contingent consisting primarily of us, several authentic Irish dancers and musicians flown in for the event, and a smattering of English teachers.

After cavorting with the ARNABabes for the better part of the night, I was left holding a wig of unknown origins as the party wound down. In the meantime, a rumour had spread like wildfire amongst the ranks of the young ladies at the ball. Apparently the dashing son of the Indian ambassador had made an appearance, stealing the hearts of several debutantes. I do not recollect seeing him face to face, except perhaps for a moment or two in the gentlemen's washroom.

April 16, 2009

The Birdcage

 As I was wandering around Dawanglu, the neighbourood in which lies my palatial Chinese estate, I stumbled upon a confusing monument. A giant steel birdcage was placed in a small public square, nestled between the skyscrapers of Beijing's Central Business District (CBD). Oddly enough, it was empty. The piece looked rather new, so the empty birdcage could have been a metaphor for the unlimited potential of the people of modern China being let loose on the world. Or it could be that the locals simply ate the creature residing within it without inviting me over for a taste. I investigated further and found several large birdlike sculptures a few blocks away, leaving me further baffled.

April 13, 2009

Chinglish Ideals

Chinglish is the lovable form of entertainment produced by a mix of the Chinese mind and the English language. As I was walking along the street in Beijing one night I saw a van with the following Chinglish paragraph written on its side:
In Beijing, have a set of one's own houses, it is most untiring ideals of people. The ones that enabled more persons to live in got up in the good house, is ideals all the time of the others too. Go to in the city, mutually encourage between ideal and ideal.

April 10, 2009

Caught on CCTV Camera

My favourite homegrown television channel in China is CCTV. China Central Television comes in many languages (Mandarin, English, French, and Spanish) and flavours (music, sports, news, etc.). It is one of my primary sources of information. I even had the honour of appearing on the English language channel of China's national broadcaster.

After enjoying a virtuoso juggling act by the famed American performer Bryson Lang, my roommate and I were about to leave the Goose & Duck entertainment complex when we were encouraged to stay on a little longer. A CCTV crew happened to be on hand to film a few clips of the bar's cheerleaders - the GeeDettes. They perform a short series of choreographed dance sequences. An audience of leering foreigners in the front row would be a welcome addition to the video clip and we fit the bill perfectly.

As we sat directly in front of the dancing girls, my roommate noticed the cameraman gesturing at us and quickly snapped a photo of him. During an interval in filming, the director approached us and instructed us to move our bodies in sync with the movement of the girls and the beat of the music. We grudgingly complied to the best of our dancing abilities, which were none whatsoever. Occasionally, my roommate's head bobbed but no discernible movements were made by the ARNABody.

April 08, 2009

Origin of the Feces

After alighting from a long distance bus taking us from Beijing to Tianjin, an American friend of mine immediately headed for the nearest public washroom. He entered 5 seconds before I did, and left the facilities 1 second before my entrance. The math did not quite add up.

Inside lay a sight to behold. A row of Chinese men were squatting with their pants down, directly facing anyone who entered the room. Their faces were contorted in various levels of pain or pleasure. Aghast, I swiveled towards the urinal. This is why the American had exited so hurriedly. If that was hell, then the ladies toilet would have been heaven.

As I began to take a leak, I saw a man glaring at me. We were diagonally opposite from each other so our urine was intersecting at a right angle. We maintained eye contact for the duration of the peculiarly perpendicular act before vacating the premises.


“Psychiatry's chief contribution to philosophy is the discovery that the toilet is the seat of the soul.” - Alexander Chase