May 30, 2011

The Last Emperor


An Argentinian friend of mine from my days in Beijing had moved to Changchun, the largest city in the province of Jilin, to study Chinese. I visited him one weekend, but since the train arrived very early in the morning he refused to pick me up. I entertained myself by using sign language, sound effects, and drawings to find a washroom. After much confusion among the locals, one man exclaimed "Double u sheeee!" and delivered me to the promised land.

My friend showed up soon after, having pedaled on his bicycle from the university campus on the other side of the city. As we headed for some tourist sites, he would find out which bus I should board and then tail it on his bicycle. My fellow passengers would alert me when I should disembark.

The main tourist site in Changchun is the former residences of Puyi, the last emperor of China. The Japanese established Changchun as the capital of Manchukou in 1932. The state of Manchukou was formed after the Japanese seized control of large tracts of land in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia after the Mukden Incident. They installed the last emperor of the Qing Dynasty as the puppet ruler of the region as a pure marketing maneouver, giving him no real authority. The League of Nations stated that the area rightfully belonged to China. Japan promptly withdrew... from the League. After World War II, the city came under Russian control for a couple of years before falling into Chinese hands again. The Imperial Palace is now a museum which recreates Puyi's daily life there during these tumultuous times.


Puyi: Is it true, Mr. Johnston, that many people out there have had their heads cut off? 
Reginald Fleming Johnston: It is true, your majesty. Many heads have been chopped off. It does stop them thinking. 
- from Bernardo Bertolucci's 'The Last Emperor'

May 27, 2011

The Yoga Conversation

Once I had a lengthy conversation with a beautiful Chinese girl in English. Because of the language barrier, the subject matter had to be kept simple and the sentences short. Despite my best efforts at speaking slowly and clearly, we still ended up with a different understanding of the topic we were discussing in depth.

Me: Do you like yoga?
Her: Yes, I like.
Me: So you do a lot of yoga?
Her: Yes.
Me: By yourself? Or in a group?
Her: By myself.
Me: How long have you been interested in yoga?
Her: Since child.
Me: What do you usually wear?
Her: Just normal clothe.
Me: Where do you usually go for yoga?
Her: Restaurant.
Me: Restaurant?
Her: Yes, below my apartment. I mean food store.
Me: OK..
Her: You like yogurt too?


"A system of exercises for attaining bodily or mental control and well-being" - Merriam Webster's definition of yoga

"A fermented slightly acid often flavored semisolid food made of milk and milk solids to which cultures of two bacteria have been added" - Merriam Webster's definition of yogurt

May 26, 2011

The China Checklist

I compiled a comprehensive list of destinations which I explored in my two years in China. It is the second longest thing I have ever seen, yet it only covers around 60% of the places of interest in the Middle Kingdom that I would like to visit.

"I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list." - Susan Sontag

May 24, 2011

Dumb Girls

One of the guys I supervised at work used to make the same mistake repeatedly. I inquired as to why.

Coworker: You know I am dumb.
Me: I only like dumb people who are pretty girls.
Coworker: Pretty girls are dumb if they like you.

May 20, 2011

In Elite Company

I tried in vain to convince a smart Chinese girl that the wonderfulness of a girl is independent of her intelligence level. She commented disdainfully on my weakness for air headed beauties"What a shame if an elite were to marry a stupid woman".

May 18, 2011

A Time For Change

After two years at Interone, I decided to ride off into the sunset and return to Vancouver. Before I left Beijing, I cleaned my room for the first time. In China, retailers and other persons involved in commercial activities never seem to have any change for the 100 RMB notes that are dispersed by the ATM's. Any occasion to break up a large bill into smaller notes and coins must be seized. This solves the problem of not having any change, but the issue of having too much soon rises as I stockpile smaller denominations. A continuous struggle exists to maintain an equilibrium between an empty pocket and a healthy collection of loose change to meet the daily needs of an individual.

When I returned home at night, I would empty my pockets of any remaining currency. The bills would float gracefully to the floor, awaiting the tender touch of my fingertips the next morning. Before leaving for work, I would pick out the crispest of the notes and stuff them into my pocket for a new day. Over the years, a surplus of small change congregated on my apartment room floor. I collected all the money I could find into a plastic bag. I used this lump sum to pay for my farewell lunch for around 20 colleagues. The waiter gave up on counting the cash, so my coworkers divied up the bills and did the accounting work for him. Once the bill was paid, I still had a lot left over.


"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." - Barack Obama

May 03, 2011

The City In The Center Of China

Wuhan is located smack dab in the middle of China. The capital of Hubei province is an amalgamation of three cities - Wuchang, Hankou, and Hanyang - divided by two rivers - the Yangtze and the Han. It's nine million strong population makes Wuhan the largest city in central China. The Wuchang Uprising in Wuhan triggered the end of imperial rule and ushered in the age of the Republic of China. The city was briefly the capital of the country during Kuomintang rule in the 1920's.

East Lake is the largest lake within a Chinese city. I have yet to discover what is the largest Chinese city within a lake. Although nowhere as picturesque as Hangzhou's West Lake, it does make for an enjoyable stroll along its tree lined perimeter. The Hubei Provincial Musuem was closed, so I visited the Hubei Musuem of Art right beside it. The Yellow Crane Tower, one of China's "Three Great Towers", stands tall on a hill overlooking the city. Its principal claim to fame is that it is immortalized in several touching poems.

After visiting Comrade Mao's former residences, I caught a taxi to get a glimpse of the hulking Number One Yangtze River Bridge, which has a dual layer design to accomodate both cars and trains at once. In the middle of a busy intersection, the driver stopped to pick up his wife, girlfriend, or a female filling a similar role in his life. While I sat uncomfortably in the front, she applied makeup in the back seat. He then dropped her off in the opposite direction before continuing to my specified destination.

I crossed the mighty Yangtze in a crowded ferry, the murky waters blending together with the grey skies and concrete cityscape. I disembarked on the Hankou side, and sauntered past 19th century colonial buildings. Like the rest of the nation, there is a construction boom in Wuhan. I took the new subway line to Wuhan Tiandi, a swanky shopping and dining district modelled after Shanghai's Xintiandi where I had dinner to cap off my two days in town. Seasoned with soy sauce, sesame paste, and diced vegetables, the local favourite re gan mian makes this city a noodle lover's delight.


My old friend bids a westerly farewell to Yellow Crane Tower, 
In the misty blossoms of April as he goes down to Yangzhou. 
His lone sail is a distant shadow disappearing in the azure void, 
All I see is a long river flowing to the edge of heaven. 
~ Li Bai ~ 

May 02, 2011

Chinese New Year

For many families, sons and daughters are scattered throughout China, each chasing their dreams of a better life. The Lunar New Year is one of the few times a year the whole family has the chance to gather together. For the most important holiday of the year, workers are usually granted around ten days off from the daily grind. Hundreds of millions journey across the land to reunite with their loved ones, making it the largest annual mass migration in human history.

I had arrived in the People's Republic in the middle of the Chinese New Year festivities of 2009. It was only fitting that two years later my parents would visit me during this time of joyous celebration. We went to several temple fairs around Beijing. Most of the temple fairs take place in parks and not temples. In Ditan Park there were performances of traditional folk dances and stalls selling snacks and tacky items. The crowds were thick. There was even a marriage market, where parents could post ads proclaiming how wonderful their children were for potential suitors and browse through the current offerings.

Another good temple fair was held at Grand View Garden, which is a replica of the imperial garden Daguanyuan. Originally created as the set for the TV series "A Dream of Red Mansions", it was later converted into a permanent tourist attraction at the behest of the local government. As many scenic spots in China have been reconstructed from the ground up in the past twenty years, this fact did not lessen the beauty of the magnificent gardens. The lake in the middle was frozen solid, with cherry blossoms blooming on its fringes.

The walking street of Qianmen near Tiananmen Square had been decorated from one end to another with red lanterns. The fireworks exploded in the air all around us as we strolled along the street, dropping in for dinner at Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. The original outlet of this Beijing instituition opened its doors to the public in 1864, becoming the first to offer Peking Duck to the non-imperial masses. Chairman Mao declared the restaurant was so good that it must remain open for all eternity. Pele, Yasser Arafat, and Fidel Castro are among the other international celebrities who have since visited the grandiosely decorated establishment.


Each age has deemed the new born year,
The fittest time for festal cheer.
- Sir Walter Scott -