Thursday, January 28, 2010

China Trip #4

Working with a student teacher, getting ready for AARP TaxAide, and now training for census work. I'm finding blog-time scarce. Knowing that memories (especially mine) fade fast, I'm still organizing pictures and editing my journal. Slowly words and pics will make it here.
Dateline Beijing, January 9, 2009
We left early this morning for a tour of a state owned steel mill. Starting with the obligatory company museum history tour much like a museum you might see at a large American factory. Points of emphasis included the fact that early equipment was mostly second hand from America or Europe and that an important part of the workers’ motivation was working hard for the good of the state. Reminding me of “factory or mine towns” in American history, the mill provided housing, recreation, stores, and schools to workers and their families. Newer equipment and more western incentives were introduced during the 1990s and, although still state-owned, the mill is operated more like those in other nations. They talked about their environmental stewardship, modernization, global products, and a new facility constructed on an island just off the coast. The guide from the company spoke in Chinese and was interpreted by a Chinese-American professor at Adelphi. I got the feeling we were being given the company, I mean the state, line.
Many of us felt the plant itself looked out-of-date and like something from the 1950s. Dirty. Smoky. Few employees around on this Saturday morning. We did see a control room with about 10 guys monitoring computer screens, but most of the rest seemed low-tech. Perhaps that is the nature of a steel mill?
That afternoon Hanna took the Virginia four to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Cold and sunny so many others were out and walking with family and friends. I’m sure everyone knows Tiananmen Square is immense, but it is hard to appreciate just how big it is without being there. We found one virtual geocache - our first in China! While taking the photo a Chinese girl and her mother approached and watched us for a minute, then pointed to my beard saying, “you look like the Merry Christmas man.” She asked to take a picture. Her picture is above.
Changing of the guards.
As we moved towards the entrance to the Forbidden City, Hanna went to get the tickets and left us to take pictures and two more couples approached us wanting pictures with the "Merry Christmas man" and we attracted a following for a short while.
The Forbidden City is so completely stunning, so ornate, so huge, one surprise following the last one. Nothing I can type here will capture its essence. Even my pictures fall short. We had to move fairly fast, but we stopped at all the main buildings for Hanna’s descriptions and to take a few pictures.
Hanna pauses to tell us a little history of the Forbidden City.
How many thrones does one guy need?
I had programmed the coordinates for a virtual geocache and as we got close it became apparent that it wasn’t in the main courtyards but off to the side in the maze of buildings and courtyards. I was with others who weren’t quite so interested in a side trip. Besides it was cold and we were tiring. But, 130 feet as the crow flies!! They grinned and tolerated me it as I darted into different alleys and luckily found it fairly quickly - a large (rock/mineral of some kind) that we understand was placed outside the bride’s marriage chamber.
The gardens near our exit from the Forbidden City were beautiful and stunning. The trees, the artificial rock wall, everything. Wish we could visit it in warmer months when it is lush and more colorful!
A guard tower, wall, and moat seen from outside the Forbidden City. Getting inside would have been tough.
We made a short visit to a Tea Room. As a Virginian my tea vocabulary is mostly "sweet tea" so there was much to learn. So many teas. So many tea pots. So many tiny cups. All very interesting, but I'll stick to iced tea.
That night Hanna led us through icy alleys to a small family-owned hot pot diner with half a dozen small tables filled with local families. She stayed to help us order a variety of of meats, vegetables, and fish before leaving for a dinner honoring a friend’s wedding. We had two hot pots boiling - one mild and one spicy. Very spicy. A few small bowls with different dipping sauces were scattered around the table. Struggling not only with chop sticks but with knowing cooking times, we dove into one of the most interesting and frustrating dinners of the entire trip. Never very good with chop sticks, I found retrieving some food items from the hot pots extremely difficult. Imagine trying to pick up a slippery marble-sized “fish ball.” The helpful owner came over, and with a smile, tried a couple times to tutor me (by hands-on demonstration - he knew only Chinese, I knew only English) in the fine art of chop sticks and hot pots. Maybe it was the two big bottles of Tsingtao beer that affected my coordination, but at least I didn’t need chop sticks to get it (the tiny glass of beer) into my mouth. My chop stick skill improved (never did get those fish balls) but must admit was greatly relieved when his daughter took sympathy and brought us forks. The entire meal for four,which included beer and soft drinks, cost us about 90 Chinese RMB, or just over $13.00.
Returning to the Dongfang Hotel, I found my way downstairs to the tiny bar thinking some of the Adelphi students might be there or at the nearby karaoke. I didn’t spot them but had a good time chatting with the young bartender whose English was very good. I ordered a Snow beer even as he told me his favorite beer is Budweiser. A quick glance at the cooler showed Bud, Corona, Bud Light and a few other American brands. The bartender wanted to talk “English,” that is talk about speaking English. He asked “do east coast Americans talk differently from west coast?” We had a good converstation about regional accents, pronounciation of a few words like “aunt,” and some slang usage. He commented that the most difficut English to understand is people from England and noted that Chinese like Americans much better than the English. It was reference I heard several times during our stay in Beijing.


Progressive said...

Thanks for your blogging on your trip.

Anonymous said...

commies and beer. is that your life?