Right now I feel like Ross Perot's 1992 running mate -- who am I? More specifically, where am I -- and what time is it?
Got back from China last night and right now the body is suffering some major jet lag. My mind and the clock say it's 3:30 PM but the body says it's 4:30 AM and, like so often in life, the body will probably triumph over the mind shortly. Anyhoo, a short recount of my trip, then this blog will get back to its regular NYC-oriented business:
1. First stop, Beijing. Saw the usual tourist sites: the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Mao's Mausoleum, and the Ming Tombs. Climbed the Great Wall and walked around some of the city's lovely parks. Engaged in a Chinese tea ceremony. Beijing certainly has great stuff in it but, as a city as a whole, it's pretty dull.
Thing learned: the Dragon is the historic symbol of China's power, hence the Emperor's Dragon Thrown. The Chinese Dragon is actually a composite of the following most powerful animal parts: the head of a lion, the antlers of a deer, the claws of a bear, the body of a snake, the tail of whale, the wings of a bird, eyes of a hare, the scales of a fish, and some others I can't remember. Also, the number 9 is the symbol of power since it is the highest individual number. Go into any Chinese palace and most staircases will have no more than 9 steps. Hence the reason old world China didn't have many tall buildings.
2. Next stop: Pingyao. This is an ancient city, almost 3000 years old, surrounded by a 700 hundred year old wall. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the city is largely preserved as originally built. We visited the enormous Wang family compound and walked on top of the entire city wall, looking at this amazing piece of living history from every vantage point. We also visited numerous temples and learned more than I can remember about each Buddhist god. As we were leaving, we visited another old compound where they filmed the movie Raise the Red Lantern. To top it all off, this city surprisingly offered some of the best food on this trip. Pingyao Beef is easily one of the very best dishes -- Chinese or otherwise -- ever created by man. In NYC they'd charge $40 a plate for it or something but it was less than a $2 a plate in Pingyao.
Thing learned: Pingyao is located in Shanxi province, one of the most polluted places in the world. If you ever go there, take a mask for your face and lots of facial and body scrub.
3. Yantai: my family has some connections there and this was the most emotional, happiest part of the trip. I may write about this sometime in the future but, for now, would prefer to keep private.
Thing learned: Chinese Communist officials can be very nice people.
4. Tsingtao: this a gorgeous coastal city that was once a German colony until WW1, then later was occupied by the Japanese until after WW2. Thanks to German influence, Tsingtao is most famous for Tsingtao beer and the highlight of our time here was a visit to the Tsingtao Brewery where, amongst other things, we saw the bottles being processed, went through the drunk walk, and samples some beer. We also visited the German Governor's mansion (beautiful) and Mount Lao which is one of the highest points in all of China.
Thing learned: people off the street in China will come up and talk with you like they've known you forever. Be prepared.
This short recap doesn't do justice to the full experience of this trip but it gives you a good idea. I hope that every person in the world has a chance to visit China once or twice in their life. It's a life changing experience.
P.S. You might be wondering about this blog entry's odd title "Near Rests the Lodging." This was from a sign I saw in Pingyao giving directions to a hotel. Most store fronts and street signs in China are both in Chinese and English but the English translations are poor and sometimes incomprehensible. Hence we saw signs directing us to "Beauty Saloons" and other interesting non-existent things. A couple of other favorites:
- A beauty salon in Beijing that was probably trying to say it was a unisex salon but, instead, billed itself as "a sex shop."
- Another sign at a restaurant in Pingyao sold what it simply called "a round mass of food."