---------------Saturday, May 20, 2006------------------
Well today was the big day, our wedding feast. Sally’s parents had decided that since we’ve been married for so long already, there was no point having a ceremony. Instead we were just having a big dinner for all of their friends and family. Actually it was mostly Sally's parents’ friends. Sally had a few friends from school there, but not many. In total we had six tables filled with neighbors, friends from work, old army buddies and slew of people from where her parents grew up who had also moved to Dalian.
With a few simple words from Sally’s father the feast began. Each table was set with plate after plate of amazing looking food. There was so much that they were stacking plates on top of each other. We literally had to finish one dish, so that waiter would take it away, before we could eat what lay beneath. Fortunately most of the food was meant to be eaten cold, so speed wasn’t an issue. This was also good because Sally and I had precious little time to actually eat. Chinese wedding tradition dictated that we go around pouring drinks and lighting cigarettes for all the guests. By the time we were done the party was starting to wind down. Throughout the process, people naturally tried to get us to drink with them. Most understood when we would drink 7-up rather than beer (Sally’s dad actually over estimated how much alcohol would be needed, many guests wanted us to pour soda rather than liquor) but a few were more persistent that one such an occasion everyone should be drinking. We stuck to our guns though. Sally did a great job explaining that we didn’t drink out of principle, rather than for health reasons. Most people took that as reason enough and dropped the issue. This was truly a blessing because we didn’t want to be forced into a situation where we’d have to be too forceful and make someone lose face.
After we finished saying goodbye to and taking pictures with most of the guests, the staff started cleaning up the food. There were plenty of leftovers, which Sally’s mom tried to give to as many people as would take it. We still ended up with a whole lot to carry home ourselves, including about eight bottles of pop. While Sally’s parent’s handled the financial side of things, I did what I’ve come to do best in China, I sat in a chair. After a few minutes, one of the last remaining guest, a family friend who helped welcome guests and have them sign the Chinese equivalent of the wedding book, came down and started talking to me. He started by asking my opinion of the war in Iraq. Always hesitant to discuss politics in other countries, I tried to dodge the question, saying I’m not informed enough to have a fully formed opinion (which in many ways I’m not). He didn’t except this though and kept asking. I started telling him what many of the people that I knew who were actually over there that I knew or knew people that knew had told me. I told him what the people protesting on the streets of America thought of the whole thing. I told him that most Americans are somewhere between the two. He asked about Bush and what people thought of him. I explained that opinion about the president were as wide and varied as opinions on the war. The conversation continued from there, focusing mostly on American Chinese relations. We talked about culture, business and personal aspects. We even talked about the major theoretical differences between Chinese and Western medicine. And of course, because we’re guys, we talked sports. This uncle (I was never told his name) spoke with a sometimes difficult Shenyang accent, but after a few minutes I was OK. It was the first time I’ve had a one on one conversation with someone of the older generation that lasted more than five minutes. It was good to remind myself that I really do speak Chinese.
When we got home, I was tired. The whole time people kept telling me that I must be really tired on such a busy day and I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t be because I hadn’t really done anything. I spent the whole day just shaking peoples’ hands and doing what I was told, and yet I was exhausted. It was just like our wedding in America. While I went in the other room to recuperate (by which I mean write with out interruption) Sally and her folk counted our haul. In China, rather than buying the new couple a dozen sets of knives (I never figured out what I was supposed to cut with them all) or six toasters, wedding guests give a gift every young family really needs: Money. Everyone who came gave us a hongbao (red package), a traditional red envelop with a wad of cash inside. The amount they gave you was also recorded next to their name in the wedding book. It ensures that the couple’s family knows how much to return when they’re invited to that family’s wedding.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing and eating leftovers. After dinner Sally, her mother and I all packed our things for the trip to Shanghai. I’m still excited about the trip.
----------Monday, May 22, 2006-------
We woke up a little late yesterday. In a hurry we ate as quickly as we could and made our final preparations to head out for Shanghai. Naturally we had to eat lunch once we were ready, because if I were ever to fully digest something before eating again, I would surely die. The train station wasn’t far but it was too far to walk and we had too much stuff to easily take the train so we took a cab. It worked well because the train station was within the initial range of the cab. As soon as you get into a cab in Dalian, you owe the driver 8 kaui. This fee will get you 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) from where you started, before you start being charged anymore.
We got to the train station and waited for the train. We didn’t stand in line; standing in line is a Western concept. In China, you usually just mill around and push forward as a huge mass of humanity, a form of organized chaos that has to really be experienced to be understood. That’s not even true because I’ve been through it many times already and I still can’t understand how I get from where I started to where I wanted to go. I’ve given up hope of sufficiently describing it. I’ll try though. We were all standing around by the gates to the train. The time came to start boarding, some music played over the loudspeaker and tree men in train uniforms march out and saluted us in unison. They opened the gates and I became part of a wall of humanity. I had a huge backpack on my back and a small suit case in my hand so I wasn’t well equipped to fight back. Somewhere in front of me an old lady dropped her bags, I thought she’d be crushed, I really did, but rather than becoming tossed like a leaf in the river, she became a stone, with the current flowing around her. I actually found myself being pushed away from her, instead of toward. I didn’t end up at the gate I expected, but I ended up at the gate the flow wanted me to reach, and that’s good enough for me.
And 24 hours later, we were in Shanghai.
It wasn’t that simple of course. We boarded the train and found our seats. Since we had sleeper (they were actually hard-sleeper, not soft-sleeper, but still so much better than hard seaters that I didn’t care) our seats were actually small, blue bunk beds. There were probably 30 stacks of three cots on the train. Since we had two bottom bunks we mostly sat on the beds but there were also small seats on the wall across from the beds that folded down for passengers higher up. Since we boarded at 11:00 it wasn’t long after we had started moving that people started taking out their lunches. We had plenty of fruit and left over cakes from the wedding feast to last us the whole journey. For anyone who didn’t think to bring food, they had food carts that sold snacks as well as full meals. It was just like in Harry Potter but with pig feet rather than jellybeans that taste like boogers. I’m not sure which I would prefer.
After everyone ate, most people took a nap. The whole car was eerily silent. Me and Sally passed the time by playing chess. As people started watching us, the car came alive. Soon people were talking, laughing and playing cards. Most of the passengers were older and most spoke with accents so I didn’t say too much. I’d had my fill of learning new Chinese card games so I retreated into science fiction.
I became instantly enthralled with “Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card. Many of the quotes on the cover talked about how this book exceeded “Ender’s Game” which I enjoy a whole lot, so I was pretty excited to read the next of the series. I really enjoyed this one, and given my current circumstance, was touched more by it than “Ender’s Game.” The book deals with humans trying to learn from another alien culture and the struggles that come from this. There have been times when I’ve felt that China and America might as well be on different planets for as different as our cultures are. Of course, there are other times when we seem more the same than I ever imagined. Still the book is awesome and I recommend the first two books of the Ender Series to everyone. I’ll hold off on recommending the whole thing until I’ve read it because I’ve heard mixed reviews.
The whole journey Sally’s mom kept trying to feed me. I tried to fight her off as best I could because I really really didn’t want to have to use the toilet (and I use the term loosely, this thing was bad ever for a squatter) if I didn’t have to. I’ve managed to avoid using squatter thus far, and I didn’t want my first experience to be barreling down the countryside some where in between Dalian and Shanghai. For some reason the only place I really felt the movement of the train was in the bathroom. I guess it’s really easy to forget you’re in an enormous metal tube rocket through the Chinese countryside when you’re deep in the world of the greatest fiction writer the Church has every produced. It’s really hard to forget it when you’re trying to pee into a tiny metal hole in the floor.
At ten o’clock it was lights out. Everyone climbed into their bunks and went to sleep. I snuggled with Sally and we talked a lot about our trip so far and about our future together. We got tired quickly and I climb up into the middle bunk above her. I fell asleep pretty easily the first time but woke up as we jolted into each station. Falling back asleep wasn’t so easy. Everything you’ve heard about the rhythmic click-clack of the train rolling over the rack singing a lullaby, lulling passengers to sleep is true. The sound is there and it is quite soothing. What isn’t soothing is having the stack of beds being filled with three middle aged Chinese people who snore on different patterns. But I survived. I’m a survivor. That’s what I do.
In the morning I tried to finish my book, but often got distracted by the scenery outside. Now I feel like I’ve started to really see China. I saw the countryside. I saw rice paddies with farmers working them by hand or with the help of a water buffalo. I saw the oriental style architecture change as we made our way south. I saw the Yangtze River. It was awesome and humbling.
We got to the Shanghai station and bid our train farewell. We were met at the gate by Sally’s cousin, Ping Ping, who’s apartment we’ll be staying at for our stint in Shanghai. We took a cab (more expensive than the ones in Dalian) to her apartment in the Pudong region of Shanghai.
Shanghai is huge! It’s much bigger than Dalian, with taller building and more of them. It’s humid too. Really humid and hot too. It’s like Sydney in the summer. I’m really happy that I’ll be wearing shorts the whole time. It was raining when we got here, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t get the real Shanghai. The streets were empty compared to Dalian. Of course, they were pretty full compared to anywhere in Utah.
I don’t hear much Mandarin anymore. Sally, her mom, her cousin and her aunt (Gugu ) and uncle (Gufu) all speak the Jiangsu Dialect when we’re in the apartment and I mostly hear Shanghainese on the streets. Mostly I just sit and listen. And I think and try and learn about this alien culture I’ve found myself in.
--------------Tuesday, May 23, 2006--------------------
Well today was my first real day in Shanghai. I was right, this place isn’t definitely not like Dalian. Of course, I suppose that’s to be expected. You wouldn’t expect L.A. to be the same place as Chicago.
Shanghai is different from most cities in China in that it was founded by Westerners. Scattered throughout the city amongst all the modern buildings and Asian architecture are many stone European style buildings. There’s especially one section where the various powers of Europe built all their banks and offices etc. More on that later.
Sally’s mom decided she wanted to spend the day catching up with her in laws so Sally and I were on our own for the day. We’d been having some problems with the camera and since I figured I’d be more successful telling you guys that I’ve decided to stay in China than trying to come home without any picture we bought ourselves some new batteries. We had to try a couple packs before we found some that worked but once we had we were on our way.
Sally’s cousin recommended a couple places for us to go. The first was Shanghai Renmin Square (Shanghai Peoples Square), which is in downtown Shanghai. We took a bus there that Sally claimed was the most crowed she’s ever ridden but I thought the one her dad and I took in Shenyang was worse. The buses here are more expensive than those in Dalian, a pattern that we’ve seen repeated many times in Shanghai. On the way there, I noticed that traffic here is different. There are a lot more cars in Shanghai because of the larger population. Despite there being more cars Shanghai traffic is a little more subdued. That’s not to say it’s not chaotic. It’s just more of an organized chaos, with more traffic lights and other controls. There are also a lot of traffic assistants who help enforce the rules. A traffic assistant is basically a crossing guard with a yellow vest and an attitude. If someone tries to cross the street while the light is still a red hand, they blow their whistle and grab the offender and hold them back until the light switches.
We got to the square and looked around at some trees and fountains. We considered going through a museum housing some ancient Chinese paintings and bronze work but it was twenty kaui a person to get in and we only had 100 to get us through the day and a lot of other places to visit today so we decided to move on. We made the same decision about an exhibition of the Shanghai of the future. Sally had to use the restroom so we set off in search of a KFC. This is because we’ve heard that they have the nicest bathrooms in all of China (we hear a lot of things). We looked all around the area and couldn’t find one so Sally decided to use a pay toilet. Just as she let go of the coin I saw one across the street. Our investigation into the quality of restroom facilities of various overseas fast food chains would have to wait for another time.
After this adventure, we headed off to Nanjing Road. Nanjing Road is a strip of road that is famous for it’s shopping. In the dialogues that I’ve read in my Chinese classes, characters are always talking about how they planning on going to Nanjing Road of which of our vocabulary words they purchased there. It was the first specific place in China that I’ve heard a lot about and had been looking forward to seeing (more specific than say, Shanghai). The strip is several blocks long and closed off to traffic. The whole place is crawling with people buying and selling all sorts of things; everything from clothes to chopsticks. The sales people were helpful too, a little too helpful. They would see me and latch on to me, trying to convince me to buy their stuff which is an improvement from when I go into a nice store in America and the sales people follow me around to make sure I don’t steal anything. There were a lot of interesting things to look at though. There was this one shop that specialized in jade artwork and calligraphy supplies. They had these amazingly intricate statues carved from solid pieces of jade. The craftsmanship was very high. We considered buying Sally a brush and some ink for her to work on her writing, but decided it would be cheaper to get them some that wasn’t so over run with tourists.
After we ate a quick lunch of baozis (steamed bread with meat and/or vegetable filling) and soup in an underground restaurant, we headed over to one of the most famous parts of Shanghai, the Bund. To be honest I hadn’t heard of the Bund before and I still don’t know why it’s called that, but I have seen many pictures of it. The Bund is a bend in the Huangpu River (part of the Yangtze) and offers an excellent view of the Shanghai skyline. We could look across the river and see the skyscraper with the two large spheres in it (Google image search Shanghai and I’m sure you’ll see some pics of what I’m talking about). This part of town was also the center of all overseas presence in China. The entire street has the old, stone buildings that England, Russia and other western powers built. It was a major social center in the 1920-30s and the scene of many movies and TV series. The tradition of overseas visitors continues today with more white people in this one area that I’ve seen in the last three weeks. From the looks of them, most of these people were old retired couples who were finally crossing “Visit China” off their lists of things to do before they die. Now that I’ve been here, I figure Sally and I can always dream about visiting Turkey or someplace like that when we’ve quitted working.
In true Shanghai tourist fashion, we took plenty of photos from the platforms overlooking the pavilion. Most people seem content just to take a quick shot from anywhere of them standing in front of what ever the attraction for the area is, with no thought to angle or proper cropping. Sally and I have had a lot of fun going beyond that, trying different shots and using the rule of thirds for a more artistic approach to tourism. We bought a new card for her camera so we’ve had plenty of shots to work with. It’s been a learning experience for me, as I’ve never had too much experience with a digital camera. When I was in Australian I had to consider the fact that I had to pay to develop the film (on a very limited budget) and carry them with me for two years so I think I came home with only 350-400 shots. We’re looking to easily surpass that here in China; we’ve already go about 300 taken. Granted a lot of these are duplicates or not going to be used for anything more than a quick “this is supposed to be this but some one bumped me so the camera moved and made the picture all blurry and stupid” while we shot our photos to people in the two weeks after we get home that people are still interested. Through all this working together on getting photos, we’ve discovered that Sally and I have different philosophies and I have been physically struck during “discussions” about the benefits of vertical shots vs. the “inferior” horizontal variety.
As we went back through Nanjing Road we had to use the restroom again. I normally wouldn’t bring this up (you should all know me well enough to know I would never talk about such base human functions) but since we were passing a KFC we figured, “Science must go on.” So we went in to us the restroom. The sign said, “Restrooms this way,” so we went this way. Another sign said “Restrooms through this door,” so we went through the door. We continued to follow the signs into the next building up the stair and into this dark, musty corner. I don’t know what the ladies room was like but the men’s room was not “finger licking good” I’ll tell you that right now. Still, since it wasn’t actually a KFC restroom we’ll have to try again later.
Since by this point we were quite a bit further from where we wanted to walk to get back to The People’s Square, we took the subway to another bus station. The intra-city trains here are pretty different from the ones that made me love public transport in Sydney. First off, there’s not as many of them and they’re not a crucial. In Sydney everyone takes the train. Buses are for losers and people who only ride them to and from the train station. Here the buses are packed solid while the subway is nice and roomy (by Chinese standards of roomy). The trains in Sydney are all two leveled. Here only some of the larger trains that go from city to city are. In China the train is all one long tube while Australia are made up of individual cars. In China, the lady that announces the next stop is a recording with a nice, easily to understand Chinese accent. In Sydney the next stop is lost in a garbled mess of the names of the next five stations all read aloud by who ever is driving, usually a dude from Shri Lanka who no one understands. Here in China, the automatic ticket vendor gives you change in the form of nice, crisp bills. In Sydney you feel like you hit the jackpot in Vegas every time you use a twenty to buy a $2.20 ticket to the city. Shanghai trains seem to go faster but that might just be because thy crank up the air condition to give you a simulated sensation of speed.
--------------------Wednesday May 24, 2006---------------------------
Everyone was still too busy to do anything with us so they arranged for Sally and me to take a tour of Nanjing. We figured it was better to spend two days exploring the former capitol than hanging around the apartment watching Chinese dubbed episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” so we went along with it. Our travel agent got us train tickets to and from Nanjing, transport to and from the train station, a hotel room for the night and a tour bus of all the major attractions the city had to offer. All for less than $100 US. Not a bad deal in my book.
Nanjing is about three hours from Shanghai by train. We woke up really early (sometimes I think I get the worst culture shock not from the Chinese, but from the fact my whole family over here are morning people) and Sally’s cousin’s husband (who for the sake of simplicity I will refer to as Jeff) drove us to the subway station. We took the subway to the train station and wait for our train. Since our train started where we were and ended where we stopped (as opposed to us only riding for part of the train’s total journey) we felt no need to fight the crowds and waited a bit before boarding. We sat by a kid who played his DS (think really cool Gameboy) the whole way and a mother and daughter, the younger of which was full of questions and comments for the older. Our train was delayed a bit and we ended up needing four hours to get to Nanjing. Fortunately our ride was still waiting for us. As the driver honked his way through traffic (the worst I’ve seen in China, but also with the most controls, the lights all have timers to tell you how long they’ll be green, red, etc.) we were able to get a bit of an idea what Nanjing was like.
Unlike Shanghai, Nanjing is old. Very old. We’re talking over two thousand years of history in this place. For me, who’s never been anywhere over 300 years old, that’s a lot of time to be thinking back. For the most part, Nanjing doesn’t show her age though. It looked like a modern city. Just as new and almost as shiny as Shanghai. The name Nanjing means Southern Capitol, a title it earned by being the capitol of China for quite a while back in the day (Beijing, creatively enough, means Northern Capitol). It’s this history that brings so many tourists, most of them Chinese, to town and they’ve done a pretty good job preserving it.
One thing that really stood our in my mind about Nanjing was the number of bikes. I know that when people think of China they think of a billion people riding around on bicycles, but I’m always a little hesitant to believe the common perception. Especially after living in Dalian for two weeks where bikes are much less common. Shanghai and Shenyang have a lot of people peddling around, but Nanjing blows them all away. It has huge bike lanes, sometimes separated from the rest of traffic by a dividing wall or fence. Whole families will ride one bike together, with the father peddling and the mother sitting on the back holding their small child. People are always giving people rides on their bikes. When I was young I tried many ways to give my friends a lift but no matter what method we tried, be it with the rider sitting on the handlebars or standing on the pegs, it never worked well and certainly was never comfortable. Here people do it all these different ways and it doesn’t faze them a bit. I’ve seen people riding along on the back of someone’s bike with a plate of food in one hand, chopsticks in the other, having a conversation with the peddler, all as if it were nothing. It’s not just people too. People here are so good on their bikes the can transport anything, with one hand holding an umbrella if it’s raining. I saw this one older fellow, peddling down the street with a full sized fridge across his rear fender. I was impressed.
We go to our hotel and checked in. They told us that our tour would start tomorrow and the rest of the day was ours to do with as we pleased. We went up to our room. At first glance it didn’t seem so bad. It had a TV, air conditioning and two small beds. There was only one amenity that I was concerned about though and after putting our bag down (we travel light) I went into the bathroom to check. Much to my relief, it was fully prepared to accommodate a western traveler. I was about to shut the door behind me when I tried to turn on the light only to find it didn’t respond. We tried some other lights. Nothing. We tried the TV. Dead. Our room didn’t have electricity!
Or so we thought. We talked to someone and they explained that you have to put the key to your room (a card key) into a slot to complete the circuit that allows you power. I guess it’s a good way to prevent guests from wasting juice while they’re out, but it’s really scary when you think your facing a day alone in a hotel with nothing to do and no power.
Fortunately we didn’t have to spend the whole day in the hotel. Sally called on of her college roommates, Yang Ying, who was living and working in Nanjing. She came over to the hotel and they caught up for a little bit. Yang invited us to go with her back to here place to meet her husband and his parents and than go out for dinner. We couldn’t refuse. Actually we could refuse and Sally did for a bit but they convinced her that they’d help us find our hotel again. Yang is currently working as a lecturer and her husband Hou Ge, is a dentist for the military. They recently bought a new apartment and are in the process of getting it remodeled before they move it. Sometimes I feel bad for Sally seeing how all her friends are living the big life here in China and I have her stuck in a tiny one roomer in Logan, Utah. She’s a good sport though and says she’s OK with it.
We went out to dinner at a nice restaurant near their old place. It was a chance to eat some Nanjing special dishes. Each part of China has it’s own food style. I’ve tried to convince people that America is like that too – although to a lesser extent – but have so far not been too successful. We had a variety of food, including braised meat, stir fried broccoli and fish (I’ve eating so much fish this trip and yet I still struggle with the bones, Sally on the other hand, is like a cartoon cat sticky and whole fish in her month and pulling out a whole skeleton). The star of the meal was the duck. They explained that southern Chinese each duck like northern Chinese eat chicken (which is quite a bit). Nanjing’s yanshui duck is famous throughout the country and supposed to rival Beijing world famous roast duck in tastiness. For this meal we had the house special, a huge bowl of duck soup. They boil a whole duck in this large pot filled with green onion and bamboo shoots (tasty and crunchy, I can see why Panda’s like it so much). It was really good and the four of us could have just eaten the soup and been full (for a while, soup is filling but it doesn’t stick with you).
Having eaten nothing by Chinese food (with the exception of the ice cream in Dalian) for the last three weeks, I’ve decided a few things about American food. #1, we don’t eat enough soup. The Chinese meal almost always has soup with it. It usually comes at the end though rather than at the beginning when we eat it, and is used to wash down the meal in the absence of water. There have been many times I’ve forgotten that soup would be coming (or didn’t know) an ate myself too full to enjoy it. That’s always disappointing. #2, we don’t eat enough duck. Duck is awesome and I’ve enjoyed it ever since I started eating it in Sydney. The last few weeks have been duckalisous. I do feel a little bad eating the stars of my favorite childhood program “Ducktales” but it’s so good that you get over it quickly. #3, we really don’t eat enough lamb. Again, I developed the taste for this meat down under and really miss it while I’m state side. We have found some in Logan though so it’s not as hard to come by as duck. I like both meats for the same reason. They’re darker and richer in flavor than their more common counterparts with a nice bit of fat on there too. It’s good eating.
-----------------Thursday May 25, 2006------------------
We woke up really early this morning (can I just say that I am really sick of 6 a.m.) and ate a quick breakfast of Chinese pastries in the hotel restaurant. After gathering up our things we got on the tour bus. It was just starting to rain and would rain most of the day, making most of our pictures dark and gray. By now I’ve gotten used to being the youngest person around. With the exception of me and Sally everyone in our group was a generation or two a head of us. The came from all around China and most were in groups of three or for who would speak to each other in their own dialect. Our tour guides explained the day’s activities and asked us to pay the fee that went to cover the price admission tickets and lunch. Part of the group didn’t know about lunch costing extra and raised a bit of a fuss but there was this one old lady on her own who just couldn’t understand why she had to pay again (we paid half upfront to the travel agency for train and hotel, and then the tickets and stuff were paid at this point) and raised a big stink about it. I had to smile to myself as the poor tour guide argued with her. Some things are constant no matter where you are in the world; the struggle of customer service is one of those things. I’ve had many similar arguments when I told people they had to pay their phone bill.
Once everything got settled down we set off. Most of our time was spent in the bus as our driver tried to force his way through traffic. In the mean time the tour guides would explain some of the history, both ancient and modern, of Nanjing. Because they would speak into a loudspeaker, I couldn’t understand them very well (I did better when they didn’t use it) but Sally was a very informative and patient translator. One thing they mentioned was the pixiu, the official animal of Nanjing. The pixiu is a mythical creature, like the dragon or unicorn, that was supposed to bring you good luck because of its curious anatomy. The pixui has a big mouth – to suck in all the luck – a big butt – in which to store the luck – and, I’m not making this up, it’s Chinese legend, no butthole so that none of the luck leaks out. There are statues of this poor fellow all over Nanjing Most in the same style as Chinese dragons or lion statues.
The first stop was Meiyuan Xincun (Garden of mei flower in the new neighborhood) which is famous for being the site of a lot of the planning of the Communist Party before they rose to power in 1949. It was also where the second negotiations between the Communists and the Gouming Party took place. The American were involved too (as we often are) with the Marshal Treaty. The place is a lot like many of the historic sites you can visit in the States like the Beehive house with a lot of artifacts and rooms reconstructed as they originally were. There were also a lot of old photos and news clippings hung on the walls. In front of Meiyuan Xincun was a large statue of Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister under Communist power. While Mao Zedong is often a controversial character because of many of his decisions, Zhou Enlai is generally well liked by the Chinese people.
We didn’t have too much time to wonder around because we had to get back on the bus and head to Chaotian Gong (the palace that faces heaven) which housed the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (the same Zhu as Sally’s). YuanZhang was a farmer before he rose to emperor and many of the people treated him as a brother or a friend so his court built him this palace to set him apart from his subjects. Now days it’s a museum of artifacts for the six dynasties that used Nanjing as their capitol. The first of these was the Dong Wu (Eastern Wu) dynasty from the time period of “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms” (one of the four most famous books in Chinese literature). The artifacts in the museum ranged from old copper tools to small burial statues to chamber pots to a replicas of Chinese weapons including a rapid fire crossbow that made China’s armies a force to be reckoned with. They walk ways into the chamber was made with small stones forming a zigzag pattern that looks like the Chinese character for “people” to remind the people inside the palace walls that they were above the people outside. On the way in there was also a big statue of Kongzi (Confucius’s real name).
Our next stop was Yuhua Tai (Rain Flower Park) which was the spot where 100 thousand communists were killed during the conflict between the Communists and Gouming Party (and you thought McCarthy was bad). The park is the location of a huge statue erected as a monument to those killed. It features 9 people, many in chains, standing defiantly against oppression. The number nine was chosen because it’s the biggest Arabic numeral. The statue it at the top of a long flight of stair, up against and jungle covered mountain. Besides being the site of so much death, Yuhai Tai is also known for its rainflower stone, which are these really pretty stones. We actually spend most of our time at the park in this jewelry shop that featured this stones. They’re not a gem stone or anything like that, they’re just really pretty rocks that shine up really nice. They made us stay here so long because the tour company has a deal with this store (and many others) where they get a percent of the purchases made by groups they bring in. We considered buying some rocks but opted instead for a small Jade pixiu for me to wear around my neck because I make it a point to buy anything that will increase both my luck and my chances to use the word butthole in polite conversation.
After the park we went to Fuzi Miao, which is another palace in Nanjing. They talked a lot about feng shui here which is the Chinese art of aligning a room or building to increase the flow of positive energy. Water is important in feng shui and this palace had a pond and some streams flowing through it. It was just like you’d imagine a peaceful mansion in ancient China to be like, with lots of trees, rocks and pavilions. I could just imagine myself in a kung fu movie, if it weren’t for all the tourists. As part of the tour we were able to watch a performance similar to what Chinese royalty would have seen complete with classical Chinese music. Throughout the tour they stressed importance of the ancient character for tiger, which they tried to get us to buy. This time, Sally was strong and didn’t buy it.
We had lunch in a restaurant by a famous lake in Nanjing. The food was pretty forgettable but there was an old man there who was signing and selling Chinese painting while we ate. They were really good but we figured we’d already bought enough stuff. After lunch we drove around the lake. There were some cool statues but we didn’t stop to really look at them or take photos. We did stop by a pretty waterfall though. That was nice. I’m sure we could have stopped a little more but some of the other in the group were pushing on to the next stop. The guides also tried to get us to stop buy a teashop for a free sample (so we’d buy tea) put the old folks wouldn’t hear of it. They said they’d rather just sit in the bus in the rain than go it. Sally and I had no intention of buying or even sampling tea, but figured we’d not be difficult for the poor guides. Right as we got off the bus however, they gave up and we moved on.
The last stop on the tour was Sun Zhongshan’s (same Sun as mine) mausoleum, the final resting place of the founder of the Gouming Party. My recent Chinese history is a little weak but I’m starting to piece things together. The Gouming Party was the party in charge while China was a democracy (from some time in the early 1900s until the Communist rise to power in 1949). By the time Mao and Zhou came to power, the Gouming Party of Zheng Kaichek was corrupt and evil in the eyes of many people, hence the famous uprising. When it first started, however, the party was led by good and noble people who are still held in high regard by the populous, especially Dr. Sun, the first president. The current government still shows them in a good light. It’s kind of like if some other political system were to rise in America, people would still think that George Washington and the others were heroes and the overthrown administration would be vilified. Makes good sense to me from a political standpoint. People tend to want to keep their heroes of old, but are often willing to turn their backs on people they can more easily see the flaws of.
The mausoleum itself was quite impressive. It sits atop another huge hill with stair leading up to it. The stairs also go through some stone gates with characters carved in Sun’s own hand written that declared, “The world is for the public.” The way up is also lined with stone lions, one of which was hit during the Japanese attack on Nanjing during World War II. At the top is the actually resting place of Sun Zhongshan, five meters underneath a marble sarcophagus, craved to scale in his image. No photos were allowed in this section and our tour guide spoke quietly in the building. Despite the vast numbers of people climbing up to see the former leader, it was a very somber place. Not depressing, just serious. In spite of the air of history, Sally and I had a good time taking pictures together. We were the only ones however as the rest of the group, concerned about getting to the train station early enough (old people are old people, no matter where you go) headed straight down to the bus and complained until the tour guy went to find us and bring us back early.
One of the most outspoken passengers was the old lady who didn’t want to pay (let’s call here Crazy Aunt Daisy). Crazy Aunt Daisy never did submit willingly to having to pay, she only gave to tour guide the money because she was afraid the group would leave her, stranded somewhere in Nanjing if she didn’t. We were a little concerned she’d get left behind too. Not on purpose but she tended to wonder off on her own all the time. The poor tour guides were constantly keeping an eye on her. By the time we were in Fuzi Miao, she realized both me and Sally were wearing blue, we were the only young people at most of these places and I was the only white guy period. With so much setting us apart she decided to follow us around. Crazy Aunt Daisy was a funny old lady. Constantly asking everyone questions, usually ones that people had already told her the answer too. One of the other old ladies even told her to stop talking after CAD asked where she was from for the fifth time or so. Since we were on the same train (but thankfully different cars) she decided to stick to us like glue once we got to the train station. We got her to the waiting room and I left to use the men’s room while Sally explained how she would know which train to get on. I guess while I was gone CAD warned Sally to be careful around me because guys are dangerous. She also gave her some birth control tips. By the time I came back Sally had had enough and told Crazy Aunt Daisy that we were going for a walk and she should stay where she was. It took a while but we finally convinced her that we’d be back right after we bought some snacks for the train ride. We bought some snacks but hid in another waiting room for a while. I felt kind of bad but I bought a Miranda (the Pepsi equivalent of Smart) from the store there and, you'll never believe this, it was cold. Really cold pop, straight from the fridge! Nothing here is cold but this was. One sip and the heat and humidity slipped from my mind. It was beautiful. Finally we figured we'd better head back before CAD decided to go looking for us and missed her train, by the time we got back someone else had taken our place, both on the bench and in the life of Crazy Aunt Daisy. I still miss her.
After a chess filled train ride home, we were picked up at the subway station and brought home. We had dinner (the leftovers from the other’s dinner including a lamb dish that’s Gufu’s speciality) and I took and much needed shower. We went to bed early because there is another 6 a.m. coming up tomorrow and we’d hate to miss that.