Not the Red China of my youth

Today was my last full day in China, and once more, I discovered that it’s most definitely not the “Red China” I learned about as a child. Just a few examples:

  • CNN has been “All Pope, all the time” for the last 36 hours or so. If I want to hear about anything else going on in the world, I have to turn to CCTV9, which is run by a State-owned company.
  • I spent part of the afternoon at The Malls at Oriental Plaza, which is what Valley Fair would be if Valley Fair’s customers had money.

    1007 rolls:

  • I also spent part of the afternoon wandering through Dashalan, which is an old area, laced with hutongs which are filled with shops of various kinds. One shop, graced with this sign:

    1006 sign:

    sold merchandise which was very definitely not G-rated (also not office-safe!). I don’t think Mao would have approved, much less the Gang of Four.

On the other hand, I spent the morning in purer cultural pursuits, wandering around the grounds of the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan), an official World Heritage Site. This is a huge park, about 2.7 million square meters, filled with buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties, where the Emperors would offer sacrifices to Heaven.

I took a taxi from the hotel to the South Gate:

925 - south gate:

where I was faced with a choice: Pay 15 RMB for park admission, or 35 RMB for a “through ticket”. I decided to splurge, and I’m glad I did.

Soon after entering, I saw several people writing Chinese characters on the ground, apparently with water. I don’t know the significance of what they were doing — whatever it was they wrote didn’t last long.

927 - writing:

The first opportunity to take advantage of my “through ticket” came soon, when I reached the Lingxing Gates:

929 - lingxing:

931 - lingxing:

which guard the Round Mound, which in turn contains the Heavenly Centre Stone. By tradition, one’s voice becomes especially sonorous when standing on the stone — but I couldn’t detect any difference when I tried it.

937 - on the stone:

(Perhaps I should have said “Beam me up, Scotty!”?)

My next stop was the Animal-Killing Pavillion:

940 - sign:

where I made what was apparently an unauthorized visit to the interior of the Pavillion; soon after I took this picture, someone chased everyone out of the Pavillion.

941 - interior:

The Imperial Vault of Heaven (also known as the Hall for Appeasing Gods) was the next historic site:

944 - vault:

But first, I paid a visit to one of the park’s 4-star-rated facilities:

945 - 4 stars:

(Later, I encounted one at the North end of the park which was only rated at 3-stars, though I thought it was just fine.)

There are a number of buildings inside the Imperial Vault of Heaven, as well as the Echo Wall (which I couldn’t test, since I was there by myself). The buildings include the East and West Annexes, where they store the divine tablets of the Gods, as well as the Imperial Warehouse itself.

But the rest of my visit to the Temple of Heaven must wait.

Always have a Plan B

This afternoon, I gave a talk on “The Emergence of Service Science” to the “Introduction to E-Services” class at Peking University. The talk went well, I think — their English was far better than my Mandarin. I spent the morning with the professor’s grad student (who is also a full-time IBMer at the China Software Development Lab) — he played tour guide for me and took me to Dashilar (shopping, though I didn’t buy anything, and my first sight of Beijing’s hutongs), Tienanmen Square (where I snagged my first Chinese geocache), and the Forbidden City (where I snagged my second Chinese geocache).

act of carelessness:

I took a lot of pictures, which I’ll edit and post some time when I’m more awake (hmmm, I think I said that yesterday, too). I would have had even more, but I forgot to charge my camera after yesterday’s all-day expedition, and my battery died soon after entering the Forbidden City. But I had a plan B — my cellphone camera; unfortunately, the lens is dirty and the pictures didn’t come out well, hence the shot of the sign above (which I took with the cellphone — it was the best shot I took with it, too).

Dinner tonight was interesting; two of my colleagues and I went to Ding Dine Xiang, a Mongolian hotpot place. Mongolian hotpot is almost exactly the same as shabu shabu, so it wasn’t as exotic as we had expected when we picked the place. Ordering, on the other hand, was a bit of an adventure, because the place didn’t have an English menu. Our waitress was able to tell us that they had lamb and beef (which was fine with us), but that was as much as we were able to communicate — but then she called the manager and he spoke enough English for us to know what we were getting. I think the waitress was much more flustered by the inability to communicate than we were. And the food was excellent (especially when dipped in sesame sauce). I’d happily go back on a future trip to Beijing.

Today I am a man

Mao Tse-Tung said “A man, who has not been to the Great Wall, is not a real man.” I’m not sure I would agree completely with that sentiment, but a trip to the Great Wall is well worth the effort (and yes, that does include the trip to Beijing!).

We left the hotel this morning at the civilized hour of 8am, planning to visit the Great Wall and the Summer Palace. Traffic was, as usual, horrid, but after a while, we left the worst of it and found ourselves on the way to Badaling, which would be our portal to the Wall.

About an hour from Beijing, we started to climb the mountains and got our first view of the Wall:

747 - first sight of great wall:

There were steep sections visible, too:

750 - steep section:

(though obviously not too steep for tourists!)

And twenty minutes later, our bus pulled into the parking lot at Badaling. We resisted temptation

755 - ice:

and headed for the cable car, which would take us to the Great Wall itself. The view from the cable car wasn’t bad:

757 - from cable car:

but it paled compared to the view from the Wall itself:

759 - from wall:

One advantage of travelling with friends is that I can be in the picture instead of just behind the camera:

761a - me on wall:

I had hoped to go hit a geocache while on the wall — its site is in the distant tower in this photo:

781 - cache target:

but we only had 75 minutes on the Wall, and that would not have been long enough. As it was, my friends and I were the last ones down from the Wall (our host was getting worried, I think!).

The Wall was only the start of the day’s activities, but the rest of the story will have to wait for another time; it’s time for bed here in Beijing.

No more meetings (for now)

Today was the last day of the Academy TC meeting. After breakfast and the bus ride, we settled in for the home stretch, and accomplished everything on the agenda with minutes to spare.

Following the TC meeting, we joined the IBM Technical Experts Group – Greater China for part of their annual meeting; we learned about what they were doing and talked about our IBM careers. I’m afraid that having twenty-odd TC members speak may have been a bit much, because there was no time left at the end of the meeting for networking (but I’m hoping that some of the people at the meeting will get in touch electronically).

We said “farewell” to the China Software Development Lab and boarded the bus for a quick stop at the hotel, followed by a one-way trip to the Sanitiun Yashou Clothing Market, where we had almost 90 minutes to shop five floors of shops. I picked up an assortment of gifts, although I have much more shopping to do before I leave town, and might go back there (although there are many other places to try, too).

At a couple of minutes before 8, there was an announcement on the PA system — all of the vendors zipped their stalls closed and dashed off down the escalators, so the customers had no choice but to follow along. I met my colleagues at the entrance, and we set off for dinner.

The Lonely Planet guidebook said that Xiao Wang’s Home Restaurant was good and just across the street, so we wanted to try it. We couldn’t tell where it was, so we asked a policeman. He couldn’t understand our attempt at pronouncing the Mandarin from the book, but fortunately, the map at the back had Chinese characters and he told us exactly where to go. The food was very, very good — we had fried lotus roots with lots of peppers; meatballs; chicken with cashews in sweet and sour sauce; and fried fish with lots and lots of peppers. My companions also had fried bananas and vanilla ice cream. I’d go back again, even though the meal cost three times what we paid at the unnamed restaurant near the hotel on Monday night ($12 each).

Tomorrow morning, it’s off to the Great Wall!

Meetings and Acrobats, oh my!

Wednesday started, as usual, with breakfast in Cafe Cha here at the
Shangri-La. They have an enormous breakfast selection (Western, Chinese, and Japanese options), and I’m doing my best to work through it all while I’m here.

After breakfast, we took the bus out to IBM, where we spent all day locked in a hot conference room talking Academy business. Near the end of the day, I managed to escape for a 30-minute walk, but that was it for excitement.

But after the meeting ended for the day, we set out for the Heaven and Earth Theatre to see the China National Acrobatic Troupe in Reverie. The show started dramatically, with two acrobats being lifted in a ball:

732 - acrobats:

and then continued with two young female acrobats twisting themselves in knots:

740 - acrobats:

After that, I gave up trying to take pictures and just marvelled. I bought a DVD to bring home; it won’t be the same, but it’ll still be worth watching.

After the show, we walked to the East Gate shopping center for dinner (in a Western-style restaurant, which was something of a surprise), and then back to the hotel, where I collapsed. It had been a long day.