Clinging to the Weird
Beijing continues to amaze and confound, even 5 days in, when I figured the city’s initial charms would fade a bit. Martin is safe and sound back in Prague and Rob leaves tomorrow, leaving me with a regular countdown. I usually enjoy traveling alone, but the language issues in China and the sheer scale of everything here is making it a bit daunting, I guess. Maybe I’m just feeling sorry for myself because of the flu/cold though. My current plan is to head on down to Xi’an on the Thursday night train, stay for a couple of days and then continue south to Yunan. Hopefully, I’ll be meeting up with Mat sometime soon thereafter to work on a documentary project.
I 86’d the Crowne Plaza dump and moved down to the Hutong district East of the Bell Tower. The place I’m in now is right in the center of the fashionable little street I mentioned in the last post – Nan luo Gu Xiang in the Dong Chen district. Lonely Plaet missed this place – it’s called the Gu Xian 20 and it is fantastic. It’s still pretty posh by my normal standards, but I’m excusing myself because of the sickness 😉 Just up the street is Jiao dao kou, one of the best little boutique shopping districts in town, and the forbidden city is a 20 minute walk south through more Hutongs.
Up on Jiao dao kou, I found a cool little record shop called “666 Music” specializing in… well, you probably guessed metal, right? Yeah, that’s it. They sell some Chinese metal from the back of the shop because of police raids – the lyrics are too brutal for Chinese law, evidently, although the production quality on the ones I sampled was probably reason enough to keep them locked up like monkeys at the zoo. “Brutal Humanness” (sic) had some interesting cover art, while the other band, “Maximum Grindcore”, or something like that, featured a drummer who sounded like he could’ve benefited from lessons from my own self. Not a compliment, that. Satisfied that the shop clerk, a cool guy with a sweatshirt for a band I think was called Kaopectate, knew that I was impressed with the hardcoreness of it all, I wandered on down the road.
At the southern end of the Hutong on Huang cheng gen, we found the Dasong Royal Kiln, a fantastic place to blow the rest of my travel money on beautiful pottery. This stuff was truly first-rate craftsmanship, and they had pictures of everyone from George Bush Sr. to some weird Russian guy I didn’t recognize proudly receiving their memorial vases. I wish someone would remind these commies that the Bush family and most turd Russian oligarchs are ass-stinking RICH. They don’t NEED your commie charity, but I DO! Come on, throw down for the freakin’ people here! Anyway, 300 Euros and the clay pot is yours: http://www.dsgy.com
Further south, Jing shan road splits into east and west branches around the beautiful Jing shan park. Along the East road, Rob and I found a super cool little Puer tea shop run by Bao Li, a pretty, ambitious and knowledgable Chinese girl from near Qingdao. Puer is a typical Yunan green tea which is smoked and occasionally treated to some sort of fermentation process which yields dense, flat pucks of tea. I prefer the unfermented variety, and we sampled a solid ton of it before leaving the shop. Bao’s little shop is on Jing shan dongjie number 7 and if you’d like to order some of the best Puer tea I’ve ever tasted, you can email her: firstname.lastname@example.org Her boyfriend is German and he handles all of the exporting.
The Jing shan park is just North of the forbidden city, and you can easily do both in one day. We started in Jing shan early in the morning, while the mist was still settling over the peaked rooftops of the forbidden city. Climbing up to the pagoda in Jing shan gets you some of the most cinematic views I’ve ever seen of any city. Sadly, what we took for mist was actually not mist… It was smog. Walking out of the Forbidden City and its various, oft-mentioned charms, we nearly choked on the damned air.
I have absolutely no idea how any Olympic athlete is going to compete in these games without dropping dead. I’m serious – you can’t see more than 2 city blocks some days. My eyes are stinging as I write this in the hotel room, and I’ve been coughing and sneezing up black ooze that looks like something out of the X-Files. No doubt about it – this city is absolutely polluted. It’s a real shame, because it is otherwise nearly pristine. Even in the poorer quarters, there’s hardly a single candy bar wrapper or coke bottle on the street. In stark contrast to India, where the people seem to think the world is their toilet, the Chinese are actually quite conscientious about order and cleanliness. Sure, they spit, but with all that sh*t in the air, spitting is a necessity, not a bad habit.
There’s so much more, but I think I should keep this down to novella size for the moment. I apologize for the lack of photos, but the damnable firewall is blocking the photo upload feature at WordPress. Both Rob and I are amazed at how the censorship mechanisms work here. They seem to be able to weed out certain functions and aspects within a single website, as opposed to simply blocking the whole thing. Some days things work and other days things don’t. It’s really frustrating, but I think some computer science geek could make a real study of the methods they use over here. No doubt, Google and Yahoo are probably profiting handsomely from data mining technologies the Chinese have developed – dubious gains, guys, dubious indeed… Keine schmerzen, kein gewinn, ja?