Photos from East Asia

June 7th, 2008 by

View a photo album from the May Term travel course.

The Long March

June 6th, 2008 by

The last day in China was typical: spectacular new things to do and see. An early morning wake-up took us in BanNa prefecture to Wild Elephant Valley, the home of one of the largest herd of elephants in China (the elephant and the peacock are venerated in the area, as they are in nearby Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The park included other natural items–a butterfly zoo, a bird zoo, local minorities (have you ever eaten spicy wild sparrows?) and an elephant show in case you don’t see elephants. We were hiking one of the trails (with a sign that said, “Be off the trails from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m. because that’s when the elephants use them) when armed guards blocked us from going further because there was a herd of elephants on the prowl. Because they have poor eyesight and can become enraged, the park wants to keep people away from them. The best way to see the herd is from a funicular, which was not running. As I told the guide, if you want to be sure of seeing elephants, go to the zoo. He’s been to the park 100 times and seen them twice from the gondola. In the afternoon, before the plane ride, I asked to be taken to the biggest park in Jinhong, which had the distinction of having the oldest Buddhist temple in the area. The Lord Buddha was reputed to have visited the temple. As a bonus, the lake in the park had a zip line, which, for a fee, enabled me to get across quickly; there was a camera man at the other end, who, for a fee, provided me with a souvenir (for about $1.20, I have a 5×7 laminated with a Chinese inscription telling where and the date. I told you the infrastructure was quite well developed! They have the picture-taking services everywhere; at the bird exhibit in the wild elephant valley, a trained parrot swoops to you if you hold your hand out, and you can have a picture of that, too!). One of the most interesting business opportunities came from a man who in a 1995 movie played Chiang Kai-shek. For 30 Renminbi you could take a picture with him. I pondered it and decided that having a picture with him in front of the sign that touted the merits of the picture might be nice for my marketing class. I bargained one picture on my camera for ten renminbi. He agreed, put on his military uniform (he did look like the generalissimo), and my guide took a picture. The man then assumed another position when I handed him the bill, and suggested another picture (one with me bribing him?), for which he then demanded another 10 RMB. I think maybe he had studied the part too well. When the guide put me on the plane, I realized I was beginning the Long March home (the long march was the epic journey that took Mao’s forces in the mid-1930s from eastern China all the way to near LiJiang to cross the Yangtze (there called the river of Golden Sands), and back to Yanan, north of Xian in 1936. Two things about where BanNa rates in history. It wasn’t until 1961 that one of the major leaders made it down there. There’s a Zhou En-lai statue commemorating his attendance at the water splashing festival that year; and the memorial to the heroes (martyrs) of the revolution from the prefecture was erected in 1996. Almost 50 years after the creation of the new China. The 8,000-plus mile long march started Monday evening with a short jump to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province. I’ve been there 3 times, and remember vividly my first visit in 1990: we were in a hotel that told us to shower between 6 and 7, that being the only time it had hot water! Today, of course, it has Michigan Avenue and elegant brand-name stores, and a world-class theater that provided a wondrous dance program, including a very famous peacock dance that I had seen in 1990. It seemed like a fitting way to pay homage to Chinese civilization, and the three weeks I’ve been able to spend in China. The Long March (or rather the long sit) began at 5 a.m. Tuesday Morning, or 4 p.m. Monday night your time. I went from Kunming to Beijing, about 3 hours, which demonstrates the breadth of China. I was wondering what I was going to do to kill the three hours between flights; that was resolved when the new airport (Shou Du, or capital airport used to be one of the shabbiest big city airports this side of Delhi; thanks to the Olympics it is now one of the largest and most confusing. The bus from one terminal to terminal three took about half an hour. When I called Carolyn to tell her I was on my way, she said, “You may have trouble getting to Chicago; there’s thunderstorms predicted.” There were thunderstorms, which kept us on the ground in Beijing for three hours, which made my transfer of airport terminals in Seoul a little scary. I got to the gate with 20 minutes to spare (time in a plane now up to 7 hours, with the Transpacific flight to go). The trip across the Pacific is about 1 hour shorter than the trip over. Making it 11 hours, rather than 13. I grabbed the Wall Street Journal and realized that I had been in a country that controls (or tries to control) the news, and especially potentially destabilizing dissent. The front page was a story about how the Chinese government has begun to control some of the news from the earthquake zone. Especially as parents question why so many schools collapsed; the inside contained a story about how Chinese students have become very patriotic and pragmatic, comparing the Tiananmen generation with the current students, who basically back the government’s desire for order and stability (and economic growth). The paper also pointed out something I saw, but didn’t read about in the news about the shortages of diesel fuel, creeping inflation, and a job crunch affecting college students. And of course, for the week I spent in Korea, the 20 percent popularity of the Korean president and the uprising that has delayed the negotiations with the United States for beef (popular pressure here is different)! Anyway, the plane got in early enough for me to catch the 7 p.m. shuttle to Bloomington, and I was home about 26 hours after I left Kunming. The long sit was over. Chairman Mao once pointed out that Americans were not Asians, and sooner or later they would have to go home. I don’t think he was talking about me in particular, but I’m glad it was later, rather than sooner. I hope you understand, as I’ve told our students, my passion for Asia, and the importance it will play in the future of the world.

When do I get to go back?

Am I in China?

June 3rd, 2008 by

The map says I’m in China, but this corner of the kingdom as much resembles its neighbors as it does the far-off Beijing.

As I mentioned, Yunnan borders Laos and Burma, and is increasingly being connected to the south–to Thailand and Viet Nam. When I was in Burma a few years ago, I had our driver stop to see what was available in a store–all Chinese goods. The road to Mandalay was clogged with trucks making the trek from Kunming, and hotels jammed with Chinese drivers.

While those ties are increasingly supplemented with infrastructure (new roads) the ties are historical. The Dai minority here use a script that is Thai-like. The souvenir stores feature Thailand tee-shirts, and Burmese jewelry. Even closer (and unusual for China) is the Buddhism, which is of the colorful Southeast Asian variety, rather than the grey/brown earthtones of Japan/Korea and elsewhere in China.

We went to a Dai village (increasingly rare, but preserved for historical and tourist purposes), to an old temple, where the guide said the Lord Buddha had come. The street names in town also have Chinese/English/Dai writing, in a frame that looks like it could have come from Thailand.

The village we stopped at had the two-story wooden homes that I’ve seen in Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. The first floor is reserved for animals and sundry (sundry today being pickup trucks), while the family lives on the second floor. I think this was like the lowland Lao homes we saw in Laos.

More and more, though, the Dai (and other minorities) are increasingly blended with the Han (modern?) culture. TV/Internet, and travel homogenize the world. If not for tourism, most of the world, I’m convinced, would look the same.

Change is coming here–in the far-flung reaches of the empire, and rather quickly. For example, Sunday was International Children’s Day (isn’t every day children’s day?). In the park in Lijiang, families picnicked with their children. Of the three generations, usually the grandparents were in the traditional garb, and maybe the young children. The parents and most of the young people looked like Memorial Day celebrants in the States.

As I said, the families are moving from the open two-story wooden houses into the cities, with modern, albeit functional housing (at least here in Jin hong).

Roads are improving and increasingly linking China together. It’s one of the advantages over India, an advantage that has made China the manufacturing hub of the world. When I came to Yunnan in 1990, we went from Kunming to Dali on the old Burma Road (a harrowing experience, but World War II opened Western China to the 20th century; Kunming was one of the hubs for flying equipment over the Hump–the Himalayas–and Chennault and the Flying Tigers was mentioned in one of the museums in Lijiang), the trip took 13 hours. Today it’s less than four, and there’s also an airport. The trip from Jin Hong to Kunming used to be 2 nights by bus. Today it is 7 hours, and when the new road is opened in a few months, it will be 4 hours (it’s about 45 minutes by plane).

Xishuangbanna’s claim to fame is the water splashing festival, held in April to honor the past; one version of the story is that a devil-king ruled here, and his daughters wanted to help the people, so they cut off his head. Fire came out of the severed head, so they poured water on it. To commemorate the victory, they have a splashing party, which sounds like a good reason to party. Last night (having been to a village and a rain forest museum) I went to a spectacular show (the provincial government spent over $1 million U.S. on it) where I got splashed!

It hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm to do something spectacular today that I’ve never done before, before embarking on my own long march back to Bloomington-Normal. I leave here at 6, for Kunming, spend overnight in Kunming, then travel for about 24 back to Chicago.

See you soon!

Hello from Yunnan

June 2nd, 2008 by

I’m two cities and 1,500 miles from where I last wrote–I’m in Yunnan, nicely named “South of the Clouds.”

If Qingdao (or as I prefer, Tsingtao) was fun to wander aimlessly because it was a German Colony, my last city, Naxi, was fun to wander around aimlessly because it was back in China–or rather, because it wasn’t “Chinese.”

Yunnan was the place you fled when the dominant Han Chinese came through, or where you were banished if the Emperor didn’t really like you, but did not want to kill you. That’s how the Naxi people, among others, wound up in Lijiang, a city also known as “Shangri La.” At nearly 8,000 feet, it had the cool evenings and splendid scenery that draws Americans (and others) to the Rockies. Because “the hills were high, the ocean vast, and the emperor far away,” it drew the Naxi nationality (one of some 40 or so that give Yunnan a unique flavor). The old city was pretty well devastated in an earthquake in 1996, but in rebuilding it, the Chinese created a world heritage sight, because the Naxi have a pictograph language that they still use, and a unique architectural style that has made Lijiang the mecca for trekkers and tourists that it once was when it was a trading post on the “old horse road.” The Naxi nationality (that’s how the Chinese refer to their minorities) number around 300,000, and seem to peacefully coexist with the Chinese. As my guide (a Naxi but also a member of the Communist Party put it), “we embraced many of the Han things and became civilized.”

One of the sights I insisted on seeing was a “red hat” monastery. Not just the Naxi nationality got driven out of central China, but apparently the Tibetan “losers” got driven out as well. The “yellow hats” predominate in Lhasa–and there are a number of “red hat” monasteries in Lijiang area. Hence, many of the buildings have a Tibetan influence, a Naxi influence, and a Han influence.

I stayed in a new building (old style) in the old city, which has a confusing maze of cobblestone streets (no cars, which is a blessing in China!), and got up early (the sun is at least an hour later here than in Beijing, but China is ALL ne time zone), and wandered around taking pictures with no tourists in them. The hotel (and this may indicate the time warp) had a magazine touting its well-known visitors, including “Comrade Hu Jin-tao,” the first time in years I’ve heard anyone refer to anyone in China as comrade!

The centerpiece of the city is the home of the “local king,” the Mu family, which looks for all the world like a small version of the forbidden city. Which means, I think, that it’s always glorious to be rich.

he Naxi also practice their own religion, the Dongba, which is based on wisdom and age (I could be a Dongba). There are 9 Dongba shamans, who are the most wonderfully photogenic people I’ve met in China.

From 8,000 feet, I flew an hour south, into the subtropics of Xishuangbanna, or Ban Na as it’s known. It’s nestled into the intersection of Thailand, Laos, and Burma–and contains rain forest, which is where I’m going today.

My guide, Chang Le, has the best English of any guide I’ve had on this trip. When I asked him about himself, he told me that he came here on vacation, and never wanted to go home.

I expect to enjoy the place, but not that much!!!!

Solo in Qingdao, or is it Bavaria?

May 30th, 2008 by

I’m a happy camper today, because I’m in one of my favorite cities (Qingdao), doing one of my favorite things (wandering aimlessly), because Qingdao is made for wandering, as I’ll explain in a minute.

The students have arrived in America, and I’m sure their consciousness will join them soon; it takes a while to recover from jet lag (about l day for each hour of change, and it’s about 11 hours difference here), but our last day in Korea was quite structured.

As I mentioned, we went to the DMZ, which is a somber reminder that the cold war is not quite over, and that North Korea can be a threat to peace in this area. On the way up (it’s probably less than 30 miles from Seoul to the border), there are increasing reminders that the area is on alert. There are reminders of the war monuments, trains that stopped in June 1950 with the invasion, tunnels marking efforts of the North Koreans to sabotage the peace, etc. Our goal was to visit Panmunjom, where neutral UN countries help the U.S. and South Koreans keep the peace with the North Koreans. We were given our instructions to be somber, not provoke the North Koreans, don’t point or wave, don’t take pictures in certain areas, and the atmosphere is such that you don’t dare do so.

We stopped at one tunnel, which was kind of a propaganda against the North (you can see the northern aggressors did it because the dynamite holes are placed from the north, etc. My thought was that when Korea unifies, the propaganda line may well be that the tunnel was dug by the CIA to prevent the Koreas from being unified), and North Korea, particularly under Kim Il-Song, did present several threats to South Korea, including sending assassins who were caught in the Blue House, Korea’s presidential capital, trying to kill the Korean president.

It is sobering to think that that war, which cost around 34,000 Americans and 1-4 million South Koreans, still has not been resolved, over 50 years later. The peace was an uneasy truce (the fighting up and down the peninsula took about a year; the stalemate over the peace talks took almost two years, with bitter battles for a few yards to move the front line and ultimately the demilitarized zone). The war has never formally ended.

Still, when I was there over a decade ago, the North had built a fake village with signs and loudspeakers talking about how great the North was and that’s no longer operating. There have been a few efforts to allow North and South Koreans to visit each other. There is a tour to Caesong, about 12 miles from the border, that Hyundai helps operate. Our guide took it and said before she got off the bus in South Korea, North Korean police examined every one of her pictures and deleted ones they thought were derogatory and fined her $100. That tour is about the only way Americans can visit North Korea, which remains one of the last of the real dictatorships of my youth. There’s been interesting rumors that Kim Jong-il is dead, vehemently denied, but his death will throw leadership up for grabs, as it usually does in a dictatorship.

By contrast, Qingdao is a laid-back city with wide streets, a relatively small population (3 million), a salubrious seashore (I’m a block from Seaside Beach Number 1), and mountains that come down to the sea just outside the town, one of them, Laoshan, famous as one of the jungles in Daoism.

I love wandering because of the city’s history and my location. Though I recall when I was here once before I went to the museum and saw evidence that there was settlement under the Wei Dynasty (long before MY time), Qingdaos modern history begins in the 1890s, with efforts of the Qing dynasty to establish bases here in a futile effort to block the foreign (especially Japanese) attempts to partition China. In 1897, in retaliation for the murder of a German missionary, Germany landed troops and wrested a concession in Kiautschou Bay, that included Qingdao and an area around the city. The Germans settled, recreating Bavaria, until in 1914, when Japan declared war on Germany, it attacked and besieged Qingdao, which then became a Japanese possession. Japan’s efforts to keep it, in turn, were very important in Chinese history because, when Chinese patriots learned that the West had caved in and acquiesced in the transfer of land from Germany to Japan, they protested, beginning the May 4th movement that led to the formation of the communist party in China.

While Japan surrendered Qingdao to the Chinese in 1922, the city still has a German feel to it; the architecture remains as silent testimony to the German patrimony here, especially in the reasonably compact old city (which is why I like wandering around). Since I was here last (probably about ten years), in fact, new museums have opened to highlight the German background (and the Japanese conquest in 1914 and again as part of World War II)

I was able to visit (part of my day has been planned programs) some old sites. My favorite is called the guest house, which is where Mike Seeborg and I stayed on my first visit to Qingdao. It’s the residence of the German Governor General, and for all the world looked like something from Bavaria. When we were there, we learned that Chairman Mao had stayed there for three months in 1957; a plaque marked his bedroom, and nothing had changed since his departure. I had to return to what is now a museum to see whether there was an additional plaque that Mike and Fred had stayed there, too. Unfortunately, there was none, but one new touch had been added–the bathroom had been rated a two star (I’ve got my own private rating system for toilets in China, and the one in the guest house rates higher in my book!)

Another new museum is housed in Qingdao’s most famous brands historical building (and my main reason for including Qingdao) and that’s the Tsingtao Brewery. Started in 1903 as a joint venture between Germans and Brits, it was the first beer-producing company in China (beer is an acquired taste for Chinese, and their increasing consumption makes it one of the great hopes for world brewers, including Budweiser, which has a stake in the Qingdao brand). Our guide solemnly told me that German soldiers could not fight without their beer, which is why the company got started. For whatever reason, it’s become Chinese best-known brand. The museum features many of the commercials, which is what I came to see; after all, here is a brand which was German until 1914, then captured and bought by the Japanese in 1914, and they owned it until 1945 (learning to brew Sapporo and Kirin beers themselves), when it became a Nationalist possession; then in 1949, with the liberation (i.e., the communist conquest), it became a state-owned enterprise, primarily for export (even to Taiwan!) The company’s international reputation has grown to the point where it stages an Augustfest, ala Bavaria, making the comparisons with Munich even more striking.

I also visited the German prison museum, which housed non-Chinese prisoners during the German days (not many of them said the signage; the Germans were prosperous and relatively well behaved), but political prisoners during the Koumintang and Japanese periods, including one torture room that my guide excused herself from seeing.

Yesterday evening, I had another treat in more ways than one. I’d been in touch with a stamp collector who specializes in Kiautschou, and published a book here on his collection that I have been trying unsuccessfully to find in the States. He met me and took me to Book City, a huge bookstore that brought to mind how different China is today from what it was in 1990 when I first came here. Clinton and Obama books are best sellers, as are business books. Anyway, the man, Mr. Lu, took me out for dinner (Qingdao has excellent seafood, especially clams), and invited some other collectors to join us. He also took me to his house (he has three–one in L.A., one in Vancouver, and the one in Qingdao, which he said, at $400,000 is more expensive than his other two!) His house was a bookstore of stamp literature–room after room of catalogues and monographs–and he says he has as many in L.A. One of his friends, a teacher of German, brought some of his collection of 1,300 postcards (and I thought I had a large collection of Kiautschou cards and stamps!), with picture albums from German families and other assorted associated items I’d never considered. Not bad for a teacher who told me he teaches 6 hours and makes about $200 a month, but makes more money ($100 a day) translating for German businessmen.

The evening ended with their insisting I go with them to a club for Karaoke. Pricey evening.

When I got up this morning (and later this afternoon), I wandered around the city. In the morning, I ran and did yoga along the beach, then discovered a number of former German buildings; around 2000 the local government seems to have discovered its history (and perhaps the importance of history in tourism), and marked a number of buildings with the historical data. When my guide picked me up at 9, we went to Laoshan, which I mentioned was one of the jungles that spawned Daoism, which is a uniquely Chinese religion that deals with the relationship between man and nature. The 8 immortals are supplemented by various historical figures from China’s past including the god of loyalty and wealth, the Guang Gong (my favorite), the King with a Crystal Belly, who ate everything and told the Chinese what’s safe to eat (I thought it was if it has four legs and isn’t a table, flies and isn’t an airplane) who live in palaces, not temples.

When we got back, it was an ideal time of day to wander some more, to the home of the Chinese reformer Kang You-wei, which is behind my hotel, and a wonderful look at a German-Chinese bourgeois home of the turn of the century; then by bus (l yuan or roughly 15 cents) to the old shopping street looking for the Catholic Church and the post office and the Michigan Avenue brand shops that are everywhere in China.

Qingdao will host the sailing events for the Olympics and has one of the countdown clocks (70 days three hours 6 minutes, etc.) that we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s also built an Olympic village that will become Qingdao’s first 6-star hotel, which will fit nicely in what I think of as a 6-star city.

One more note on the Olympics/earthquake reporting here. As I was walking the streets, I was seeing more and more “I love China” tee shirts. The opposition to the Olympics and the pro-Tibet rallies in the West really brought out the never-far-from-the-surface Chinese nationalism–to the point where there was a massive switch from the French Carrefour to the American Wal-Mart (did I tell you Wal-Mart foods sells durian fruit?) The editorial in the China Daily yesterday summed the results of the earthquake well (it’s the official paper): Instead of being negative and uninformed about China (by applauding the Tibet protesters), CNN had earned praise for its even-handed and even sympathetic coverage of the earthquake. Perhaps, said the paper, the West will learn about the real China. Chinoy, the reporter from CNN, said something similar: praising the coverage by the Chinese press and the TV (it’s not a political issue, though), he thought the Chinese had learned about Western-type journalism. Too bad a tragedy of this nature had to help bring humanity together.

I know you have exams coming up. Study and do well. The Koreans spend 4X as much as any other nation on after-school classes to bone up on exams. To quote Friedman again, Children in Asia are starving for your jobs.

Speaking of which, its time for dinner and my 5 a.m. wakeup call to get me to Yunnan. Zaijian. See you next weekend.

Seoul(o)

May 29th, 2008 by

The students have left, but my adventure continues. It’s started with an adventure. When I got to the airport with them last night, I found my flight had been cancelled. So I spent the night in an airport hotel (which is nowhere) awaiting an 8:45 flight this morning.

We have had an experience! When we left Kyonglju, we stopped at Ulsan, a city begun by President Park in the 1960s for Hyundai. We toured the Hyundai plant (largest in the world), and learned some things that typify the Korean economy. Hyundai is one of the chaebols, large conglomerates that dominate Korea, which I recall somewhere is the 10th largest economy. The plant produces 1.7 million cars, but only 24% get purchased in Korea. Hence, the company MUST export. While it has a factory in Alabama, Hyundai sells about 450,000 cars in the US, so some come from here. I think the plant also produces all the engines for all Hyundai plants. That controls the quality, technology, and protects jobs. While the workers in Korea average around $15,000, Hyundai workers get around $50,000, with almost guaranteed overtime (the plant has only two shifts; when they need to produce more, they work overtime; it’s in the union contract).

We went from Ulsan up the mountainous eastern side of the peninsula to the temple, which I mentioned was going to be like Scout camp. Indeed it was. When we got there, we put on our uniforms, went to our cabins, had vespers, and merit badge-type work. We learned about Buddhism through a silent walk (like the ones we do at camp, but I’d never let you walk barefoot like we did) contemplating ourselves. The monk who led us was as relaxed as I’ve ever seen anyone, and kept stressing inner peace; “control yourself and you can manage others,” was his advice to the business students. We continued with the Buddhist badge for meditation. Sitting lotus position in yoga for 3 minutes challenges–we sat for 30 minutes (leading to my conclusion that I could be a Buddhist, but it’d be tough to be a monk–he sits for 8 hours a day!).

We had a voluntary Church service, Buddhist style (sounds like camp, except it was at 3 am.,. and not all volunteered, as you might imagine). Up down kneel, chant, up down kneel chant. Etc. The interesting thing about the temple was that it has the relics of the Buddha somewhere, so the main temple has no Buddha statues.

We had a (voluntary) breakfast with the monk, that many did not volunteer for when they learned you cleaned out your bowls with water, then drank the water. Just like backpacking, I said. And you eat in the lotus position. Vegetarian food (rice, spinach soup, kimchee with everything).

We made lanterns (lotus) for our craft merit badge, and then hung our dream pouches that we made (another craft merit badge). In East Asian Buddhism, you make a prayer and leave something (incense) in the temple to alert the Buddha to your dreams. You’re mentioned there–in my pouch.

When asked what was the best thing about it, I responded that it was great seeing a temple used; otherwise, it’s just a building. Korea is about 40 percent Buddhist, almost the same number of Christians (missionaries contributed apples, they kept telling us.) DMZ visit yestereday is another story, but my plane is boarding. My student who was coming with got ill and is home, so I’m going somewhere where I don’t know a soul!

Short note from the Capital of the Shilla Kingdom

May 27th, 2008 by

We’re in Kyongju, in SW Korea, about 200 miles from Seoul. It was the capital of Korea for a thousand years, most recently in 962. Thus, it resembles in Korean history what Xi’an does in Chinese–the place where the country was unified. The connections are even more tight; the Shilla invited the Tang dynasty to help them unify the peninsula, and defeat their rivals to the North. In return, the Tang promised Manchuria, which was then part of the northern Kingdom of Koreans. Hence, Korea got unified.

The city has some really spectacular Tang era ruins, including the most beautiful Buddha I’ve ever seen. It’s made of granite and sits in a cave atop one of the mountains surrounding the city. If you get to see the Korean movie, “Once upon a time,” you’ll get to see the Buddha without traveling up the 1,900-foot mountain. At the base is the temple, Pulguksa, one of the most unusually structured Buddhist temples I’ve ever seen. These two artifacts are so Korean that they’re usually featured on the “Come to Korea” posters.

There’s a lot more here, but you need more than the 5 hours we had to tour. We did get to see the observatory, built in the 8th century; it has a very unusual shape.

We’re on our way to a monastery, which sounds like Scout camp. We eat like monks, dress like monks, meditate like monks, and sleep like monks–to bed at 10, up at 3.

More later.

Seoul Food

May 25th, 2008 by

We’ve really been on the move since we left China proper. One day in Hong Kong, one day in Macau, one day in Hong Kong, one day in Seoul, and one long bus ride to spend an evening in Busan.

I’m always reluctant to leave Hong Kong, which has one of the finest skylines in the world. I’ve been there often enough to think of it as “my” city–as in my optician, my tailor, and my friend Eleanor, whom I met in 1995 in Saigon at a conference and who over the years has been a great help to me and to IWU students whenever either is in Hong Kong. I have what the Chinese call “guanxi,” which comes from repeated business and a Chinese-like sense of humor. My Chinese name for me is “Weidade Jiaoshou,” which for those who do not speak Chinese means “Great Teacher.” It proves that if you write your own copy, you can write anything you desire, whether true or not. And they do remember me by name.

I’m not sure I mentioned two features of Macau which make it distinctive in Asia. The first is that it was neutral in World War II (as a Portuguse possession); second, it was not part of the Cultural Revolution. The combination means that the Luso-Chinese (look that up in your dictionary) architecture has remained, unless torn down to make way for the high rises that dot and interdistinguish every city in Asia. The pastels and stucco are quite stunning, but it was raining and we did not get to go to one of my favorite sights–the Protestant Cemetery, which has graves demonstrating the dangers of the far east–death at sea, in battle, in childbirth.

I spent the last night in Hong Kong walking the waterfront facing the island of Hong Kong with my friend until it was time to take the ferry (did I tell you that as a concessionaire–British for Old Guy–I get to ride the ferry for free and get half price on other transportation–and have a separate channel through customs!). Next time more time! Incidentally, Britain acquired Hong Kong in stages; the island ceded in perpetuity in 1842, the Kowloon peninsula surrendered in 1860s, and the New Territories, loaned for 99 years in 1898. The end of the lease for the New Territories was what triggered the return of Hong Kong.

When we got to Seoul, I realized I was not in China any longer. I am in the Chinese sphere of influence, both past and present though! It helps to understand the nationalism of Koreans when you realize that, as a guide told me on my first trip here, either the Chinese or the Japanese invade every hundred years. It’s China’s turn because the Japanese colonized Korea from 1910 through 1945–forcing the Koreans to adopt Japanese names, forbidding the religion, and generally behaving like a superior race. There’re a lot of reminders of the occupation. For example, we had to take one of the boys to a hospital–he was dehydrated. While we were waiting for the IV, Dr. Park and I walked across the street to a park that was new since he left Seoul to work and study in the U.S.–the centerpiece to the park is the prison where Japanese incarcerated independence advocates over the years.

The Chinese influence is equally marked in the culture and the history. We toured one of the palaces in Seoul yesterday, and having been in Xi’an a few days ago, we saw Tang China. I still marvel at the power of Chinese civilization to reach Korean and Japan–before the information superhighway was even a trail. To be an emperor in Asia meant adopting Buddhism, Confucianism, and the imperial way. Both Japan and Korea even used Chinese characters (despite the fact that King Sejong in the 15th century developed a Korean alphabet that only today has begun to replace the Tang period characters that I saw alongside the Korean when I first came here.

There’s also a lot of western influence in Korea, partly because 58 years ago, North Korea invaded South Korea. Within three days, Seoul was captured (for the first of what I think was three times, which explains why the city is mostly new or renovated), and within three months had pushed the American and UN forces (mostly American) to the Pusan perimeter, which is where we’re staying tonight. General MacArthur then planned an amphibious landing at Inchon that punctured the overextended North Korean lines and rolled up the peninsula until he scared the Chinese, who lent their support and military to North Korea, threatening World War. The push made the KoreanWwar one of the decisive factors in 20th century Asia; as a result, the United States did not recognize the People’s Republic of China until Richard Nixon’s presidency; it intervened in the Civil War against Taiwan by using the U.S. Fleet to protect the other China; and it extended American influence in VietNam to the point that after 1954, we replaced the French. Important war (if you’re interested, David Halberstam’s book on the Coldest Winter is fascinating). As we drove down here, on a very modern highway full of traffic, we could see that the country really is 70 percent mountainous, highly urbanized, and very difficult battle terrain.

One other Western influence that we took advantage of–and one of the important points in the development of South Korea–was the 1988 Olympics. About that time, the military coalitions that had dominated Korea from its independence were overthrown by the democratic governments that we see today. The current political climate with the U.S. is marred by protests against a treaty the Korean president has been pushing to allow U.S. beef to be admitted to Korea. The protesters were at the presidential palace when we stopped by, and Professor Park engaged them in discussion–he was in the same class with one of the senators. Unlike protests in the past when I’ve been here, the police sat in a bus. Previously, they would stand outside with their battle shields and helmets and tear gas…

The shorter story was that as a result of the American assistance (we had 7th Army HQ in downtown Seoul until a few years ago) and the Olympics, baseball is popular here. We went to Olympic Stadium to see the LG Twins play the Kia Tigers (the corporations sponsor the teams–great marketing). It was 3 hours of disco baseball, a combination of basketball and soccer, with never a quiet moment. The baseball was pretty good, but the food was Burger King (a bulgogi Whopper was available–the Koreans love beef, and Bulgogi is a heavily marinated meat) and KFC.

As I said, I’m not in China, and I’m enjoying Seoul Food!

Eat Kimchee and smile!

Macau

May 21st, 2008 by

Hi from Macau. Was here for one night and will write at length when I get a chance (we’re at our way to the ferry to return to Hong Kong. We’re suffering from sticker shock–probably the best way to capture the difference in prices from here to the mainland: the Internet (in HK) is 50 cents a minute, and the laundry is five times the price it was.

We arrived in HK from amen after a really interesting experience that you’ve probably read or seen on TV. At 2:28 Monday as we sat in the airport, everything came to a halt. The TV started to play, with footage from every major city, as China observed 3 minutes of silence for the earthquake victims. The coverage has been almost non-stop, almost the same footage as on CNN. The “Katrina like” crisis has certainly brought out the nationalism of the Chinese people–more than anything I’ve seen since I’ve been coming to China. Even Hong Kong observed it–and the racetrack we had planned to go to tonight closed down. It’s very somber. Even the casinos in Macau (the main reason 25 million people come here a year–it’s a city of about half a million) observed a moment of silence.

I remember the first time I came to Hong Kong–how awed I was by the view of the harbor and the buildings and the peak. I still get goosebumps. Shanghai may be more modern, with bigger buildings, but Shanghai doesn’t have the harbor and the peak that make Hong Kong so special. A number of our students would like to stay here, or study here, or live here. There’s a reason you use the word “Shanghai’d” to describe being taken somewhere you don’t want to go. Hong Kong is, to use an old film title, “A Many Splendored Thing.”

Even there, there have been many changes since the handover in 1999. Both Hong Kong and Macau have experienced influxes of Chinese tourists from the mainland, in a big way. The monopoly of the Stanely Ho family on the casinos has been broken, and there are 20 casinos now, including a Sands and a Wynn. They call it the Asian Las Vegas, but it does 2 times the revenue of Vegas. I like it because of the old, though–it was Portuguese, and we’re in the Mediterranean if you stick to the old areas–stucco and pastel, Catholic churches dating to the time when the Jesuits arrived here in the 16th century.

More later, probably from Seoul. Looking forward to some soul food.

Amoy

May 19th, 2008 by

We’re about to leave mainland China, having spent the last few days as tourists. In Shanghai, we spent a day in a “water town,” one of the cities on the Grand Canal that has been gentrified for tourists–and was mobbed with them. What was pretty neat was that we visited the home of one of the country gentlemen, and once again realized that “to be rich is glorious,” Deng Xiao ping’s comment. The next day (our last in Shanghai) we visited (along with half the world) the Oriental Pearl Tower, the highest TV tower in Asia. It gave us a view of Pudong and the Bund. As far as the eye can see, Shanghai is high rises. The building also houses a Shanghai museum, which had models of the international settlement from the 1920s, which look like some of my postcards–and dioramas of the major buildings left from the foreign days. There are more than I thought–and it seems to be that the new emperors in China tend to occupy the buildings and palaces of the old.

That’s true here in Xiamen, perhaps better known in the West as Amoy, which is how it is pronounced (I think) in the local (Hokkien) dialect. It’s at 24 degrees, says my GPS, which makes it somewhere around Mexico, and located along the coast, it’s hot and humid. I hadn’t been here for about 13 years, and so it’s a real litmus test of how far China has changed since I’ve been traveling. The short answer is “a lot,” even in this city of 2 million, which the Chinese call a small city.

It has some really important history:

At the end of the Ming dynasty, the Chinese resistance focused here, on a rebel the Dutch called Koxinga (whose name is Zheng Chenggong). He helped recapture Taiwan (I think) and that makes him important in contemporary China–Amoy is the closest big city to Taiwan, and the Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan occupy a few islands in sight of the city. For years, they shelled one another at regular intervals. Last time I was here we were able to see the nationalist troops and hear slogans and the national anthem. I understand it’s pretty low-key today, but a reminder that the Taiwan Straits is one of the major problems in Sino-foreign relations. The mainland Chinese consider Taiwan part of China, and any efforts to separate are taken very seriously (nationalism is one of the bonds that unifies a disparate China).

In 1860, Amoy became a treaty port–with a difference. It was the only port other than Shanghai that developed an international settlement, where foreigners set up their own government. The settlement was on Drum Wave Island (Gulangyu), and when I first went there in 1993, I was astonished at how much of the old architecture was left. The island has no cars (is this China, I asked?), had crumbling architecture, and only about 20,000 people. Because of the proximity to Taiwan, Xiamen became a closed city, controlled by the Navy, and with the Navy officers occupying many of the mansions. Happily, much of the architecture is restored and preserved; it’s ironic to me that the Chinese now recognize the semicolonial period (how they describe it) as part of their patrimony–and there were incredible crowds on the island (it was Sunday), part of the enrichment going on that makes it possible for Chinese tourists. The part near the jetty has been converted into shops (as has been most of China), but the rear of the island has many of the old mansions restored. Since I was here last, there is a new “piano museum” collecting the pianos that were in the foreign houses. There are some incredibly elegant works of art that passed as pianos, and there are recordings that play around the island, which is known as the “piano capital” of China.

Finally, Xiamen was one of the original special economic zones designated in the 80s by Deng Xiao Ping to attract foreign investors with special tax and other privileges. While our guide has pointed out that the zone’s success has varied depending on who the regime in Beijing wants to favor (it was Pudong until recently) we saw lots of factories on our trip to a hot spring (everyone’s favorite visit!) The guide also pointed out that the tensions in Taiwan-mainland relations have scared some foreign investment.

China’s diaspora has come mostly from Amoy and Guangdong, the next province south, so the food has started to resemble more what we see in the United States. Happily, we are in an area where I can walk around (in the center of the city), and we found a restaurant we liked so well (it was a free night) that we took the whole group–spicy squid, goose, various pork dishes (including the best pork chops I’ve ever had)–not the standard tourist stuff we’ve been eating.

Yesterday I got up early and walked to Sun Yat-sen park, which is right around the corner. It makes an epigrammatic statement about China’s 20th and 21st century history. The park was built in the late 20s in honor of Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of the Chinese republic. A large bronze statue of the Dr. greets you when you enter the park. The introduction talks about the development of the park, which housed a temple, creek, mountains, zoo, and pavilions, trashed during the madness of the Cultural Revolution. Parts have been rebuilt, and the park was full of Chinese doing what Chinese do in the morning–tai qi, tai qi with sword, exercising (there’s a lot of gymnastic equipment for stretching, which has only recently been installed in Bloomington at Tipton Park), dancing, and sitting and enjoying life. A far cry from the ancient regime.

Two quick comments as we prepare to leave for Hong Kong:

There are currents, most of which we do not see, because we’re pampered prisoners, pretty much seeing what they want us to see. The inflation rate is high (as it is elsewhere in the world) for food, and the general rate here is about 8%, but higher in many basics. The Chinese government in Xiamen has ordered the buses not to use airconditioning to save on fuel, which is pretty enlightened, and has pushed back the development of ethanol to put an emphasis on food.

Second, the concept of the two Chinas is valid even in small cities like Xiamen. The main street (named for Dr. Sun, and one named abolish the foreign dynasty the Qing and restore the Ming) look for all the world like Michigan Avenue. The other China is the countryside, and the neighborhoods around the corner from Michigan Avenue. No doubt, China is raising living standards. Those left behind may be making history in the future–as they have in every Chinese dynastic cycle. More from Hong Kong.

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