Sunday, April 26, 2009

姚明民族山村 Yao Ethnic Mountain Village

On a business trip to Tong Mu in northeastern Guangxi we visited a town high up in the beautiful mountains. These mountains weren't the karst formations Guangxi is famous for, they were more like the Rocky mountains. I don't know the correct translation of the name of the town, in pinyin it is Jin Xou (which also might be misspelled).

It is a high mountain village of the Yao people, one of China's 50+ ethnic minority groups. The canyon was gorgeous, especially in the rain. On our way up the canyon we saw several old Yao women walking up the road in the rain. We stopped to talk to them and before we knew it they were climbing in the back seat! Only two of them fit so the others continued walking.

Wang Xi Xi and Nong Hong Ping were now sharing the back seat with these cute little old ladies. I asked them if they would be my Chinese grandmas and they agreed. They were so cute. They each had about 7 children, I don't remember how old they were, but they said the fish from the cold mountain lakes were very tasty. When we finally arrived in the town they let us take photos with them before they went home. They said that next time I came to visit they would make me dinner.

The town has a river flowing right through the middle of it. It was very beaufitul but we didn't explore much due to the rain. We ate a watermelon and got back in the car to drive down the canyon.

骑着马中文 Riding Chinese Horses

The day before my birthday this year my frieng Qiu Lian Feng took me horseback riding in a rural village east of Nanning. He'd been there before, riding retired thoroughbread race horses from the Hong Kong racing circuit. I was excited to ride a huge expensive beautiful horse, but they were closed.

The horses we rode, like many things in China, were much smaller than I was accustomed to. I rode their largest horse, which was still relatively small compared to the quarter horses I'm used to in North America. Still, it was fun, to a point.

The saddles didn't have a horn on them and were not comfortable (as much as a horse saddle can be comfortable) but the stirrups were so much better than those in the US; the stirrups ran parallel to my feet, not at 90 degrees which, when putting weight on them, really yanks my knees. Of course the stirrups were too short for me even adjusted to their full length, so it was difficult to shift my weight from my legs to butt while riding, and my feet kept coming out of the stirrups.

We rode for about an hour, through a bamboo forest, fields of freshly sprouted crops, up a pine covered hill, and along a straight concrete road through the forest. It was beautiful but not as easy as I remembered.

Communication between rider and horse in China is different than its American counterpart. I never got the hang of it. My horse never did what I told her to, mostly because I was telling her the wrong things by using the reins with an American "accent."

I'm no horse expert but I have ridden horses before and have some equine confidence. My father's family has a long history of proud horsemanship (informally) and I shamed that history in China, or finally joined it depending on your perspective.

I was trying to get my horse to gallop and keep up with the other two horses but she just wouldn't do it. She finally decided to increase her speed right as we were taking a right turn up a hill. Of course my left foot had come out of my stirrup and I hadn't gotten it back in yet when she bolted. As I was sliding down the left side of this horse, trying to keep from falling by pulling on the reins, saddle, and squeezing my legs together, my right calf muscle went into a large painful spasm (charlie horse!) and I knew I was going down. It was in slow motion. I landed square on my butt. Imagine doing a free fall from 5 feet in the air, hooray for spinal compression!

The force of the imapct stunned me and for a second I couldn't move. All of the muscles in my body were suddenly very tight and very sore. I eventually stood up and started walking up the hill. It didn't take long for my horse to catch up to the others and then I heard Qiu Lian Feng yelling out my name and soon they were coming back down the hill with my horse in tow. I was the stupid American city-dweller who couldn't stay on his horse. 

Saturday, April 25, 2009

我国首次太空行走 China's First Space Walk

China's space program celebrated their first space walk on Saturday 27 September 2008. Although it was Saturday it was a normal work day for my company (swapping weekend and work days to have more consecutive days off for national day). The space walk was broadcast live on CCTV and their website. We gathered around a couple computers in our deparment and watched as history was made.

It was an interesting experience for me. From one point of view it was strange to celebrate a space walk when the US has been doing it for more than 4o years. From another point of view it was historic and I recalled my parents telling me exactly where they were when they heard that mankind stood on the moon for the first time. No one seemed all that excited. I tried to excite them and tell them that they will remember this historic moment but I'm not sure if anyone understood me.

Still, it was great to be here in China and see my friends watch their space program's first EVA.

来宾车队 Laibin Motorcade

Laibin is a town in Guangxi province that I have driven through many times. One day on our way back to Nanning the road had been closed and the traffic was backed up. There were police there making sure that no vehicles passed through.

It turned out that it was a motorcade of central government officials on their way from Nanning to Laibin. Several vans, buses, SUVs, and police cars finally passed by and we were on our way again. I thought it was really strange to close so many roads for a government official. I know we do the same in the US for the president, but I'm pretty sure that Hu Jin Tao was not in this particular motorcade. Whoever this official was, they may have been in Nanning to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region (technically not a province).

(The high-rise apartment buildings being built in the background are typical of any city or town in China. There are probably hundreds of cranes in Nanning alone, towering over buildings wearing their scaffolding and mesh clothing.)

冷凝各地 Condensation Everywhere

On my way to work one morning I noticed that the floor outside my apartment was wet. The painted concrete gets mopped regularly so I didn't think anything of it. When I got downstairs the tiled steps were all wet too. The stairs up to the back patio of my office building, and the patio itself, were also all wet. The stone floors inside the lobby of my office building were wet too. It seemed like every floor had been mopped at the very same time and was still drying. The floors in the stairwells were wet, on each floor of our office building, even the walls were wet. I finally concluded that no one had mopped any where. 

I talked with Chen Yu who said that there are a couple days like this every year. I don't know what temperature the threshold is, but when winter turns to spring the air outside heats up faster than the thermal mass of the buildings. It takes a couple days for the building to heat up so as they are cooler than the humid air around them condensation forms EVERYWHERE. It was pretty interesting, and potentially very slippery.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

长江和嘉陵江汇合的河流 The Yangtze and Jialing Rivers Confluence

Chongqing city is built at the confluence of the Yangtze (长江) and Jialing (嘉陵) rivers. My visit to Chongqing in November 2008 was my first time to see the Yangtze river. 

The Yangtze is a long river with a long history. "Ping" was one of my favorite childhood books and was set on the Yangtze river; it sparked my imagination of this foreign river. More recent readings have introduced me to the cultural, environmental, and economic aspects of the river. When I finally saw it and touched it I felt a great respect for this powerful masculine river.

I was surprised at how fast the Yangtze flows in Chongqing. It had been raining but was near the end of the rainy season so the water was pretty high and had a healthy flow.

The confluence of the two rivers is at the tip of the peninsula on which downtown Chongqing is built. The difference in the water color of each river was obvious and exciting. The Yangtze's lighter silty green swallows the darker water of the Jialing river. 

I thought about the hundreds of millions of people who rely on this river for transportation, food, water, agriculture, shipping, and scenic beauty. The Yangtze feels very strong and reliable, its constant flow comforts those who rely on it. It is patient and powerful.

500佛像寺庙 500 Buddhas Temple

In the beautiful city of Chongqing (重庆市) there is a Buddhist monastery among the skyscrapers on the peninsula between the confluence of the Jialin and Chang (Yangtze) rivers. It's a working monastery with monks living there and everything. One of the highlights for me was a construction site.

The 500 Buddhas Temple was not yet complete. We walked through some construction debris and went inside the open doors. The 500 Buddhas were still being made by a team of sculptors. It was very visually interesting.

There were huge mounds of clay all over the floor, along with some broken Buddha pieces and plastic sheeting. There were several fiberglass Buddha molds both inside and outside the building. The sculptors were working in the dim light of a few bare light bulbs and were surrounded by Buddhas in various stages of completion. It was a rare opportunity to see this team of sculptors making the 500 Buddhas right there in the temple they will inhabit.