Archive for August, 2006

Sunday August 27, 2006

August 27, 2006 - 11:52 pm 2 Comments

Interesting links to share:

For Monday, August 28th, the most e-mailed NYT article was:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/27/arts/television/27heff.html?ex=1156824000&en=cf3ab425004bdc43&ei=5087%0A

The accompanying guitar video is here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QjA5faZF1A8

Quite amazing how online communities can generate such powerful momentum!

Thursday August 24, 2006

August 24, 2006 - 9:04 pm 1 Comment

Now that I’m finally in the airport lounge and rested, I can begin to put to rest my adventure in China.

 

Guilin is truly beautiful – the living incarnation of the mountain-river landscape paintings of famous Chinese artists. Instead of just simple verdure on a rolling hill, the mountains are majestic peaks, shaped in some of the most distinctive forms imaginable. In particular, I thought the “Camel Crossing the River” Mountain, Elephant Mountain, and Eagle Mountain were the most awe-inspiring.

 

On the third day of the tour, we went to Yang Shuo, the most beautiful part of Guilin. Being there simply erased all feelings of disappointment – imagine layers after layers of jagged mountain peaks, an infinite expansive of shadowed blues stretching into the horizon. Since the area is quite remote and undeveloped, the natural bucolic scene remains pristine. The scenery imparts a sense of absolute tranquility – mountains immersed in misty clouds, thick bamboo forests, and clear river tributaries.

 

The most notable attractions, in my opinion are:

 

  1. Taking a Bamboo Raft Down the Dragon River in Yang Shuo County – This experience was truly unparalleled. The bamboo raft was exactly like those depicted in the scenic landscape photographs of China. As we went down the Dragon River, I had a wonderful view of the mountains. Languidly drifting down the river, I imagined what it would be like to live such a simplistic lifestyle, completely abstracted from the pressures of modernity. Notably, we saw a local fisherman catch fish with his fishing birds (I wish I knew the English name of the bird, but the tour was in Cantonese so I wasn’t able to figure it out). The birds all had a red string tied tightly on their necks. In order to catch fish, the fisherman would push one of the birds off the narrow bamboo raft. The bird would float around, and then once it saw a fish, it would dive under the waters and emerge victorious. Perhaps a cruel practice, the fisherman would then bring the bird back to the raft and squeeze the fish out of the bird’s throat. Since the birds are kept hungry, they continuously seek fish with a deadly precision. The fisherman was very friendly; he set one of the birds on my arm, and I was so surprised to discover how heavy it was!

 

  1. Caverns in Yang Shuo County – Imagine Luray Caverns, but an infinite times better. The caverns were truly spectacular – 2.3 kilometers of impossible stalactite and stalagmite formations. Stretching under dozens of mountains, the caverns were incredibly spacious in length and width; the ceilings were often easily over six stories. Notably, I saw formations that looked exactly like the Monkey King from the “Journey to the West”, a series of formations that looked like Buddhist worship sculptures, a huge set of stalactites that could generate beautiful tones like an organ, and a scientifically unexplainable formation that looked like a large crystalline umbrella, all framed by clear pools of water which reflected the formations nearly perfectly, thus creating the illusion of infinite depth. If one were to walk through the caverns at a brisk pace, it would still take at least an hour. Words fail me in describing what I saw. I am, however, slightly miffed by the fact that efforts of preservation are simply not there. People are welcome to eat and drink in the caverns, and touching of the rock formations is common, to the detriment of the death of the formations.

 

  1. Hiking up one of the famous mountains of Yang Shuo – A comfortable mountain breeze and a spectacular view of Elephant Mountain made this hike incredibly memorable. For me, it was a great opportunity to stretch my legs and enjoy the mountain scenery from a close-up perspective instead of mere passive observation.

 

  1. “Guilin: Living Theatre” Performance – So much to write about this performance – I was astounded and mesmerized by the acrobatics and the stunts, but at the same time, taken aback by the commoditization of the performers. [I promise to write about this in a later entry once I arrive back home.]

 

  1. The Monkey Garden – So much to write about this attraction as well. Once again, I’m torn between applauding the facility for its research on an endangered mountain monkey species native to Guilin, and condemning the garden for its almost inhumane facilities. [I promise to write about this in a later entry once I arrive back home.]

 

This entry has captures my most glorious moments in China. I have discovered, however, that wherever you go in China, there is always ambivalence between wonder and disgust. For each of the places I visited, I have enjoyed myself thoroughly, but also observed some of the most troubling aspects of human nature.

 

For example, rampant capitalism in China can easily spoil the experience. Floating down the bamboo raft, we were accosted by many young children who tried to sell trinkets, beginning to the point of near annoyance. Moreover, it was often hard to block out the crudeness of my fellow travelers as they screamed and yelled about stupid superficial things, completely neglecting the beauty around them. Often times, their presence and canker spoiled my introspection and appreciation of the scenary, but I came out okay, and that’s what matters.

Tuesday August 22, 2006

August 22, 2006 - 11:46 am 3 Comments

I’ve been in China for only a few days, and the amount I’ve already experienced and observed is bewildering. The society here is significantly more complex, and the character of deceit is self-reinforcing as the locals continually express their skepticism of the nature of their fellow people. Nearly everyone I’ve talked to has a horror story of a robbery, scam, or close call in China…it made me seriously reconsider my vacation, but I am overall glad I did not. Nevertheless, the cautions that I’ve gotten makes me think that everyone in China is a cheater or criminal. The fact that I’ve come on this tour alone is completely shocking to everyone on the tour as well as my Credit Suisse co-workers and friends. In this city, a non-native is easily cheated, and the stakes are often higher than just petty cash. Trust no one, everyone tells me. At the same time, am I supposed to trust them?

 

Everyone thinks my parents are negligent for letting me come alone, and they look at me with pity. As a result, I’ve been “adopted” by various families – my temporary “mother” keeps on telling me to not go back home to America because she’d take care of me better than my real mom. Ironically, at the same time, the experience of being watched out for is quite scary, because my fellow travelers have also chided me for relying on them for translations and information. Although they constantly help me understand what’s going on considering the tour is completely in Cantonese, they also caution me with probing concerns like, how can you be so trusting? How can you be so naïve to just rely on our information? (Afterwards, all of them assure me that they are good people, but that everyone else is bad…I’m in a constant state of alert wariness…bad for one’s mental health I think)

 

Guilin is beautiful, but I will be blunt…it’s not nearly what I imagined. Today’s tour was significantly better than yesterday’s, but there is still much to be improved. This dirt cheap tour ($450HK – equivalent basically to one expensive meal with my colleagues in Hong Kong) is honestly a good deal, especially since lodging and food are covered, but it also means long hours by bus and perhaps the most disappointingly sedentary travel itinerary I’ve ever been on due to the preponderance of elderly travelers. For someone like me accustomed to hiking in the Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Mountains and climbing some pretty spectacular mountains in Taiwanthis tour has been disappointing because we mostly just observe the mountains passively from afar. There are so many breathtaking sights that make all my previous experiences pale in comparison, but the bad company I’m keeping and the juxtaposition of run-down, impoverished urban areas slightly contaminates the grandeur.

 

Yesterday, we took a cruise down the Lijiang River, supposedly the most picturesque of all of Guilin. I was so disappointed! Instead of a narrow, deep river bordered by steep, impossibly shaped peaks, I discovered that the mountains are sparse and far between, separated from the river by a large grassy plain. Moreover, the constant pushiness of the boat vendors and my fellow screaming travelers yelling to take a picture, spoiled the moment. The river was only 3 feet deep, and extremely wide, dirty, and plain. The phrase, “Guilin Mountains and River Mirror Heaven” seemed too much to me like a pompous boat than a reality. It’s quite true, most of the mountains are stunning – heavy limestone reaching upwards in odd shapes worthy of the famous Chinese paintings they inspired, but I just can’t block out the dirty streets, noise, and most obviously, my fellow travelers. I bought a photo book of pictures taken from the same river, and was so surprised at how different the scenes looked.

 

Today, however, was much better. We ascended one of the most famous mountains on a ski lift…it literally took us 30 minutes to get to the peak. Despite the cloudiness, the view was stunning – the mountain peaks aren’t rounded and flat like what I’m used to seeing. Instead, the mountains rise nearly vertically into the sky. When I got to the pagoda on top, I saw right in front of me the vision which has captivated Chinese artistic imagination for centuries. The view was truly stunning…I could have stayed for a few more hours, but then there were the screaming vendors, the need to hurry back down the peak so we waste time going to mandatory shopping areas to cover the cost of the trip, and of course, my fellow travelers who can spoil even the most golden moment with their ill-mannered chatter.Ten minutes at the peak was not nearly as much time as I wanted. The bus took quite a few other stops today in front of eagle mountain and a rather crudely named mountain (would not like to repeat here), but I was literally the only one who opted to get off the bus since everyone else just wanted to just sit there unmoving. As a result, I pretty much had a few minutes to hop off and enjoy the scenery before getting back on that cramped, uncomfortable bus.

 

Since the tour is so dirt cheap, we have to eat mediocre food (incredibly oily and repetitive) and take those mandatory pit stops for shopping, thus detracting from my Guilin experience. Actually, I don’t mind that much – those trips are perhaps the most interesting studies in the depravity of human nature I’ve ever experienced. Even if Guilin turned out to be a disappointment (it’s not…the spectacular moments make up for all that has gone wrong), I’ve gained a new perspective into a completely different society.

 

China truly is the Middle Kingdom – beautiful, wide streets – the large space gives it so much more potential than Hong Kong and Taiwan. Nevertheless, it is a society that is so suspicious of itself that it will take many years before it can develop a sense of cohesiveness and collective consciousness necessary for true reform.

 

Observations:

 

I am seriously traveling with the crudest people imaginable, some which can be easily characterized as the scum of the earth. The family that “adopted” me is incredibly rough in manner. The mother is unkempt and loud-mouthed, while the father is a skinny, mean looking man with multiple skin grafts…the type that picks his nose and continues this meal without batting an eye. The daughter is very outgoing and incredibly friendly, but she continually invades my personal space and is just plainly so rough mannered! She has a tattoo of “hung” on her arm, spits when she talks, and talks very loudly and invasively. As her roommate, I was appalled when I discovered that she did not know how to take a shower INSIDE the tub (she thought she was just supposed to take it in the middle of the bathroom floor)…literally, everything flooded. Tonight, I had to instruct her on how to use a shower curtain! In short, most of the people here are crude, but well-intentioned. They spit on the ground, scream at waitresses and servicewomen, and talk very loudly about superficial things. I swear, I will never be one of these people. Of course there are some exceptions, and I do sincerely enjoy spending more time with them, but it’s very hard to block out the majority of the population. The more well-mannered persons in the group are usually large families, so they are quite closed off to drifters like me.

 

Slowly, layer by layer, I’m discovering the deception that exists even within this group and why people say that it’s impossible to trust anyone. Alex, an older man who pretty much got me settled into the tour at first, is traveling with a young female companion who I thought was his daughter at first. He seemed to be a good, dependable man at first, but then I discovered that she is pretty much his paid mistress and that he keeps a wife and family at home. The lady is the most awful person I’ve met so far, and yet, I have to see her so much since she sticks in my group like glue. She complains continuously, tells us how disgusting it is to be with an older man (I don’t even want to hear it, but she literally won’t let me walk away), and professes that money is the only thing that she loves (not even her two-year old son at home). The rudeness makes me feel very unclean the entire time, and I am now even more convinced of the importance of maintaining dignity. Superficially, everyone gets along, but then there are so many hidden snares that I have to watch out for. I just wish that I had someone to travel with. Going by myself honestly makes the experience a lot less relaxing and enjoyable – I don’t want to deal with this nonsense all the time; I just want to enjoy Guilin.

 

Oh, I have so much more to write about what I’ve seen. I’m keeping a journal of all the places that I’ve been to, and eventually, I’ll be able to get it all online. But I just figure for tonight, I’ll start with building the context of my travel. No more complaints about my travel companions in the future – I’ve figured out a way to block it out after three days of experience. For example, when Alex’s companion starts chattering away to me in her high-pitched annoying voice about topics I just don’t want to hear, I just stare at the space behind her head and imagine that it’s bulbasaur talking to me…she literally looks somewhat similar.

 

Guilin is beautiful; the trip is worth it. I have many more positive stories to tell, but I had to get these concerns out of my way first to have a clear mind to write about my experiences cleanly.

Sunday August 13, 2006

August 13, 2006 - 11:36 am 1 Comment

Can’t believe this is the last week of my internship…I truly loved the experience. Long hours passed so quickly due to the novelty of the content, supportiveness of my peers, and the constant push of a deadline.

Next week, I’m off to Guilin with a Cantonese bus tour group. I’m not particularly that thrilled, especially since I had originally planned to go to Beijing (the tour group cancelled on me at the last moment). I’ll pick up my refund on Tuesday, but what a disappointment!
 
Ah, I’ve been the Hong Kong History Museum a record six times! Truly worth it. I have almost all the exhibit text memorized…kind of scary.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY GRACE MENG! My darling sister turned 18, no longer legally a child anymore, though she will always be my little sister, no matter how old. She sent me the cutest video today of her impersonation of a certain androgynous Korean movie star…if you want it, please e-mail me!