Friday, July 28, 2006

Beijing Part 2 -- freedom wash over them (repost)

Also reposted from the China trip.


Beijing 2 - actual tourist points
Today's touring was done with the invaluable assistance of Tony Zhang; let me know if you're going to be in Beijing and need a city guide, I'll send you his contact info.

01: One of the two monuments bracketing the approaches to Mao's mausoleum.

02: The other; the building is set further back.

03: This cenotaph is dedicated to the heroism of the Chinese people in resisting the Japanese invaders in the second World War. It stands at the center of the current Tiennamen Square, and is thus at the center of Beijing as a whole.

04: The Great Hall, where the Party Congress meets once every five years to let China pretend that it has somewhat democratic rule. Of course, Tony didn't put it exactly that way, but that's basically how it goes.

05: Punched in on the seal. Despite all the private industry operating all over the place, this is still a communist country.

06: The South gate to the Forbidden City. Once reserved for emperors, Chairman Mao now invites the common man to come in this way...if they have the 60 RNB to pay for a ticket to the inner part.

07: Inside the Forbidden City, in a non-ticketed area. You can see a couple tourist-trap booths in the center, but they're also now occupying all of the outer perimeter walls. What is the economic system here again??

08: A non-open building, Forbidden City. The tour here is very one-path, all outside, because the tourist volume would probably destroy faster than the Chinese governent can restore. Not maliciously, but just because of the numbers of people involved. It took as long to build this entire complex as it did to build the Frauenkirche in Dresden, but the government can't exactly get slave labor like it used to, so the rebuilding rate is now only at the level of Dresden.

09: A gargantuan 350-degree panoramic inside the first ticketed gate of the Forbidden City. This is the main courtyard, and just as immense in person. This graphic is over 5000 pixels wide, so you may want to just "save target as", download it to your harddrive, and view it from there.

10: Another building in the Forbidden City. I don't think this is one of the tourable ones.

11: Next gate, Forbidden City. The tour proceeds south to north, so it's really a bit of a one-path dungeon.

12: Staircase carving, I think at the building where the emperor heard disputes among his subjects.

13: Marble railings around the same building. You can see the damage done by chemical pollution as well as the extent and scale of the architecture.

14: Closeup, marble finial. A better view of the (remaining) detail, as well as the composition of the courtyard. The layers of brick go fifteen deep in order to make sure that no plants come up to the surface.

15: Beijing over the Forbidden City. I saw a shot on the Discovery Channel a couple days ago, panning over from the smog and modern buildings of Cairo onto the pyramids, and wanted a similar establishing effect with this as well. This marvelous archaeological site really is still located in the middle of a modern city, which may not come through in some of the other pics.

16: Gate to the inner sanctum. Everything so far has been the official part of the palace, where business was carried out. This end was for the exclusive use of the emperor, his wife, and his harem of concubines, selected in the annual "Miss China 16 years old contest" for the duration of the imperial system. It's good to be the king.

17: Wall detail, inner sanctum gate. The design seems very Indian- and/or Arabic-influenced, which makes sense given the power of the Moguls in India when the Ming (who built this palace) came to power in China.

18: This is either the banquet room or imperial sleeping quarters -- I forget which came first and the map I have is marked only in Chinese.

19: Probably the throne room -- and this was as good a shot as I could get of it, given the overcast day and no internal lighting.

20: Paving flags in the imperial area. I don't think this is real jade, but maybe malachite, or something that looks sufficiently similar.

21: Imperial garden; nearly all the way out of the palace, and now finally we get some green. As you can see, these trees are pruned and manipulated bonsai fashion, but allowed to grow to their full size, which makes the shapes and twists that much cooler.

22: Pebble mosaic in the Imperial garden. These things cover the pathways, and are totally amazing, but nobody ever seems to notice them.

23: Imperial garden, nearly out the gate. Just a total postcard shot.

24: North gate of the Forbidden City. Shot on the way out, to give it the appropriate sense of size -- this thing is huge, larger even than the south gate.

25: Deutsche Romantische Strasse Torte, from It's like Engrish, but in German -- I dunno what that's specifically called. Alex? Anyone? Technically correct, totally meaningless, just a weird poster snapped from the taxi as we were going over to the Olympic stadium.

26: Curtain scrim before the acrobatic show. This was absolutely incredible, but I didn't take any pictures during the show -- their concentration would have been strong enough for it not to affect them, but it still doesn't feel right to haul out a camera instead of just watching the stunts.

27: 1970s school-aud architecture points. You can barely see it in this shot, despite the intent, but this auditorium had a lot in common, design-wise, with the one at my old high school. Weird.

28: Noticed in the lift -- how many floors are missing? Both Euro and Eastern superstitions are accounted for here, though you have to wonder how the Chinese get along effectively without the number 4.

29: The haul from today: tea and silk shirts, one of which I can actually use in a normal context. Expensive, but hopefully worth it.

30: Beijing by night. This was shot off the back of a chair through my hotel window, and it turned out almost stable enough. At night the dust and smoke are less apparent; one is reminded of Ramius' thought in The Hunt For Red October -- "Winter, like in many Soviet cites, was Gorkiy's best season. The snow hid all the dirt." Someday I'll care enough to buy a camera stand for these kinds of shots.

Touring this area with Tony was kind of surreal; we were about the same age, and got along perfectly, despite the language barrier (his English was very good, but this is good for East Asia, not generally), but you can't go to these places without coming up against the historical and political dimension, and the areas that were off the conversational menu left voids so large that they became noticeable by their absence.

As we walked across Tienanmen Square, he made no mention of the 1989 demonstrations -- and attendant repressions -- even though he grew up in Beijing and would have been aware of such events. I of course made no comment, except for whistling "The Tienanmen Man", which he didn't recognize. Ofcourse, normal people very seldom recognize Nevermore anywhere, but that's beside the point.

Further on, in the Forbidden City, there was no mention of the period between 1911 (when the last emperor renounced control) and 1947 (when Mao became the "first leader of New China"). It's like the Nationalist era never happened, and I don't know why. I mean, they won the civil war, and they still think that Taiwan is a part of their country that just hasn't been pacified/liberated yet. But again, I also didn't ask for clarification, didn't try to draw him out.

In the end, it all goes back to the fact that politics and religion are the two elephants in the room that nobody dares to mention, dares to poke around, even though they're everywhere, everywhere. In the interests of harmony, it's better not to bring politics up in China, or to openly criticize the system, but it's not moral, either, to ignore the realities of the situation. It's good to get along with people, but as you go through the new or the old tourist China, it's still essential to remember that there are people living in grinding poverty in the cities and in the countryside, and that there are people in secret prisons for nothing more than speaking against the government. In the interests of harmony, this has to be kept to yourself, but it must, must, be kept within yourself, always, as you move through this land and culture.

There's wretched poverty in the United States as well, and people detained without trial by the central government, but it's not as bad because we're allowed to talk about them without suffering more of the same. The light is off in China today, but we can't forget what is in the darkness; things are changing for the better, albeit slowly, and we need to remember what still needs to be fixed as conditions improve. It's not necessary, or even possible, for everyone to be an activist, but if we refuse to become involved in opposing the current system, we also have a moral duty to become involved in opposing those who'd change it.

Call me a mercantilist if you like, but this is the delicate line that has to be walked doing business in China today. It's interesting, it's challenging, it's ne of the most tremendous human challenges today. A long time ago, one of my German professors expressed concern that I'd be lost as a thinking, perceptive humanist in a world of numbers, but doing this kind of job has given me probably more opportunities to see the world and learn about people and cultures than I'd ever have had as a Germanist. Sure, it'd be possible to just go through this job dialed straight into just what the machine demands, just the pure function of the tool in the fab, but how the fuck could you live like that? How could you ever communicate with the FSEs and operators without the least idea of where they're coming from?

The days when engineers could get by with FORTRAN for their foreign language requirement are over, that's for sure; I don't know how it'll go in the future, but I know that I couldn't hang on here without thinking as well as computing.

Written while processing a large bottle of Haidao Black; this is some good stuff, not as good as German schwarzbiere, but decent all the same. Also noted in the city yesterday, even more notable to me than all these legendary landmarks: a kid waiting for the bus in a Mortician shirt, showing that even here, as well as in Europe, METAL STILL RULES!!

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