In March, we visited Marco Polo Bridge (in Chinese, Luguo Qiao–which doesn’t have anything to do with Marco Polo but I forget what its actual Chinese meaning is). One of Jared’s professors from Peking University kindly took us there in his nice car and told us all about everything.
Unfortunately, he took us in the evening since we could get on the bridge for free after 6:30 or something, so the pictures are all kind of dark.
Apparently, westerners call it the Marco Polo bridge because they first heard about it when Marco Polo wrote about his travels in the 13th century. The bridge here now has been updated since the 11th century when the first one was built (apparently it needed renovations in the 17th century), but the lions decorating the edges and some of the stones in the middle are the original stones, I think.
Our guide told us that nobody knows exactly how many lions there are: people have tried to count them and come up with different numbers. I guess some of them have gotten worn away with time, so that doesn’t help either. This lion, for instance, has a little lion under its paw and another by its head–and every lion on the bridge is different.
Another thing Marco Polo Bridge is famous for is being the place where World War II started in China (also known as the Second Sino-Japanese War) in 1937. My Resident Historian (everyone should keep one on hand!) tells me that Americans don’t think of WWII as starting until their involvement in the war with Pearl Harbor in 1941, but that the official date should really be July 7, 1937 because that’s when Japan extended its invasion of China.
Apparently, the objective of the Japanese was not just the bridge over the river, but Wanping “city” at the other end of the bridge. (It’s really more like a fortress or castle, but our guide told us it was a city.)
The fortress was built a lot like Xi’an: city walls of nearly 30 feet thick, a series of gates and courtyards for the entrances(so when the enemy had broken through the first gate they’d be penned up like sheep and easy to kill), and guard towers directly on top of the gates. It’s quite a bit smaller, though.
On the outside walls of the castle, you can see the marks of the Japanese invasion. The walls are riddled with bullet holes and in some places scarred by cannon fire. But even a cannon can’t do much against a 30-foot wall.
Eventually the Japanese did capture the fortress of Wanping, and Marco Polo Bridge became known not just for its beauty, but for its tragedy.
By far, one of the more laughable things about living in China is the postal system. People tootle around in little bicycle trucks with China Post or EMS or Amazon on the sides, delivering packages and letters to their destinations. Once they get there, they call your phone and you go collect your package. It’s really rather a smart system, for things within China. For things coming outside of China, though, they don’t do so well. The number of packages and letters that they’ve lost for us amounts to nearly half of the packages and letters that have been sent here. Maybe they like the poor Americans to feel even lonelier amid their thousands of people. Or maybe we just don’t know enough Chinese to get our address right.
The latest edition in the silliness of Chinese Customs, however, was just recently. My parents sent a small box a couple days ago (full of stuff that I’m too much of a cheapskate to buy, like clothes–seriously, everything nice here I’ve seen has cost around 600-800 RMB. No thanks!), and FedEx customs wanted to know every detail. Could I send them my passport? Done. Could I fill out a form with my name and address and passport number, signing away my rights to inspect the package? Done. Could I tell them, in minute detail, what the contents of the package were? Not really. But I tried, using my stereoscopic X-ray vision that can zoom in on a package I’ve never seen that’s somewhere in the middle of Beijing and determine what EXACTLY was put into it back in America. I’m cool like that.
Actually, I just made it up, based on my rudimentary knowledge of what I was expecting to see in the package. So Mom, you better not have stashed anything illegal in it. May I suggest, oh dearest of dear Customs people, that you think up a slightly smarter system for finding out what’s in people’s packages? Like, I don’t know, maybe asking the person who PACKED the package, instead of the recipient? Except they do that too. Maybe they like playing mind games with people.
Other than spending time obsessing over when (or if) I will get a letter or a package or some reminder that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth and become one of your dear departed, I’ve just been up to the usual craziness. Eight classes. Midterms. Biking. And taking pictures of spring flowers, with which I will leave you:
It’s spring here! Earlier than anywhere else I’ve lived, even though it’s no farther south.
Last fall, I was assured that winters here were terrible–extremely long and cold. It made me think we wouldn’t be seeing any warmth until maybe mid-June. But apparently, they were wrong. (I think the moral of the story is, don’t trust a Seattleite’s perception of winter. Any winter with more than two weeks of below-freezing weather seems long and arduous to them!) Mid-March is really early for spring, in my opinion.
But it’s not all beautiful blossoms and 20 degree weather (of course I’m talking Celsius!). Along with the (one week of) warmer weather has also come more mosquitoes. And guess who they’re after? Yours truly. There must be something about my blood that makes it like crack for mosquitoes–if it’s a contest between me and Jared, I win 95% of the time. You can call me attractive.
Not on the spring theme, but funny anyways:
In the middle of Beijing, what’s the last thing you’d expect to see?
Yes, it’s a horse. In the middle of Beijing. It’s generally there every weekend, though I have no idea where it lives or how far they have to come. Sometimes it even has a mule and donkey pal with it. They sell oranges out the back of that wagon, though I’m pretty sure they weren’t grown locally. Some things are just a mystery.
And this little girl was just too cute. She was standing and talking to the horse, and then she leaned over and tried to kiss the horse. As you can see, it was unimpressed.
Any spring flowers yet in the frozen wilds of North America? Or horses trotting down your city streets?
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in the middle of a city?
Thankfulness comes hard in February. Short days coupled with grey weather and (here, at least) lots of smog make it hard to think of anything but what you want to be different.
Perhaps that’s why they say March comes in like a lion, out like a lamb: it’s an apt description of how you feel at the beginning and end of this month. Thankfully, now that it’s March, things are starting to warm up, the sun’s coming out, and we even had a beautiful cloudless day today with the pollution at only 29! So maybe I’ll become more lamb-like quickly (don’t bet on it, though!). With school starting and lesson plans galore, plus rejection letters pouring in from everywhere, a change in the weather still isn’t helping this grumpy person much.
Still, I’m excited about this semester. I’m finally getting to teach actual EFL classes instead of College Composition adapted for non-native English speakers. It’s going to be so much more fun to talk about things like friendship and music and clothing in class instead of things like sentence writing or comma splices. Plus, there’s the added benefit of my students telling me (in their self-introductions to the class) how beautiful I am and what a cute smile I have. I can’t imagine any university student in America saying that to their teacher–can you? (Although of course I don’t mind.) Must be different cultural norms here!
So maybe now that March is getting its move on and it’s starting to get light in the mornings, I’ll get more creative inspiration and less moaning about how awful job searching is. It certainly can’t hurt that I won’t have time to fill out applications 24/7. If you have any ideas of blog posts you’d love to read from me (all 16 of you who read my blog), you can leave a note in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas!
It’s midnight in China, and it feels like we’re in the middle of a siege right now, as loud booms, sharp reports, and far-away thunderclaps crack. The smell of gunpowder and explosions is everywhere: burnt, acrid, sharp. We try not to think of what it’s doing the air quality.
This city is echoing, filled with thousands of distant booms, and some not-so-distant ones. Every Chinese person left in Beijing must be setting off firecrackers right now. Unlike holidays in the US, where only certain designated authorities can set off fireworks, anyone in China can set off any type of firework so everyone is setting off every kind. And so we’re carried back to what the Civil War must have sounded like: thankfully, though, without the accompanying carnage. This is a celebration.
At the louder cracks, we lean out of our windows, trying to catch a glimpse of some of the fireworks, making sure they’re not headed for our building. I finally manage to get the camera ready in time to get a picture against the dark night sky.
At 10:00 p.m., we decided to wander around campus for while to get some up-close action. We should have brought ear protectors, because wow are these fireworks loud. Take the noise of a string of Black Cats and multiply it times ten or so and you’ll have a rough estimate of what these sounded like.
Unsurprisingly, it’s nearly all men setting these off. They seem to love the loud sounds and watching things go “Boom,” with the added spice of danger from perhaps getting hit by an errant Roman Candle.
One man came up to us and asked if they have fireworks in America (at least, that’s what I think he was asking!). We tried to tell him we did, but that you can’t set off big ones there. I’m not sure he understood us–we were lacking some pretty necessary vocabulary words, as somehow they don’t teach you to say “fireworks” in Chinese class.
And then we went home and tried to go to bed–I’m sure you can guess how sucessful that attempt was. Strings of fireworks being let off outside one’s bedroom window do not a sucessful bedtime make. The noise was a cross between a loud hailstorm on a metal roof and a catfight.
And that was how our first day of the new year ended, not with a bang, but a whimper. Of relief that the fireworks were finally over, and we could go to bed.
This week, we’re planning to see some of the other New Year celebrations–yes, it’s celebrated for a whole week. Probably by the end of the week, we’ll be able to sleep through just about anything.
So my poor little blog here is feeling neglected. It just hasn’t had so much attention lately, I guess.
Or maybe it’s not the blog that’s feeling neglected, but me. Whatever it is, I just haven’t had anything to write. Writing’s supposed to be therapeutic, they say, calculated to let you pour out all your feelings and thoughts and expressions into one cathartic experience. But lately, I’ve just been complaining. And who wants to read that? (Plus, is it really that cathartic to complain? Generally it just leads to more.)
Maybe it’s because Beijing around the Chinese New Year is so empty it makes you wonder if the Rapture really did happen and carry everyone off, leaving you behind. I haven’t noticed any piles of neatly folded clothes laying around, though, so maybe we’ll discount that explanation. Beijing really is turning into a ghost town, though. Bike parking is opening up, restaurants and grocery stores are shutting down for the next week (meaning that we need to stock up on food before it’s too late and we go on an unintentional week-long fast), and the city is actually almost quiet. Sadly, it hasn’t led to much of a decrease in pollution levels.
One thing that hasn’t completely disappeared, though, is the smart car/e-bike cross. I’ve been seeing more and more of them around lately, and they’re simply hilarious looking.
This groovy little yellow pod meets all standard fashion requirements. With three scales covering its exterior and a warm and cozy interior, you will be set to tootle around Beijing in the latest style. Order yours today!
In case snazzy yellow-ness isn’t your thing, you can go for this army-green model that looks as though it’s seen one road trip too many. But a large windshield/dashboard combination along with some stylish yellow nursery-floor padding will be sure to keep your eyes protected and your legs warm. Our most afforable option! (I’m guessing.)
Very similar in style to Exhibit B, this vehicle offers just a squinch more versatility. With a fully-enclosed driver compartment, you never have to worry about your legs getting too cold. Plus, large glass windows enclose the back, making it easier to see when you’re about to get run over by a bus the panoramic views the city affords.
This last option comes in a couple different colors, and is by far the most upscale of all our options. With up-to-date options like front and rear doors, along with actual working lights and no duct-tape to be seen, this is an option that the most glaringly correct could feel proud to drive. Plus, it’s easy to park!
If you’re interested in investing in any one of these lovely vehicles, come to China. They’ll all be ripe for the picking. And if you ask me nicely, I may just tell you about the time we rode in one of these lovely little bicycle vehicles and nearly fell out the floor.
Whaddaya think? Did I miss my future in writing advertising copy?
When you first go to China, you assume that everything will look Chinese: red lanterns, curvy roofs, narrow streets with hordes of people walking down them.
You think things will possibly be dirty, crowded, stuck in the 1800s and the era of the emperors, where everyone wears long pigtails,or at least in 1950s and the era of Mao, with everyone wearing blue or gray Mao suits.
You think maybe people will still get around in rickshaws carted by Chinese workers, and maybe women still practice foot-binding, and maybe they’re still cooking over fires or something.
And then you get to China, and you see what it’s really like. And it’s nothing like what you imagined. Tall skyscrapers tower into the air. Cars overrun the streets. People are everywhere, and they wear American clothes, and many of them even speak English.
It’s a modern city now, and as such, isn’t very different from cities in the U.S. Obviously it’s a ton bigger and has a gazillion more people–but it’s still a modern city. And it even has a modern skyline.
So don’t let your historical assumptions created by reading Gladys Alyward or Hudson Taylor fool you–China has changed!
I know you all have been EAGERLY awaiting the next volume of this series, so I had to wait to collect some GOOD evidence.
First stop today: crazy little vehicles made on bicycles. This item (below) is a typical case in point. Note the large windshield and cozy interior to keep that driver nice and toasty as he drives around China.
Here, on the rear view, you can see what a model of economy and thrift it really is. Much smaller than a car, with fewer of those nasty emissions, and yet this vehicle still has storage space galore in the back. And the shiny aluminum exterior is the first thing nowadays in bicycle vehicles. Come to China today to get one for your very own!
Number two: bicycle parking lots.
Here in China, bicycles are everywhere. There’s maybe a million times more bicycles than in the US. So of course you have to have a place to park them. And one tiny rack isn’t going to cut it.
So obviously, the solution is to have a giant lot devoted to bikes. Some of them even have signs that say “Harmony creates order” (which I don’t have a picture of) to ensure that you line your bike up neatly.
This isn’t even one of the biggest parking lots around. Jared says that at his school they’re nearly three times bigger. One of these days I’ll have to go over there and get some more pictures.
Number 3: Burlap trees.
When the cold weather comes out around here, what happens to the trees? They get stitched into their clothes, of course! The tall skinny trees are wrapped around, and large bushy ones get put behind green frames. I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to do for the trees–it doesn’t seem to keep out the cold, and it doesn’t get extremely windy here–so perhaps it’s just some Chinese tradition.
What it looks like on the inside.
And here’s the outside:
Stay tuned for volume 3, in which I will discuss Chinglish signs, crazy food, and Beijing traffic. Sounds like fun, no?
This weekend, for Jared’s birthday, we went to the Beijing Zoo. We saw all sorts of animals, walked our feet off, and got cotton candy just because we could (though, for the record, I still think it’s weird. It’s like eating disappearing insulation or something).
It was definitely different from American zoos: it wasn’t nearly as well-kept up (the lion and tiger pens were overgrown, and every outdoor pen was covered in weeds) and in some of the indoor cages, paint was peeling off the walls. And then, of course, there were the extremely modern, newly-built exhibits, like the panda exhibit, which was built in 2008 for the Olympics. China doesn’t do in-between well.
There were thousands–it felt like half of Beijing–of people there. It doesn’t look like very many in this picture, but let me assure you: there were plenty of people there. If you want some peace and quiet, don’t go to the zoo in Beijing on a weekend. Half the country will accompany you.
Of course a trip to the zoo in Beijing would be incomplete without visiting the pandas. So visit them we did, even though some, like the friendly fellow down there, didn’t seem to want to be visited.
Everyone surrounded his pen, knocking on the glass, trying to get him to move. He (or she, I’ve no idea what it is!) was having none of it. So enjoy your look at some dingy black and white fur taken through some dirty glass that’s been touched by millions of Chinese kids. Yes, you’re welcome.
Oh, you say you want to see a better picture? That’s not good enough? All right, here’s a better picture of another panda for your enjoyment.
He seemed a lot happier to pose among the changing leaves for all sorts of tourists to photograph him.
China’s obsession with pandas doesn’t stop with the live animals. Every surface of every gift shop was covered with them also. Panda hats, panda bags, panda umbrellas–even steamed panda buns (yes, of course they only LOOK like a panda!). If you like pandas, head to China. You’ll get as many as you could ever wish for.
After the pandas, we headed towards a gorgeous lake in the middle of the zoo. Instead of keeping their water birds in pens, they let them swim around in a giant lake. It was gorgeous, especially with all the fall colors.
These ducks were very interesting birds–I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like them before. They were very colorful, and have a ridge on their back that sticks up almost like a fin or a sail.
After the lake, we stopped for some lunch. All the food stands around advertised their chocolate syrup-covered french fries, and some even had strawberry flavor. We were mighty tempted–but you’ll be glad to know we stood firm.
Sorry for the bad photo quality–I didn’t even think to turn on the flash.
Instead, we solaced ourselves with a barbecue chicken pizza, which wasn’t really like any pizza I’ve ever had before–but it was still good. It was more like Chinese barbecue chicken (with soy sauce and stuff) on a biscuit-like crust, with cheese and lots and lots of peppers and onions. Jared kindly ate the peppers.
We then continued on around the zoo. Next up was the bears. They looked small, like bear cubs, and they were very alert. Random Chinese people kept throwing them oranges and other foods, and they would go crazy fighting over them. I’m pretty sure oranges aren’t usually in the diet of brown bears.
However, they loved them so much that they even started begging for them. Small and greasy though they were, they were still pretty cute. I can’t imagine any US zoo letting people feed the animals. There would have been a security person there immediately to stop you if you tried.
Next up was a very interesting and different animal–the maned wolf. Its pen stank like a skunk had been somewhere around, but we decided that’s because they really didn’t like being penned up. We watched them for twenty minutes and all they did was pace the whole time, when they weren’t peeing on trees. They looked sort of like a cross between a fox and a greyhound–with really long, slender legs and body and reddish-fox colored fur. Its head and tail looked like they were too small for its long legs.
When we were done feeling sorry for the poor maned wolves, we walked on to another lake. Instead of just ducks, this one had pelicans and swans on it. And boy do pelicans have huge beaks. It almost makes you want to see what they look like full of fish!
After that, Jared declared we had to go see the penguins, on the other side of the zoo. So over we went. And we figured out where the security officer who should have been guarding the bears was. He was standing in the middle of a field, guarding some trees. Because of course they were going to run away and take all their fruit with them. Or maybe some misguided zoo visitor would have fed them some food that was bad for them!
It’s nice to feel so safe in China.
Sadly, when we got to the penguin house, they tried to charge us at the door. We were having none of it, so the poor penguins were deprived of our company. I’m sure they missed us, seeing as they only had about 10,000 other visitors that day.
As a consolation, we went to see the reptiles and amphibians (mostly turtles and tortoises, with a few alligators and crocodiles thrown in for good measure–we skipped the snakes). It was amazing to see the giant tortoise, though. It was huge, and very slow moving. It moved its head a couple times for us, and that was it. No wonder they live such long lives!
At the end of the day, worn out with seeing so many animals and making our way through so many people, we decided to get some cotton candy. I’m not sure why it’s so popular, except maybe for its oddity.
We wended our weary way homeward after that, with only a few accidents like getting on the bus going the wrong way and not realizing it until we came to the end of the line. At least we were on a bus that had some available seats. Now we’ve officially done three touristy things in China, after two and a half months. Maybe we should get out more.