Leaving China

I’m in a hotel lobby in Beijing. The desk I’m at has a bust that reads “Vice Manager of Datang”. I asked for a computer and they showed me a big room full of PCs. Then I tried one and couldn’t get on the internet. They said: “Oh, you want international computer?” I noticed everyone else around me was playing a video game. I nodded yes. The internet would be nice.

Now that I’m on the internet, I’m a bit surprised by how many sites I cannot access. BBC and wikipedia I can’t access, though FOX News and NPR come in just fine. I wonder if they like their news as exaggerated and full of it as their governmental news, that way the whole world looks insane together.

There are a few things I’ve neglected to mention about my stay in China, foremost being the people that make up Beijing. Last night I saw an old lady getting beaten senseless, and when I mentioned this to my traveling companions I got a host of stories I wasn’t prepared for.

“You think that’s bad, just last night we saw twenty or so Chinese guys kicking around what looked like a dead human carcass…”

And so on. Most of the travelers could only respond with the same menacing sneer and lunged out gut that we had given when we were confronted with such violence. I’m not sure what to say about it, except one thing is for certain:

In the daytime, there are police and army personnel EVERYWHERE. They stand beneath large umbrellas with their noses held as high as their rifles. On every city block they’re keeping watch, looking professional and making you feel the displeasure of living in a one party state.

But then at night, they all disappear.

Well that’s kind of the opposite of what you want in a civil society, isn’t it? I wondered then if they just faded away like a mystical mirage when the sun beams ceased, or if they turned into Chinese dragons and went into the countryside to hunt for virgins. I contemplate this while people are getting their heads bashed into brick walls.

But the people here are usually nice, caring, though perhaps subservient, citizens. Many of them show physical scars of either some skin disease, lung disease, cuts along their necks or shoulders, deformaties in their face, or they have a missing limb. I’m absolutely serious about this. I have seen an incredible amount of disabilities since I’ve been here.

But it’s alright. China seems to be growing out of their own scars that came with such things as the cultural revolution, the long march and everything that happened in 1976.

At the train station I saw a man with no hands begging out of a can he held tied to his nubs. Everyone felt pity for him and gave accordingly. Sometimes people smile when I smile at them, though it’s willless, and I wonder if I’m torturing them by making them do it.

I’m in Tianjin right now, the third most populated city in China and also one of the most god-awful places I’ve ever visited. The polluition here reminds of how the preachers used to describe hell. Everything is tinted rust and the people live in the dirt.

The haze of pollution in Beijing is increased three fold here, and I can barely make out one of the dozens of skyscrapers that make up this city. But the more I find it putrid and disgusting the more I think about how this still is the third most populated city in China, and how millions of people call it home and have to deal with it every single day.

I begin to wonder how they put up with it. If they go to worship a God that will save them, or if they read from ancient texts, or perhaps rebuild one of the millions of Buddha statues that their fathers destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, or perhaps they look at their beloved Chairman on their currency and that gives them purpose.

Now it’s occured to me that I’m as clueless about China as I was about Japan a year ago. Nothing that happens here makes sense to me, though I’ve read the Nobel Laureates from China and attended “Asian-style” parties…there’s so much that’s impossible to comprehend.

So I leave you with the facts I’ve observed.

North-East China is badly polluted. It makes me sick. I’ve only eaten two meals since I’ve been here and after each one I wanted to puke. The Great Wall is hard to see because the toxins make the air thick. I’m reading a post-apocolyptic novel right now, where everything is black from ash and the sun never peaks beyond black clouds. A world like that seems all too possible when you go to China. It feels like a post-apocolyptic war zone. On the train, I began looking out the window but soon closed the blinds for the rest of the ride. There were bags in front of me to puke in, like on an airplane, but this was a smooth train-ride. The bags weren’t for traveling sickness, they were for looking out the window at the God-awful descent of humanity kind of sickness. Everywhere are squares, the color brown and gray, dirt, things broken or crumbled. It’s a mess.

Later.

By the way, I’m staying at a four-star hotel tonight for only $23 USD, and until now I stayed four nights at a hostel for about $8 USD. Beer here costs 26 cents a bottle.

China II “The Wall”

My stay in China has been getting better, at least it was. About ten minutes ago, you wouldn’t believe what I just saw. It was probably the most disgusting, putrid act of humanity I’ve ever seen face to face.

But it requires some backstory.

Yesterday I was on a mission not to hate Beijing, though it had plenty of reasons so far for me to hate it. First of all, the strange mist that surrounds the city—wait, that’s no mist, it’s a haze of POLLUTION. I don’t see how these people breath and go on day to day without thinking: “wait a minute, this is freaking INTOLERABLE and I should probably speak up about it!”

Anyways, right–so I must not hate Beijing. After all, the Olympics will be here next here (I swear the committee only chose Beijing because they want to increase global warming awareness…and what better way to get people upset at Global Warming than when their star athletes suddenly get lung cancer from five days in the Chinese capital?)

So yesterday I was on the great wall, tired as hell of people asking me to buy things from them. Along the wall I saw them picking out tourists one-by-one, specifically the older women. It was quite a struggle, but my mind couldn’t take it. I thought, if one more person comes up and asks me to buy a goddamn postcard or statue or write my name in Chinese…somebody is going to die.

Then someone tapped on my shoulder.

I burst like a ripe tomato. I thought I would spred blood but my mind wouldn’t let me. I lunged at them and gave them my last defense against the utter tyranny they had reaped upon my life

I gave them THE WALL.

If you are unfamiliar with The Wall, it’s a highly used resource when it comes to teeny boppers, though it’s known far better as a psychological barrier (See: Pink Floyd). It’s an impenetrable defense where the defender stretches their arm like a shotgun in front of them and holds their palm up like a policeman at a traffic light in a manner that defaces the enemy like hiding in shade from a discomforting sun.

This is what I did to the Chinese man attempting to rain on my parade. This is what I did, and even declared in a most pompous, patronizing manner — “Get out of my face–I’m an American!”

After the Chinese saw me do that, they didn’t follow me again. They had seen something they had only read about in books, something perhaps in American movies or mythologized like the great dime novels we have heard so much about but never touched…they had never met someone with the audacity to really give them The Wall, until today.

The rest of the trip until tonight has been pleasant since I began giving people The Wall. I’ve met many nice Chinese people, and they are fantastic to talk to, not desperate to meet foreigners or always nervous about introducing themselves like Koreans, or overly polite and formal like Japanese. They are their own, laid-back and laughing breed, hard working and unafraid to get down in the dirt.

That brings me to what I saw about twenty minutes ago. The most horrifying spectacle I’ve ever seen. When I was in Salt Lake City I saw a mexican melee where an old mexican drunkard got his head repeatedly shoved into a wall and…in Chicago I saw…well I could give you a thousand stories of FUBAR, but this one takes the cake.

I saw an OLD CHINESE LADY getting BEATEN SENSELESS in the middle of a shopping street, and NOBODY DID A GOD-DAMN THING.

I’ve seen old people getting beat up before, usually for something they did (steal, act superior to somebody else), but NEVER have I seen that kind of moral injustice go by in a street filled with dozens of people and NOBODY GIVING A SHIT.

Even if she stole from him, even is she had clubbed the guy in the balls repeatedly, even if she had somehow set off a device that blew up the guy’s family…somebody would have stepped in. IF this was America. IF this was Korea, Japan, or any sane country I’ve visited and had the pleasure to see heroism in all its forms.

But not in China.

This wasn’t like a gang beating up an old lady either, where nobody could intervene because they were afraid of getting shot. This was one dude, grabbing an old short woman by her gray hair as she screamed for help, then slamming her into the pavement, kicking her as she laid helpless, then chasing her down the block as she ran through scores of people, grabbing her again and repeating the violent strokes.

Now, you may be wondering why I didn’t intervene. I had certain precepts I had to consider.

1) Perhaps this was just a cultural difference I had to respect.

RIGHT. That was out immediately. I think only a super-liberal nutjob would ever buy THAT kind of moral relativity.

2) They put people in jail for getting involved with this kind of incident.

I’ve had friends who were put in Korean jails for defending people. And I couldn’t imagine what a Chinese jail might be like…

3) I had a boat to catch.

This may seem like a cop-out, but this boat is in total control of my life right now. If I don’t get on this boat I won’t make it on time for my plane ride back to the states, which means I won’t make it in time to register at UW for fall classes, which means I wouldn’t be able to get into the school I’ve been applying for for the past two and a half years.

I weighed my choices wisely. There’s an unwritten rule as a traveler, which is if it’s not your business, you butt out. My friends and I felt as helpless as the old woman, who like us, was watching the dozens of Chinese men who were watching her getting beaten and for some reason did nothing to help her.

China has been an interesting trip, I couldn’t imagine a place I’ve been more repulsed by—environmentally, socially, and now, morally. They should have taught this kind of stuff in schools. In college, all I got was — Chinese culture is great! Let’s all go and meet those smooth-faced girls whose function is little more than an afrodisiac to western men! Let’s see their charm and wit and how they LOVE us Americans!

What a load. Though I’ve meet some nice Chinese eople, I wonder how many of them would have helped an old lady getting beaten in the street. Did they lose all their morals in the Cultural Revolution? What has communism done to what used to be the most morally superior land in the world? What happened to the country of Lao Tzu, of Confucious, of philosophy and moral leaders, WHAT HAPPENED?

Neruda perhaps says it best when I think of China.

“And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!”

China – Tian Jin

China

Last week I hastily stuffed a green backpack with random assortments of clothes and took off on a completely improvised trip to the only government state more redder than Texas — CHINA!

Before I even got there, shit went wrong.

First of all you need to get a Visa to enter, which takes about four days of processing unless you pay a ton of extra fees. I usually don’t mind a stalled trip–it gives me time to think about what I’m doing and back out before I do something crazy–but in this case the American Visa to China costs about $100 more than if you’re from any other country.

I stayed in Seoul for five days, seeing all the sights I didn’t see before, hanging out and sleeping in a Korean sauna. Every day that I spent waiting for my Visa came to me like the upward clicks on a rollercoaster, those rythmic beats that come just before nose-diving into what’s still a complete blank in my mind.

As naive as it sounds, that’s what China was to me. A big blank at the end of a roller-coaster drop. I had no way of knowing whether there were thick-metal bars to lift me out of the shit once I was deep enough in it. But like every roller-coaster, its only an illusion of danger.

The boat to China lasted twenty-five hours, and was delayed about two hours before I left. I met some people at the train station and hitched onto their bandwagon, so I felt confident China would be a breeze.

The only part I remember about the boat ride was the Incheon bridge still under construction.

When we entered Tainjin, the Chinese port, I felt queasy from the oil and shit in the water. I began coughing sporadically from the toxins in the air, barking out waves of black dust.

About Chairman Mao: there’s no amount of currency that doesn’t have his picture on it.

At the Tianjin docks we were hounded by beggars, so bad we could barely move. This was the middle of the night, might I add, so I held my passport and wallet at all times as we moved through the crowd. Finally we found a Taxi that flew over 100 on a thin dark road in the middle of nowhere.

We were on the drop off of the Chinese rollercoaster, screaming headlong and just waiting for something to lift us out.

Only when we opened out eyes did we find that 100 wasn’t that fast. It was in kilometers, dummys.

Everything in Tianjin was dark, though there were buildings everywhere. Crushed buildings with insides as hollow as a crisp-burnt figure after an eruption. It was like driving through a warzone, but actually, it was only one of the most polluted cities in the world.

When we got to the train station to Beijing we were accosted by yet more vagrants, and after walking through them all I couldn’t hold my belongings with the same patronizing fear I had before. Maybe this was their routine – sleeping outside of a train station and waiting for westerners to come by with a hand-out. There were thousands of them, more than I’d ever come close to seeing in my life.

From Tianjin to Beijing I began to think of a novel I’d just read, Memoirs of a Geisha, which was educational about Japanese sex culture, at least how it presents itself to the reader. In the highly fictionalized novel, before traveling, every Geisha would always check their astrological almanac to see if it was an auspicious time. I began to think I should have checked my almanac. So far, coming to China was getting scarier by the second.

At the Beijing station, there were even more homeless people than in Tianjin, and I felt helpless in the choice of either being patronizing to them all or give away all the money I had with me. So far, I’ve been a sucker for a sad face. Meaning, I give to make myself feel better, or to get out of frightening situations.

Another frightening taxi-cab later we were in our hostel. Then I slept, and woke up, and then it was today.

This morning I showered thoroughly, the fear of the massive clouds of pollution just outside the air-conditioned hostel. And those streets are gigantic as hell. Where it took me about four hours or so to walk from one end of San Francisco to another (slowly), it would probably take me about a day and a half to walk from one end of Beijing to the other. In fact, walking has now lost it’s privilege of being any fun, adaptable or easy.

Today I was attempting not to loathe these Chinese touts who have drained the money I have. Anytime I decide to get in a taxi, or buy a souvenir,  or get entry into a museum, or even eat some God-damn pork, they screw you with the might of a persistent school-child that looks so innocent and helpless–and just so foreign. You want to be a nice guy in a different country, right American?

These enemies of sight accost you at any tourist spot. They pose as “interpreters” or “tour guides” or “drivers” or just plain merchants but I find myself growing ruder with every tourist site. We avoid them until we need them, then we take a taxi and the driver locks the door, tells us to pay twice what we had agreed. Then he pretends to have no change.

So the roller coaster has been falling and shows no sign of picking up thus far. I thought more about my astrology almnamac, and figured a trip to China couldn’t have been any other way. I always avoid tour groups, hotels, or just plain anything orthodox as a traveler because I want to really experience the place. Whatever that means. In a place that speaks very little English, that seems like a terrible idea.

On the upside, there are very nice Chinese people here.

Korea – The DMZ

Next: Going to China on the most ad hoc trip ever. And I caught a cold.

A pig has 30 minute orgasms. That’s what I learn when I hang out with an Aussie girl for a day.

Also, went to the DMZ today. I got to see N. Korea as close as any American can get.

Also went into one of the tunnels they dug trying to get over here, which they painted with black paint to make it look like they were just digging for coal (rofl?).

There is a village just next to the DMZ, they call it “propoganda village”, because it’s made only to make the North look rich.

Though it has no electricity.

And the farmers never actually grow anything.

And in fact they’re just starving their people and making the Free world pay for their subservient army while they sit atop a potential missle crisis.

Kim Jong il uses so much electricity for his personal auditorium that the capital city is usually without power.

The history of the North and South, on the English tourist panels, is insanely brief and kind of whimsical.

Sometime during the Black ages – Three Dynasties in Korea. The Silla dynasty comes out on top.

Sometime after that – The Gora dynasty steps in from Manchuria (where the name Korea comes from).

Fifteenth century – The Joseong dynasty takes over, creates Korean alphabet, then gets seriously owned in a genocidal war against the Japanese. 90% of Korean civilization is burnt to the ground…then restored later on.

1910 – Japan colonizes Korea again. This lasts a long time and is a God-awful event but hey everyone was doing it at the time.

1945 – The Soviet Union takes North Korea as a colony (influenced through Marxism), and the U.S. and allies take South Korea.

1950 – After five years the North invades the South in an effort to unify the entire country under a communist regime. The North is aided by Russia and China while the South is aided by America. in 1953 they have an armistice agreement at the 38th parallel. Kim il Sung becomes the “God” of North Korea while Rhymee becomes president of the South.

1960s – The North prospers because all the energy facilities and resources are in the north. The South meanwhile goes through a couple military coups until Park Chong Hee comes along and becomes president for nearly 20 years.

1970s – The South surpasses the North in miraculous man-power and intelligence. All the intellectuals that were sent to foreign schools in Germany and America have returned and they help give the South a huge economic boom. The North by this time is starting to fall under the strains of a spurious ideology. The same is going on in Russia and China. Also, a surge of Northern spies are sent to the South through secret subs, from Japan, and through underground tunnels.

1980s – Park is assassinated and replaced by more military coups, each one a bit more democratic than the last. There are also many assassination attempts of South Korean presidents, a terrorist bombing that was authorized by Kim Jung il in egypt. That’s right, there’s overwhleming evidence that Kim Jong Il authorized terrorist-style bombings from N. Korean assassins. One woman was caught, and pretended to be a Japanese tourist.

The story goes, upon seeing Seoul (the South’s capital) the female terrorist from the North burst into tears and admitted everything about what she had done. The North had taught her since childhood that South Korea was nothing but huts and starving families that “had to be liberated from the evils of capitalism.” The South let her go as she had obviously been brainwashed. She then recieved hundreds of marriage proposals…

1990s – South Korea emerges as a modern-industrial country with an enduring infrastructure and a still-booming economy. North Korea is going through a recession that will eventually turn into a depression worse than any the western world has known since WWII.

Russia, East Germany and China all collapse, but North Korea refuses to change though it’s struggles are on par with the others. This is because the apotheosis that is required to make any sane country convert to communism (Stalin, Mao) is strongest in North Korea

A doctor friend of mine who works with the UN once performed operations in the North. He was never thanked, but immediately the North Korean he had cured would begin bowing to a picture of Kim il Sung for thanks.

But I digress. The point is that the South had been doing an awful lot better than the North, but my visit to the DMZ verified the amount of BS passing through from one side to the other. First, there were very few trees on the North Korean side, in fact if you look at it from China they are stripped bare because people eat the bark. There are no running rails or cars, the farmers only pretend to be farming but nothing is ever grown.

When the South puts up a flag, the North’s MUST be higher up. The South sees it as trivial and lets the North have their way.

Back to history. In 1997 the South went through a recession it has fully recovered from partially thanks to the U.S. (It gave more money to the IMF fund than South Korea had in it’s entire treasury) and other western countries.

2000 – that brings me to the Sunshine Policy of “DJ” (Kim Dae Jung). He offers the first presidential meeting with Kim Jong Il and creates the Sunshine policy with the North (This stems from an old story that wind cannot make a man take off an ugly jacket, only giving him more sunshine can…). In other words the South will continue to give money over and over and over until the North decides to stop being such isolationists and let the seperated families reunite.

The point is that this was nearly 8 years ago when it seemed the two countries would unify. Kim Jong il has no running economy, and many sources claim he doesn’t give a shit at all about his starving people (from North Korean refugees). All the money and food that’s given to the North goes straight to their army. It made all the sense in the world that eight years ago the North would be forced into tearing down it’s communist walls to the world as did East Germany. But eight years is a long freaking time to be in denial about something, and the South Korean youth no longer show any interest in reunifying. Instead they’re pissed off at the shabby use of aid and the desperate attempts of the North to become relevant to the world by threatening it with nukes. In the next election, they’re going to vote for someone anti-North.

So here’s the case today. The South has created railways into the North, they have given a ton of aid, they have even started incentive programs offering thousands of tons of rice to be dropped into the north despite their nuclear ambitions. It seems to me the South has done nothing but bend over and play ball and in the past eight years nothing has come of it but more nuclear threats. Hell, the North even tried to get more money by claiming that the “secret tunnels” that they built in the 1970s to attack the South should “route all the money gained from tourism to the North” because they built those tunnels.

Anyways, there.

Japan Travel

JAPAN Traveling.

Though the Japanese still lead in the post-modern pop art movement, simply taking a Japanese bullet train through the countryside and small cities made me realize just how iconic Japanese culture is, even in the United States. One art critic called Japanese culture the only post-modern culture that rivals that of the entire conglomeration of westernization.

Take this view:

A monumentous backdrop of mammouth factories and deposits, fenced off and set against Japanese style wooden houses that could ignite in an instant.

This view from the Kyoto train station before boarding:

The subtle colors of sprawling industry that moved as they say like “a dragon” in the 1970s, an economic miracle from a place of very limited resources. Like Korea, they squeezed their power from every hard-working Japanese person they could find.

And yet while on a Japanese bullet train, the most frequent sights weren’t factories, buildings or lights…but Japanese ancestrial graves. Tons of them pervading the countryside as common and clustered as herds of cattle in the American mid-west.

As well as funerary hills, from a train or taxi we could spot frequent shrines, perhaps five times as many as we see driving through Korea (partly Japan’s fault for that), as well as castle’s peeking through brush:

When we weren’t on the road we were sleeping in Japanese saunas, or traditional houses with public bathrooms and mats such as this:

On the way back we took a BEETLE Ferry, which is a boat that skis on the water like an ice-skater:

Anyways, it was heavy.

The entire time we were in Japan, Cam’s Korean girlfriend would continue to repeat: “Japan isn’t better than Korea, right?” So we would tell her how rude Japanese people were, though they are so kind and only being polite, or we would tell her how dirty it was, though it had the cleanest cities I have ever walked through, or we would talk about how dangerous it felt there, though walking to the motel drunk at three a.m., random people helped guide us back to the motel.

I feel like Quentin Compson anytime I talk about Japan in Korea, like I can’t help but think what I do and say what I really don’t mean…

“No…I’m not one of those Americans who falls in love with Japan after a couple of visits. Really, I don’t love Japan–I don’t LOVE Japan!”

Hiroshima

HIROSHIMA

Hiroshima is famous for pretty much one reason, and nothing lets you forget about it more than being in the city itself. Almost every site on the tourist map emphasizes peace.

Peace Gardens, Peace Museum, Peace Park, Peace walk…and of course the entire city is littered with swans and cranes, the birds that symbolize peace.

The main center of Hiroshima is bordered by two big and very muddy rivers that once acted as a moat for the castle inside of it. If you walk around in a circle, you will find yourself surrounded by national tea gardens.

We enjoy some authentic Japanese Cheetoes while staying high and dry from the gigantic snakes that would cross our paths.

On the West side of the city center is the remade Hiroshima Castle, a beatiful, large cabin-like castle overlooking another moat.

In the park surrouding the castle there are the first remains of charred stone blocks from Hiroshima.

The A-Bomb Dome, a gigantic federal building that happened to be Ground Zero of the Atomic blast:

As Vivian said, “Wow, you guys did really good job!” I couldn’t help thinking the same thing. Seeing the building made the atmoic blast even more frightful, “super-effective” in any form of macro-warfare.

Just aside the Dome were many peace-oriented statues, museums and monuments, including this “Children’s Monument” that features paper cranes from thousands of children’s classrooms across the world

Indeed, Hiroshima seems to have some strange desire to break your heart while you’re there, and if you’re American, feel some deep sense of guilt that immediately must be justified with the statement: “Well, they weren’t playing very nice either!” Or otherwise shrug your shoulders in a “what-can-you-do” manner.

Not a lot to report on the nightlife, drinking stories all sound the same after awhile…

 

Traveling 2007 – August 8, KYOTO

Kyoto!

Kyoto is the most well known city in Japan for shrines, historical sites and traditional villages. It’s a city that’s thousands of years old and was once the Imperial Capital of Japan, and has only maintained its stature with a booming night-life and tourist industry.

Basically, when it comes to preserved cultural heritage sites, Kyoto is where people go to look at a past way of life, while being constantly confronted with the hyper-real Japanese culture of today.

We came straight from Osaka, uncertain of what to see but certain that Kyoto wouldn’t disappoint. We quickly found English-speaking people to help us, a rarity in Japan, and headed straight for the temples.

As in Korea, at tourist sites it’s expected that  journeyers march for some time up a steep hill while being ritually picked off by “specialty” retailers. It took us about an hour but after that mess we came across a sprawling temple area of preserved country-side and villages

The differences in Korean and Japanese architecture with temples is staggering. The Japanese are well known perveyers of subtlety, matching dark browns with black and white, while Korean temples feature meretricious colors that are both vivid and distracting.

Though to say Japanese temples are fully “subtle” is not entirely accurate. Their Buddhas, most made from solid granite, are far bigger than the statues within the penninsula

Here you can see a Big Buddha next to a high utility van, and the statue is far further back as well. Here’s the same statue shot from beneath the fence where we couldn’t get in;

Another difference in Korean and Japanese architecture is the growing necessity in Koreans to begin building up, rather than out. While Japan overall is a bit overpopulated, at least we can still go to some cities and still see this:

While in Korea there would be a multitude of high-rise apartments blocking the skyline like behemoth concrete blocks.

At any rate, the night-life was a riot, though since Kyoto is a bit of a tourist city, it was overpriced as well. As usual we spent most of the time twisting through labyrinthine sidestreets, cutting into Japanese brothels and slithering past with women in traditional geisha attire and make-up.

At night, the temples were still enthralling.