Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Picture tour of Changan Jie

In interviews, occasionally I'm asked, "How would you describe yourself?" Next time I will answer: "Let me give you an idea of the things I think about. I was standing in a public restroom in Hebei -- that's "North Lake," just north of Beijing -- looking down at a row of three squat toilets -- no walls separating them, mind you -- two of them just about overfilled with mounds of feces, when I wondered, just before doing my business -- No. 1, not 2... thankfully -- whether I should be regretting that I don't have my camera on hand to snap a picture. You know, to post on the Internet. I would be that sort of employee, too: mindful."

I would be hired on the spot.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Toilet humor should always be deferred.

Yao Ming and Jingjing (its real name) welcome you into Beijing.

Here are some pictures I took while my uncle (pictured right) drove down Changan Jie after picking me up at the airport on Wednesday. Changan Jie, or Eternal Peace Avenue, is the main thoroughfare in Beijing, a East-West street on which you'll find a bunch of foreign embassies, Tiananmen, the Forbidden Palace, Beihai Park and more foreigners than anywhere else in the city, with the possible exception of Houhai, a bar district, on Friday and Saturday nights (more on this later).

A hotel frequented by important Canadian officials, like Terrence and Phillip. You can barely see it, but there's a Canadian flag on that flagpost.

That hotel, however, pales in comparison with the Beijing Hotel, which is to China as the Mayflower Hotel is to the U.S.:

This next one I have no idea.

Central Government headquarters are located behind the gate in this next photo:

Cars are sort of an infestation these days in Beijing, but that doesn't mean bikes are out of style:

This is the National Grand Theater, which isn't very popular among the Chinese for various reasons, but mostly because it's ugly -- and uglier when the sky's gray, which is to say 345 days of the year, as it sort of blends into the enveloping smog. It's designed by Frenchman Paul Andreu, who tried to create a forward-looking structure while preserving the city's past -- the thing's next to Tiananmen Square, after all -- except the thing evokes nothing of the past and might even be an affront to it. Nonetheless, I will say this: it shimmers, it does look futuristic, and it's gigantic. The titanium was a nice touch; without it, China's imperial theater would just be a gaudier version of Assembly Hall in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

Later that first night in town I went out to dinner with Jiujiu (uncle on mom's side), his wife, his wife's mother, his twin sons, an old family friend named Zhang Wei and two of my three other first-cousins, pictured below:

Me, Zhang Mingyu (Jiujiu's first son from a since-divorced wife), Zhang Peng (cousin on father's side of family)

This was taken at Shaguoju, one of the oldest (and best, partly because it's not overpriced) restaurants in Beijing.

And finally, here are Jiujiu's twin boys, and lots of food that hopefully makes you jealous.

Fang Fang is the older one -- he's got the bigger head -- and Fei Fei is the younger; "fang fei" in Chinese means "let fly."

POSTSCRIPT: There's a reality show on Beijing TV called Dragon's Protege, where contestants from around the country compete in various grueling contests to become Jackie Chan's protege. For the record, "dragon" is not Chan's nickname... it's a stand-in for martial artists everywhere (Dragon, however, was Bruce Lee's nickname; he's called Lee Little Dragon ("Little" does not mean diminutive here, as Allen Iverson can tell you)). Anyway, when I say "grueling," I don't mean complete-a-dress-in-12-hours grueling. I mean leg-breakingly grueling. That actually happened -- a contestant broke his leg in one of the events. Also, a girl was grappling along a horizontal cable when her glove got caught, but instead of dropping down into the sand below, she continued on, and by the end welts covered her palms. I can't wait for Survivor to make its way into China.


Anonymous said...

Tao, it has come to my attention that we should hang out when I am in Beijing. I think you would make me enjoy it more than my last couple go arounds in the city. Certainly the food would suck less.

The Tao said...

You've had bad food in Beijing? I don't believe it. Unless it somehow made your stomach sick for three weeks...

Anonymous said...

Keep in mind I hate Chinese food of all variety, and I blame it exclusively for giving me a stomach infection.

Except Xiang Cai (Hunanese food) is growing on me. But that's just between you, me, and your blog.