Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ich bin ein Beijinger

Kendall obviously learned a lot of interesting and important facts about China during our trip, and I encourage you to print out his tidbits and make Trivial Pursuit study flashcards, but since spouses were explicitly forbidden from joining the students at their sessions with very important and rich people, I explored a different side of China. I have a treasury of truly trivial trivia for you to digest.

First, Shanghai has apparently settled on Gumby as the official mascot of the 2010 World Expo. Either that, or Gumby underwent a cloning procedure, and his almost-identical-clone-twins (who unfortunately suffered a genetic mutation that gave them a propensity to gain excessive weight) populate every corner of Shanghai.

This is Gumby back then.

A little stouter, and a new hairdo. Long time, no see, Gumby!

That's exactly what I think of when I look at this mascot: "the capacity to create wonderful lives and enjoy the fruits of our work" and "the ocean, the future and technology."

Second, the Chinese people need to watch more Mexican soap operas and a few episodes of Sabado Gigante. I don't think any of these people had ever encountered the bodily proportions stereotypical of Latinas. The tailor that made me and Kendall suits was unaffected by the first few measurements. But then, when her assistant measured my, um, derriere, and called out a number that, in China, only accountants for very large and important companies have ever encountered, the tailor raised her eyebrows, said the Chinese equivalent of "No way!" and ordered the assistant to measure again. And again. And again. Until Kendall explained that I was from South America and that I was normal there. And then everyone laughed. Except me. I finally understood why random Chinese folks had been asking to take pictures of me during the week.

I don't even want to speculate as to what the caption to this photograph in this Chinese woman's scrapbook will say.

Third, the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai (the hotel cost was part of Kendall's tuition--we did not choose to stay at the Ritz, but I did not complain one bit) has a "Bath Butler." And there's a "Bath Menu" in the bathroom. Select from the assortment of aromatherapeutic, romance-inspiring, and skin-softening marinades offered in the menu, and the bath butler will come up to your room, sprinkle rose petals all over the floor, put magic potions into your bath, and leave a champaign bottle. My one regret is not having ordered a bath.

I don't have any pictures of the Ritz, but just look at how beautiful all of these new buildings are. (Okay, I know that China probably tore down lots of great historical buildings to replace them with these, and for that I am sad. But still, these are really nice.)

No matter how crowded Shanghai is, there's always room for a Dairy Queen.

(Third, continued) Massages, however, there were a-plenty. Convinced that the massage prices at the hotel were not representative of the prices that locals pay for massages, a friend and I ventured to a massage parlor where nobody spoke English. Body language and simple gestures (that I now realize would have gotten me into a lot of trouble if I had been mistaken about the nature of the establishment I had entered) resulted in 2 hours of massage (1 hour of foot massage and 1 hour of full body massage) for $10. I returned the next day. The foot massager commented (with gestures, of course) on the enormity of my feet.

I have no way of linking this photograph to anything on this post, except that this little boy was playing on Tiananmen Square, which is where Mao's preserved body is on display--see next paragraph.

Fourth, Chairman Mao's embalmed remains glow. Really, they do. It looks like he was embalmed in radioactive chemicals. I believe his body is the core of an enormous nuclear reactor from which all of China derives its power. Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed (This I found out from a too-helpful, self-proclaimed Olympic volunteer whose "official Olympic volunteer shirt" actually said "Volunteer Blood Donor.") But I don't think my camera could have captured that wavelength of light anyway.

If I had brought a prohibited camera into the Mao Memorial Hall, I would have had to answer to these guys.

Here's the beautiful Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is completely unrelated to anything else on this post.

Finally, business cards are of utmost importance to the non-Chinese tourist in China. Here in the States, I take a business card, enter the information into my email contacts and throw away the card. In China, you should laminate every business card you get, wear it on a gold chain around your neck, and take pride in being a walking Rolodex. Choose the business card for the establishment you wish to visit, show it to the taxi driver, and voila, you're there, without ever having to practice a word of Mandarin. Of course, it might be helpful to have a rudimentary understanding of the language, because then you would know that the cab driver, who is laughing hysterically, is explaining that the hotel on the business card you just gave him is literally 50 meters away, and then maybe you and your friend wouldn't stay in the cab and pay the minimum cab fare for a 30-second ride up the hotel driveway. Unfortunately, all I knew how to say was, "Excuse me, where is the bathroom," and that took me the entire 12-hour flight to China to learn.

When Kendall was around, he used his Chinese skills to negotiate with taxi drivers and van drivers.

Kendall's amazing Chinese skills allowed us and some friends to visit the Great Wall in a private van on our own time. We arrived at this particular part of the Wall early in the morning, and just as we left, the tour buses and their eager passengers started to arrive.

Kendall's Chinese also came in handy when bargaining for completely unnecessary souvenir trinkets. However, one of Kendall's classmates, Wade, seems to have managed to purchase one of everything, including a special edition Chinese back scratcher, without Kendall's help.

In sum, I give Beijing and Shanghai four-and-a-half stars. That last half star is awaiting the adoption of Western style toilets, including toilet paper, in all public restrooms.

A monk at the Forbidden City.

A building at the Forbidden City (I can't remember the purpose of this building. . . .)

The serenity of the Summer Palace. . .


  1. Those are beautiful pictures! Mike would be so jealous. He wants to move to China. Hearing about the toilets makes me not so excited to move to China though.

  2. First time I encountered floor toilets was in Venice, and I was immediately disillusioned as to how romantic my stay would be.

    In Japan we had long enough (3 months) to get used to them, and they were always really clean, and, really, they are fantastic if you are ever afflicted with the opposite of giardia. I found them to be quite comfortable after a while, though I imagine potty training (already the worst part of parenting) would be pretty horrid.