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Published: August 31st 2009
Communist financial policy may be dead out here in the Far East, but its political paranoia lives on. Of the last month of our time in China, more than half of it was spent in virtual quarantine negotiating visa extensions for our time in China and transit visas for our jaunt across Russia. So our ambitious plans for our second month were severely curtailed. No matter, we had an adequate time.
Xian's terracotta warriors of Discovery channel fame are ranked near the tippity-top of the official Chinese tourist bureau's national treasures bible. It gets ******. That's six stars! Six! That's an awful lot for a half dug up hole underneath what appear to be disused airplane hangars. Actually, as long as you remind yourself that this stuff is more than 2,000 years old you continue to be suitably impressed. The first emperor of China had himself buried with an army of clay soldiers and horses and bronze charriots and all the approrpiate acoutrements a dead conquering emperor might need. There are literally thousands of soldiers all with unique faces and costumes and haircuts appropriate to their rank. The two possible explanations for his elaborate burial preparations are that either he
feared meeting all his dispatched enemies on the other side, or that he planned on conquering heaven as he had Earth. I think, either way, it proves he had both enormous cajones and a terribly swollen ego. Though being the unquestioned first ruler of the known world is a real valid excuse for a swollen head, I think he was probably born with the nuts.
Shanghai is a yappy little wannabe Hong Kong. It was fun to be there after quite a long time away from the coast, and it was the first very large city we'd been to in some time. However, it seemed to me that a major portion of the city had gotten caught up in the exuberant Chinese growth story and prepared for even more explosive growth than was actually occurring. There's an entire city of skyscrapers and restaurants and dry-cleaners and all the other businesses oriented towards the Audi driving set, but the population just wasn't there. All those skyscrapers, I believe, are pretty much empty. I noticed this just as we were leaving Chengdu at the end of our last blog-entry. I was forced to find a restroom on short notice on our
way to the bus station, lest I cause an international incident in our taxi. So I ran into a huge sky-scraper which claimed to be owned and operated by HSBC. I expected a nice big posh bank and an appropriately matching toilet. There was nothing inside! Well not nothing. There was an old man folding adverisements into newspapers on the bare floor, but there certainly wasn't a bank, or walls, or much in the way of lights or anything. It was just a shell. And no, the bathroom did not live up to expectations. I think something similar is going on in the brand new section of Shanghai. I think the buildings are more completely finished inside, but I sure don't think they are full. The place is like a very gorgeous expensive ghost town. Weird.
Back in the old original city the story is different. It's got some impressive skyscrapers and the old colonial buildings are beautifully preserved. As a bonus the whole area is populated and in use and alive. In the very center of the happening area of old-town is the Shanghai museum and it is fantastic. There should be a couple photos of the exhibits
included in this entry (I can't be sure as I'm writing this on the Trans-siberian railway and very far away from any Internet connections). I've never seen anything like it's porcelain exhibit. China is famous for it's china (as you may have known) and Fi and I hadn't really seen anything that knocked our socks off the whole trip. That's because the really fantastic stuff is hoarded away in the Shanghai museum. As far as museums go, the place is a nonstop thrill-fest.
Qingdao comes after Shanghai if I remember correctly. It's famous exclusively as the production center of China's most famous beer. Qingdao Beer or Tsingtao depending where you're drinking it. They sell it by the bag there and it is DIRT CHEAP. It comes with dumplings. The best dumplings I will I ever eat. I have resigned myself to this fact. I'm thinking of giving up eating dumplings altogether in honor of their quality. Also, the beer is sold by the glass or by the bag if you want to get it cheaply. (It's crazy expensive in bottles.) When I say they sell it by the bag I mean they put a clear plastic bag under the
nozzle of a keg and then hand you the bag. Have you seen that before? Bet you haven't. The boy buying a pet turtle is in Qingdao. Also Fi's exclaiming over the quality of her dumplings in that photo of her that I wasn't supposed to put online.
Then comes Beijing or, as I will henceforth refer to it as, The Prison. We were locked up for 10 days in this the definitive seat of ancient culture and pollution. It had to do with our Russia visa process, something so infuriating I'd rather not think about it and hope that its memory slips out my ear onto a pub floor during a violent drinking session. Forbidden City? Check! Summer Palace? Check! Great Wall? Great Wall? Mr. Wall? Has anyone seen Mr. Wall? "Ummm....I think he's sick." Indeed I was. Crazy sick. So Fi and I MISSED THE GREAT WALL! You went to China and didn't see the Great Wall? That's right, not the one in Beijing anyway. We went and saw another portion of it on the North Korean border, a little place I like to call, "The Good Wall." There's a photo of it around here somehwere.
NEXT! North Korean border in Dandong. Saw North Korea from a stone's throw away. They cut down all their trees. There are trees on the hills on the Chinese side, but almost no trees on the Korean side. All burnt for fuel and heating. Also a lot of trucks come over to the Chinese side every day. Didn't seem to be much hassle at customs. Weird. Also you can see North Koreans walking around all over the place or occassionally taking a bus. They don't have horns. Weird. Also, you can swim over to North Korea as long as you keep your feet in the water. Chinese do this every night. Weird.
Then we went to Haerbin, a Russian town that got lost in China somehow. We hopped on the Train and said goodbye to China and Asia really. That was a real strange feeling. We've spent a long time in Asia and the end of that time really snuck up on us. Speaking of sneaking time, I've a plane to catch. I'm finishing this entry in Moscow and I've got to go to St. Petersburg right now! Ignore the typos. Enjoy the photos and if you read this
blog we're almost certainly coming to see you real soon. Buy pork chops and beer.
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