Monday, December 19, 2011

Hainan for the Holiday

Heading to Hainan, an island and China's southern most province, for Christmas. Six days of sun, beaches and tropical resorts, a nice break from frigid Beijing and its lack of an appropriate Christmas atmosphere.

Monday, December 12, 2011

And the winner is...

In a previous blog post I mentioned a photo contest that my company was promoting for one of the Chinese government's friendship committees. Under the banner of "Green Beijing" the competition encouraged foreigners to photograph anything in the city that exemplified man coexisting with nature.

I spent the better part of the summer taking photos to participate but had to laugh at the competition's theme. Beijing isn't exactly a green city. I'd go as far as saying that it's the antithesis of what a green, eco friendly metropolis should be. The skies are constantly gray, cars jam the streets, trash is strewn about the streets, and, as I recently learned, the city is surrounded by a ring of dumps where the city's trash is piling up at an astronomical rate.

On the few blue sky days we had here during the summer (I think there was about three) I was out in search of a photo op. And it paid off -- one of my photos won second place in the competition. It wasn't the best of the photos I submitted, but one of the judges must have seen something in it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beidaihe: Silicon Valley of North China

This is the seventh post about a recent business trip I took to northeast Hebei province
Near Qinhuangdao in the northeastern tip of the province, the beaches and streets of Beidaihe provide everything that can be expected of a small, coastal town: sand, water and seafood restaurants aplenty. Walks along the sandy shores give visitors the chance to breathe in fresh air — or at least a breeze that’s slightly less industrially tainted.
Beidaihe, if the provincial government’s blueprint unfolds as planned, will one day also be the Silicon Valley of North China.
An information technology park is taking shape that will employ 5,000 engineers, computer programmers and project managers when it opens in 2014. The info tech park will create computer programs, cartoons and movies as part of China’s effort to mass produce culture and broaden its soft power influence. And like Zhongguancun in Beijing, Beidaihe will one day be home to international clients and companies.
More so than the tech park, Beidaihe is known as being China’s premiere beach resort, for the average tourist and Party officials.
Buildings around the town mimic European architectural designs, a result of that continent’s influence throughout Beidaihe’s history. And like any beach town, merchants desperately try to peddle the usual beach souvenirs: seashell necklaces, decorated turtle shells, crab claws, pieces of carved driftwood, and the occasional polished rock. Robocop-looking security cameras (see slideshow) graced each corner. A few statues of tourists portrayed the Chinese cliche of foreigners: fat, bearded, balding slobs who are often too tired to walk around and need constant breaks.
At the Beidaihe Olympic Park, we saw statues of former commissioners of the Olympic committee, the most prominent of which was a Spaniard with an unusually large nose. A few of the Chinese in our group laughed, touching the large bronze nose and saying “da bizi”, which means big nose and is a commonly used phrase for foreigners.
One of my Chinese colleagues asked if most people in the West had big noses like his. I said “Of course not, but some of us do,” getting a few laughs from the other Chinese. I chuckled too, but not at the big nosed Spaniard. I was imagining everyone’s reaction if I’d pointed at the Yao Ming stone engraving nearby and asked if a certain part of Yao’s male anatomy was small like other Chinese guys or if that was just a silly stereotype from the West.
Instead, I held my tongue and kept that little quip to myself.
I’ve come to just shrug off these quasi-racist jabs the Chinese throw at foreigners every now and then. For them, it’s a cultural thing, done in good fun or because of a certain ignorance of Western ways. But I do like to throw a few jabs of my own every now and then. Just for fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Shanhaiguan: Into the Sea

This is the sixth post about a recent business trip I took to northeast Hebei province

Sizeable stretches of the Great Wall work their way through Hebei, with notable sections like Jinshanling and Simatai drawing large crowds of tourists. While these ranges in the ancient wall provide stunning views of the ancient structure as it works its way over rolling mountains, an equally great section of the wall can be found in Shanhaiguan, just north of Qinhuangdao.

The Shanhaiguan section is the wall’s easternmost reach -- it’s beginning, or end – where is meets the sea. Coined Old Dragon’s Head (laolongtou), the wall looks like a dragon drinking from or about to dive into the sea. The original wall is long gone, destroyed during China’s tumultuous history in the earlier half of the twentieth century, but reconstruction efforts in the 1980s have returned Old Dragon’s Head to its former glory. A few of the original stones were used in the reconstruction – the remaining stones were carted off by locals to be used in building their own homes.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fires in the Night

This is the fifth post about a recent business trip I took to Hebei province
While driving through Tangshan on the first night of our government-sponsored tour of northeast Hebei, I noticed a small group of people huddled around a small bonfire. They were tossing pieces of paper into the flame to keep it going. As we drove through the city, I saw more fires.
My interpreter said they were making offerings to their ancestors. The pieces of paper, called joss paper or hell money, are monetary offerings so the people’s ancestors have cash in the afterlife.
When we got to Qinhuangdao, I snuck out of the hotel late at night to find a few of these people. On one of the street corners, about 20 people were busy burning the papers. I tried to be as discrete as possible, but there’s only so much blending in a white guy with a big camera can do on a small street in a city that doesn’t get many foreign visitors.