Category Archives: Seeing the World

Impressions of China: Details

With everything so big—the buildings, the streets, the crowds—it’d be easy to forget what Beijing is, the city’s essence. In my writing as in my life, I believe it’s the little details that count, and once again, I was proven right.

 

I collect antiques, so when I saw these red doors with the peeling paint and old wood, I felt right at home. Those knobs are so pretty, many reproductions are sold in markets and souvenir shops – I should’ve brought my screwdriver.

 

That is one thing French-Canadians haven’t realized, yet: old houses are worth restoring to give them new life. Most of the old hutongs in the Forbidden City are being renovated, and they’re doing a fine job.

 

I was amazed by the stone carving found on the Emperor’s stairs at the Imperial Palace, and then near a hotel on the side of a business, a pretty medallion.

 

But details mean nothing when you know the amount of information China hides from its people, the number of people being thrown out of their homes to build new condos, and the size of the revolution that is bound to happen, sooner or later. And I can’t help but think it’ll reach us all the way to the other side of the world, changing us just the same.

 

*** The winner for the City of Hell giveaway are: DIGITAL DAME & LEONARD WHITE. Congrats you two, and thanks for everyone who participated♥***


Impressions of China: Landmarks

One of the items on my bucket list has always been to walk down the path along the Great Wall of China. I don’t know where the desire came from, since I’ve also always wondered if it was built to protect the country from intruders or to keep the people from escaping. Its majesty, its insane height, its steep stairs and even steeper trails left me breathless.

 

After a few days of walking through crowded streets and the omnipresent smog, I needed a little rest from the over-stimulation, so I visited Beihai park – beautiful and huge, its lake with water lilies reminded me of how nature, trees and water are so important in a city so big. And as always, I noticed the details on the simple stair rail.

 

I’m no fan of imperial monuments, blame it on my conscience, so I passed quickly through the many (and similar) buildings to find peace and a little quiet in the park right behind them. It was impossible to approach the gorgeous old trees, but interestingly shaped rocks were in abundance.

 

I’m a writer, so I read a lot. One of the spots I had to visit was Lao Tse’s home, and to my surprise, I found it in a tiny alleyway between decrepit hutongs. His was perfectly kept, though, since it’s been renovated into a museum.

 

What I sought next was architecture, details, what makes Beijing different from other Chinese cities. I think I found it, and will show you in my conclusion, next week.


Impressions of China: The Arts

In order to have a visitor’s visa request accepted, I was asked to lie about being a writer, otherwise I wouldn’t be granted access into China. So I was left with the impression that artists weren’t allowed to express themselves, that they were scared into silence and never revealed what’s inside them.

I’m used to going to the art galleries sparsely spread across Montreal and the suburbs – so imagine my surprise when I arrived at the 798 district, as big as a small town, where streets upon streets welcome art lovers into galleries and little boutiques. I *almost* want to live in one of those industrial quarters where Art lives and breathes.

You can find sculptures at the end of a street, next to a parking lot, hiding ugly highways. Some also tower over you, reminding you that there’s always someone watching over your shoulder, whether you think you’re free or not.

There are monsters bouncing and others waiting to have their pictures taken – because a big part of the culture is this easiness to remain young at heart, laugh like children and enjoy the cute and silly, like this guy.

As I walked the 798 district, I wondered if Art changed the views of the people, if years of communism had been forgotten with their ‘end’, if artists found ways other than the written word to express their oppression and anger. I guess I found it, whether you see this fist as smashing down on people or you imagine it to represent freedom, rising up in the air.

 

As beautiful as the 798 district was, I wanted to see landmarks, those I’ve read about in books for years and never imagined seeing up close and personal. Until next week, my friends.


Impressions of China: Between Extremes

I was fortunate enough to visit Beijing in October, and I was told many times how much I’d hate it: too polluted, too crowded, too noisy. What no one ever said was what could be found in the gap between the extremes.

For every glare there was a smile; people spat next to my shoes and some bowed after we bumped into each other; many stared at my height and pale skin while a few connected with me for a short moment.

It’s hard to try and understand the complexity of this culture that is not only at the other end of the world, but that has such different principles from my own.

The hotel was right smack in the middle of the Forbidden City, where gorgeous parks are filled with old people moving slowly through Tai Chi positions, bordered by jam-packed streets where you can easily get killed if you don’t check to your right, left, up, down, back and front, and then do it all over again fifteen times.

I still can’t believe I made it home, with all the bicycles, scooters, cars and tourist busses trying really hard to get a piece of me.

Hutongs can still be seen, if one looks hard enough. But what you cannot miss are the countless condos built for the rich citizens, the government funded museums and new constructions pushing the struggling poor people away to the countryside to be forgotten. Misery meets prosperity, and it’s very hard to watch.

Every damn time I stepped into a taxi, I felt dizzy and nauseated. At first, I blamed the erratic drivers, but then I realized when driving down a street, racing up one of the 6 ring roads or getting stuck in the middle of traffic, I was breathing in so much pollution, it made me ill.

And some mornings, away from the crazy-busy streets, it got difficult to see the landmarks.

So what did I find between the gap? People who work hard to survive, a population that endures a lot and doesn’t get much in return, a country on the verge of imploding when the rest of the world isn’t ready. In the land of contrasts, I got curious as to what makes the heart of the city beat, which I think I found…

Toa chie, good people.