Tag Archives: chinese

Classical Chinese

Taiwan Provincial City God Temple, No. 14, Section 1, Wuchang St, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100

Saturday afternoon is the busiest time in this traditional Taoist temple. This buzzing place is a colourful spectacle of layers of gold, red, smoke. Smart old men making offers of fruit, young women bow with smoking incense sticks clasped to their brow. I watch a strange ritual dropping of pairs of orange segment shaped red wooden pieces. A deep in prayer and concerned looking 20 year old girl does this several times. I can't even guess what this all means. Older people are sitting filling red envelopes with stacks of yellow prayers. Another woman is building a large ornamental boat and covering it with yellow pieces of paper printed with the red backwards swastika symbolising love. There is a long glass window similar to that of a bank at which some kinds of transactions are being made.

A short man of about 40 in a green shirt approaches me and begins to tell me about the temple. He then hits upon inviting me to a class of Classical Chinese. Why not, I say. He leads me though a sliding door, through a kitchen and up some stairs into a hushed classroom where around 40 men and women in their 50s and above are following pages of printed Chinese characters and repeating them rite fashion as the teacher calls them out and indicates them on a video screen. I am compelled to join in with the chorus, though have no idea what I am saying. My friend, Charles is marking the sheet in pinyin and indicating the tones. He attempts to whisper and explain to me by drawing a c clef and musical notation to explain the relativity of the tones. This works differently from mandarin pronunciation. The drill then becomes harder as the class now read the characters as phrases, and this is where the tones descend to create a flowing music. We are reading classical tang poetry. Charles is a teacher of Classical Chinese, like some of the others here. For him it is essential for the Taiwanese culture to perpetuate this form of the language. I suggest that this is like learning Shakespearean English. He expresses disdain of the simplified Chinese of the mainland. The group is serious and committed. They are excited by a short visit by the director of the temple who shakes my hand warmly then makes a little speech in Classical Chinese. I have to say that the whole experience was quite eye-opening and in spite of Charles eager coaching and explanations that this is worlds away and something that has no function or relationship with anything I could ever do!

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Xingping day 17

I can’t accept that guy’s views on meritocracy, and if this is the reality, so much for so-called communism. Even though his father is a cook, his mum does the cooking at home. Makes no sense really. There is a noticeable division of labour in Xingping. The women man (how did this verb originate) the handicraft stalls and sell the vegetables, fruit, chickens. The men are the delivery and tuk tuk drivers. They are the ones who sit in the shade smoking and playing cards. I’ve taken a lot of pics of kids. It’s just occurred that kids are much more visible here than in the uk. Is that a consequence of climate, perceptions of safety among strangers- it’s interesting that mothers are quite into me taking pics of their little ones, even though they might personally turn their head away. Could you imagine that in uk? Imagine the protests, anger and controversy. It’s also nice to see that mobile culture hasn’t permeated society here, and there is definitely no Pokemon go. 

The town is lovely and still at 7am. In fact I almost tiptoe through the alleys as people are waking up and throwing open their wooden doors. As I have breakfast I notice a sudden change. Enter the groups of colour coded baseball caps, at their head is a guide carrying a same coloured little pennant. This how the Chinese do tourism. Straight to the river, maybe snapping pics of guesthouse a on the way, ignoring the locals, getting a generic boat trip, buying a generic souvenir, group lunch then back on the bus.

My morning is spent poking around the market again. Here’s a sight from there.

  

Tiantouzhai to Xingping day 16

It’s a bright sunny morning and I’m in a bit of a rush, having had an uncomfortable stomach over night. A bowl of yoghurt and fruit sorts me out, before my final walk down the mountain and into Dazhai where the hard sunshine casts an atmospheric light on old women cooking corn in open fires or spreading red chilliscro dry on their verandas. 

Strangely the bus leaves a few minutes early. The journey to yangshuo is windy, slow and towards the end incredibly bumpy as the bus traverses an unmade road. Even in this pretty rural enclave of China nothing stops progress, as mountains are sliced open and scarred by machinery as it is becoming more accessible to the outside world, which requires speed and direct straight roads, which unfortunately will increase the volume of traffic exponentially. Out bus makes several pit stops, at one, the driver hoses down the bus. The Chinese boy behind me strikes up conversation. I say boy as it is hard to guess his age accurately. He looks about 18 but turns out to be 26. On the bus with  his parents and 2 sisters scattered around the bus. He is sitting alone at the back. He is from shangsha and works in Beijing for a small construction firm. His dream is to build a  huge bridge that will carry his name and be his legacy. As he says nobody remembers who built a tower block. There is a piece in the news today about a glass bridge in zhangjiajie, iconic and making a statement about Chinese technology, which is having to close after a couple of weeks due to high volumes. I show the guy a photo of Clifton suspension bridge and explain its importance in terms of engineering. He is distinctly unimpressed and insists that although this type of structure may have been invented in uk it is China that has developed and progressed it. There seems to be a lot of symbolism in architecture and a certain sense of status in terms of communicating to the world what a society is capable of. He reveals that in Beijing any new development must be at least 6 storeys high otherwise it will not get planning percent. As he says China has too many people. I know this is a mistranslation but an apt one, as “a lot of” and “too” are both communicated by “tai”. That’s an interesting linguistic proposition. Does this mean that a large number is always neutral in connotation? Or the converse?

Language is certainly an inhibitor in trying to accomplish some of what I’m curious about. I have an idea of what my rather privileged Chinese students believe and value (though avian their language isn’t sophisticated enough to really communicate their thoughts), but what about the average and less well to do Chinese? My friend on the bus makes a good attempt to discuss many issues. He has not been to university and travels by bus, so it is apparent he is less well off, however his family are middle class, with his sister working in advertising, and his father a cook. I want to know what he feels about media control. He trots out a line familiar to me that the Chinese government protects its people from “bad information” by censoring the Internet. My friend fails to understand my argument that these restrictions undermine the intelligence of a people, and I fact present them with a controlled view of the world. This guy is a living paradox, as whilst he had no issue with state controlled media he uses a vpn to access Facebook and sees this as beneficial. I see this as dual standards and hypercritical. But this is China. Having your cake and eating it. Dogmatic conforming yet self-interested. A communist state in name but a burgeoning consumer society. As I’m reading about the endemic struggles that women have in Chinese society I ask him about gender roles, and I’m not surprised to hear him support the line that men and women are not equal in skills or abilities and that it is natural that men dominate society. He refers to ability, I hope he means possibility, but the more I hear the surer I am that he means the former. There is no room for debate. He sees things as black and white, is not aware of a world I change and the needs to address traditions that stigmatise and oppress. If I were to challenge him he would retort with “you don’t understand China”. Of course this is true, but one of the frustrating things about the Chinese is this catch-all escape clause, which basically circumvents any critical discussion. I see this in my students too. It’s kind of depressing that these views are so unquestionably held and that people such as this guy are not keen to look at other cultures and see there is something to be learnt from them.

Arrival in Xingping is disorientating and in a not very convenient location. I walk about 30 mins along the highway I construction, past numerous builders suppliers, through a tunnel that penetrates one of the hundreds of pointed limestone peaks that make this area  so unique. A little local bus takes me north up the river li to the small town of Xingping. Popular with Chinese day trippers, or half-day trippers, who come for a bamboo rafting experience, the departure point of which is directly in front of my window. There is a cluster of hutong with bars and tourist shops, which, although geared up for making money do not seem exploitative. The more interesting area is where the locals are. At dusk, a couple play ping pong on a full size outdoor table, elderly people with their wooden doors open play cards or gaze onto the streets, children play on bikes, the bustling market is winding up, but the live poultry area is still active. Some of the sights here are quite unpleasant, birds being plucked, others squeezed into transporting cages, off for someone’s dinner.

Sunset from the roof of the hostel is pretty. Once the day trippers have gone the hostel area settles down to a slow intimate rhythm and after a wood fired oven pizza (really), an odd experience in China, which doesn’t quite work, as this is a dish that is simple and requires the best quality simple ingredients, and China is not known for tomatoes or mozzarella, I have s lengthy talk with Agnes and Christian from Stuttgart. This covers brexit, the meaning of travelling, the changed nature of dreams when we travel, the philosophy and function of photography.

This feels relaxing here. I’m enjoying this trip a lot.

  
  

Tiantouzhai day 14

The morning has a refreshing breeze and my corner room with Windows on 2 sides is a relaxing place to read Xinran’s “Good women of China”, a revealing investigation by a radio broadcaster into the role of women in Chinese society, through the eyes of those who are oppressed and forced to conform.

Busy sounds and voices permeate the air, butterflies flutter over the rice stalks near my window. Later on the terrace I observe how business is conducted here with locals calling by with baskets on their backs plying their produce. One man has fresh white and red speckled bamboo shoots. A woman in local dress has a pole on her shoulder, a sack on one end containing a primitive balance, the one at the opposing end is full of an orange bark. She encourages me to chew a sliver. It has a spicy sharp taste like cinnamon. The girl at reception tells me it’s used in traditional medicine. Most of the stuff consumed up here is brought up on people’s backs apparently.

I chat with her for a while. She is from Fujin province and majored in business English. Never been out of China, found the job here by Internet, believe it or not.

The peaceful atmosphere is shattered by an obnoxious Chinese girl who checks in, laughs at me for asking if there is meat in the dumplings on the menu, then walks onto the terrace conducting a loud video chat that goes on for 15 minutes. She can’t talk quietly, has no sense of others’ space, no appreciation of the location and succeeds in driving me inside. She kind of encapsulates many of the negative characteristics  I’ve noticed in a certain demographic 0f modern young Chinese. Loud, rude, phone obsessed and selfish. I wonder if she has read Xinran. I wonder what her perceptions of modern woman in China are. I will never find out. She has now walked into the lounge and sits at the bar carrying on her conversation oblivious to the receptionist  1 metre away and me again. Is she going to spend the whole of her stay doing this? Now she is giving whoever the bloody guy on the other end a video tour. If they miss each other so much, why not come here together? I have to go for a walk and get away from this abomination.

Hong Kong day 6

Writing this on the hoof standing on the mrt. On the way to meet Kk at Kowloon tong. I’m a bit late as I dithered over breakfast choices finally settling on egg tart and red bean bun.
Yesterday I did a lot of travelling. I went north to meet Kk in the north territories and experienced some of the complications he has getting about. I took 4 metro lines, a train and a light railway (a reject from the French, which runs like a tram down tong tai road. My instructions are a bit like a secret mission as I don’t really know where I’m going and Kk changes the plan as he has missed a bus. Meanwhile I have had to do some backtracking as I miss a stop, and later get on the light railway in the wrong direction thanks to a well intended station employee who obviously didn’t understand me. It’s about 12.30 when we finally meet on the platform at tai tong road and I discover I’ve been travelling without paying as I didn’t swipe my octopus card when I changed at sheung shui. We are in yuen long. It’s a busy hustling satellite town lined with shops catering for mainland Chinese who come from the nearby border to shop cheaply. Baby milk powder dominates the street displays of so called chemists. There are many gift shops selling beautifully packaged moon cake. Our mission is to mind a cake shop where the pastry is not made from the usual lard. It’s very very hot and not particularly relaxing. We eat our cakes standing up at a market where there are cheap lean-to eateries. Later we explore the market area. A lot of old people collecting flattened cardboard boxes strapping them to trollies to take to sell at recyclers. Some vicious looking butchers, arrays of tropical fruit including durian. Kk wants to shop me a McDonald’s or rather a McCafe. He extols the virtues of these places, where you don’t meet the usual impatient service and which serve as a community space for the elderly. Along the main drag are adverts for night school crammers. One particularly huge poster resembles the electioneering posters we have seen all week. 4 young smiling respectable men who could equally be advertising skin care products or hair styling products. They describe themselves as Dr Koo’s dream team.
We hop on a bus to Ping Shan. On the horizon we can see the dim and sinister sky line of high rise Shenzhen in mainland China. The heavy smog is ominous. We get out at Ping Shan and here we pick up the heritage trail. This is enclosed in the old tang walled village, though there is only a small fragment of wall left. This clan are one of the oldest settlers in hk, coming here in the 12th century. Although he is called tang and I’m willing myself to believe it, unfortunately Kk is not related to this clan. The area is decidly low rise and bucolic. There are car parks among greenery, probably prime future development land and notices warning strangers not to park and that any damage to their vehicles will be their own responsibility. The rural environment means mosquitoes. We both get bitten and are feeling extremely hot. The various historic buildings are partially restored, interesting, but not engrossing. A temple, an an ancestral hall, a well. We don’t complete the trail and yearn for coolness.

So we take a bus to sheung Shui and this really is frontier town. Kk gets irritated by the mainland Chinese shoppers with their unruly crying kids who are given no attention. The mall has electrical cosmetic and clothes shops and a familiar sight is a group of Chinese on their knees outside stores packing and repacking suitcases they have brought for their mass purchases. It’s a comic and desperate sight. Outside the streets are full of similar day trippers sticking up on fake baby powder and other stuff. We see a ramshackle makeshift temple in a square. The air is notably stinky of cigarettes, something that Hong kongers seem to shun. On the foot bridge by the bus stop runs a rare cycle track. Hk cyclists seem unstable dangerous and wobbly. Along the bridge are campaigners for various political candidates, hanging out leaflets and trying to drown each other out via megaphones.

 I wait with Kk for his bus then make my multi vehicle return to fortress hill. I’m delighted to find the Amrita buffet open. The food has almost all gone so the friendly manager offers me a half price feast of tasty vegetable dishes with rice and noodles, dessert and some great teas, including a walnut one.

Kanchanaburi

Early start, for me anyway. Eggs and lemongrass tea, and oh my god Fran is already moving into my guesthouse and planning to follow me…..

The minibus to kanchanaburi is rapid, too air-conditioned and a bit bumpy. Only 3 passengers, so lots of space. It’s easy to get a room, and I soon discover there is a long farang stretch of pars and guesthouses. This one ain’t so bad, and I’ll keep the name hidden for the time being. I have the option of a bungalow on stilts on the river but take the cheaper option, online, which is free. Renting a bike is full of issues. They are all knackered in some way and the one I take in the end, going for something with gears rather than the usual rickety basket at the from number. Typically it’s too small and the seat is stuck so can’t be raised….

I cycle up to the fabled ridge over the river Kwai. On the way I look at a Japanese obelisk monument and enter the front yard of the kitschy war museum, a rusty steam locomotive with a car on its roof…for some reason. The bridge is a tourist magnet you can walk over it, and I attempt to cycle over it at night time. It’s kind of creepy and scary so I only get a third of the way over. 200,00 prisons of war and enslaved Asians died building the death railway for the Japanese in world war 2. What I don’t get is how the Thais let this happen on their soil. The weird thing is that now where there was death, disease, beatings, slave labour there are now luxurious floating restaurants. I know time moves on, but it seems totally perverse. I haven’t come her for this, but it’s fascinating. So are the huge allies cemeteries. Next door there is also a rather bizarre Chinese one full of pointy spires and a large outdoor crematorium.

Lunch is at on’s Isaan thai restaurant. A tiny place with 4 tables and where the kitchen is on the street in front of the shop, and On cooks non-stop. The food is terrific. Full of flavour, packed full of diverse and interesting veg; Chinese mushrooms, sweet potato, thai aubergine, to name a few. My green curry and red rice is amazing. The food is so good I return for dinner and have a banana leaf salad and sour large flat noodles with pak choi (perhaps). It is here I share a table with Jo, a professional poker player from Switzerland, a job which is location non-specific and, he says, allows him to live wherever he wants and earn all he needs to exist for a year in a couple of months…he is quite intense and has a curious stare. After a while our conversation has got incredibly deep and we examine the concepts of knowledge, understanding, being…..there were odd moments when it almost felt like I had entered into a scene from a film. Could it be Hitchcock? 2 strangers meet and decide to swap identities. It doesn’t go that far…but it’s true that when you meet someone for the first time you could, if you wanted pretend to be anything you wanted. Who knows if he was telling the truth. He could be some crazy guy on the run from Interpol…..anyway, it was an entertaining lunch.

Afterwards I cycle through the area that all these towns seem to have: a school zone with. 3 or 4 large school complexes, the buildings with an open space on the ground floor level, where kids often congregate politely sitting cross legged reciting something with a teacher. The kids are all smart and somehow noble looking in crisp simple uniforms. Their parents pick some of them up from school on their mopeds. It’s not untypical to see mother plus little son plus little daughter all on the same little bike puttering home. There is a new temple complex being built by the river. It’s very unusual. The central temple is still plain concrete, and the embellishments along the eaves and ridge of the roof are being attached. Some, strangely have been painted already. Dragons. Seems strange to be finishing the decorations before the structure is complete. There are 2 completed smaller temples. They are Chinese pagodas, and round with 2 levels. Garishly painted and with a recording of chanting resonating within.

I cross the river and cycle a few miles to Wat Tham Khao Pun, which is known for its caves. There is a serious of around 15 chambers, some requiring serious stooping to enter. 2 of these are used as temples, ie they contain Buddhas. The most striking and most beautiful thing was the sheer silence. Nobody else there, maybe 20m underground, I sat and listened to silence. Wonderful.

Rainy morning

The heavy rain crashing down on the corrugated roof wakes me. I think this hasscupperedmy planned trip to the Burma frontier today. Regardless I think it would be interesting to see how mae sot carries on in the deluge.many roads are once. Again reduced to almost streams. That need fording. Strangely cycling is a better option than walking. Your feet stay dry. Life goes on, just less to-ing and fro-ing and more bright capes and brollies. I’m at the brilliantly named vegetable restaurant, which is rather jolly and lively and also quite popular. A whole team of contented workers cutting, mixing, stirring, assembling. Adjacent is a wok stall under a. Briht red and green umbrella selling corn fritters and fried banana. Ihave palate of rice and 2 half dishes, one with green beans and tofu, the other greens and tofu. It costs a meagre 25 baht.

Not sure of today’s plan..but actually it doesn’t matter much. If the rain eases off, then Burma is an option.

Last night I had a tranquil cycle around the back streets of the town, yet still ended up by the Chinese temple. On the outdoor theatre stage some historical opera/ play was being acting out. Formal rigid backdrops, heavily painted men in silk with shrieking voices both in song and speech, that overdubs to a live performance were most disruptive. All this accompanied by gongs and shrinks and percussion, so complex that it seemed to have no rhythm or pattern. The audience amounted o no more than 10 bemused Thais. Incomprehensible to them probably. It certainly was to me and brought on a headache!

I’ve changed my mind..I’m going to cycle to Burma…