I just returned from a visit to Xiamen. This coastal seaside city has got to be the cleanest city in China. Located on the Southeast coast of China in Fujian Province consisting of Xiamen Island, Gulangyu Island, the north bank area of the Jiulong River and Tong’an County. Rich in history and the first free trade zone in mainland China. Xiamen has been called the Egret Island because of the hundreds of thousands of egrets inhabiting there. This is due to the beautiful natural scenery, the fresh air and the clean environment of the city.
The old and new come together in the city beautifully. You can see the Spanish and Portugal influence in the old sections of the city. Water is everywhere. I huge lake sits in the center of the city with parks and fountains. Everything is clean and well cared for.The local food is delicious and is famous for the fresh fish dishes.
There is a lot to see in and around Xiamen.
A few hours drive outside brings you to the Hakka Earthen Castles which fascinate foreign and Chinese tourists, international architects, and even the Pentagon (Reagan and the CIA thought their spy satellites had revealed hundreds of missile silos). Many earthen houses are round. some are over 1,000 years old, and are so aesthetic they appear to have sprung from the very earth itself. Earthen homes are rammed into shape, layer by layer, using a mix of raw earth, sand, lime, glutinous rice, and brown sugar, and reinforced with ‘bones’ of bamboo and wood. Only upper floors have outer windows, and the massive wooden gates are sheathed in iron.
You can do a tour of this area in a day and should not be missed while visiting Xiamen.
It all started with me needing a dining table. I spent a long time going to furniture stores, but I couldn’t find the right table anywhere. I thought that the only way to get the perfect table would be to have it made. After a few months of searching, I found this wood factory buried deep in the outskirts of Kunming. This fellow has been building tables and wood carving for many years. He strictly uses traditional Chinese building techniques passed down a few thousand years. All wood is joined without the use dowels or fasteners of any kind. It is a painstaking process of precision wood cutting and fitting. Everything is cut and built by hand using hand tools. They don’t use any machinery during building. Everything is hand sanded and finished.
In the process of preparing my table order, I became friends with the owner, Mr. Zou. He told me that his wood comes from Burma and all his tables are made from solid wood, never several pieces joined. The tables have to be several inches thick so they do not warp or crack with age. My table is 6’9″ X 3’5″ and is 5″ thick. It is a single piece of solid walnut that weighs 550 lbs. The base is made from solid Cyprus. The two bench seats are made from Namu, a very rare exotic hardwood, which is very hard to find in Asia now. It was traditionally only used for royalty to build the emperor’s palaces and furniture. It was against the law for it to be used for any other purpose. It is a very strong and heavy wood resistant to rotting or bending. Most of the Forbidden City was built with this wood and stands in perfect condition after centuries. Needless to say, this work cannot be found in most of the world and I was lucky to own such a rare and beautiful work of art. Total cost for building and delivery $1250.00!
I became fascinated by all the beautiful things they produced. The wood carvings were some of the best pieces I have ever seen, all carved from single blocks of wood. Mr. Zou’s trademark is his ability to carve delicate long stemmed pieces like flowers that move with the breeze. The detail and design of these pieces are without a doubt museum quality. Today there are not too many artisans with the skills to produce such artworks. He has pieces that range from several inches in size, to huge pieces dozens of feet in height and width. He uses only the wood’s natural color to enhance his carvings. Nothing is painted or stained. Only clear oil is used to protect the wood’s natural grains and colors.
Please enjoy some of the pictures of this master’s work. Note the details in each piece and I think you will be as amazed as I was to see this work. In my video section, I made a video of some finished carvings.
I just returned from another trip to Shanghai. This time I went up to the top of the new World Trade Center. This building is 495m and 125 stories. It is the tallest building in Asia now. The Jin Mao tower held the record for 1 year before they built the WTC beside it. I also saw the Shanghai acrobatic show this time. It is amazing how they can bend and balance their bodies.
Shanghai is quite a beautiful citywhere the building never seems to end. I would have to label it as the New York city of Asia.
I have been living in China three years now. During this time I have had the opportunity to observe the Chinese people going about their daily lives. I am struggling with the fact that I don’t yet speak Chinese. For some people, learning a language is like learning any subject. Unfortunately for me, learning Chinese is a frustrating procedure. But in my defense it is also a frustrating language to learn. When I go out and try some words, people don’t understand me. While pronouncing words is difficult in itself, there is also the fact that the local dialog spoken in Kunming is different from Mandarin. I expect at some point I will reach a threshold where I can say enough words where they will be able to understand me. My American friends tell me patience is the key to grasping Chinese.
In any case I have been here long enough to see things I am trying to understand. From my observations, I came up with the theory that the Chinese in general are in a new era, what I call, “de-evolution”. Let me explain.
The Chinese gave the world the most amazing technologies history has ever seen. They invented the compass, gunpowder, kites, paper, printing press, seismograph, ink, chopsticks, umbrellas, astrology, the planetarium, fans, hot air balloon, animal harness, rockets, bombs, books, medicines, the abacus, the mechanical clock, the crossbow, playing cards, silk, Porcelain, wheelbarrow, ice cream, suspension bridge, pasta, paddlewheel boats, natural gas deep drilling, the blast furnace, toilet paper, the newspaper, parachutes, zoos, decimal system, binomial mathematics, and they even invented the “zero” for Christ’s sake!
These things have changed the entire course of history in the world. They are also one of the oldest civilizations in history. Going strong after 5000 years. One could say that the Chinese must be very smart people. With all the great things China has given the world, I can only ask, “What the hell is going on here now?” So herein lies the source of my confusion.
As I observe the Chinese going about their daily lives, logic and common sense are nowhere to be found. At first I just thought Chinese are just a vastly different culture than us Westerners. While this is true to some extent, there appears to be more to it. They do things that fly in the face of everyday common sense. There are some examples.
Crossing the street Most often they simply do not bother look for oncoming cars, or, they will only look right when they cross. They never look left which is the primary direction of oncoming traffic. The result being that they step right in front of a car! Instead of jumping out of the way, they just freeze and do not move. Same reaction as a deer caught in your headlights. This happens all the time. It is more the norm than the exception. I think that in their minds they believe that if they don’t see a car, it is not there. So, how could one see a car if he never looks in the first place? You see…..very different logic used here. Sidewalks are rarely used. They usually walk in the street, no matter how busy the traffic. Children, babies, old people all walking in the street. Most of the time they walk in the middle or in a car lane, not even to one side. Mind you, there is a sidewalk empty along the street. At night this is very dangerous.You never know when they will just decide to just cross the street without warning.
Driving There is a reason why countries of the free world do not recognize a Chinese driver’s license for car rentals or for any other function. It is very simple….they can’t drive. Oh, they sure try hard enough. So far in the first six months of 2008, they’ve managed to kill over 100,000 in traffic fatalities alone trying to drive. You can’t fault the Chinese for not trying. So what is the deal anyway? I’ve realized it is two basic genetic things going on that will naturally put the Chinese behind the eight ball with driving. First is the inability for them to process incoming data fast enough to react to it. Really, as smart as the Chinese are, their brain waves just simply run at 50% of normal speed. So fast moving objects, or situations, will have already happened before they realize a problem even exists. This makes crash avoidance impossible. The second missing piece of genetics is “depth perception”. I don’t think there is even a Chinese word in for it! In any case, they don’t have it. They do not have any idea about the space they occupy and how it relates to others. They will see a bicycle rider on the curb of the road. As they approach in their car , they will move all the way into the next lane, while braking, thinking they are about to hit it. They shouldn’t have a reverse gear on any car in China. I will give 1000 RMB to the first person who can back in a straight line for 30 meters! Hell, make that 15 meters. It will never happen. They can’t do it. Usually when a car must be backed up, a family member will exit the car, go stand in the street with the other traffic, and direct the driver as he backs up. Talk about the blind leading the blind! Besides the genetic flaws of Chinese drivers, there is the complete and utter disregard for traffic lights, signs, laws, right of ways, people, whatever. They really believe that the entire road system was built solely for their own private use. There is never a fleeting thought to using indicators to change lanes or make a turn. No, the only time you see an indicator light is when they are passing another car on the highway. NOT changing lanes, just passing a car. Then they turn on the left indicator as they approach to make a pass. Doesn’t matter that he is going to change into the right lane after passing, he still uses the left turn indicator. They are taught to always turn on the signal while passing a car. It has nothing to do about lane change. Ah yes, and how about those horns. Noise is in their blood. I think they buy a car just because it has a horn. No need to light firecrackers when you got an electronic horn! I don’t even pay attention to horns anymore. It is no different to engine and road noise. Horns never stop. Every car is honking, moving or not. It doesn’t matter what the reason. They got one and by damn they will use it! I actually read that there is a traffic law that states, if you honk your horn before an accident, then it is not your fault. So they drive down the street always honking at nothing. Kind of scary huh?
Drinking Westerners go out to the a bar with friends to enjoy a few drinks. During the course of the evening, maybe they drink too much. It happens all the time. However, the Chinese have a different approach to it. To the Chinese, drinking is not a social function, it is a national competitive sport. It is a competition that is taken seriously. You buy beer by the bucket. When you order a beer, they bring 15 at once to the table. You have to make a special order if you only want one beer, and you pay a much bigger cost to do this. Before you take a drink, you must toast every time so everyone will drink at the same time. It is bad manners to take a drink by yourself. Then soon the table begins playing a vast selection of drinking games to speed up the drinking process. Conversations are basically about who will pass out first, or fall off the chair. If you prefer to drink liqueur, it is usually sold by the full bottle only. Then it is usually mixed at the table with 7-Up. The beer is also mixed and served in shot glasses so that during the drinking everyone can verify how much you are drinking. The whole process is designed to make sure everyone is consuming at the same volumes and rates. After a while, people begin to spew to the others delight and taunts. Later people simply pass out and are dragged away by their buddies, and this usually marks the end of the evening. By the way, there is no drinking age in China. You can be 8 ~ 80. Funny enough you rarely see very young people drinking. By nature people are 18 and up. I think this is more due to affordability than anything else. I think they tried to enter drinking as a competition in the Olympic games this year. China gold is a shoe-in.
Health and safety This one is a little complicated to put a finger on. Granted, China is an emerging 3rd world country with a boatload of people jammed into a little space. You really have to see it for yourself because reading numbers does not give you a picture of just how many people are here. The sheer density of urban populations is staggering. My city, Kunming, is smaller than Seattle. Seattle has 1.5 million people. Kunming has over 5.5 million. Imagine 4 times the people walking and driving around Seattle alone. Apparently human life holds little value here. If someone gets killed on the job, he is quickly replaced so work can continue without interruption. There is no such thing as company safety programs, OSHA, or safety equipment for use by the worker. Construction workers do not wear helmets, eye protection or safety shoes. They wouldn’t have a clue about such things. They grind away at steel and hammer rocks without a thought to eye protection. They work high up on bamboo scaffolds and iron beams wearing sandals. Forget about safety straps. Many fall and are killed. There is always someone else ready to take their place. Children run around and play alongside working large cranes and steam shovels. Construction sites are simply open for people to walk or drive through during construction.
As far as health goes, China seems to be stepping up with implementing some sort of national food safety programs. In light of the recent problems with tainted food exports, there is a direct economic benefit to inspecting food production in China. So the government has starting to implement inspections. I read in local newspapers on several occasions where numerous schoolchildren were sent to hospitals because the school lunch food was contaminated. The open markets, where you buy all your food, have no sanitary standards. Meats are put on open tables in the sun until they are sold. Vegetables lay in the street or on small dirty tables in the open. Who knows how many chemicals or tainted water was used to grow them. One learns to spend a time carefully washing everything before using it. I average food poisoning about once a month, even being careful. Everything looks great and is fresh picked daily, but you must pay attention from where you buy it. Still, somehow it all seems to work out ok. However, I tend to believe the western approach leans too much in the other direction now. I have been eating this stuff for 3 years, and I’m not dead yet. Smoking is just short of being encouraged here. The billions the government takes in taxes from the factories cannot be overlooked. Cigarettes are very cheap and plentiful. Packs sell for less than one dollar. You can smoke almost everywhere. Many smoke and eat at the same time in restaurants. I have not seen anti smoking material anywhere. Public toilets are nothing more than open sewers, only the brave can muster a trip inside. Most children simply stand on the public sidewalk and do their business like a dog would do. You can see this everyday. I don’t care about the openness of public bathroom activities as much as I don’t wish to see it done a few feet from me where I am sitting eating a bowl of noodles.
China is a remains beautiful country despite the fact that people throw trash everywhere. It is thrown from the cars and dropped to the street. Nobody gives it a second thought. Finish a can of soda and simply drop it or throw it out of the window. There are armies of people wearing orange vests that are stationed every few blocks. Their function is to sweep the street clean and monitor their assigned block to keep it clear of debris. Maybe this is what you call job security. Still it is annoying to see people throwing rubbish everywhere.
I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I am frustrated mostly by the apparent lack of citizens respecting their own country and city. Something needs to be done to instill pride in the population and start teaching their children the same. As I said, China is an amazing country filled with beauty and history. I don’t believe these habits were this way in the past. But as China opens it’s doors to the world, these problems seem to be getting worse. Maybe as more and more Chinese travel outside China, they will bring back better habits to show their communities.
Slowly but surely China succumbs to western decadence. Hooters has just recently opened a branch in Shanghai. Actually they have 3 locations in Shanghai now! My friend Chris sent me this camera phone pic while he was there just last night. While Hooters is certainly no “strip joint”, it does symbolize the epitome of an establishment dedicated to eye candy. I don’t think you go to Hooters for the fine cuisine.
I was surprised to see that China would allow such a venue, even for Shanghai. China is quite conservative when it comes to the “nightclub” scene. Of course there are plenty of nightclub shows featuring scantily clothed girls, but these are produced like a stage show so they pass as “art”, making them allowable in China. These shows are not intended to titillate the audience in the manner of a traditional girl show like in a go-go bar. Frankly these productions are a lot more entertaining than just watching some girls shaking it on stage.
Hooters by definition is a family restaurant, but it’s real purpose is showcasing young girls dressed to show their assets. I mean you can’t possibly want to go there just to eat greasy chicken wings! I think this is why a Hooters in China earmarks a big change in Chinese attitudes toward “entertainment”. Maybe you have to live in China to really appreciate what a big deal this is for China. As for me, I guess I will have to go there and see for myself………. for the chicken I mean.