Mr. Trump Goes to Beijing

TrumpSun

A little editorializing here: I just have to chuckle about Donald Trumps’s state visit to Beijing. The poor man is no match for the guanxi that permeates Chinese politics. They are playing him like a fiddle.

Back in May of 2016 while campaigning for the presidency, Trump declared “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing. It’s the greatest theft in the history of the world.”

Once in the Middle Kingdom, however, Trump changed his tune, saying “Who can blame a country for being able taking advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens?”

Why the change? Smarminess is hard-wired into Chinese governance, and Trump’s need for ego-stroking makes him especially vulnerable. He’s a sitting duck for the kind of spectacle and puffery that Chinese politicians thrive upon. It’s no secret that Trump wishes HE could be the dictator of adoring masses.

This from the CNN article:

Outside the Great Hall of the People here on Thursday, President Donald Trump watched with an unmistakable air of satisfaction as cordons of Chinese troops marched stiff-legged in his honor, an eight-cannon salute preceding their parade.

It was just the latest display of elaborate pageantry put on by his Chinese hosts, and inside the cavernous state edifice two hours later, the outsized display of flattery appeared to pay off.

Link to full CNN article about Trump’s visit to Beijing

Socialist Art Comes to the 2016 Presidential Election

The day before the presidential election, a friend who had voted for Hillary Clinton displayed this photo of the candidate. “You know that’s styled like a Cultural Revolution poster of Chairman Mao,” I commented.

hillary-clinton

maoposter

She answered that she’d bought it from the Hillary store. I was surprised. A favorite attack tactic in races like this is to equate Democrats with communism and Republicans with fascism. Yet here was the presidential candidate’s own organization marketing this image of her to the party faithful.

adolftrump-160x153

Critics of candidate Trump have Photoshopped images of him styled to look like Hitler. These would never be sold by the candidate’s campaign. In fact, sympathetic websites have ranted about the comparison as unfair and dangerous.

Was the Clinton camp going for irony? Was there a mole in the graphics department who thought s/he could pull one over on her supporters? Were they clueless? Or is America officially over its fear of socialism?

Bound Feet

An elderly woman with bound feet on a city sidewalk in Xi'an, 1982. © Patti Isaacs

An elderly woman with bound feet on a city sidewalk in Xi’an, 1982. © Patti Isaacs

Just today a friend posted a short video about foot binding on Facebook. Living in interior, rural China in 1981-82, I often saw elderly women with bound feet; the practice continued longer in the country’s interior than in the big coastal cities of China’s south and east.

In an earlier post, I mentioned elderly women with bound feet who nonetheless made the arduous climb to the top of Mt. Huashan not far from Xi’an. It was a challenging climb for me with my youth and big feet. I was doubly impressed by the women, many in their 70s and 80s, who picked their way  up 5000 vertical feet on lotus feet.

View the video here:

Scroll’s Facebook video of bound feet

 

Xi’an’s Terracotta Army—influenced by the Greeks?

 

Terracotta Soldiers

By Peter Morgan from Nomadic – Detail, Terracotta Warriors, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2909770

A controversial new theory has arisen about Xi’an’s famous army of terracotta soldiers. I first saw them in 1981, only six years after they were discovered in a farmer’s field east of the city.

New research—and the results of a genetic study—hint that Western explorers may have reached China more than 1,500 years before Marco Polo. Some experts think ancient Greeks may have inspired and helped build China’s famous Terracotta Army.

The BBC reports that the new theory is based on evidence from excavations at the tomb of China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, as well as the results of a genetic study. Read the full article here:

Did those who made the terracotta soldiers learn from Greek sculptors?

 

Xi’an Food Gets Famous

This makes me a little happy…and a little sad. I’ve loved that Xi’an food has been my little secret. But after Anthony Bourdain discovered Xi’an Famous Foods in New York people are learning about the region’s spicy, tangy cuisine. Here are a couple of shots from restaurants I frequented when I lived in Xi’an, and a link to Business Insider’s profile of the New York chain.

Xi’an Famous Foods gets noticed again

Street Food

Meats, vegetables, and tofu ready to be skewered and grilled at a sidewalk eatery

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“Pants Belt Noodle”—a Xi’an specialty. Often served in the leftover broth from Spicy Fish Head. Sounds weird, tastes amazing!

 

Golden Autumn in Xi’an

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The instant I saw the landscape in this photo, I thought, “This must be just south of Xi’an.” Sure enough, when I read the full article from  www.thisiscolossal.com I discovered that this 1400-year-old gingko tree sits in the courtyard of a Buddhist temple in the Zhongnan range of Shaanxi’s Qinling mountains.

Foothills of the Qinling Mountains south of Xi'an, Shaanxi. ©1981 Patti Isaacs.

Foothills of the Qinling Mountains south of Xi’an, Shaanxi. ©1981 Patti Isaacs.

In 1981 Gauss and I went with our students to nearby Cuihuashan. It had not been developed as a tourist destination and was a poor but scenic agricultural area.

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Rice paddy at the base of Cuihuashan. Photo © Patti Isaacs.

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Every bit of arable land was used. Photo ©1981 Patti Isaacs.

The following spring we were able to bike to a nearby monastery, one of the few left intact following the Cultural Revolution. Steve Jackson (far left in the photo below), another American teacher, rode with us. He got a flat tire just south of the city and when we stopped for a quick roadside repair we drew a crowd of onlookers who were quite willing to give advice to the guy fixing the innertube.

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Steve Jackson (left) looks on as a roadside repairman fixes his flat tire. Photo ©Patti Isaacs.

Monks spread grain on pavement to dry at the Xing Jiao monastery in the foothills of the Qinling Mountains. Photo © 1982 Patti Isaacs.

Monks spread grain on pavement to dry at the Xing Jiao monastery in the foothills of the Qinling Mountains. Photo © 1982 Patti Isaacs.

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Inside the monastery. Photo ©Patti Isaacs

For more gingko tree eye candy, visit the Chinese website where it originally appeared, or go to This Is Colossal for English captions.

http://www.yicai.com/images/2015/11/4715614.html

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/11/an-ancient-chinese-gingko-tree-drops-an-ocean-of-golden-leaves/

Chinese National Day, October 1

In America, it’s July 4. In China, October 1 is the national holiday, and the beginning of a one-week holiday in honor of the anniversary of founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Here’s how Gauss and I celebrated National Day in Xi’an in 1981, when the Republic celebrated its 32nd birthday.

October First—National Day—in Xingqing Park, Xi'an. ©1981 Patti Isaacs

October First—National Day—in Xingqing Park, Xi’an. ©1981 Patti Isaacs

With no work the long week stretched before us. We felt bored and homesick. Adding to my funk was a nasty cold verging on bronchitis. The evenings were turning colder, and charcoal burners were firing up all over the city. The air was becoming thick and sooty.

The daughters of one of the scholars Gauss had helped back in Minnesota knocked on our door that morning.

“Please come with us to visit the park across the street,” the older daughter said.

Like museums in the U.S. and Europe, parks in China were often walled off with an entry gate and ticket sellers. How different this was from home, where you could wander into the park to eat your bag lunch, throw a Frisbee, or take a stroll after dinner, any old day.

Most days the park was nearly deserted but today, the place was as packed as the Minnesota State Fair on a warm Saturday. It was hard to move, and curious people pressed in on us, eager to get a glimpse of the foreigners.

“It’s free because of National Day,” one of the girls told us.

Normally it cost 4 fen (2 cents) to get in.

At home, we would go out of town for a holiday, but for Chinese people, going to the park was a twice- or thrice-yearly treat.

The park had walking paths, a willow-shaded pond with rowboats to rent, and a picturesque crooked bridge where a professional photographer had set up a booth. Few people had their own cameras, so for a yuan he would take your picture, and a week later you could pick up a black and white print.

And on this day, they could enjoy the added novelty of two tall foreigners with a camera. Whenever we stopped to take photos with the girls, a crowd gathered. We found ourselves darting from one place to another to find a spot where we wouldn’t be followed and stared at, but such a place simply didn’t exist. It was an interesting experience, but hardly a relaxing one, and after about an hour we headed back to our apartment.

Chinese Lingerie Merchants of Egypt

 Chen Yaying and Liu Jun, who go by the names Kiki and John, in their lingerie store in Asyut, with their Egyptian assistant Rahma Medhat.Credit Photograph by Rena Effendi / INSTITUTE

Chen Yaying and Liu Jun, who go by the names Kiki and John, in their lingerie store in Asyut, with their Egyptian assistant Rahma Medhat. Credit Photograph by Rena Effendi / INSTITUTE

I’m a huge fan of Peter Hessler’s writing. Author of River Town and Country Driving,  Hessler knows China and Chinese people like few others. Now based in Egypt, he  wrote an article in the New Yorker about Chinese businesspeople there who, oddly enough, have carved out a niche in the lingerie market.

His article explores how the pragmatism and fatalism of Chinese merchants—they’re there to make money, not to change anybody’s ideology—allows them to be flexible and adaptable in the face of political upheaval in the Middle East. It also delves a bit into China’s presence in Africa as a whole, something few Americans consider.

On a personal note, having lived in China during the repressive era when even to wear a skirt was considered a bit risqué, it’s amusing to consider a Chinese farmer-turned-lingerie-merchant nonchalantly selling thongs and transparent negilgées to Muslim women.

It’s a fun and informative reading for anyone with an interest in China and Chinese people. Link to the original article here:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/08/10/learning-to-speak-lingerie

The Worst Place on Earth

Black sludge pours into the lake - one of many pipes lining the shore (Credit: Liam Young/Unknown Fields)

Black sludge pours into the lake – one of many pipes lining the shore (Credit: Liam Young/Unknown Fields)

Just today I came across an article on the BBC Website—frighteningly on their “Future” page—about the Inner Mongolian city of Baotou, about 500 miles north of Xi’an. There’s little that I can add; it’s a must-read and will make you think hard about your desire for another smartphone or other electronic gadget.

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth

The name of my blog, Time Travel in China, springs from my observation that within China, a traveler often feels transported in time as well as space. Visit a remote village where homes still rely on charcoal heaters and are equipped with outhouses, and you’ve gone back to the turn of the American 20th century. Visit Shanghai with its skyscrapers and Maglev trains and you are in the most modern city in the world. Visit Xi’an or Beijing and experience air pollution that lies ahead if we’re not careful. Visit Baotou and glimpse an apocalyptic future.

Under the Dome

I’ve posted this photo before. It was taken in Xi’an on a rather ordinary day in 2005. The sun is a faint orange dot visible above and to the right of the small rectangular building on the horizon. I really enjoyed my return to Xi’an, but after two months I was dying to get home, primarily to breathe some clean air. I saw blue sky about 20-30% of my time there, but mostly it was gray, hazy, and nondescript.

SunnyDayIn Xian

A movie about air pollution in China, “Under the Dome” was released just a few weeks ago. I wanted to link to it because it explores the concerns of ordinary Chinese people about their polluted environment in much greater depth, and from their point of view, not mine as an outsider.

Upworthy.com has a great summary and short clip of the movie if you don’t have time to watch the whole film:

http://www.upworthy.com/everyone-waited-for-it-to-be-taken-down-150-million-views-later-its-still-up-watch-it-here?c=reccon1

The Upworthy summary highlights many of the same things my Chinese friends discussed with me. I told them that we used to have prodigious pollution in the U.S. as well, citing big industrial eastern cities like Pittsburgh. They wanted to know how we cleaned up the air.

Technology initially played a big part in it. But now we’ve taken care of much of our pollution problems by outsourcing them, along with our manufacturing jobs, to China—but that’s another issue, and it’s addressed in the full movie. If Upworthy is too radical for your taste, you can watch the entire movie on YouTube—with English subtitles, but not the summary—here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T6X2uwlQGQM

And the movie gets into topics like alternative fuels, urban planning, and public policy in a very accessible way that anyone can understand.

The Communist Party’s central propaganda department ordered the movie removed from Chinese websites after 300 million views. Edward Wong of the New York Times wrote about it here:

http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150308/c08dome/dual/