Category: China, 2012

Of Bird’s Nests and Eggs

October 27

Some difficulty finding the person who was supposed to pick me up at the airport, but managed to connect after about half an hour. The 45-minute ride to the very upscale and beautiful Peninsula Hotel was traffic free, and check-in went smoothly. Able to post my first blog from China and check and answer emails, though access to some NY Times links appear to be blocked. Below, detail from hotel lobby.

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Slept decently and down for excellent and extensive buffet breakfast, before Evan Osnos came by at 9. Spent a quite delightful day with Evan and, in part, with Sarabeth. It’s difficult to explain, except to say that it was a terrific slice of life in Beijing. We started by taxiing to Evan’s old apartment area where we walked around. No English on the signs, past vegetable sellers, migrant day workers with hand made signs, barbers,

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dentists (who, for some reason, would not let me photograph them), checkers players,

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a large market area where Evan and Sarabeth used to buy virtually everything, past a homemade basketball hoop,

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by a lake with fishermen,

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then up a large bell tower with very steep steps. Evan is fluent in Chinese, and so chats everyone up. Stopped for lunch at a small Vietnamese restaurant, where Sarabeth met us, and Evan ordered an assortment of their favorite dishes.

After lunch, Evan and I taxied to the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic structure and inside the very impressive and architecturally interesting stadium, which seems to be something of a white elephant, being so cavernous that the soccer team refuses to play in there, because the arena would always appear at least half empty. But the large, public area around the stadium appears to be used quite well for skateboarding and strolling.

From there we taxied to near the house that Evan and Sarabeth now rent in an area bordered by a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, a Confucian Temple and fortune tellers. We had coffee with Sarabeth and chatted for about an hour. China is very much more built up than I remember it 12 years ago. The bicycles that dominated traffic then are barely noteworthy now, replaced by cars and motorized bikes. Streets seem wider, more gracious.

Difficult to capture in the blog, but what made the day, was the steady stream of conversation with Evan (and Sarabeth), ranging from both our families to Evan’s fascinating assignments–interviews with the Dahli Lama, covering the nuclear plant problems in Japan, a piece on Rich Daley, stationed for a couple years in the Middle East while with the Chicago Tribune, 6 weeks in Burma, including being smuggled from China into areas of hostility in the north of Burma, and more–not to mention much discussion of the puzzle/contradiction that is China today, combining enormous economic progress with equally enormous corruption and gangland-like activity. Evan says that the Chinese are not surprised by their newfound growth and success, viewing it as returning to their natural place, which they occupied for two thousand years except for an aberrant couple hundred years. He expects that any changes will be slow, as the Chinese view with alarm what has happened to Russia and “walk carefully on the stones when they wade across a river.” Sarabeth is delightful, and has a responsible position in development for teach for China, modeled on teach for America.

Evan hailed a taxi, which took me back to the hotel, where I relaxed and blogged, then took a taxi to a concert at “The Egg,” a modern concert hall, surrounded by a moat-like body of water. Taxi dropped me on the wrong side, so I had a hell of a time figuring out how to get in. Concert hall and building are very modern and quite spectacular. The concert was varied and good; very lively overture by a Chinese composer, Bruch Scottish Fantasy for violin and orchestra, and Dvorak’s New World Symphony.

Notable differences from U.S.: orchestra comes onto stage together to applause (rather than wandering in and tuning up), encore by violin soloist in first half (encouraged by audience staccato applause and foot stomping by the concertmaster), two orchestra encores after the Dvorak and flowers presented to the conductor, and–best of all–couple next to me, talking, was told twice by usher to can it (my Chinese translation).

Walked a distance from the Egg to try to get a taxi unsuccessfully. Was getting chilly so agreed to pay way too much to a guy in a car. But I’d paid less than I’d expected to for the ticket, and I did get back. Club sandwich dinner, with a beer in the lobby, live jazz playing nearby. Worked on blog in bar, and intend now to go up to finish.

Relatively little picture taking, limited to local scenes, a sample of which are above. I’ll end with the obligatory cute kid shot.

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Of Bird’s Nests and Eggs

  • Wendy

    Dentists very rarely agree to have their pictures taken, at least in my experience. Impressive hotel and interesting notes on the orchestra. Love all the photos. Will Maz work to compose poems for a China book? Know it would be very different since she’s not traveling with you this time, but it just occurs to me that it would still be possible to collaborate.
    L,
    W.

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