Category: China, 2012


October 25-26

Okay, looked as if we were going to get off on time, but now we’re sitting on the runway because of weather, waiting to take off on the 6570-mile, 13-hour flight to Beijing. Fortunately, it turns out that this is a short delay, and we take off exactly an hour late.

I could read one of the many choices I’ve loaded onto my iPad, including The Garlic Ballads, by the recently-annointed Chinese Nobel laureate, Mo Yan, a grim story of which I’ve read about a quarter, or a book I probably will not understand, called, The Age of Insight, the Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind and Brain from Vienna 1900 to the Present. So, now I guess you understand why I’m not reading, right?

Blogging is a bit of an odd endeavor. I think of this as primarily a record for myself, a journal. But, of course, I know that you’re along (though perhaps not for long, if I keep this up). I’m going to trust that you’ll be able to skim/skip the personal reflections, if you’re not interested. I’ll even give you a signal IN ALL CAPS when I return to the trip at hand.

Getting off on a trip like this involves working hard to pack only about half again what you’ll need, rather than twice. In this case, I had to make some decisions I’m not normally faced with. Do I follow Nevada’s advice that you must bring a second camera (in case of malfunction of the first). I did, despite the fact that if my camera malfunctions, I am going to be one very unhappy dude, because I bought the new Sony NEX7, just for this trip. Do I lug a laptop? Hell no. A tripod? No. Take toilet paper, as suggested? Uh-huh. Anyway, eventually, time runs out, and so you make decisions, by default or otherwise.

And there’s always some crisis. Let me say that whichever one of you stole or hid the walking shoes I’d intended to take on this trip, that’s not funny. Carol and I, and Barbara, our housekeeper who knows where everything is, looked all over for them. And both daughters confirmed that I had not left them at their house. So, after lunch, I ran out to buy a new pair (pretty nice, actually). The good thing about expenditures such as this on a major trip is that they can’t possibly impact significantly the overall trip cost.



In the time before leaving on a trip, you get so wrapped up in the minutiae of preparation, that it’s easy to lose sight of why you decided to do the trip in the first place. I’ve now had time to read through the itinerary again, and I remember why. It’s going to be an amazing trip of festivals, eating, drinking, markets, dances, songs, bullfights, huge bronze drums, costumes, hot spring baths, 2000-year old towns, shamans, rituals, horse races, crafts and experiencing different cultures in a way that few people have the privilege of doing.

While, basically, this is a photography trip, it’s bookended by a few days in Beijing and Singapore( where, among other things, I’ll bask in the luxury to which, rather obnoxiously, I’ve become accustomed). To take just Beijing for now, I’ll be staying at the Peninsula and I’m quite excited that I’ll be able to see something out of the ordinary, because of a great connection. I’m going to be shown around by Evan Osnos (and his wife, Sarabeth), the son of my college classmate, Peter Osnos. Peter and I lived in a large house that we rented with four other classmates senior year at Brandeis. I won’t go into that, but ask me, sometime.

Peter has had a distinguished career in journalism and publishing that has encompassed working for I.F.Stone, Newsweek, the Washington Post, Random House (where, most notably, he published my book The Essential Book of Interviewing) and at the company he founded, Public Affairs, which has published a wealth of outstanding, non-fiction titles by an astounding range of prominent authors.

And Evan, in his thirties, has already built an enviable reputation as a star reporter for The Chicago Tribune, and now as head of the China bureau for The New Yorker. Evan has graciously agreed to be my guide and facilitator for my two days in Beijing, and has mapped out a detailed schedule.

Okay, I am now going to steal some assorted facts about China from Wikipedia (somewhat edited and reworked). This is typical of the type of depth and intellectual engagement that I bring to these trips. Hey, how about a little credit, though? I didn’t have to tell you I was stealing this stuff from Wikipedia, did I?

The People’s Republic of China (PRC), is the largest country in East Asia. It is the world’s most populous country, with a population of over 1.3 billion. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, the country is the world’s second-largest country by land area (after Russia).

China is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China. It exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four directly controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau). Its capital city is Beijing. The PRC also claims Taiwan—which is controlled by the Republic of China (ROC), a separate political entity—as its 23rd province.

The ancient Chinese civilization—one of the world’s earliest—flourished in the fertile basin of the Yellow River in the North China Plain. China’s political system was based on hereditary monarchies, known as dynasties, beginning with the semi-mythological Xia of the Yellow River basin (approx. 2000 BC) and ending with the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. Since 221 BC, when the Qin Dynasty first conquered several states to form a Chinese empire, the country has expanded, fractured and been reformed numerous times. A history of the dynasties, while very interesting, would be beyond this blog.

The Republic of China, founded in 1911 after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty, ruled the Chinese mainland until 1949. In the 1946–1949 phase of the Chinese Civil War, the Chinese Communist Party defeated the nationalist Kuomintang in mainland China and established the People’s Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949. The Kuomintang relocated the ROC government to Taiwan, establishing its capital in Taipei. The ROC’s jurisdiction is now limited to Taiwan and several outlying islands.

Since the introduction of economic reforms in 1978, China has become the world’s fastest-growing major economy. As of 2012, it is the world’s second-largest economy, after the United States, by both nominal GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP), and is also the world’s largest exporter and second-largest importer of goods.

I’m going to call it quits on Wikipedia, at least for now. There’s much more, of course, and I may (or may not) try to sneak additional material in on later days.

Well, after blogging and dinner, I have only a bit over 5000 miles and less than eleven hours to go. Hope this pilot guy knows what he’s doing, as the monitor shows him heading for the North Pole. Maybe I should go up and point out the short cut; just head West across the damn Pacific Ocean. Time to try to get a little sleep, and, if not, maybe tackle the iPad books.

4 comments to Takeoff

  • Wendy

    It won’t surprise you to learn that I, for one, skip the Wikipedia stuff rather than the personal. Excellent choice to bring toilet paper! Disconcerting to know you were headed to the North Pole, but I trust, with the help of some very attentive passengers, you made it.

  • Barbara

    Dear brother,

    Don’t recall if you’re an accidental traveler, who speaks to no one during flights. if so, clearly a loss to onboard passengers. They could have benefited greatly from your historical backdrop and invaluable sense of direction. But, I trust, that sooner or later, your pilots discovered the error of their ways.

    I did read your the plagiarized segment and found it satisfyingly succinct and informative. Like a balanced meal, it fed me enough without stuffing me. The human interest side was, as always, charming and Arnoldesque.

    Your agenda is obviously enviable. So sorry you forgot to invite me along. Still, I harbor no ill feelings, and look forward to hearing details of your next adventure.

    Your Little Sister

  • Pat Hemmens

    Ooh – brand new walking boots – not such a good idea if you’re doing a lot of walking. Hope you packed blister plasters as well as loo roll!

  • David Levine

    Hey Arnie:

    Senior year in college was a very, very long time I ago. I guarantee you that the statute has run, so it’s ok talk about it– unless of course there are still some things you don’t want Carol to know.

    Have a wonderful trip.

    David & Eve

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