China Travelogue 9: Beijing to Taipei

This Post: Beijing --> Nanking --> Shenzhen --> Hong Kong --> Taipei

(The road ended in Hong Kong. Queenie, Paul, Annie and Dennis at a pub on the beach in Sheko, Hong Kong)

Dear All,

It is been more than a week since the last update. Since then we have left Beijing, travelled to Nanking, journeyed back to Shenzhen, visited Hong Kong and returned home to Taipei. The week was long but the road easy and the journey fun. The good news is that being back in Taipei it is conceivable that we may soon be able to post some pictures online (but don't hold your breath as it might take a while). Unfortunately all our pictures from Lingxia to Shenzhen had been destroyed so we cannot show you those.

Anyway, we left Beijing last week Sunday to travel to Nanking. Nanking is a city with a lot of history and a place that I had wanted to visit for a while. Another motivating factor for visiting the area was one of our ex-colleagues, Ling Yan, is from Nanking and we got to spend a significant amount of time with her.

On the Sunday after our arrival we had VIP treatment for the first time: Ling Yan greeted us at the airport and the hotel had been arranged and our life was easy. After checking into the hotel we went for a walk and had a late lunch. After that Ling Yan had to return home. We decided to go out for dinner later in the evening and this is when I got the impression that Nanking never really liked me that much. It seemed as if there was a "malign presence" (I borrow the phrase from the documentary Touching the Void) out to disrupt my time in Nanking.

Firstly, the restaurant we ate in, although homely and quaint, had the worst service in China. Afrer waiting an hour for my food and watching Queenie eat her dinner I just gave up and decided to go hungry for the night. After that we went for a walk through Nanking where we found the revolving restaurant at the top of the highest building in Nanking. I managed to get some food there and had a beer or two but then, when we decided to go back to the hotel, the taxi driver went completely the wrong way and refused to listen to me.

After getting back to the hotel and trying to get to sleep a car alarm started to go off outside our Hotel room. We called the reception but they said there was nothing they could do about it. I was forced to go down to the reception in my pyjamas and persuade them to persuade the customer to come down from the room and turn it off. Eventually the nightguard went to the room but the guest refused to come down saying the alarm was broken and there was nothing he could do about it. The reception staff seemed to be very afraid and offered to change my room at 2:30am in the morning. I got stubborn and insisted that they tell the guy to turn off the alarm. Eventually I was forced to go to the guys room myself. After I knocked on the door I was greeted with a 5 foot man in his underwear with a prostitute hiding under the blankets. The guy also had a weird tattoo of the Buddha covering his back. I realized he was probably with some organized crime group but I still insisted that he turn off the alarm. He never did!

The next day, Monday 12, we went to the Nanking Massacre Memorial. For those of you who do not know, on December 13, 1937, Japanese troops occupied Nanking, the then capital of China, after the Nationalist government had fled to Chongqing. What followed was 6-weeks of madness in which some estimate that over 300,000 people were massacred and over 20,000 woman (of all ages) raped. The memorial itself is built on a mass grave and there is an archeological excavation that tourists can view that shows the skeletons of some of the victims. It is probably the most macabre museum I have ever seen. The only one that comes anywhere near it is the American War Crimes Museum in Ho Chih Minh city, Vietnam. The photographic museum itself made for some fairly grim viewing but many of the pictures in the museum I (Paul) had already seen in the late Iris Chang's popular work, "The Nanking Massacre". The museum was too heart wrenching for Queenie and she was unable to stay there for too long a time. On December 13, the following day, sirens went off periodically throughout the day in rememberance of those who had fallen during the massacre. It was a moving time to be in Nanking.

Now what is interesting to both Queenie and I is that the people in Nanking are fairly accepting of the Japanese. There is no pervading hatred for what happened in the past. This is really strange as they did bear the brunt of the assault of the Japanese. Yet, people in places that did not experience so much devastation from the Japanese imperial forces have a great hatred for the Japanese for what they did in World War 2. In fact, I knew a Chinese teacher in Shenzhen who refused to teach any Japanese people. The Nanking people are different: they are welcoming to the Japanese and have assigned these grim actions to the history books as it should be.

In the afternoon we met with Ling Yan and went to the old government building where the nationalist government was formed and where much of China's early 20th century political history transpired. The building itself was interesting and seeing the places where Chiang Kai Shek and Sun Yat Sen worked was fairly interesting. Needless to say that building and house was another excellent example of Chinese housing and gardens. In the evening we went for a walk to see the Yangtze River. One of the most important rivers in China. What is there to say about it? It is big, and it looks like a river, but that is about it.

After that we had the tremendous privilege of meeting with Ling Yan's parents who took us out for a fantastic meal at a wonderful restaurant. We had met her mother in Shenzhen but it was the first time we met her father and it was great.

On Day 3 in Nanking we went with Ling Yan to visit some Ming Dynasty tombs, Sun Yat Sen's mausoleum and a famous pagoda. The mausoleum was the most impressive. It is on a mountain and Dr. Sun's statue looks out over a beautiful evergreen forest with the city of Nanking in the background. The whole development and design of the mausoleum had a fascinating history itself. One Chinese person told us that although Sun Yat Sen had opposed the Emperors, he himself was buried and is revered as one.

After leaving the pagoda we went to the older part of Nanking city where they had a wonderful market and a lot of original architecture. It was a quaint part of the town where mostly young people go to strike up bargains and by cheap clothes. In the evening we took Ling Yan to the revolving restaurant, as she had never been, and had a wonderful dinner while watching Nanking at night.

On Wednesday morning we decided to visit the Chinese Department at the Nanking University. In the library we bumped into Josh, a young Canadian from Vancouver, who has a degree in Classical Chinese Literature, works as a translator for a local Nanking opera house and is endowed with a vast knowledge about China and things Chinese. His perspectives on the state of China were most interesting and his knowledge of the dialects and the different opera's that permeated China throughout its long history was immense. For us though was the most interesting was his perspectives on repression in China. From his own understanding the Chinese government is not interested in "oppression for the sake of oppression" but rather fears any organized group that can threaten its existence.

He also told us that Nanking opera used to be the most popular opera in China but that it is preeminent position has been taken over by Beijing opera. Apparently, Nanking opera predates that of Beijing but does not receive much exposure. Unfortunately, due to the murder of a critical mass of the Nanking population in 1937, Nanking culture has been diluted with an influx of outsiders into the city of Nanking. Josh also said that many of the local operas e.g. those in Soochow and other places are facing extinction because they require that the performers speak the dialect from childhood. It seems that this modus operandi of recruiting opera singers will surely guarantee its demise. The other day on a culture program on China's official English channel I saw a Chinese opera singer saying that when she first started to sing French opera she never understood a word of French. Surely other operas, in order to survive, should be willing to employ others to learn the language and perform?

We finally left Nanking on Wednesday afternoon and said our final farewell to our dear friend Ling Yan. We arrived in Shenzhen and spent a good few days there meeting with our friends and ex-colleagues from the language center we used to run. It was a wonderful few days of reestablishing and reaffirming relationships with those whom we have grown to love as dear friends over the last year.

On Saturday we left for Hong Kong. On the ferry to Hong Kong we heard the sad news that Queenie's grandmother had passed away. It was a disappointing end to the journey through China.

In the afternoon we went for a walk through the WTO protests stands in Victoria park and hooked up with a camera man from the South African Broadcasting Company (SABC). He commented on how well the police were managing the protests. Little did we all realize the madness and mayhem that was going to take place in the evening. The direct consequence of the WTO meeting was an immediate hike in hotel prices and also a lack in available rooms.

As for the protests, in the afternoon they seemed pretty lame. What was surprising were the slogans that they were using. They had the most foul language. I guess if they do want to be taken seriously they should engage people in a different way. What was also surprising was that most of the protestors came from abroad. Hong Kong people are used to corporate competition. As one of my HK friends told me "competition is a way of life in HK." When he was young he and his family had a factory assembly line on their dining room table and this was common in those days. As a result of the intense commercial competitiveness that exists in HK, most HK people seemed to be curious specatators watching a weird circus that came to town. What was surprising was the compassion and understanding the HK citizens had for the protestors. One taxi driver told me that if he was in the position of a South Korean farmer he would do the same thing. He said this after the violent protests that put the conference center under seige.

On Saturday evening our great friend Annie and her fiancee drove us out to Shek-O, a small town on Hong Kong island where we had a fantastic hot-pot. After dinner we landed up at a "secret" pub on the beach. Although it was cold, there was a fire to warm us and cold beer to keep us chilled. What a great place to end the China journey. We could see stars in the clear night sky and for the first time in an eon hear the crashing of the waves as we sipped our drinks. It was another precious evening that will live long in our memories.

On Sunday afternoon we went back to Taipei where we met my mother and had a long awaited reunion. On Monday we went South to Chiayi to attend Queenie's grandmother's funeral. The funeral was a wonderful celebration of her life. As a Christian she apparently never missed Church and shared the love of Christ with all she met. She was so caring that she also always bought the pastor lunch on Sundays. She was a wonderful woman and it was a great privilege to have known her. Her loss will be felt deeply by many.

Well, the journey is over. We are back in Taipei and getting ready to get back to our normal lives. (whatever that means).

God Bless All,

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