18 February, 2007


it's about time to finish up the last of the posts on our trip to China in November. there are enough touristy things in Beijing that we still had plenty to see in our last few days, but probably the most entertaining of those was the sweet Chinese acrobatics show. with the cheap set dressing and unbelievably cheesy music, the first 15 minutes of it was so ghetto i thought we were somehow back in Macau. but pretty soon i got into the swing of things, the quality of the acts themselves overshadowing the crummyness of the surroundings.

some scenes from the highly entertaining acrobatics show, including, clockwise from top left: a lot of aerial spinning, set to the cheesiest music imaginable--like a pepped up version of some Maoist marching band tune; a metal circle spins while the guy on top remains stationary, held up with just one of his own arms; a guy dressed like Pharaoh bounces on a stick before jumping up to complete all kinds of flips before landing back on the stick; and a man who is very careful with stairs, given the other man perched on his head. below, an act that actually had me worried: until this point the fellow climbing the chairs had no harness. a little after this picture was taken, he clipped in, put a couple more chairs on and then did some handstands and such on top of the lot. he was so high you could barely see him behind the top curtain of the stage.

the guy pictured above actually did have me pretty nervous, a vicarious worry i'd never experienced on behalf of a stranger before, at least not in a show. the crewmember brought him chair after specially designed chair, which he kept stacking one on top of the other, climbing the growing tower as he did so. at first it wasn't so special, but pretty soon that tower was several times higher than he was tall and started to look a bit rickety. and all that with no harness. for the last couple of chairs, he did clip himself into a wire, but by that point the tension was so high we would still have screamed had he fallen. in the event, he didn't let that happen, and this probably ranks as the best stunt I've ever seen live.

after that, we still had a few parks to see in central Beijing, including Jingshan and Beihai. Jingshan Park sits directly north of the Forbidden City, and is centered on a hill that gives a great view of the palace. there are several pavilions at the top of the hill, and even on the weekday we were there, the whole park was bustling with all kinds of people either sightseeing or just relaxing. it happened to be a good day for both these pursuits, being not only sunny but one of the very few during our time there when the air was clear enough to make a short view possible.

a woman practices water calligraphy in Jingshan Park. her large brush has a chamber to store water just above the bristles, and with these she writes fast fading but beautiful Chinese characters on the concrete flagstones. below, views from Jingshan Park and of the White Dagoba at Beihai Park.

just next door to Jingshan Park is Beihai Park. the "bei" in Beihai is the same as the one in Beijing, and means North. there is also a Zhong- and a Nanhai, Central and South hai, respectively. unfortunately, these latter two beautiful lakeside areas have been taken over by the Communist Party and are now used as the gated community of its leaders. decrees are often said to emanate from Zhongnanhai, as it is known, much as our laws come from "Capitol Hill" or "Downing Street", so the area also serves as the de facto center of the government. in any case, at least they left Beihai alone. there you can ply the lake in cheerful communist-red and yellow paddleboats or hike to the top of another small hill and take in the view from the ornate White Dagoba, pictured below on a tile map of the park.

tile map of Beihai park, in Beihai Park, showing the location of the Buddhist's White Dagoba.

we didn't do any lake plying of our own and in fact kind of whirlwinded these last two parks, mostly just to say we had seen them. it was very windy and quite cold, so we knocked them out fast and went back to the hostel to pack for our return to Japan, which itself was pretty uneventful. we were, by and large, glad to return to Japan, happy to say goodbye to the filthy air and ubiquitous street vendors, to say nothing of the hordes of ill-mannered people in China. this particular loss was brought dramatically into focus for us on the train back from the airport: where only hours before we had fought tooth and nail, against blue-hairs and brutes alike, just to get on a bus, now a man whose phone rang got up and moved to the end of the train car before feeling okay to say moshi-moshi. it was nice to be back, but China does possess a certain amount of colorfulness and a sense of character that Japan lacks. nevertheless, it's a character that I find best taken in small doses, so until I need my next fix of nonstop temples and endless seas of people, I bid the People's Republic a fond farewell.