Sunday morning was nice and peaceful. We left about 9:00 and headed for the National Museum. At the last minute, Lu’s parents decided it was a perfect day to go to the Great Wall, but wasn’t wearing my warmest clothes (since we were going to the museum I was wearing my coolest clothes), so I asked if we could please postpone it, and they agreed. I’m really glad we did, because boy was the Wall cold! But more on that later.
I wish we had a whole day at the Capital Museum. Of course it was newly renovated for the Beijing Olympics, and there was so much to see! We only got to see the cultural, painting, and statue galleries. I learned all about the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony. The bride was carried to the groom’s house in a box lifted by four men. Her face was covered throughout the ceremony and the groom only got to uncover it when they were alone. So he had no idea whether she was pretty or ugly until there was nothing he could do about it! Of course, wearing the veil, she couldn’t see his face either, so it would be the same for her. No backing out!
The paintings were a lot more beautiful and colorful than the overly-simple black-and-white Japanese line drawings they take such pride in, and so were the statues. Here is a statue of a slim, golden Buddha:
I was hoping to learn more about Buddhism in the museum, but everything is so cryptic, and there are so many different forms of Buddhism, it is all very confusing to me. And I’ve yet to find anyone who can really explain it well, or any book that has made it clear. Monotheistic religions from the Middle East (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) tend to emphasize knowledge and understanding among believers. To act without understanding and faith is in a sin in all three. I don’t think this is the case with far eastern religions, at least, not from what I’ve read and explored. Ritual seems to be far more important to them, without the person having to really understand what they’re doing or why. As an intellectual person raised in an intellectual faith, that really…bugs me. But more on that when I talk about Lama Temple.
We stopped by a restaurant about noon and ate “instant boiled mutton.” Asian people are really fond of ordering raw food and cooking it at their own table, I’ve noticed, which is really great in my opinion, because then you know it’s fresh, you get to cook it exactly as you want it, and you don’t have to wait for the cooks to bring it to you. It’s called “instant” because the meat actually does cook almost instantly, or in about one minute. Lu’s parents ordered tofu, mutton, rice noodles, lettuce, some other vegetable I didn’t recognize, sweet potato, and duck blood (very similar to Scottish “blood pudding;” neither are bad, once they’re cooked). We could cook it in spicy sauce or sweet peanut sauce. Lu and I went mostly for the peanut sauce, but his parents loved the spicy. I tried it and it was good, but it was so spicy it made my nose run! Lu said it’s his favorite food in the winter time and I can see why. It’s so delicious; I definitely recommend it.
Here's a picture of "instant boiled mutton."
We got to the Ming Tombs about 1:00. There’s thirteen all together, enshrining the Ming emperors, their empresses, and whoever and whatever else they felt like burying with them. We only saw two; Dingling and Changling. Here’s the “Gate of the Dead” leading up to Dingling. According to legend, if you pass through it to enter, you must pass through it on your way out, or you’ll leave your soul behind:
The Dingling wasn’t terribly interesting, but it did have a nice view of the surrounding mountains. Here it is:
And it has a very sad history. The emperor believed that they would go on living under the ground, or at least in some parallel space, so they had all their daily use items buried with them in treasure boxes. They also had their empress killed and buried, along with their concubines, servants, guards, and the builders of the tomb (because they know the secret of how to enter). Dingling is the only Ming tomb that has been excavated, mostly due to the horrible things that happened throughout the process. Excavation began in 1956 shortly after the establishment of communism in 1949, but poor budget and the Cultural Revolution forestalled excavation, leaving most of the priceless silk and wood relics to decay in poor storage. The main advocate of the project was targeted as an anti-communist and died in jail. Feverish Red Guards stormed the site, denounced and destroyed the bodies of the Emperor and Empress, and burned many of the remaining artifacts. This is the place where they were burned:
So no further excavations have been undertaken since. But a few replicas have been made of the things that were destroyed. Here is the king’s throne:
Seeing this gave me new idea for a story called “Emperor of the Dead.” What if, by some ancient magic, the Emperor was able to go on living in his underground palace as Emperor…provided no living thing entered the tomb? What if archeologists were to suddenly start digging into the tomb, and the Emperor needs to stop them? And what if one of his beautiful concubines wanted nothing more than to get out, to escape and die a true, natural death (perhaps she is a Christian slave girl, brought to the Emperor from Turkey) and is drawing the attention of the archeologists? The Emperor has to stop her, but he loves her, and he can’t kill her, because she’s already undead! Hmm…now that’s an idea…
Of course, such a story could only take place at the Changling tomb, the largest of the Ming tombs, and one that has yet to be excavated. They say his tomb is a reconstruction of Forbidden City in miniature. And Emperor Yongle had thirty concubines and servants killed and buried with him, along with his beautiful Korean Empress. And fortunately, that’s the tomb we saw next. Since it wasn’t excavated, we couldn’t go inside, but there was a museum of artifacts from Emperor Yongle’s reign. Here’s a picture of the headdress worn by Empress Cui:
And that’s about it. I don’t really find tombs all that interesting, but since it gave me a really good idea for a story, I’m really glad we went.
After that, Lu took me to a really famous, more modern part of Beijing. We had Mandarin food for dinner, vegetables with peanuts and a spicy sauce, which was really good. Lu and I spent an enjoyable hour discussing our dreams and aspirations in life, which was really nice because I got to know him a little better. Afterward we strolled along a frozen river and flashy nightclubs. Here’s what it looked like, walking along the river:
We got accosted several times to enter the bars and stores by what I like to call “pushers.” Boy, were they stubborn! They would follow us down the street, talking mostly to Lu about how cheap their beer was or what kind of music they would be playing. Lu just ignored them, and I couldn’t help but laugh. I made the mistake of entering one store to look for a silk scarf. I didn’t find what I wanted, but the lady was so insistent, following me around, showing me this and that item, that I finally bought something I really didn’t want. I need to learn to just walk away. They can only follow you for so long. Several people were selling flashing strobe light pens along the street, and one man, after I made the mistake of asking the price, followed us for a quarter mile, pushing things into my hands and explaining how cool they were in broken English.
That’s one thing I’ll say about Chinese people that you don’t find in the Japanese. They tend to be a lot more pushy. If you stand looking at something too long, they’ll push you out of the way. If you block a door, they push you out of the way. If they want you to buy something, they will get in your face and speak those harsh-sounding Chinese words that make it sound like they’re always cussing at each other. But far from finding it offensive, I actually think it’s kind of charming. They say, “We’re going to do this…is that OK?” Remind you of somebody, Dad? (He’s always teasing me about saying stuff like that— demand first, ask for permission later.)
I much prefer that style to the Japanese groveling. All that bowing and “sumimasen!” makes me nervous and self-conscious. I once spent five minutes with a Japanese clerk, trying to figure out what he wanted me to do, and all he wanted was for me to print my name on the line instead of sign it in cursive. (I even had an interpreter with me, and she couldn’t even figure out what he wanted, because according to Japanese philosophy, you just can’t tell a customer what to do. I think the funniest example I ever saw of a Japanese person trying to soften a request was at an English camp: “Let’s have a great week, and enjoy doing what we’re told.” The Chinese are either very easy-going/relaxed, or very direct about what they want. You don’t have to try to read a Chinese person’s mind. Even when you can’t understand what they’re saying, they can make it pretty clear what they want you to do.
And on a similar note, the Chinese speak much better English than the Japanese. Anyone I spoke to under the age of thirty was at least understandable. Lu says English education in China has gotten really good in the last twenty years, and I believe him. I don’t know why Japan doesn’t get their act together. They learn grammar, not speaking. When a Japanese person wants to communicate with me, they ask for a piece of paper and write it down in broken parts. My Japanese speaking ability is better than most of my student’s English speaking level, but they’ve been studying at least four years longer than me.
Sorry to go off on the Japanese. I really love them and I have a lot of friends who speak great English and who don’t bow and grovel when they feel they’ve made a mistake or what to ask for a favor. I’m largely describing the difference between the Japanese and Chinese business world. Of course, I think I’ve mentioned before that the Japanese take much better care of their handicapped and elderly than China does (they do better than America, for that matter). So every country has its strengths and weaknesses, and we can all learn from each other.
A small tangent on Asian care for the elderly: the kids take care of their aging parents. Period. In America, we send them off the nursing homes. Why don’t we respect our parents like they do? Now I realize sometimes a son/daughter has no choice if their parent needs special treatment, but we rely on nursing homes far too often. It’s really despicable. How can we be so ungrateful to the people who brought us into existence and RAISED US? Of course, on the other side of that coin, Asian people respect their parents too much sometimes. After all, they literally worship them when they’re dead. I have one Chinese friend who really wants to travel, but because her parents said no, she’s not even discussing it with them. I told her if she explained her reasoning and made it plausible, they would probably support her in that choice. They sound like reasonable people. But she’s too nervous to do that now. I’m really glad I can talk to my parents about anything and never have to feel nervous.
At the end of the street we found some people playing "Chinese hacky sack in a small square. We played that as a kid in America, and I know the Koreans love it. I found it interesting that on Saturday night so many grown up Chinese gathered here to play this game. Here's a video:
Then I grabbed some Chinese ice cream from a small shop just to see what it was like. About the same as Japanese. They both have a thing for frozen fruit and vegetables.
And that’s all for Sunday! Monday was the really big day.