Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Friday, December 10, 2004

China 1999 - Part Two

At night I ate at the hotel's restaurant meeting the only other stranger attending the hotel. I met a man from Nigeria and although the Netherlands and Nigeria couldn't possibly be more (culturally) distinct, there was an inmediate bond because we both were odd looking strangers in a Chinese hotel. We had a nice hotel and my partner told me he already had been several times in the country to do business. He also told me about his experiences with the Chinese and how they strangely looked up to him being black. Later I discovered that the Chinese looked at a similar way to me. Especially my long nose and blond hair attracted a lot of attention. For example, when I already stayed in China for a couple of weeks I went to the hairdresser to 'cultivate' my hair. At first she didn't even wanted or dare to cut my hair, but eventually she did and asked me if she could keep the cut hair. Again a couple of weeks later I visited the so-called 'Meeting' in Dongping, Shandong province (see map China), a local festival that attracted many peasants from the countryside to the county-town. Although the Dongping people already more or less were used to my presence, the new arrivals never had seen a European in real life. This resulted in a big group of mainly children walking behind my back and making jokes about my strange appearance. Being 1.75 meters tall (small in Europe, especially in the Netherlands) it was not particularly the size they wondered about but my pale skin, long nose, blue eyes and blond hair. I now have a former collegue and friend in Cambodia who is 2 meters tall and looks like a basketball player. He must even appear to be stranger then I appear to be. But let's go back to Beijing during my first days in China.

The next day I took the train to Shanxi Datong (see map China), a city not too far from Inner Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, to meet a Chinese friend, named Junfang, I met back home. I was invited (or better: I invited myself more or less) to celebrate the Spring Festival (17 February 1999) with her family. In the next 6 hours to Datong I travelled through one of the worst polluted and exhausted areas in China.

Datong covered in smog Posted by Hello

Erosion, pollution due to extensive coal mining and extremely dry. Datong lies along a part of the great wall and contains one of the most important historical sites (even belonging to the Unesco cultural heritage since 2001), namely the Yungang-grottoes, that resemble the Buddha-caves in Afganistan that were destroyed by the Taliban regime a couple of years ago. Due to pollution the huge statues are now deteriorating. Surviving the changes in dynasties, civil wars, Mao's long march, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution*, the caves are now facing the bigger threat of acid rain and coal dust. A lot of people in Datong resemble the landscape: grey, ailing and sometimes physically marked by the hard labor in the mines. It is also unwise to wear nice cloths because after a few hours your trousers, jacket and shoes are covered by coal dust.

'Grey on the outside, bright on the inside' is the best way to describe to people I have met in Datong. What the city and the outer appearance of the people was lacking, was compensated for by the warm and hospital way I was treated and welcomed in the family of Junfang's family. I celebrated the Spring Festival with them making New Year dumplins, drinking and watching the great fireworks at night. I stayed about one week in Datong before I left for Dongping, the county-town in the Shandong province, I was about to do my research.

I left Datong on a freezingly cold winternight when a sandstorm made the place even more surrealistic. Within seconds my suitcases, cloths and hair were full of the yellow sand that also colors the Yellow River. Maybe that night I didn't look so different from the Chinese. I wasn't able to arrange for a suitable place to sleep, which means that in China you have to buy and bargain a couchette in the train itself. One event clearly is kept in my mind. When I finally had found a place to sleep, one of the staff members on the train showed me the way. We passed the kitchen of the train, when, just before I passed by, a cook threw steamy water out of the kitchen. Within seconds I walked over the water and my shoes instantly froze to the ground.
Later I discovered that it was freezing 20 degrees (Centigrade)!

This will be it for today. Soon I will put some pictures and a map of China on this site, but currently I can't because I don't know how.

CU! Marc David

*The Yungang Grottoes: work on the grottoes started in 460 AD, during the Northern Wei Dynasty, during the period of disunion, and therefore survived 5 dynasties and 2 periods of disunion.
Mao's long march: "In 1934 Chiang's [nationalist, ed.] forces encircle the largest, on the borders of Jiangxi and Fujian [Southeast China, ed.], forcing the Communists to break out and embark on what became known as the Long March. Traversing some of China's poorest and most remote regions, and harried by the armies of Chiang and local warlords, the Communists finally found safety in Yan'an, a poverty-stricken area in the heartland of the old Qin kindom on the loess plateau" (derived from: Jasper Becker's The Chinese (pp.15), published by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd, London: 2000).
Great Leap Forwards: industrialization at great speed, a policy inaugurated by Mao in 1958 that had a disastrous effect on the people's moral and China's economy.
Cultural Revolution: 1967 - 1976. A massive campaign inaugurated by Mao (and compatriots) to politicize the nation and increase the heading towards a communist utopia. Result: disastrous and effects present till today (for more info read Becker's book mentioned above).


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