Posts from the ‘China 2010’ Category

Last Days in China

Days #14-#15: Sept. 24-25, 2010

Our Last Days

We are back in Beijing – slightly foggy, but a lovely breeze and the temperature’s about 70. Ahhh.

We’re being reduced rapidly: one off to a university for her workplace, another to her uncle’s for a reunion, one laying low to preserve his waning energy, and poor Robert sick with the flu. So, only five of us ventured to go to the Ethnic National Park.
The hardest part of this was trying to get a cab! We find out that the cab ride should be about 45 yuan. We approach one cab and he says can only take 4, but will take 5 if we pay him 100 yuan. We say ’90 yuan’? He says ‘no’ and so do we.

Beijing Traffic

We try the next cab in line at the hotel. This time, the cab just out and out says ‘no’ to us even with us splitting up into 2 groups. Number one cab’s driver must be some kind of ‘big boss’.

Next cab in line the same. Two of us finally find one cab with a ‘yes’ – he’ll take two of us.

The bell boy comes out to help us. Number 2 cab drives away in a huff without passengers. He makes number 1 cab move up and out of the way.

Finally, number 3 cab is convinced to take the three remaining passengers and off we all go to the park.

But oh! We forgot to create a meeting place and when the two of us get to the park, there is no sign of the other three.

After about 5 minutes, we cross the street to buy tickets anyway – and believe me, it is a huge risk to cross streets in Beijing – or anywhere in China! But we do, and as we do, their cab pulls up! Yay! We have somehow made it to the same entrance!

Should We Hop on the Bus, Gus?

(picture depicts Nu Wa Gems meeting fellow urbanites on an earlier bus adventure? Public transportation is easy, affordable and packed. This ride to downtown cost 1 Yuan = 14 cents US. Subway rides were 28 cents. one could really hop around down on pennies a day. Also: National Minority Park- exhibition of ethnic Korean House and merry-go-round.)

Ethnic Park

It is calm. It is empty. It is filled with flower gardens, willow trees, bamboo trees and the architecture of the 56 minority groups in China. It is heavenly with a slight breeze that ripples through the bamboo trees. We are privy to 5 different performances of the ethnic dances and games of 5 different minority groups. The park is on two sides of the street and and even one side impossible to see in one afternoon. So, we take our time, go to the Va, the Tibetan, the Quraqin, the Bai, the Dai and eat at the Korean village. And of course, a few purchases are made of ethnic purses, pillow cases, etc. It is an easy afternoon and we feel mellow!

Chinese Acrobats

In 1978 and in 2002 we saw a Chinese Acrobat show… but tonight we were treated to a Las Vegas type of show. Back in the day, there was Chinese traditional music. Back in the day, the acrobats were clearly seen on a brightly lit empty stage. Phenomenal back then… phenomenal last night though one must had to see past all the strobe lighting and fancy colorful sets and costumes. Stylized, sort of hokey dance movements filled as transitions from one acrobatic act to the next. Still phenomenal, but technology – here we come!! Twenty women on one bicycle in all sorts of poses and on top of each other; a huge double gyroscope each with a man inside walking as it turned and turned – even skipping rope and juggling as it turned round and round; a man doing hand stands of all sorts on a stack of 10 chairs; men jumping, diving forward and backward through hoops – some 10 feet high; men being tossed in the air when two or three would jump on the other end of the seesaw sending him onto other men’s shoulders or even on a high chair up on a pole held on the shoulders of a man on stilts; a man on a plank rolling over a tube and flipping saucers and cups, even a spoon into a cup that is sitting on his head…and then the same man standing on a table with the same plank rolling on a tube – but this table is on the shoulders of another man standing on a plank rolling on a tube. Oh my! We are thrilled despite the droning of high tech music and all those lights.

Hutongs, Rickshaws, Silk

We decide to sleep in late, get a late start, cancel the trip to Fragrant Hill this afternoon. But, late morning, off we go to a Hutong, the old style Chinese compound houses. Beijing has allowed a few to survive the modernization of its city. This one is in the middle of Beijing and outside the Forbidden Palace where the officials used to live. Now regular folks live there, but there are newly renovated very fancy courtyard homes where they think descendents of royalty live and probably very wealthy billionaires of Beijing.

We ride in bicycle driven rickshaws. We eat in a poorer home and make a few dumplings which the matron of the house promptly threw away! What a difference when we brought a group in 2002. The hostess talked with us, asked questions, we made several ‘real’ dumplings and after she steamed them, we ate them. Now it’s big business – certainly tourist business – and her attitude seemed ‘get the stupid tourists in and get them out’. When we pay what we are told is the correct amount to the rickshaw drivers, they mumble and frown. They wanted more. But the daughter-in-law in the home was sweet and made delicious food for us. The chicken was like how my dad made it – chicken simmered in soy sauce, sugar and star anise. Yum!

Tea for…More Than Just Two!

Then off to a tea tasting place where of course we ended up buying tea. Some bought the cups that change colors or scenes once hot water is poured into them. As a bonus for any purchase, we each got a little brown baked clay boy who spouts pee when hot water is poured over it – you know, to test if the boiled water is hot enough!?

Then we go on to the Panjianyuan Market, also known as the Dirt Market. It’s like a humongous flea market and we buy a few things after the fun of bargaining.

Oh! Let’s go to the Silk Factory! Amazing that these little cocoons give such strong soft fibers. But, poor pupae: they are boiled so we can have our silk blouses, comforters, and more. The pupae are used for frying and eating or the innards are used in face crème – silk face crème!

We buy a few silk things – comforter, comforter cover, purses…and oh my… a silk rug! Yes, I bought a silk rug! So much money! What was I thinking! Everyone was so supportive – “You deserve it!” – “…part of your mom’s inheritance money? Absolutely! Think of it as a gift from your mom! She’d want you to have it.” “It’s beautiful!” “You’ve been looking for 10 years for the right colors and here they are? It was meant to be!”

You’ll all have to come see the rug in my living room! Robert was still sick in bed, so this purchase was made without his input… He has a better eye than I do when it comes to seeing how patterns fit together. He’s quite suspect, as I suspected he’d be! The proof will be in the pudding, as they say, when it’s on my floor next to my couches. Change the couches if it doesn’t work? Oye!

Duck Dinner Farewell

We eat duck, toast a final farewell. Tomorrow morning we all leave after a final breakfast with each other.

We talk about what we missed most at home and will be glad to get back to: our own beds, our honeys and families, clean toilet stalls, cheese, a crispy salad, red wine…

And we talk about what we will miss leaving China: the people, the smiles, the villagers of Gengcun, the variety of foods, new and interesting things to do everyday, all the history and stories of China and her many famous and even not-so-famous places… We will not miss the crazy driving here – red lights taken as a suggestion, pedestrians and bicyclists weaving through cars not in their lanes, but strewn in angles of all sorts trying to get where they want to go, the honking, the passing barely missing fronts and backs of the cars they’re passing, people standing stuck between these crazy cars trying to cross the street!

But unanimously, what we will miss is eachother’s company – the camaraderie, the ease of friendship between us. It has been an extraordinary 16 days with each other!

For first-hand stories, these are the tellers who joined 2010 Nu Wa Exchange: Anne Shimojima, Alton Chung, Arif Choudury, Beth Wakelee, Julie Metzler, Kathy Hunter, Kelvin Saxton, Linda Fang, Shilpa Srinivasan, Shyam Nagarajan, and yours truly, Nancy and Robert.

Goodbye China!! Zai jian! And xie xie! Thank you! Until the next time!

Filed as: At the Moment, China 2010, Tours  

Day #12 & #13: China Blog


Full Moon Over Datong

Upon our arrival back in Beijing, we spend a few more days here, but the real treat is when we leave again for Datong.

We are up at 5:30am and board an airplane at 7:15am to fly 1 hour and land in the city that was once the capitol of China. It thus has an ancient and impressive history as well, with the remnants of an old city wall made of packed mud.  It was the outer ‘great wall’ – older but now reduced to oversized clumps of mud here and there strewn throughout the city, in-between present day buildings.

Datong is being renovated everywhere.  Large organized streets, fancy street lamps, wide intact sidewalks, flags fluttering from lamps and we are ushered into a 5 star hotel!!  Wow!  We haven’t been in one of these since the dollar crashed, which means since 2002.

It is the Moon Festival holiday – September 22nd – also Robert’s birthday – and it is the 2nd or 3rd most important holiday after Chinese New Years (in China called the Spring Festival).

Our hotel lobby has a most magnificent display of the goddess Chang-E, the moon goddess, with foods as offerings.  The most impressive food is the carving of 2 watermelons. Scenes of cranes or dragons in dark green etched with the lighter green beneath the outer rind with the background of the pink watermelon meat.  Each is standing on half a watermelon as a base, also designed with swirls in the lighter green beneath the dark green skin.  In another room, there is another beautiful display.  Lights all around – this one with several crane figures flying above.

Across our fancy hotel is the largest standing temple complex in China and we are told it is being renovated and closed.  From the outside, it is magnificent: we see a red wall around numerous wooden structures with those wavy roof tiles peaking above.

The full moon will be out tonight!

Hanging Temple and Wooden Pagoda

First we visit the hanging temple or monastery.  What is a hanging temple?  Well, it is  several very fancy wooden temple structures, those wavy roof tiles and all, hanging on the side of a mountain!  Built in 491AD, it hangs over 50 meters above the ground, but we learn the present floor is another 50 meters above what used to be the floor of a river, now gone after thousand of years and now silt and sand.  The builders climbed from the other side of the mountain and hung down from the top to build the temple.  Amazing.  Chinese are amazing…

You may wonder – how could a building like this withstand the winds and storms of so many years? Wooden crossbeams were two-thirds inserted into the rocky cliffs as the foundation, while the rock in back became its support. The mountain cliff curves forward on both sides shielding it from the wind; the top curves forward as well, shielding it from rain and snow; and the mountain across allows only 1 hour of sun a day.  Brilliant, eh?  The temple includes sculptures and artifacts depicting Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism therefore covering all 3 main philosophical influences in China.  Now I know why my dad wrote his book about all 3 of these and called it ‘The Chinese Mind’. There are 40 halls and cabinets, which contain about 80 sculptures made of copper, iron, terracotta, and stone. The features are vividly carved and we are amazed.  All of this by manual labor!

Then another hour’s drive to the Wooden Pagoda.  Another amazing feat and the oldest and tallest wooden pagoda still standing in China, albeit at a slight slant now. Built in 1056AD, this wooden pagoda is nine stories high – five we can see with four hidden inside. The Wooden Pagoda was built with all kinds of different brackets – which means no nails or rivets at all! Yet, it stands despite violent earthquakes and intense thunderbolts we are told.

But the evening holds another wonder for us:

Moon Festival

We are surrounded by celebrating families, all reunited for this important holiday.  They get 2 or 3 days off (tho we find out they have to make up for it by working the weekend!).  Lights are hung everywhere with fireworks going off in several locations in this one city.

Several of us go to the temple across the street which is open after all and it is gorgeous, all lit up with colorful lights beaming through spraying water – this a modern water fountain in the center.  Hanging above the dragons spouting water is the full moon on this amazingly clear night.

Datong is where there are over 54 coal mines!  The air was suppose to be absolutely awful.  We have noticed all the empty river beds due to the coal mines using up all the water and the underground water level is lowered by 50 meters!  But it rained for 2 days prior to our arriving and the air is clear and the sky has been bright blue all day.  Coal mines are closed for the holiday.  Now the night provides magic for us.  The full moon is smiling clearly at us all and we recount the story of Chang-E flying to the moon and becoming the Goddess of the Moon.

We walk toward music and find ourselves at the Red Flag Square.  There are many things going on – cotton candy, toss the rings over several items laid out on the sidewalk, throw the baseball into crock pots, circles of friends playing hacky sack with their hacky sacks of feathers and metal rings, and on the main stage is a Chinese Opera going on – the actors with full face painted masks, costumed, wonderful stylized movements and singing with a 12 piece Chinese orchestra.

The air is clean, the weather is a perfect 68 degrees and the full moon still hangs brightly above as the entire city- in fact all of China celebrates the Moon.

We are so happy we’re in Datong for the Moon Festival.  It is a stroke of good luck, as well as a great way to celebrate Robert’s birthday.

Yungang Grotto

Another feat awaited us the next day.  Carved into sandstone mountains, caves were made and thousands of Buddhas carved into the walls, the ceilings, and in the middle stand giant carved Buddhas.  Even the history of his life is carved into the walls.  In all there are 51,000 stone statues and 53 caves.  These marvels were started in the year 450AD.  They are huge until Datong was no longer the capitol and then the cave carvings became smaller having lost the Emperor’s funding.  We artists know that one in America!

Foot Massages and Changed Lives

We have a few hours before taking a train back to Beijing.  What should we do?

Well, we’re storytellers.  Can we ever get enough?  We go to a park and find a place to sit and story swap.  In time, a few brave Chinese gather to watch and listen though they can’t understand. But we are a diverse group of Americans attracting attention.  Even we are privy to Chinese karaoke singers – one on her cell phone at the same time, butnever missing a beat when it was her turn to sing the duet opera!

As the hour for leaving nears, we first treat ourselves to 70 minute Chinese Foot massages!  An overnight train ride back to Beijing with a moving hole to pee in on train tracks is suspect for comfort.  So we salve our souls, and besides, we need it with all the walking we’ve been doing not to mention the fact that the train leaves at 11pm and we arrive painfully at 5am the next day! The foot massages were heavenly and helped us to survive the short hours of sleep.  But sleep we did, albeit off and on, on the ‘not so bad’ lulling chug-a-chug of the train.

We now have only 2 days left on our tour.  Many are ready to return.  It has been a long journey filled with wonders to keep forever.  And we have not only gained a lot, but given a lot.  Besides in Gengcun, our Datong guide named Xiong Huan, aka Nancy, says even in her old age (and she’s a young 23-year old) she will remember us.  We have changed her relationship with her mother for we have told her the generation gap she described to us needed repairing.  We told her one day she would have children and did she want her children to stay away?  We told her how important it was to hear her parents’ stories before they died.  She went home and her mother exclaimed “Why? You are so different. What happened?”  And she told them about us.  Her mother gave us a gift and exclaimed that if we ever returned she wanted to be on the tour with us!  She is grateful and we’ve helped mend a relationship that will change lives.  How many of us wish someone had told us when our parents were still alive and heeded its message?

Filed as: At the Moment, China 2010, Programs, Tours  

Day #8 & #9 Blogging from China

We Are In Love… with this Village!

Stories fly between our American participants and the Chinese master tellers. Although we must all stop every few sentences for translation from English to Chinese or Chinese to English, we have been the lucky recipients of their treasure trove of stories collected over 600 years. And we bring stories for them.

Tells a Thousand Words

As we walk the dirt roads to their homes, we can see that the village is undergoing changes. There are paintings on walls depicting stories popular in China. We see grand mansions being built. The roads are lined with stacks and stacks of bricks waiting to be part of someone’s new home. Though we sit and share in homes that are the same as before: cement blocks with maybe one other room connected to it, we also sit in others that are 2 stories high, have 2 or more bedrooms attached and even a dining area.

When we first came in 2002, they did not even have doors. They hung thick cotton quilts in the door frames to keep out the elements. We sat on their bed to listen to stories as the one room was the sitting area and bedroom. In the newer larger homes, we sit on sofas.

Outdoor Kitchen

They still cook on coal burners in a small cement block in their yard. And, always there is a yard filled with their own small gardens of squash, green onions, persimmon, fig and apple trees, flowers and a chicken, a guard dog. Each compound continues to display an enormous door that opens up to a tiled wall of various scenes. One must step over the traditional ledge to enter. Both the tiled wall and the ledge keep out evil spirits and ghosts. Did you not know that these entities might be small and therefore not be able to pass over the ledge? But it they are large, they like the small ones, can only travel in straight lines and the tiled wall stops them from entering.

Whether their lives are improving with these changes or not, they continue to fill us with warmth and welcome, stories and smiles for those of us that have returned as well as strangers who have now become new friends. We sing “We Come From the Mountain” and dance together sharing our American ‘hokey pokey’ and they teach us their fancy footwork and songs.

International School of Beijing Joins Us

Then, we are joined by a gaggle of 8th grade students from ISB, here to learn about Gengcun, their traditions, and to hear and tell stories as well.

Robert and I spent a day with 13 young Chinese students from America, Malaysia, Australia and Hong Kong who are in a Mandarin class at their school. Their teacher Delinda Wu and Greg Thomas the curriculum chair of the Middle School wanted them to try storytelling and to get connected with the country they are living in.

What better way than to join us in Gengcun. We did a storytelling workshop with them and coached their telling. And now they have literally bounced into our lives and not only joined in with our Nu Wa storytelling program, but added so much enthusiasm and energy, that we’re all bouncing!!

Youth Tell in Gengcun

It was a complete pleasure to have them with us and I believe they had an experience that simply will never be matched to the one they just had.

Kuai Ban Workshop

One of the highlights of the time spent here was a Kuai Ban presentation. A magnificent man, Mr Shi Young with a magnificent face treated us to rhythmic poetry and stories accompanied by bamboo clackers. He also introduced the different walks and gestures and faces of male and female characters in Chinese Opera. He was outstanding!

Last Day in the Village

All too soon, our final day in Gengcun with the storytellers and the villagers. We usually share stories in a concert fashion for the village and celebrate with songs, dances, bubbles, arts and crafts and a lot of laughter.

This year they brought in a Chinese band to play. Another welcome as we disembarked the bus. Then we taught them Filipino dances: Pangalay  using graceful hand and wrist movements floating above a rhythmic bounce, Singkil – the four bamboo pole dance, and the Kapa Malong dance – the graceful dipping and sashaying of the traditional round skirt wrapped but not tied around the body. One of our participants – Anne Shimojima, storyteller from Morton Grove, IL, also taught them Tanko Bushi, the Japanese coal miner’s dance. Great fun!

Three of our participants – Beth, Kathy and Linda – did the arts and crafts with the villagers. Little girls and even moms and grammas made dolls with wooden spoons and forks, pipe cleaners, ribbons and those shakey little plastic eyes; banana puppets and paper lanterns; paper folding. And there were bubbles, big bubbles ala Robert with help from Kelvin and the villagers!!

Raise the Banner High

Everyone enjoyed the day. And then we had our farewell speeches and toasts. Mr. Fan even sent special greetings for us to carry back to former Nu Wa participants, but particularly Elaine and Elly.   We then presented the village with $2000, not as much as we have before each time we’ve come, but it will help them rebuild the Geng temple and burial mound that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. They feel by restoring the temple and mound, their own spiritual center will also be restored. In addition, they are hoping that tourists will frequent their village and once again, they can build inns and businesses.  This is one way they hope their young adults can remain in the village and perpetuate their 600+ year storytelling tradition.

We said goodbye to the students, goodbye to 2 of our own participants Shilpa and Shyam leaving early, goodbye to the storytellers and we are so very sad and long for more. And now we have said goodbye as well to our all time favorite guide and interpreter Peter Liu. It’s a sad day. We’ve made so many friends and saying goodbye is hard.

Our Guide Above and Beyond: Peter Liu

A special thanks to Peter as he has been our guide, our cultural and language interpreter and most certainly, a friend for 3 of our China trips (2002, 2006, 2010).  He works his magic and conjures words to help us connect with the Chinese people, train schedules and wake up calls, and manifests meals for the vegetarian Hindus, non- pork eating Muslims, and gluten and soy free dietarians alike.  He has provided our tour with cultural information, learned the local Gengcun dialect of that Hebei area, and has become quite the storyteller as well!  Peter we LOVE you and look forward to our next trip with you.

Filed as: At the Moment, China 2010, Programs, Tours  

Day #5, #6, #7: Nu Wa Gems East and West

Gateway to the Storytelling Village:

Our bus finally finds the road into the village of Gengcun!  We have traveled almost 4 hours with the traffic out of Beijing to drive south.  We have made it!

We disembark our bus several meters ahead, so that we can walk into the crowds of villagers waiting to welcome us.  We see flashes of red moving ahead. We hear the faint beating of drums. We are thrilled to see that they have built a beautiful traditional gateway to their village and honored that they have waited for our arrival to conduct its opening ceremony.  It is like all the gateways we have seen in the palaces – red is the main color with the designs and paintings of flowers and trees, birds and clouds in shades of blues, greens and white.  Written on it are the Chinese characters that announce that this is the Number One Storytelling Village in all of China!

The Beat Goes On!

As we near, we see nine woman dressed in turquoise tee shirts and black slacks marching in formation drumming small red drums, while one huge red drum beats a more complicated rhythm – another woman, one of the storytellers plays it with two curved wooden sticks that look like they have been chosen from trees and debarked.  They perfectly match each other.  All the storytellers are dressed in red Chinese silk blouses/shirts and pale cream silk pants. They have costumes now!  We know that this village has more money since we were last here in 2007.

Smiles Break The Language Barriers:

There are smiles, hugs.  They chatter hellos and questions in Chinese that I cannot understand. But how happy they are to see us and our participants are touched, some whose eyes tear with happiness to finally be in Gengcun – to begin the adventure for which they have come to China and have heard about for years.

I can see them search for familiar faces – Elaine’s, Elly’s, Doug’s – those who have been to the village more than once – even 4 times!  But, they are not to be found.  We, too, look for familiar faces and with great sadness learn that several of the master tellers have passed away, including Sun Sheng Tai, and Jin Zheng Xin.

We sing for the storytellers.  We sing to those passed and to whom we must say goodbye.  We have learned the theme song from the Olympics: You and Me, from One World…we are family.  Travel dreams, a thousand miles, meeting in Gengcun. Come together, put your hand in mine.  You and Me, from One World, we are family… We sing in both Chinese and English.  We sound like a choir in love.

Hand in Hand:

Ceremony after ceremony. We have met officials and we have learned that they are interested and working on how to preserve the tradition of storytelling in Gengcun.  We are thrilled they recognize the fragility of their situation with the emigrating of their young adults to the cities to work and send back money. Some have even taken their children to city schools.  A double-edged sword.  They are materially wealthier from this emigration, but it also has disrupted the handing down of their stories and the apprenticing of the next generation of tellers.

We promise to work together to solve this problem for we too are concerned and committed to Gengcun’s preservation as a storytelling village.  The storytelling tradition has lasted over 600 years.  We all want it to be carried into affinity and beyond!!

Filed as: At the Moment, China 2010, Programs, Tours  

Day #2, #3, #4 in China

What We’ve Been Doing:

Well, we’re exhausted, but full and sated. We have walked miles and miles learning the stories and history of the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, underground Ming Tomb, Sacred Way and the Summer Palace. We have visited the Olympic Water Bubble and Bird’s Nest. We have taken photos, videos, and rubbed our aching feet! Where once these sites were fairly empty and calm, with mostly western tourists, these sites are now over crowded with Chinese tourists. What a change with the new wealth of some of the Chinese in this country. They are traveling!

In addition to their traveling, they’ve invented some new traditions: lovers, couples and the newly-in-love buy locks to chain to the Great Wall and throw away the key over the wall to announce that their love is forever. However, we saw one lock that was a combination lock – just in case they change their minds!!

We have all been caught in traffic jams, eaten great food, sung on the bus with new songs in Chinese and English, bought little trinkets like Groucho glasses and nose with the Chinese addition of colorful paper unrolling and closing under the nostrils; we’ve bought kites, roasted chestnuts, camel bone Buddhas (which are probably made of plaster), pearls, Tang dynasty head dresses and we’ve seen t-shirts with Obama dressed in a Mao uniform – really fun!

And we’ve definitely seen the huge high rises, huge department stores with western stores like Gap, and way too many McDonalds and KFCs – some 3 stories high to accommodate the Chinese patrons.

The Reason We’re Here: The Storytelling Village Gengcun

Tomorrow we’re off to Gaocheng City, the nearest city to Gengcun Village. Gaocheng City is where we will be staying while we visit and share stories, songs, dances, laughter, hugs and friendship with the villagers of Gengcun – the reason we are here.

This is the traditional storytelling village we are visiting for the 4th time. They have had this tradition of telling stories for over 600 years. Our greatest concern is the preservation of this village and their art form. Modernization of China is starting to break down the tradition with the young leaving to work in the cities. Some are now taking their children to the city for their education and this further breaks down the tradition of the next generation being able to learn the stories to hand to their next generation.

We will be studying this predicament and brainstorming as to how we can help in the preservation of this particular folk tradition. If anyone has a contact at UNESCO or knows of a professor who has a passion to preserve old folk traditions, please let us know.

Keep visiting our blog! More about our beloved storytelling friends once we’re there!

Filed as: At the Moment, China 2010, Programs, Tours