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27 Dec 2006
China Blog PDF Files - 300KB - 8 MB - 5 MB

Got them up and running and there's new stuff. Now you can download 'em and read 'em in order. The two Beijing ones are huge. They also only cover my first and second days in Beijing. I'm still writing the blog in and around holiday stuff and playing Civilization 4 Warlords... Day Three starts tomorrow, when I talk about discovering Mongolian cheese.

Please right-click on the links and save the PDF files to your desktop. Some of you may have trouble opening them on the Internet directly because they're pretty big. Downloading them saves you from that troublesome situation.

For those who are regular followers of the blog here, there is new information in the last PDF file about how I lost my camera and lost a fingertip to some dessert-related liquid nitrogen. Sort of. For those who weren't regular followers, each file lets you read the blogs in order, without having to scroll down to an entry and then scroll up to the newer one.

by Dean Webb

17 Dec 2006
Beijing Backup

There are some narrow alleyways in Beijing. There are narrow alleys in the US, as well, but we tend to not have major businesses located along them. In Beijing, it's a different story.

And when a big truck has to back up into a little alleyway, it's an epic.

Just to make things more interesting, let's toss in a car along one side of the alley and you can begin to see why this event I'm about to describe drew a crowd. I was happy to be in that crowd.

This truck wasn't just big, it was really big. It stuck way out into the road and blocked traffic frequently as it tried to wriggle into the space it had. It even caused bicycle traffic jams.

But traffic only flowed around the truck. Nobody got mad. They just slowed down and did some elaborate swerving. It was beautiful, really. OK, maybe only beautiful to me, but I appreciate the rhythms of nature and stuff like that. Maybe that's why I enjoy Daoist philosophers so much.

Finally: it looked like he had it.

But he didn't. The driver was off by a few inches, so he had to cause another jam.

The next time, though, he got in.

And he kept backing up until he'd vanished into the hutong.

Heaven help the truck driver who has to back up on the way out.

by Dean Webb

16 Dec 2006
Beijing Backtrack

My legs were numb and a bit wobbly at this time, but that wasn't anything new to me. I knew I'd be walking a lot in Beijing, so I didn't expect or desire any other situation there. With no desire for something other than what I had, pains became something I'd acknowledge and file to one side rather than complain about. All I had to do was watch myself to make sure my back didn't go out or something equally catastrophic. This is why I didn't see everything there was to see in Beijing. I wasn't going to kill myself.

I was going to save that for Nanjing.

I noticed a flag ceremony at the war memorial, but wasn't about to dash over to get a close-up. Dashing over anywhere was off the menu for the day. I preferred serene contemplation.

East of Tiananmen Square, there's ample opportunity for said serenity. Americans have their front yards along their residential streets. Chinese don't have that much room to play with, so they stroll along tree-lined boulevards.

And, of course, there's the occasional park that pops up out of nowhere.

This was the same park I'd gone through earlier that day, and it still held an enchanting feeling for me. It may not have been the best park in Beijing, but it was the one I stumbled across and for that, I will always think fondly of it.

People were chilling out everywhere, enjoying the last bit of the holiday before things got busy on Monday.

I saw these two women having a chat and asked nicely if I could take their picture. My Chinese didn't work, and they almost took a picture of me. I explained what I wanted and they were surprised I wanted to take a picture of them. I convinced them they looked fine and they obliged.

Across from the women, this young couple were enjoying a late afternoon in the park. I didn't have to explain as much with them, as they'd overheard and observed my interaction with the women. I loved the way they were in love:

Then it was back up Nanchizi Daije in the gathering dusk.

Along the way, I came to this little shop.

I saw the tangerines and they called out to me. Not wanting to die of scurvy on my adventure abroad, I negotiated for the purchase of six of the fruits. The shopkeeper spoke no English and had no calculator: great signs! I got six for five yuan. This was a complete reversal of the banana fiasco the night before. I have since formed a theory. If the shopkeeper reacts like I'm a Martian, I'll get a great deal. If the shopkeeper says hello and starts chatting, I'm going to get taken for a ride.

There were more people getting their shopping done in a side street.

Other people just out for a nice evening stroll.

This couple walked in the street. No problem, all the traffic went around them. It was here I learned how to walk in China.

Never stop. Slow down, change direction, speed up, but never stop. If you stop, you'll get maimed or worse. If you keep flowing with the Dao of the traffic, you'll do fine. Don't do anything suddenly: that's as bad as stopping. Just go with the flow, literally. I started walking like a Beijinger after that moment and felt much more at home on the streets.

Beijing traffic is pretty laid-back on the side streets and back streets, so there's no need to worry about getting creamed by a teenager in a Trans Am, at least not yet. We'll see where market reforms take the laid-back Chinese drivers in twenty years.

I didn't go in for a massage on the way back. I didn't know a legitimate place from a front for other activities, so I chose to abstain. I later learned there are even hair salons which also dabble in "extra" services, so I don't think I'll plan on getting my ears lowered while in the Middle Kingdom. But those market reforms have put ideas in people's heads, and market behaviors the government considers to be illegal are on the increase in China. Bootleggers, the sex trade, drug dealers - they're all there. Often, they can bribe a local policeman to work with them for a kickback. I know this because, for example, there were sometimes fishy ways the police helped call a cab for me as compared to how they'd call one for a local. They were in charge, so I wouldn't yell about it. In fact, I often wouldn't even notice until a little while after the fact. The hustle, if one happened, tended to be for a small amount, so I let it slide as tuition paid to the School of Hard Knocks.

Should I go back to China, I'm more prepared for that sort of thing and I won't let that sort of thing keep me from going back, should I have that opportunity. There's people like that everywhere, so it's best to just always be on one's guard, not just in a strange new place.

by Dean Webb

Friends in Low Places

Whenever possible in China, go under the street to get to the other side. You'll have much less chance of winding up as roadkill that way. Sometimes the ways under are pedestrian underpasses. Other times, they're entrances to subway stations. The subway entrances are cool, as they tend to have escalators. Just don't expect down escalators every time. Up, sure. Down? Naaaah.

There's a castle in the window on the left side. Man, I love China.

Anyway, this subway entrance had no escalator. Bummer.

Inside the terminal, it's crowded, but not a bad sort of crowd, at least not while I was there.

People get in line, sort of.

Or they just mill about, going to and fro under the busy streets of Beijing.

Out again, on the Tiananmen Square side of the tunnel. Man, it was a beautiful day in Beijing, in spite of the haze.

Fortunately, this one had an escalator. And I wasn't the only one thankful for it, either:

We noticed each other's canes and although we didn't talk, we knew we shared a bit of a bond. Being handicapped in China is not an easy thing.

I made my way across the Square and took another tunnel to the shops on the east side. I felt like strolling past them instead of across the Square again.

And then I hung back, not yet going up. I had lots of pictures from the street level. Why not take some from angles I wasn't used to seeing the world from?

This is a new sort of thing for me. The only underground I'd seen in Dallas was on the single light rail line tunnel. Here, the romance of life beneath the crust extended to the pedestrian sphere. OK, so romance may be a bit much of a word, but there is at least a certain coolness to going underground, sort of like playing with boxes as a child and making tunnels.

And, like children, there are those in Beijing who react with amazement at the sight of someone as peculiar as me:

I don't think I ever got tired with being a center of attention. I admit I'm a ham, and, well, people looking at me and smiling with amazement is something I never can get enough of.

A few moments later, and some more attention showed up.

Since they looked at me, I took their picture. Seemed to be a fair exchange. And, again, it was such a beautiful November day strolling around underneath Beijing.

by Dean Webb

Catching up with the world...

It would be nice if I didn't have to actually work in a conventional sense, but day jobs make the world go 'round, and mine became kind of a day-and-night job, with a new project starting up in my career as a writer. It's a paying gig, if for a somewhat limited audience, but it's good work and I like it.

That's my excuse for not updating.

Now an update...

I took pictures last night at my ward Christmas party and rather than dump down 300 slides, I choose to pick just one for now.

Malia held still long enough and remembered when I have the camera out to not look at it and say "CHEESE!" automatically. This one's my favorite from the night's shoot:

Did I mention how much I love full manual controls? Thanks to Malia, as well, without whom this photo would be a dull picture of the floor.

by Dean Webb

09 Dec 2006
The Exotic Wonders at Audelia and Walnut...

Taking yet another break from the Chinese trip remembrance to mention my brief visit to China today courtesy of the Hong Kong Market, at Walnut and Audelia in Dallas.

Shopping there was just like being in China. Well, there were a few more words in English... and not as much smoking... and nobody whipped out a calculator to show me the best price... and they accepted my credit card... and I didn't need to get a voucher to go pay somewhere so I could pick up my goods...

But the smells were just like China. The sights were just like China. The music and the talking... well, mostly the music, still, just like China. And the food we bought there... man, was it ever Chinese! We even got a bunch of noodle buckets that had no instructions in English on them. Raina and I managed to cook them anyway. Next time, we'll use a little more water and let them stand a little longer. But they were good and I know they tasted just like China. I mean, I've been there and all.

If you can't afford the time to take a week off and head to Beijing, take an hour or two and wander around a real Chinese supermarket. It really is a bit of Zhongguo in your town, should you be lucky enough to have one.

Raina needs to get a knife to eat her frozen pineapple bottle. I don't know how to explain why, but she does. It's Chinese...

by Dean Webb

06 Dec 2006
Having a Perfect Fit

After dismounting the Tiananmen Gate, I declined to try and find a Ming Dynasty pick-up game over at the royal hoops. I collected my bags from the undersized counter and -

OK, I should take that back. The counter was just right for the attendant, but for a guy built like me? Nonononononononononooooooo... I couldn't work there. I'm not too big for most stuff in China, but this was one thing in the "too little for me" category. More than a few times, passers-by would ask if I was 2 meters tall. I'm not. I'm about 1.9 meters tall, which was enough to make the Chinese chuckle and roll their eyes, kind of the way Americans do when they ask me how tall I am. It's human nature to remark on the unusual - why else would I be writing this for an English-speaking audience?

Back to the story.

I got my bags and headed south out the imperial gate to cross the bridge across the moat and to the suit place in the ancient factory district. Try typing a sentence like that one in America. But before I crossed the gate, I came up to a group of Americans trying to find out how to get to Mao's Mausoleum by asking a guard. The guard had no clue, so I offered to help get them lost much faster and with panache.

They agreed to let me guide them under the street to Tiananmen Square, and so we went. I took a snapshot of the moms leading the way, but didn't get the kids in the shot.

They came from Wisconsin, and when I mentioned I was an Academic Decathlon coach, they immediately recognized the program as being pretty big at their high school. Small world, eh? We shrugged off vendors and more art students with exhibitions and got to the big square. I pointed out a few monuments, remembering what Fisher told me the day before, and conducted them to where the line began for visiting Mao.

It was closed.

Folks, if you plan to see Mao lying in state, be sure to check what hours he's on display, or you'll be turned away at the gate. On Saturday and Sunday, he's available before noon, so get there early.

I parted ways with the party from Wisconsin, but not before we compared notes in our guidebooks. Each guidebook is written by different people, so each one is going to have a different view of the city. I had the Lonely Planet guide, and whaddya know, we got a consensus that the LP guide had the best maps in it. Lucky me! They had one, too, so don't feel bad that I let them drift without the great maps I had. They were in good hands and it's not like the other books didn't have maps at all.

Back down the Qianmen road, I checked up on the busy lads at the construction site from the day before.

Looks like the concrete truck hadn't yet shown up, but they were going to do some lumber work all the same.

I turned the right corner and looked up. I saw this:

You might not see much, but I saw an ancient motif: the taotie, an ancient Shang-era symbol hinted at being a terrible man-eating monster. Why decorate with them? Scholars speculate the taotie watched over sacrifices in the Shang period, including human ones, and has a connection with death and the underworld. Then again, there's the Chinese notion that evil spirits need a good scare if you can't get them lost, and the taotie is just what the doctor ordered for that number.

A short ways in, and I found the Xinhua bookstore. Just across, the tailor.

Which first, books or clothes?

I revealed my true colors by going in for books first.

Back in the philosophy section, I noticed a two-volume set of Zhuang Zi's philosophy. The cost: 80 yuan, $10 in US money! Score! The translations were complete and in great English. There are some translations online of some portions of Zhuang Zi, but this had the whole nine yards... or the whole 33 chapters in this case.

I like Zhuang Zi because of his anarchic view of the world. He talks about needing to first find peace in one's own soul before trying to devise a system to bring peace to the world. Once one has peace by finding the Tao and living in harmony with it, one won't need to make others change. One can offer opportunities to change, but one does not force. That's not cool.

I'll admit I'm something of a syncretist. I pick and choose from other religions and philosophies and whatever doesn't conflict with my core beliefs, I add thereunto. While some may recoil at things Zhuang Zi says about good and evil, there is a deeper truth to his teachings, which I find to be quite in harmony with my particular brand of belief, specifically being a Mormon.

I think people in America tend to assume Jesus went to public schools and played on his high school baseball team, then got a law degree and ran for Congress, or something like that. I think we forget that, in Christianity, Jesus is the Son of God, with all the mysticism that would imply for his relationship to mankind. Jesus said simple things, yes, but they were also meant to be pondered and meditated upon. One doesn't gain belief merely by taking a meeting with The Man Upstairs and signing a few papers. Belief is a journey towards truth. Once one finds a path towards truth, one doesn't rest and say, "well, there's the path!" One must walk that path, spiritually, every day. This is more than trying to get a few favors from God to make sure your monthly budget is in the black. This is coming to an understanding of the difference between things of the world and things not of the world.

I'm still reading through my Zhuang Zi and enjoying it immensely. I highly recommend any student of humanity to read the great religious works of the world, and this classic of Taoism is one of them.

My philosophical diversion complete, I crossed over to the tailor's and stood for my fitting.

The cheerful barracuda greeted me and helped me to my dressing... er.... well, it wasn't a room:

The standards were hardly Saks Fifth Avenue...

But so what? I didn't come to China to cancel getting a Sun Zhongshan suit just because the dressing room also served as a storage area! I'm a traveler, not a tourist, and a traveler plunges forward where a tourist hesitates and looks for the nearest monument to run to for mundane photos of everyone in the group at its base. Besides, space is in short supply in China. It's not like they have square feet to spare in downtown Beijing...

I popped on the unfinished suit and got my cuffs marked. After I changed back, the barracuda sang a siren song, and I had no mast to tie myself upon while deafened rowers steered past... I listened.

The good news is that the extra shirt I picked up looks great on me. I was also lucky that my daughter was about the saleslady's size, so I picked up a good shirt for her, too. Unfortunately, I missed my wife's size completely. I got the arm length all wrong, among other errors on her shirt. No worry, though. She might be able to turn it into a set of Chinese-themed pillows. Moral of this story: take accurate measurements, in metric, of loved ones you might be tempted to purchase clothes for when you visit the vast reaches of uncharted Asia.

I lucked out for my daughter, as I mentioned. In the States, she's a small. In China, she's a large.

And me? I'm gargantuan. I found a shirt that fit me off the rack because it happened to be in an XXXXL European size. If you're an XXXXL European like me, ask for those kinds of sizes and save yourself a lot of time looking for Chinese sizes to fit.

Done with the tailor, I decided to return to the Tang Yue and get some blogging done and check my email for a friend of my publisher's who lived in Beijing. We were going to meet somewhere for dinner, and I wanted to know when and where.

Strolling back up the Qianmen, I noticed a very tall European-looking fellow coming towards me. I remarked to myself that this is how I must look to everyone else, and then remembered I had a unique vantage point, being head and shoulders taller than nearly everyone else. I tried to get my camera ready for a picture when I saw who had brought the lanky fellow that way: Fisher!

We all said hi and shook hands. The tall guy also worked at Fisher's company and was getting the blitz tour of the Forbidden City factories. He had to press forward and I had to get back to where I could rest up some more, but it was nice to see a familiar face, almost at random, among the millions of others there.

All I had to do now was get back through Beijing traffic alive, and I still hadn't really learned how to walk in it.

by Dean Webb

05 Dec 2006
Tiananmen Gate

Today was the last day of the week, a day off, so the crowds were out and about in great force:

As I pressed towards the gate, an art student accosted me and asked if I'd see the art exhibition:

Uh, yeah, I've seen the show. Thanks, though. She let me take her picture, though, and we talked a little. That's how you know if people are really friendly in China. The friendly ones let you take a picture and chat. The rough characters will do an about-face and leave you alone if asked for a photograph. I didn't figure that part out until later on in Shanghai, but that's life in the big city.

I should note that "friendly" doesn't mean the person won't try and run a hustle. They'll just not curse you out loud if the deal falls through. She was a nice kid, though, so I didn't mind a few minutes to talk about learning English. Then I saw a soldier taking a picture of a little kid.

Maybe he was related. I don't know. I just thought it was cool. Lots of people-watching possibilities out there on the open streets at Beijing's center.

In order to go to the top of the gate, one must buy a ticket in the general throng of people who want to also get into the Forbidden City. They're connected, after all.

The population density in China is way more than it is in Dallas, I can attest to that. And all that haze comes from all those people using coal as a primary fuel for heating and cooking. China's just a few Dickensian characters and a prissy female monarch away from being Victorian England. This is what the Industrial Revolution looks like when it makes its way to China.

In the vast courtyard, I tried to help a British group find where to get tickets to the Forbidden City, but I couldn't remember where the booth was. Maybe they moved it. I don't know. But I did warn them about the construction and clued them in on what areas were still open, especially that garden at the north end. Meanwhile, I found where to get my ticket. After getting my ticket, I had to check my bag.

Security is very tight on Tiananmen Gate. It's a great place for addressing crowds, as it's a very visible spot and there are usually crowds around it. Let me suggest to would-be crowd-addressers: don't. Just don't.

But while I was in line to check my bag, a little kid kept looking at me. Not in a mean way. Sort of in a "Wow, the Martians landed!" way. I can't blame him. China is not an ethnically diverse place. Yes, there are minorities in China, but no, they're not to the percentages anywhere near the US levels. A white guy like me is a rare find, even in cosmopolitan Beijing.

And a tall white guy with a beard... ? Unheard of.

So, just to mess with the kid's head, I greeted him in Chinese. "Ni hao!"

He ran behind his mom. We all laughed.

I said I had a little daughter back home in America and they encouraged their son to let me take his picture.

He seemed a little flash-shy, judging from his squint. Once he saw his picture in the camera screen, though, he started to laugh.

After I checked my bag, I headed to the Tiananmen Gate entrance.

Left for men. Right for women. Why? I do not know. If I'm ever there again when it's not so busy, I'll ask.

It's all steps to the top of the gate. For all the innovations the Chinese had back in the day, automatic elevators were not in their repertoire. Pity. These steps were rough on me, but I made it. Upstairs, the great colonnade:

And what was everyone clustering around? How about where Mao once stood to address the people below in Tiananmen Square?

Mao is not God to China. He's Mao to China. That's sort of like Jesus*Elvis2. Just as there are Christians who travel to stand where Jesus once stood, there are Chinese who travel to see where Mao once stood. This is very important to them, and before one mocks or dismisses this idea, first bear in mind that, whatever his faults, he brought stability to China after nearly 200 years of humiliation and warfare. Yes, he also unleashed the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, but in the end, there was stability as power passed from him to his successor. He unified China. He returned China to strong Chinese rule. His importance cannot be understated.

While one can't stand exactly on that spot, one can get directly behind it and see the view of the square below:

I pulled away from the roped-off spot and took a shot of how regular the marble decorations were.

I followed up with a slightly different angle, which allowed a shot of how regular the security staff were.

It's quite clear the current government would prefer folks behave themselves atop Tiananmen Gate.

Inside the building atop the gate, there is a museum of things Mao Zedong and a gift shop where all kinds of Mao paraphernalia can be purchased. I declined to pick anything up on this trip, as the good stuff looked too expensive or too heavy and the light stuff looked too flimsy. To top it off, I'm not really a Mao fan. Not in this way.

No photos were permitted inside the building, so you'll have to take my word for it not really being all that exciting. But the view of the square was awesome, even with the haze.

Every moment, more and more people crossed the moat into the Tiananmen Gate and the Forbidden City.

I worked my way around to the back for two reasons. One, I'd paid to go up there, and I wasn't about to rip myself off with a brief visit. Two, I didn't want to take on the stairs again just yet.

Around the back, other views offered themselves:

There's the Donghuamen Gate.

Somewhere to the right of it was my hotel. Somewhere...

Then the courtyard between the gate and the city:

This is when I noticed something odd out of the corner of my left eye. No, it wasn't a security detail coming to apprehend me. Here, I'll show you in better detail:

See that? On the left side? It's a basketball hoop.

Now, all along, I'd thought some American guy invented basketball, and there it was... a Ming Dynasty backboard on a restored Qing Dynasty regulation outdoor court. Wow. The Chinese invented basketball and their emperors enjoyed watching slam-dunks for over 400 years.

Here's a better view of the courtly court:

Impressive. Simply impressive. I am, for once, without words to express what I felt as I saw this.

While snapping shots of the backside security detail who, although they had much less to contend with, nevertheless seemed every bit as massive as the frontside one, I noticed another fun thing, this time on the right:

That building with all the radio apparatus is part of Zhongnanhai, the nerve center for China's top government officials. Of course, it's off limits to the public, but I felt the irony at how the modern Forbidden City existed next door to the ancient counterpart. Will there ever be a day the commoners of China stroll through those buildings as blithely as they do through the old imperial halls?

No, he's not looking at me... right?

I wandered around the top a while more and then made my inevitable trip down the marble staircase.

There's a view of the nemesis I vanquished on the way down. I took care of his upward cousin on the other side.

The crowd in the center of the courtyard didn't look so bad from the side, but I knew what it would be like when I got back in the thick of it.

I looked around a bit more, snapped this one of a winged column...

... then proceeded to make my way to the suit fitting.

by Dean Webb

03 Dec 2006
While Strolling Through the Park one Day...

Taking a right off Nanchizi Daije put me at one end of a lovely park:

It had walkways on both sides of a small canal that branches off from the moat around the Forbidden City. Although it was fall, the park nevertheless had a great feel to it. I can only imagine how much more brilliant it would be in the spring or summer.

As it was, I enjoyed the relatively sunny day. What I thought was fog was actually smog, with the sun trying to work its beams past the particulate matter in the air. Folks say it's better than it used to be and they hope to clean it up more for the Beijing Olympics, but I say don't hold your breath. Instead, get some filter masks for your time in Beijing. I know I plan to get some should I ever go there again. It's a wonderful place, but I'm definitely hitting the Home Depot for some masks before I head back.

I loved the way there were protrusions in the walkway, to break up the straight lines.

Now, maybe I don't buy into everything about Feng Shui, but after seeing this park and just about everything else in China, I have to say a lot of it makes sense from a design and aesthetic perspective. It's pleasing and soothing to contemplate.

Then there are the gorgeous zig-zag bridges. They're supposed to confuse evil spirits, who apparently have poor senses of direction and can't handle wading across small canals. They also happen to look awesome. And, yes, those handrails are marble. There's lots of marble work in China, and it's for the people, not just the wealthy. It's fun to see the swirls in the stone - more contemplation.

Then I saw an eccentric rock across the canal.

I love these. Again, the contemplation thing, but even more so. Smaller versions of them are known as "scholar's rocks", and their unusual shape was supposed to appeal to a scholar's mind, should he ever need something handy to contemplate or work off a bad case of writer's block. The wild and unpredictable surfaces provide what animal behavior specialists call mental stimulation - there's always something new to be seen in these things. And, here, in the Beijing park, was a massive example of one such thing. I couldn't take it home with me, but I could at least snap a few photos of it.

I know someone's going to ask me if I asked her if it was OK if I took the picture. In this case, no, I didn't. It's a style known professionally as "confronting the subject" and known in lay terms as "too bad, I have a camera and you don't". I asked folks for close-up shots, but when I got into public places and took snaps of what was right there in public, well... hey, just enjoy the tension in the frame, why don't you?

And there's a dragon in the stone at the base of the rock. For reals. I saw it.

Everyone seemed to be out, having a good time in the (relative) sun. Everything was so laid back.

There was a little gazebo thingy at the end of the southern walkway, after the rock. There's cool little gazebo thingies all over Chinese parks, and I think they'd be great in the States, too. Just get a woodsy hill, slap one of these babies on top of it, and watch the fun happen. They're totally cool.

Let there be rough stones around them and maybe even a nice, gently-sloping wheelchair ramp along one side. It can be done. Sure beats park benches and big ol' metal pavillions. I mean, those things have their place, but how about some tranquil beauty, too?

This bridge really felt heavenly to cross over on. Maybe it was the mood the park put me in, but I just loved it. I didn't feel the pain of a single step, like I had on the staircases the day before.

I'm not going to lie. China's not the best place for a handicapped person. I'm lucky I can get around with pain, but if I was in a wheelchair, even a motorized one with awesome range, there would be places I simply could never go to. That's the bottom line, and every time I saw a Chinese person in a wheelchair have to fight with bicycles for access to ramps up from the street to the sidewalk, I felt some empathetic pains along with the rest of my general leg pain.

Unless my legs had gone numb, then it was just the empathy.

But I don't want to dwell on my undiagnosed mobility/balance issues. This is about China. And China is for lovers. Or friends. Or both, whatever:

There was a lovely commons at the end of the park and I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible in taking shots of the area. I didn't want to disturb the serenity by this time.

And then, my trip through the park ended. I stepped out of the gate and saw this moat and the great Tiananmen Gate ahead of me.

I decided to go there next.

by Dean Webb

First Weekend Back Home

So this has nothing to do with China, but I'll get to that again later tonight. Life goes on, and we all had a fun adventure on Saturday.

Malia sings in a group called Sunshine Generation. All my other kids sang in it, so it was natural for Malia to get involved. They sing, they dance, and they all have a great time. It's non-audition, so anyone can participate and it's done in a fun, fun, fun atmosphere.

I was taking pictures to try out the different manual features on my camera. Since Yvette and Raina had run off to shop with each other and Calvin had been recruited by Malia's Sunshine teacher to help set things up, Malia wound up being the subject of most of the pictures. Then she asked, like any self-respecting four-year-old would ask, "Daddy, can I take a picture of you?"

Of course.

I showed her where to look and what button to push. She pointed the camera in a bunch of weird directions every time I let go. I noticed she had her eyes closed.

"No, honey, just close one of them."

So then she squinted.

We kept trying, over and over, to get her to close one eye and leave the other open. She kept squinting. I couldn't believe it.

So I asked her, "Well, Malia, how do you only close one eye?"

Her answer:

WHAP! Her hand went right over her eye and she gave me a look like, well, you can see it here. She's got a disability in this regard. I talked about it with Yvette later on and she said, "Oh, I couldn't close one eye when I was a kid."

"Really?" I then challenged Calvin and Raina to close one eye. They could do it, as could Yvette, but the open eye was really really squinty. I couldn't believe it. Well, it just proves they all got her eyes...


We had a great time at the performance, and Malia got to sing a solo on one song:

And a good time was had by all. Afterward, we gathered up our stuff and got ready to head on to the mall's food court for some lunch before going out to see Happy Feet later on at the movies.

I had to have Chinese food. I wound up with "Chinese" food.

There's authentic Chinese food here in Dallas, but this isn't it. There was one onion right at the end that really managed to remind me of the great food back in China, but the rest was only suggestive of Chinese food... and cost twice as much...

Raina and Malia had chicken nuggets and shared some fries:

Then Malia decided she didn't want any more fries, so they were released to the family at large. Thanks, Malia. I liked the fries.

We took off to go see the movie, but got to where the theater was really early. So we headed into a Wendy's to share some Frosties there. Took more pictures, and I really liked this one the most.

The movie was cute and we'll get it on DVD, in spite of the preachy part at the end. Dancing penguins are now a hit in the Webb family. But that last picture, for me, was the cutest part of the day. No animated penguin can top a four-year-old who just said, "You're the best daddy I have".

OK, so I can't resist comparing things in the States to China. I mentioned the food. Now the movies. Although I saw the first-ever theater in China, those things have pretty much been killed off by the bootleg market over there. There just isn't a big thrill in seeing a movie in the theaters, like here in America. Maybe when they get stadium seating and Dolby 700.1 Immersion Sound or whatever, they'd go see the big action epics. Until then, or maybe even in spite of that, they won't be flocking to theaters.

Instead, they go bowling or hit the restaurants for long meals. 2 hours for supper is not unheard of. In fact, it's normal.

But the other oddity I saw through Chinese eyes was the concept of the parking lot. I didn't really see any lots bigger than a few cars in size, and most of those were just commandeered parts of the sidewalk. There were bicycle and motorbike parking lots, but nothing really for cars. The whole car culture in China has yet to reach American proportions. They don't have parking lots or drive-ins or drive-throughs or even drive-bys. How that will change as more Chinese buy cars will be an interesting thing to follow. Will they have the car move in with them, or will they manage to keep it from congesting their already busy streets?

by Dean Webb

01 Dec 2006
Bit of a hiatus... sorry...

Getting back to the states, adjusting to having a day job again, and getting back to my sleep pattern have all left me unblogworthy for the past few days. Add to that my responsibilities as an Academic Decathlon coach and that we just had our district competition. and you'll understand why the updates haven't happened recently. Would that I could blog on from Chinese hotel rooms, but, alas... all good expense accounts come to an end.

by Dean Webb

Posted at:10 Jan 2009 06:22:00 PM

No Words portraits and romantic illustrations.

What's there to say?

I got words and pictures.

I got a message board.

Like I said, what's there to say?