Culture Archives

October 1, 1997

Chinese Workers' Day 1997

October first seems to be the Chinese National holiday. It begins a five day weekend. Actually, because of the fact that October First falls on a Wednesday, and workers are only allowed to have a maximum of four days off, they all have to go back to work on Sunday.

I asked my host what the workers do on Workers Day. He said "they rest." Of course, I found that to be wholly untrue. Those who have salaried office jobs rest, those who own their own business or are paid by the hour, continue to work on what I can only assume is China's equivalent of the USA's Labor Day. Construction all around our house continued, even though we were looking forward to a break in the racket.

A  picture of two singers on t.v..

The night before, there was a star-studded gala television extravaganza taped along the banks of the Yellow river.

This program felt like a cross between a Bob Hope USO special and the Academy Awards. And it was all for the workers of the Yellow River. The program sought to romanticize the work and the workers of the river in much the same way as USA's programs seek to deify entertainment personalities.

Behind the set were a few huge trucks used for pushing dirt around the banks of the sand bar.

At first, I thought this program was kind of stupid. Just as silly to me as all the entertainment awards programs that we live with in the USA, and the industry that many of us can't ignore in Southern California. Everybody in the audience there on the Yellow River knew that their work was not at all glamorous. And here were these singers, dancers, comedians, all sent to add glory to an otherwise filthy job. How could anybody buy this, I wondered?

But then, I compared it to what we, in the USA romanticize, the entertainment industry. These positions have become the most coveted and worshiped of all social positions.

I'm glad that the Chinese government, or whoever was behind this program, set out to romanticize the river workers. Perhaps it is wrong to romanticize anything, but if you're going to have a gala television extravaganza with big stars in shimmering gowns, then let it be all be for the men and women in the trenches. Let them know how special their contribution to the greater society really is. I liked the idea after I compared it to the things that we worship in our culture. It reminded me of a song by Alabama called "40 hour week". Listen to it sometime, if you get the chance.

October 15, 1997

100 Herbs, 50 Kids

Being the "laowai" (foreigner) is often times a problem. However, sometimes even problems enjoy their own special brand of absurdity.

When I got to the Kunming Botanical Institutes's Chinese Herbal Medicine garden, I found myself alone for the first time in the week I'd been in China. I sat down in a beautiful pavilion overlooking a pond full of lilies and rested for a few minutes, enjoying my dried mangoes, a Pepsi, and a bag of potato chips self-described on the package as "the flavor of pungency".

At the time of this trek, I was just on the tail end of a really bad cold/flu. I was still suffering from profuse nasal drainage, red eyes, and a general desire not to be looked at. Having just finished my hourly sneezing fit I leaned back beginning to plan out my day of photography in this so-called "100 Medicine Garden."

Just then, I see some 8th grade children running in through the main gate of this garden three hundred yards away from me. I know that it is a matter of time, a short matter of time before I am spotted. Yep, it didn't take long at all. In minutes, I was surrounded by about fifty eighth graders.

There was nothing I could do. I couldn't be cold and ignore them. They were all around me. Each one waiting silently for some pearl of exotic wisdom to come spurting forth from me like a guru at the top of a mountain. Just to add some drama to the moment, I said absolutely nothing until one of them spoke. The bravest of them came forward, and in a decidedly British accent said "Hallao".

"Hello, how are you?" I countered, and the pavilion burst into laughter.

"What is your name?" A tall girl asked, being prodded by two of her friends.

"Al." I responded.

In unison, suggesting to me that this was part of their memorized classroom dialog, the two friends followed up with "can you spell that slowly for me?"

I opened up my left hand to use as a writing tablet, and with my right index finger, drew an "A" and an "L" on my hand. I asked one of them what her name was.

"Tian, Lin Feng."

Wow. That translates to "Heavenly wind of the forest." She wins that one.

Young man exploring lily pond.

The young man who was the first to speak to me, was also the first to actually walk on water, or so it appears as he peers into the lily pond.

A man that seemed to be in charge of the children arrived in the pavilion. I made my way over to him and asked them if they (the children) were his friends. He said "yes", and even said that their English teacher was here somewhere though I never did find her. We were having this dialog in Mandarin. We really couldn't understand each other too well.

I decided to go ahead and scout around for some good pictures. I was being followed, step by step by fifty young people. They were milling around me like I was an oxygen tank and they were all under the sea, needing me for air.

Again, I was sick. I didn't feel well, and I certainly didn't feel presentable, given the constant sneezing and dripping nose. Yet, there was absolutely nothing I could do, so I gave into it and took some pictures of the children, and even had a little fun with them.

Two girls in herb garden.

Two girls, spooked away when they saw me taking their picture. Chinese students wear team uniforms. Schools are organized into teams.

I used the children's ability to read the Chinese characters dangling from many of the medicinal herbs to determine just exactly what they were, since my experience with Chinese herbs is in the pharmacy, after the herbs have been dried, processed, and generally altered in appearance.

Huo Xiang, an herb

Here's a nice shot of Huo Xiang (Patchouli).

Huo Xiang is used for nausea and vomiting among a few other things.

I attempted to tell the kids about Huo Xiang by mimicking a headache and nausea. I must admit, that I enjoyed mimicking the dizzy retching, that's the eighth grader inside of me, but they weren't really too interested in the medicinal herbs.

To them, the real blossom of this garden was the one plant they've never seen before. The tall one with the white skin and round blue eyes, the one with all that stuff coming out of his nose.

The Taihuasi Monastery

The Taihuasi Monastery

Here's yet another monastery at the West Hills near Kunming. Mostly, the warmth of this location comes from its trees and park-like setting. Its comfortable, and there's a sense here of a lack of boundaries.

Throughout much of the day we spent in the West Hills, I kept looking off the road for a small trail to follow to a mineral deposit or hidden mine, as I'm accustomed to doing while hiking in the San Bernardino Forest of Southern California. However, at each of the tourist destinations in the West Hills, it is difficult to get past the fence or get off the trail. This monastery doesn't have much of a fence in its back and so it isn't difficult to quietly walk out into the neighboring hillside. Someday I'll return to do that, taking these tours with others who don't share your love of the "outback" makes it difficult to get off the beaten trail.

This monastery was originally built in 1306. Yadda yadda yadda. It was a warm year as I remember. Really good corn that fall. Navy beat Army. That stands out, too.

There's a really big Gingko tree here (that's Bai Guo or Yin Xing for those of you with Chinese herbal training.) According to legend, it was planted by Emperor Jianwen of the Ming dynasty who came to Yunnan after dethronement in 1402.

One of Four Heavenly Kings

This is the first of the Four Heavenly Kings in the entrance hall. The colors are really quite vivid because the paints are made with graphite, malachite, azurite and other traditional pigments.

One of Four Heavenly Kings

Here's another Heavenly King. I think this one's a tenor.

One of Four Heavenly Kings
The third and final Heavenly King. I could have taken a picture of the fourth, but to be honest, at the time, I didn't know that these Heavenly kings only come in groups of four. I figured that taking pictures of three was enough.

Buddha holding Bible

Okay, this is really cool. In the Majestic Hall for Great Siddhartha, there is a sign that hangs from the entrance that says "absolutely unchangeable eternal truth". That got me to thinking. The way in which a Buddhist might describe that truth is not the same way a Christian or Jew would. I was musing on that when I came up to this Buddha holding a book. Asking my Chinese teacher to read the characters for me, it turns out that this Buddha is holding the Old Testament Bible. Wow.

Just a bunch of Buddhas Not-Being

Here's a bunch of Buddhas just hanging out not-being.

Looking into their faces you can almost sense their conscious compassion.

More Buddhas

How many Zen Buddhas does it take to screw in a lightbulb?


One to screw it in and one not to.

Bathrooms this way!

A good hostess can help the foriegn visitor feel right at home, especially when looking for a restroom.

June and Jie Jie

On the left is my Chinese language teacher, June. She's sitting with her sister and our host for the day. This picture among the stupas or burial monuments of former abbots of the monastery. The two sisters are holding a couple of fresh blooms from the Gui Hua tree. The night before, I'd had some wine flavored with these very blooms. When we tried to leave with them, they were confiscated, no doubt to discourage people from picking the blooms off of the trees and flowers within the monastery.

The Kunming Street Artist/Begger

The begger and his characters on the sidewalk

This picture was worth a thousand words, or Chinese characters, depending on how you look at it.

I happened upon this man, actually, a teenager, drawing Chinese characters on the sidewalk. They were very well written and organized.

I couldn't tell what the characters said, but I figured that they were poetry. At least I hoped that they were. I couldn't communicate well enough with the others who were reading it to ask them. This took place during my first week in China and my pronunciation seemed to be sorely lacking.

I decided to take a picture. Which required of me that I get off my bike and hold the camera down above the characters to get a long shot toward the artist.

Within 20 seconds I had a crowd of ten people staring at me. After I took the first of two shots, I held my digital camera up to the crowd to let them take a look at what I'd shot. I decided to get in a little closer and straighten out the angle. I was more focused on the shot and the composition of it than on the crowd that was gathering around me, but by the time I took the second shot, I had about thirty people crowded around me watching my every move.

It was really bizarre. Linda and I are getting used to being looked at, and even ogled as an occurrence that happens about once per minute, but to draw a crowd so easily, without even trying was a special treat that I didn't exactly care for too much.

I kind of wanted the focus of the crowd to be on the artist whom I was taking pictures of, rather than the photographer. I felt a little bad for him. I tried to bring the conversation back to the characters on the sidewalk by asking those around me what the words said. Nobody understood what it was that I wanted, and they just continued to watch me.

I asked if they were the words of his heart, meaning poetry. But again, they were only watching me, there was no other interaction, other than looking at my digital camera as it displayed the last shot I took. I later discovered that this young man was a begger. His words were likely describing the circumstances of his life and why one should give him some money. In Santa Monica, we'd call him either a street artist or homeless. Perhaps he is both. Although it isn't very clear in the picture, his legs were kind of deformed. The one that extends to the right of the picture ends at his ankle.

The most disturbing part about being out among the Chinese is their ease with staring, pointing, giggling at foreigners. To someone from Southern California, where multi-ethnic interactions are the norm, it is very difficult for me to get through this.

Where we, in the culture that I was raised in, might make notice of someone very different, we would not stare. For us foreigners, it is a constant affront. Of course, it isn't meant that way at all. But after a while, you just naturally put up a wall. With all the eyes staring at you, wherever you go, you just can't make eye contact with anyone. What you get coming back is not very often a friendly connection, but a sort of gawking. You get the sense that you are as real to them as if they were watching you on TV.

I see other foreigners from time to time on the streets. At least once or twice per day. Those who are walking in pairs are a little more at ease. Those who are alone, have a very thick wall put up around them. They look exceedingly inaccessible. I notice that I too get a little cold to my surroundings after a short while on the streets.

Its the most difficult thing about living here, the feelings that you are subject to while walking among the Chinese. Crowds are especially difficult to pass through. Nobody puts you down, or does anything, but treat you like a freak. Perhaps that's enough of a put down, perhaps its all in the way in which one interprets it.

November 14, 1997

Wang Dai Fu, Man About Town.

Wang Dai Fu's Gang. From left to right; Dr. Wen, our translator and the hospital's anesthesiologist, Al, with his head finally not cut off at the top during a group shot, Wang Dai Fu, without a smile, he doesn't have to, and Linda with a smile, she doesn't have to either.

Wang Dai Fu. That means Dr. Wang. Dr. Wang is the man in charge of the Bell's Palsy ward at the Yunnan Province Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Linda and I are spending a month with him.

Nobody is as cool as Wang Dai Fu. Dr. Wang wears black shirts with lightly colored floral ties. He's got this Mafia thing going on in his appearance.

Wang Dai Fu smokes and looks pretty damned good doing it. He uses his cigarette like an orchestra conductor's baton. With a trail of smoke he can direct his interns toward the greatest mysteries of acupuncture therapeutics. And he makes no excuses for it either. He doesn't have to. He's Wang Dai Fu. He's got the cool of Cleavon Little riding through the desert in the early scenes of Blazing Saddles, with the Duke Ellington orchestra swingin' in the background.

Wang Dai Fu with his trade mark oral moxa treatment.
Wang Dai Fu with his trade mark oral moxa treatment. Wang Dai Fu is the Bodhisattva of style, the Marlboro cowboy of Kunming, the Jack Nicholson of acupuncture.

And as for his therapeutics? Yeah, he's pretty good at getting results. There are many many people in Kunming who get "Zhong Feng" or Bell's Palsy. Nobody knows why, and to my knowledge, there hasn't yet been a study to determine this.

I began to put together a bit of a research project regarding lifestyles and environmental factors to try and come up with a common denominator, but our translator said that it was like not being able to see the mountain because you're inside of it. That is the Chinese equivalent of not being able to see the forest for the trees. There is so much Bell's Palsy in Kunming, its hard to get a sense of what the common denominator is to produce this, other than living in Kunming.

So, Dr. Wang's good at Bell's palsy, but what makes him special is his almost evil cool. He often works with a cigarette in his mouth. Rather than condemn it, we now say that he works with a moxibustion stick in his mouth.

The young man that he's working on in this picture came in to the clinic having suffered from Bell's Palsy for three months. He was unable to close his right eye, among other muscular pathologies on the side of his face. Two weeks later, at the time of the writing of this article, he can now close his eye. This, with an acupuncture treatment five days a week.

Al emulating Wang Dai Fu with Dr. Wang's trademark Moxa stick hanging out of his mouth.Al emulating Wang Dai Fu with Dr. Wang's trademark Moxa stick hanging out of his mouth.

Of course, I want to emulate the genius of all my teachers at the Yunnan Hospital, and the cool of Wang Dai Fu, so here I am helping with the diagnosis of a patient, with a (tobacco) moxibustion stick in my mouth.

The Huatingsi Monastery

If you're going to spend some time in the West Hills, outside of Kunming, and you really want to take in some ancient culture, fabulous artwork and just a hint of honest-to-goodness divinity, this is the place to go.

The Huatingsi Monastery isn't the highest location in the West Hills, in fact, I believe that its the lowest, but from the depths of the mud comes forth the lotus and if it is the beauty of Chinese Buddhism that attracts you, you've come to the right place at Huatingsi.

Apparently, it all began in the year 1063. King Arthur was arguing with his carpenters regarding the shape of his kitchen table, the abacus was still high technology, and Vikings were discovering that America had already been discovered by the Indians who looked a little Chinese...

In this year, a high ranking official from the nearby Dali kingdom was made the marquis with the power to rule over the Kunming area. He chose this location for his palace. In the year of 1320, a local Buddhist monk built a temple here and one thing led to another until the most recent of its incarnations, built in 1920 by another monk. So, there's some history here.

The wrathful giant General Heng

Here's a picture of the wrathful giant, General Heng. This guy's about 15 feet tall. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to these statues in the event of an earthquake. It wasn't the first time that I thought about earthquakes in China. Nothing appears to be tied down. Perhaps its just my California mentality coming out, but a three pointer would bring this city to its knees... Anyway, this is one of two wrathful giants who stand at the gate to the Hall of the Heavenly Kings.

Medicine Buddha, Buddha of the Eastern Glazed World

Here's my Chinese teacher (the figure in black) about to bow and pray to the one whom I think is the Medicine Buddha, Buddha of the Eastern Glazed World. In the foreground is a monk and another temple visitor. This is one of the few temples where there really are monks on the grounds. I paid special attention to their spirit just to get a sense of what they were all about. There were three that I found there, two young men and one elderly women. The two young men were amused by a Western woman's intense interest with them and their life. They view themselves as nothing special at all. Which, of course, is the Buddhist way. It wasn't an attitude that they put on, it was truly their spirit. The elderly female monk that I met there was all smiles, I wanted to sit and talk with her, but my party was leaving and there wasn't time.

Arhats of Buddhism

The two lateral walls of this temple were filled with clay figurines that seemed to be alive in the dim shadows.

Arhats of Buddhism

As our eyes got used to the dim light, colors began to appear out of the shadows, and details of the faces and groupings became more evident.

Arhats of Buddhism
These figures are the 500 arhats (holy men and disciples of the Lord Buddha), a blending of Indian Buddhism and Chinese mythology.

Arhats of Buddhism

The richness and detail of each figurine made me wish that they hadn't made it against the rules to take pictures...

Keep off the grass

A sign outside the temple suggested that visitors "keep off the grass". The words that they chose in English were "Please respect trees and flowers." There's something very Buddhist in that.

There are also a couple of art stores on the grounds of this temple, and a few touristy shops run by local ethnic minorities. They call these stores "Ethnic Minority Stores" which I think is supposed to lend value to the uniqueness of the tacky touristy stuff you'll find inside.

The art shops are really pretty good, though a little more expensive than you'll find in town. On the other hand, you'll find a lot of original art, rather than the usual prints that you can find anywhere.

In one of the art stores we were treated well with respect and interest. In the other we couldn't help shake the feeling that we were being hustled.

The Jin Dian (Golden Temple) Taoist Monastery

We finally got to visit a real live Taoist Monastery. I was actually a little saddened by the reality of this monastery. It was just another tourist trap. Sure, there's lots of pretty buildings with colorful paintings and more than enough really big statues of Taoist deities, but the spirit of the temple is lost in the glamour of it all. Perhaps the spirit was lost when they built the temple in the first place.

The story of how this monastery came to be is actually kind of interesting. During the reign of Wanli in the Ming Dynasty, Chen Yongbin, the governor of Yunnan, believed in Taoism. One day, or night or something, he dreamed about the immortal Lu Dongbin making an appointment to meet him the next morning at the foot of Yingwushan Hill. Shortly after the rooster crowed the next morning Chen Yongbin stood there waiting, only to find an old herdsman leading some sheep tied up with a rope down the hillside carrying an earthen pot with another pot as the lid. As he took a step forward to have a closer look, the old man, the sheep and the pots suddenly disappeared.

Naturally, this was completely baffling to Governor Chen. As it would be to probably most public servants. But, it eventually dawned on him that the two pots put together shaped the Chinese character "Lu", alluding to the family name of the immortal. Besides, the character for rope is homonymous to the character for purity and the character for sheep is homonymous to the character for Yang (as in Yin and Yang). The immortal Lu Dong-bin also styled himself as Pure Yang. It was obvious that Lu was intentionally indicating to him that the scenery of Yingwu Hill was wonderful and that it was as good as an earthly paradise. Thereupon Chen Yongbin began to recruit workers to build an ideal temple there.

The touristy stuff was added only in the last four years.

If the eight immortals were alive today, uh, I mean if their presence were a little better understood, I think that they'd be the first to knock down the monasteries and let plants grow in their place. They'd burn the statues for warmth and invite the hundreds of tacky touristy stuff hawkers to leave their wares behind to enjoy what this mountain really has to offer.

The real spirit of this monastery is found elsewhere on the mountain upon which it is situated. Finally, I was able to get away from the crowds long enough to sense the spirit of the area. The energetic patterns that remain following hundreds of years of intense meditations and a joyful approach to life in its simple rhythms of yin and yang. Taoist archetypes that still echo from unseen mountain tops, rustle in the forest's leaves on a windless day and trace playful patterns onto the surface of an algae ridden lake.

A colorful hallway

This is a typical hallway in the temple area. The paints that they use for all the colors are very vivid and beautiful. It wasn't captured well in this picture, but the ornate art on each and every horizontal beam was something to really behold.

Some Taoist Statue guy

This was the central statue among three that were found in one of the many little shrines. I don't know who he is, but I'd like to meet his stylist!

Close-up of bronze work

The reason they call this the Golden Temple is because it has one of China's largest bronze temples. This is a close up of one of the doors. Nice ornamentation and bronze work.

Linda in Forest

Linda is translated to "Lin Dao" in Chinese which means Path-in-the-forest. Here she is, on that very path.

This specific area was my favorite of all. You could almost hear the rolly-polly drunken fairies.

Magnolia Xin Yin bud

Some of the areas of the mountain were well manicured gardens. I didn't care for them too much. Taoism isn't about well-manicured anything. However, there were some areas where plants and trees grew with a little bit more random beauty. Here's some of that beauty in the form of a traditional Chinese herb called "Xin Yi" or Magnolia bud. Its the Dristan of the Chinese herbal pharmacopoeia.

Elsewhere on the mountain, there were many park like settings were people could just go to spend the day. Lots of open grass, and little forests to get lost in. The spirit of this mountain really was special. Warm, relaxed, fun. The monastery was more of an amusement park than anything that would elicit a spiritual awakening. However, elsewhere on the mountain, it seemed that people everywhere were getting caught up in the special vibe of their surroundings.

Lake Pavilion

Pictured here is a small pavilion overlooking a lake. Inside, people drank tea and played Mah Jong.

There are some great places to see and things to do at Jin Dian, however, the monastery is not one of them.

November 15, 1997

The Kunming Opera

The Beijing Opera (formally known as the Peking Opera) is a world renown expression of all things Chinese. It's a mixture of singing, dancing, drama and martial arts. I've seen it a bit on television, and I really like it. The music is accessible in a way that makes you want to hum along once you get it. The way in which people move on stage, their gestures and staging is quite different from the way in which Western actors use the stage. The set design rivals the finest Italian operas. The make-up reminds me a bit of kabuki theater in Japan. The musical instruments used are classically Chinese and the songs are as familiar to them as the best works of Rogers and Hammerstein are to us.

I asked some of my friends if they had any Beijing operas playing in Kunming. They said that there was some of that here, though it is a little different, since we're in Kunming. Good enough, I figured, and so one afternoon we made our way to a small structure a top a big one in Kunming's public square.

Inside, this room, I found the Beijing opera equivalent of a Karaoke bar. Nobody was paid to perform that I can tell, members from the audience came up to sing as they wished, and the musicians seemed to come and go as well. In short, this was a Chinese classical music jam session.

Everyone seemed to know all the songs. My host could even hum along since she seemed to know the songs as well. Interestingly, there were times, when the audience, in the middle of song would clap with appreciation. Occasionally this would happen after a singer held a note for a long long time, so I understood that they were clapping for the singer's abilities however, at other times, they would just clap for no apparent reason in the middle of the song. I never could figure out why. Perhaps the singer was adding some extra words that complemented the crowd or something. I don't honestly know. But I did make it a point to clap knowingly whenever the audience did.


Here are a couple members of the audience jamming to the oldies. Their singing was pretty well drowned out by the music. I saw speakers on the walls, but there were no microphones to be found. The large object in the right foreground is a guy with a pair of small cymbals that he would crash together right after each song. And I do mean "crash".


The guy in front is the drummer. With his left hand he worked a couple of sticks that slapped together, and with the right hand he would strike the drum in front of his legs.

His drumming wasn't used for rhythm purposes. But as accents to thoughts. In Beijing opera, whenever something happens that requires emphasis, the drums go to work. In the West we call this a "rim shot" which is used to designate the punch line of a Burlesque stand-up's jokes. The drums and cymbals are also used for scene changes. Or as we would say in the American musical... "A little traveling music."

When exiting a room in the hospital that I'm working at, we've gotten into the habit of mimicking these percussive effects and the dramatic walk of Beijing opera actors, this, to the amusement of some of the doctors and the irritation to others.


Two Erhu players and a lute player. I don't think the proper name of the stringed instrument in the back is a lute, but that's the best word I can use to describe it. All three instruments played in unison, though the two Erhus were separated by an octave.

The music is very subtle in its pitches. Lots of quarter tones, rather than the half and full tones that we're accustomed to in Western music. To put this in layperson's terms, instead of the music being limited to the black and white keys on the piano, they have notes in between that we don't use in the West.

One thing that they don't seem to have, at least among these players, was volume dynamics. There was just one volume for each and every song, loud.

Behind the musicians are a couple of men removing a board from a window. The sun had recently come out and they were opening the windows, or at least removing the boards that had been tied in front of the windows with wire.

the crowd

The average age of the members of the audience was 55 years.

As per usual, they sat me down in front of the crowd and as I walked through the room to take my seat, I was the subject of intrigue which I haven't yet fully come to appreciate here. On the other hand, we all had something in common in this room, a love of music, and so, the "thumbs-up" sign that I got from some of the people was well taken. They were happy that a foreigner would come and listen to their classical music.

About 80 percent of Kunming's population have embraced Western fashion (though not necessarily Western fashion sense, but that's another issue), however, you'll see that among the older folks, they still wear the navy blue garb often associated with chairman Mao's revolutionary days.

Chinese classical music is a wonderful thing. If you have a chance to witness Beijing opera, I highly suggest that you do. I haven't yet been able to see the real thing for myself, except on TV, but it looks great. The fun part is finding meaning in the words that you can't understand.

Since, as in Shakespeare's days, there are no female actors, the men who play female parts have truly mastered falsetto singing. I've found many hours of enjoyment performing Beijing opera in falsetto voice here. If you're one of those who know me, reading this article, be sure to have me do some Beijing opera for you when I get back to the states.

Though you might have to buy me a drink first.

December 14, 1997

Jia Tang Jia (Home Sweet Home)

Jia Tang Jia (Home Sweet Home)

One Sunday morning, Linda and I decided to just go for a little walk around our neighborhood. We talked to our neighbors, or at least gestured wildly with our neighbors and everyone seemed to have a good time misunderstanding each other.

Soon after however, Guang Qin, the lady of the house in which we are guests, decided to take us on a grand tour of all of her friend's apartments. The pictures that follow are what we saw.

Linda and Locals

Here's Linda talking to the locals. It was still overcast and very cold when this picture was taken, however, the weather report called for clearing skies, the first in about five days, and so everyone had done their laundry that morning and you can see all of it drying outside. There are no dryers here. There are some small apartment size washing machines though. Most people seem to wash their clothes by hand, in the kitchen sink, which is, in our neighborhood, often times the only sink in the house.

Guang Qin asking us to follow her.

Here's the lady of the house asking us to follow her to her friends' houses. Guang Qin has an amazing ability to communicate with us, even though she knows no English and I have a lot of trouble understanding her Chinese. She does, however, use her hands and gestures when she speaks, and she always expresses herself only when there is a clear context. It's neat to communicate with her. Words only carry the message, they aren't the message.

Wei-Wei in front of Vennessa Williams.

In one of the homes that we visited, the 69th Annual Academy Awards were playing. These are not the current awards, but one year behind those that play in the USA. Here's Venessa Williams singing the song from "Pocohontus." In front of her is the little girl of the house singing a nursery rhyme she learned in school. The sound on the TV is turned down. Interestingly, during the commercial breaks in the television program, they didn't insert commercials, but rather, the played music videos.

View from the sixth floor

Here's what we saw, looking out the window of the many apartments we visited that morning. Notice the really old building that are only two stories tall. Then the kind of old ones, that are up to six stories high. There are newer ones springing up everywhere as they tear down more and more of the two story jobs. You may notice that the buildings don't follow a strict directionality. I have the hardest time maintaining a sense of direction in this city. Especially, when I'm among the housing structures.

Bicycle Station Guy

Bicycles get stolen around here like cars in Los Angeles County. That's why so many people rely on this man, the guard at the bicycle station. For one penny, or so, he'll watch your bike at night, and even lock it up in the garage behind him. We only paid him one jiao, which is about a cent and a half. And apparently, we get to park our bikes in this garage for the duration of our stay. He's a really nice guy. Kind of the town crier for our neighborhood which is fenced off by tall brick fences from the other neighborhoods. These fences make it so that everyone in our ten or so buildings must enter and exit from the same driveway on to the main street outside. We're not sure why they divide up the neighborhoods as such.

December 15, 1997

Back in the Saddle Again, Kunming Radio

Kunming has four radio stations. Through a kind of fluke, I was invited to one of them that features an English language program twice a week called "Let's Learn English Together."

The pictures on this page represent the second of two, so far, programs that I've co-hosted. In the first show, we played some alternative/electronic music that was provided by a friend who was supposed to be on the show that night, but he got sick, and since he knew of my history in radio, invited me to fill in for him.

I was introduced on-air as an American radio announcer. I didn't know any of the music that I played because it was all supplied by my sick friend. With the exception of my old college radio buddies who are probably reading this, chances are you wouldn't have recognized any of the music either.

And that's what made it great. There were no words in the songs, and that allowed me to come up with interesting stories regarding the origin of the titles of the songs that I'm sure had nothing to do with the composer's intent. But then, that's what radio's for, the "Theater of the Mind" as they're fond of saying.

During the second half of the hour-long show, we took calls from listeners. I think we talked to five people. Four of them talked about Michael Jackson. The fifth knew of some other artists.

I gently suggested that there might be something not quite right with the King of Pop, regarding his alleged appreciation of children above and beyond the charity work that he does. But the subtlety of the message was lost, I think. I didn't want to get thrown off the air again, so I kept my observations gentle in reference to the gloved one. For those of you not in the know, I was relieved of my duties as a talk show host in college once because on this show called "Freedom of Voice" I got a little bit too free, I guess. I was not politically correct. China has a very rigid standard of political correctness, and I knew it.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Which brings me to the topic of the second show that I did, the one with the pictures below.

I talked about the emerging interest of Chinese medicine, philosophy and culture in the West, specifically in America. I never got around to talking about David Carridine and the original Kung Fu television series, but I hit all the other bases.

al looking at listeners

A good announcer can really connect with his audience. In an effort to really see who was listening, I employed a long forgotten trick from the early days of radio. By staring into the microphone, you can actually see out the speakers of the listeners.

To my right is Leisl White, the host. People in China who speak English are given, or chose, Western names. Leisl has a Chinese name, but to say it requires that one do things with their tongue that would have made Linda Lovelace blush. So, I called her Leisl. Apparently she got that name from The Sound of Music.

Incidentally, Western guests to China get Chinese names. My name translates to "Blue Diamonds." A reference to my eyes, I'm told.

Al avoiding the paparazzi

"Please, no pictures!"

Liesl and Al talking

Leisl is what I call a "Mao Tse Tung Ren." Ren is "person." I don't know how to say "socialist" or "communist" say I stick with "Mao Tse Tung Ren." Its always good for a laugh too. The reason that I bring this up, is that, off the air, she expressed her disbelief that any non-Chinese person could ever become proficient at traditional Chinese medicine.

I responded with saying the same thing about Western music. Chinese produced music that attempts to mimic the original artists from the West often lacks an edge in their rock or a an understanding of improvisational musical styles such as jazz. But that's not always the case. There's a pianist at the Kunming Hotel who has a better feel for jazz and blues than most I've heard in the states. He understands our music in his heart.

Chinese medicine too is something that comes from the heart. Not the genes.

January 14, 1998

Jurassic Park, Chinese Style

Tucked away, in the center of the Yunnan Nationalities Village is a delightful slice of Americana which I like to call Jurassic Park.

It's a little island/park full of dinosaurs made of upholstery foam, under which are located tiny little outdoor speakers spewing out helplessly distorted Godzilla sounds. Most of the dinosaurs made the same sound. This park was a cross between Twilight Zone technology and The Simpsons amusement park clichés. Now this is no Itchy and Scratchy Land, but it does contain all the joy and wonder that you'd expect from a hastily thrown together and severely under maintained theme park.

I couldn't stop laughing once we got here. If you're in Kunming, and you really want to find some old-fashioned fun like you haven't had since the last time you saw a Godzilla movie. This is definitely the place to go.

t-rex without a body

At the gate of the park, a T-rex head looms hundreds of feet above you, uh, well it would if it had a body, but nevertheless, it belches out a horrible scream every few seconds. My host for the day claimed that it was calling out my name, "allllll... allllll"

I think she was right. Incidentally, the eyes and the mouth opened and closed, though not necessarily in sync with the calling of my name.

Not far inside the park, we find a pair of dinosaurs engaged in mortal combat. They're not fighting over anything that I can see. Perhaps it is a philosophical dispute over China's revolutionary past versus their current trend toward reform.

two dinosaurs fighting

When we arrived, we knew that they could fight because of the tracks beneath their feet, but as we watched for a while, they didn't do anything. So, I yelled out "DOU!" which means "fight!" and sure enough, their movements were sound activated and they snapped into action. They slid to within about three feet of each other, and the dinosaur on the right tipped his head forward and back.

It was no Godzilla versus Mothra mind you, but certainly, the next best thing!

The dino-train

True to form, this park had a little kiddie train, with a dinosaur head at the front. It hadn't moved for a few years, based on the amount of bushes that were found growing on the tracks.

There weren't too many people there the day that we chose to explore the Chinese Jurassic Park, so there wasn't anybody to appreciate the "Yippee-i-oh-ki-yay" that I was screaming at the time this picture was taken.

Al riding a dinosaur

You may notice that I don't have my legs straddling the dinosaur as any self-respecting cowboy would have done. Cowboys don't mind sitting on horses because they're nowhere near as dirty as this dinosaur was. Heck, its been standing there for a few million years... What could I expect?

the t-rex at feeding time

We were really lucky to get there at feeding time. Here we see a T-rex munching on some old furniture.

You won't find this Jurassic Park listed in any tourist manual. It isn't exactly embraced by the locals as an important cultural legacy, and there isn't even anything there to buy, beyond the 65 cent admission. But it is, without a doubt the best reminder of home that I have yet to find in China.

The Chinese Top-Ten Western Hits of All Time

Note: This article was written in the Spring of 1998.
References to "nowadays" should be read with that in mind.

Among the things that I miss more than anything here is good music. Certainly, Chinese classical music is a treat for the ears, but just like Chinese food, there grows within you a need for the familiar taste of a burger, fries, and a Coke.

With that in mind, I offer you this Top-Ten countdown of English language songs in China, along with observations regarding the Chinese approach to music that I've found in Kunming.

(insert Casey Kasem voice here)

Rounding out the Top-Ten is the first of three acts that are popular here rather than a specific song. Our Number 10 artist on our Chinese hit parade is Madonna.

Madonna is as much an icon as a musical phenomenon in the USA. In China she is music. However, her music is limited to stores that either sell clothing or audio equipment. I commonly hear "Borderline" and "Material Girl."

The number 9 position on our countdown is held by the welcome sounds of saxophonist Kenny G. His easy-listening sounds are well embraced by the "soft rock" loving Chinese.

They have a Chinese MTV show here. The hostess is a cute young Chinese girl with strange clothes. I guess her fashion is very cutting edge here, but to my eyes, they just look weird. She's kind of a perky little girl. She doesn't exude sexuality like the Spanish speaking MTV V.J. Daisy Fuentes, but I'm sure that she's the dream-girl for young Chinese men.

The reason I bring up MTV here is that, although I haven't watched enough for a truly insightful understanding of their programming, from what I've seen, they limit the music videos to safe images, clean musicians, and gentle music. Kenny G fits this format very well.

In the number 8 position, we find the king of pop, himself; Michael Jackson.

I was a guest on a radio show recently in which listeners were invited to talk to a (former) American radio personality to talk about music. 75% of the callers had something to say about Michael Jackson. They don't know about his ranch in Santa Barbara or his alleged appreciation for "young people" beyond the charity work he does on behalf of the children of the world. I didn't feel it appropriate to tell them either.

The station management liked how I "worked the phones" and asked me back for another show. I'll be talking, this time, about Chinese medicine in the United States. Incidentally, this show is actually designed to help people who are learning English practice their listening skills. I've also heard on this station some bible thumping preacher shoutin' bout Jesus.

Back to the countdown...

Next, we leave the world of individual artists and enter into the realm of specific English language songs that most every Chinese person knows. These songs are among the few English songs that Karaoke bars have in their music selections, and hence, these are the songs I've been forced to listen to over and over.

Number seven is "All Out of Love" by Air Supply.

Now, some observations regarding Chinese Karaoke. The DJ's here seem to have no understanding of how to mix vocals and music. The reason I say that is because many of the singers have no mike technique. They sing WAY too loud for the mike. I don't fault them for that, they aren't professional singers. However, even when they're singing so loud as to cause pain to the ears of the others in the room, the mike volume isn't changed once during the night.

Having worked in more than my share of dance clubs where singers from the audience were allowed on stage to do their thing from time to time, it was common to have one finger on the mike volume to adjust it as is appropriate for the overall audio experience. I guess they just don't get that here. Not that I've seen, anyway. Fortunately, they do at least prefer music to silence, which brings us to Number six on our countdown.

Number six in Chinese popularity is Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence."

Ironic, as far as I'm concerned, since "silence" is a favorite response to things that the people don't like about the government here. Tienanmen Square is still a wound that cannot be discussed, but in private.

I met a famous author recently in a hospital. He was of Mao's generation. A revolutionary who has witnessed war after war. His three books all deal with military conflicts and they are autobiographical in nature. We talked a bit about war and what it was good for (Huh!). We talked briefly about how wars took place economically too.

Number Five on the Chinese countdown is a strange song to find on any countdown anywhere, but Auld Lang Syne is very popular here. They know that we traditionally sing it New Year's Eve in the states but still find it hard to believe that I don't actually know the words. In the Karaoke bars, the words that show up on the screen are Chinese characters, so again, I'm at a loss.

That doesn't stop me from making up my own words when I'm forced to sing this song, though. Much to the bewilderment of those in the room who do understand English. Here's some proof of how well Chinese know this song.

Toping out at Number Four on our countdown is "Edelweiss" from The Sound of Music. It's a good song, and I'm happy that the Chinese have embraced it.

A moment to talk about Chinese radio. There are four stations in Kunming and they all use "block formatting." In other words, for one hour, they'll play one kind of music, then the next hour, its another show, and another kind of music.

There are some really good shows here. I've heard Western music on this station that is incredible, but I've haven't a clue as to who they are. On the other hand, there is a lot of music from Hong Kong and Taiwan that seeks to mimic the Western pop-rock sensibilities. To my ears, its like the ill-fated Pat Boone heavy metal album. Feels like they lack a rock and roll edge.

Once in a while, you hear something that is truly remarkable. In recent years, there has been a wave of female soloists in North America who have a general acoustic/folk edge to their sound. Its great music and I'm glad that its becoming popular in the Western world. Well for some reason, this sound translates very well into the Chinese sound, and there is someone who uses this style for her music. It rivals the best of this new breed of female soloists in the states. Sorry, I don't know her name, I can't understand the announcers here. I'm pretty sure that she's from Hong Kong.

On with our countdown.

Still climbing the charts, now up to Number Three is a song from my childhood, that I kind of wish had stayed there. "Feelings" by "Morris Albert."

Again, this being a popular English song at Karaoke bars, I've twice been asked to sing it. I just can't do it. We were making fun of this song a year after it came out in something like 1974. It hasn't exactly been embraced in the West as an oldie either. It got played too much way back when, and we're still sick of it.

Number Two is "Unchained Melody" as interpreted by the Righteous Brothers. Apparently, "Ghost" was a popular movie here, and this song rose to superstardum as a result.

Its interesting, no, not interesting, its silly, the images that I've seen in association with many of the English songs in Karaoke bars in China. There is absolutely no connection between the images on the screen and the words or even the intent of the song. All I've seen is a variety of really bad stock footage spliced together while singing English songs.

An old man reading a newspaper in front of a fish and chips restaurant, an anchor women reporting on something on the beach in what looks like Crete, jet skiers and women in bathing suits walking around in a forest. These are consecutive images mind you.

And that takes us to the number one song in China.

I've had a few friends from China in the USA and they all know this song. Apparently its been big for while.

"Yesterday Once More" by The Carpenters.

Great song and it retains its poignancy.

Okay, that's the current Chinese Top-Ten. Until next time, remember: keep one hand on your passport and keep the other reaching for that visa extension.

January 15, 1998

Chinese Celebrity Look-Alikes

Chinese Celebrity Look-Alikes It is said that if you're one-in-a-million, there are four of you in New York City. Well, Kunming's 3 million people (a mere "berg" by Chinese standards) provide an occasional surprise in the study of genetics. I've, thus far met a few people that bare a striking resemblance to celebrities found elsewhere in the world's great genetic pools. This page is devoted to Chinese celebrity look-alikes. Some of them really do undeniably look like celebrities while others are perhaps my own psyche's attempts to add order to an otherwise chaotic social experience.

Dr. Joyce Brothers: ironically, this is the staff psychologist at the Yunnan Province TCM hospital. That always kind of dumbfounded me.

Joyce Brothers

Garrison Keillor: here's the doctor across the hall from the Bell's Palsy ward. He does a lot of arthritis and "bi" pain. Great spirit to him, really friendly. Speaks some English, too. I couldn't quite explain the whole concept behind the Prairie Home Companion, but I was able to explain public radio.

Garrison Keillor

John Ritter: I met this guy just sitting in an office at the hospital. I think he is an administrator or something. He just reminded me of John Ritter. Can you see that, or is it just me?

John Ritter Look Alike

Tracy Ulman: here's a lady who spent a day with us in the "countryside" to get a better look at rural life in China. She doesn't do characters, no accents that I could tell, and she couldn't sing very well, evidenced by the night of Karaoke that followed the taking of this picture. She certainly does look like fun, though. Doesn't she?

Tracy Ulman Look Alike

Dustin Hoffman: this is one of the student interns at the hospital where I'm interning. He always reminded me of a young Dustin Hoffman ala "The Graduate". Soon after this picture was taken, my "yao bao" or waist wallet was stolen in front of ten people waiting to see the doctor. None of them raised a finger when a "suspicious and nervous looking woman" grabbed it and ran off. None of them knocked on the door to tell us that something had happened. Total lack of personal initiative. I saw that a lot, really.

Dustin Hoffman

Elvis Presley: it's a proven fact. Elvis is alive and living in Kunming. Here he is, getting on his Chinese Harley.

This woman's appearance was quite stunning to me. In California, this kind of look is a common occurrence, among both sexes. But in China, where standing out from the crowd is a cultural phobia, I had to really respect this woman for pushing the envelope with this rockabilly chopper punk look.

Elvis Look Alike

Yunnan Minorities Village

Yunnan Province is very proud of their minority population. There are something like 26 official indigenous minorities made up of everything from Tibetans to some of the tribes from Northern Thailand and Laos.

Not far from town, they've constructed a tourist attraction devoted to all of the minorities, their home life and of course, their crafts for sale.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't one of those terrible monasteries that I've been writing about, there are many many opportunities to buy things, but there's also a reasonably sincere attempt at displaying the unique architectural and cultural legacies of these peoples.

Xia-feng, a nurse at the hospital where I'm interning, and I went there on a whim one afternoon. It was a weekday afternoon and because of this, there was a refreshing lack of crowds there.

Because we weren't constantly fighting crowds, this was one of my better touristy activities that I've had in Kunming.

Close-up of one of the Thai style structures

This structure is an exact replica of a Buddhist temple you'll find in Yunnan's southern Jungle built by the Dai minority. The tips are adorned with wind chimes, bells, actually.

I witnessed this on what was Thanksgiving in the states. I couldn't help but start to hum "Silver Bells", a Christmas carol for the rest of the day.

Bull's head

One of the minorities, the "Wa" people, really had a thing for the skull of the bull.

The bull represents for the "Wa" people, as it does in so many other civilizations, material success.

Wa Dancers

Here are the "Wa" dancers. "Wa" in Chinese means "Wow!" Though, that's more of a coincidence than anything.

I really wasn't too "wowed" by any of the dancers that I saw while at the minorities village. They all had that certain spirit in their dance that said "Oh no, here we go again..."

Wa Gods

The "Wa" people hold the feminine principle to be the creative aspect of the universe. That's the Goddess on the left. Next to her, we find the male principle, in the form of their common ancestor, the first "Wa" man. Kind of the Abraham of the "Wa" people.

Xia-feng on bridge

"You can't be serious!" This is my host for the day, Xia-feng.

She's not too crazy about walking across the primitive suspension bridge. We ultimately did pass through it, though images of Boy Scout jamborees came to mind as the challenge of walking through instantly made us both feel like intrepid explorers.

feminine god

One of the minority nationalities used the gourd as a symbol of the creative principle of the universe. The gourd mimics the female shape, especially when pregnant. Everything that they had, from religious icons to the shape of their land plots reflected the shape of the gourd.

masculine god

Other minorities used other shapes to describe the creative power of the universe.

Dali structures

This is a scaled down version of the Buddhist pagodas found in nearby Dali, the site of the ancient seat of power for this area and home to the Bai people.

Bai girls

The famous Bai girls.

All of the tourist books that I've found seem to feel that these girls are the most beautiful in all of China. The one on the right holds a stick that she used to whack the butts of her friends as they walked by. Perhaps that is part of the attraction?

My time at the Yunnan Minorities Village was well spent. It's interesting to note the apparent appreciation that China has for its indigenous minorities. Kind of like the recent interest in the American Indian culture that has evolved from cowboy and Indian movies into a more healthy appreciation of their culture and respect for mother Earth.

It isn't likely that a guest at the Yunnan Minorities Village will have the opportunity to truly appreciate the depth of the culture that can be found among these peoples, but its a start.

Stray Images of Kunming, Part One

There's a street sweeping truck that comes out and sprays down the main thoroughfares when it hasn't rained for a while, to keep the dust down. It plays music much like the ice cream trucks back home. The song that it plays is "happy birthday to you." Someone must have a copyright lawsuit in all of this.

bikes riding through rain

On rainy days, everyone wears these ponchos that cover the front of the bike as well as the rider. The idea is to cover the basket in front of the handlebars in the rain. The hoods make everybody look like Ku Klux Klan's men. Because of all the colors you'll see amongst the bike riders, I like to refer to them as "The Rainbow Klan."

Honking has become something we don't notice until its right behind us as well. In the states, we signal 100 feet before making a turn. Here, they honk 100 feet before hitting someone. Honking is constant on the streets of Kunming. It is the main communication between those in the autos and those who are not.

Right of way has yet to be determined as far as I can tell. Street lights and signs are guidelines, nothing more. At the major intersections there are guard posts overseeing the traffic. Sometimes that includes a guy in the middle of the street standing at attention and pointing this way and that occasionally.

In fact, traffic in Kunming is the most interesting of all modern phenomena that I've seen here. There's a real flow between the bikes, of which there are thousands at all times, and the cars which are less numerous, but louder, especially the many buses.

Everyone just flows around each other. Just like water. Nobody looks where they're going, there is absolutely no right-of-way. Everyone just goes, and moves through each other without hitting each other very often. Nobody can go very fast since the streets are so congested, but that doesn't mean there aren't accidents. More often than not, its due to someone going the wrong way in the bike lane at night when nobody can see the errant rider. I've seen that a few times.

I wouldn't describe this vehicle ballet as the Blue Angels, but there's a real sense of water flow to it all.

Chinese elderly doing aerobics

Elderly people in parks enjoy aerobics along side Tai Chi and Qi Gong.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong is still practiced in large groups at parks and public places, but amidst all the noise of cheap boom boxes playing tinny sounding classical Chinese music is the sound of a Western beat. Aerobics are taking hold in Chinese parks in the morning.

Its interesting to see how when something as ingrained into the culture as old people doing exercises together in public places can evolve to accept a foreign influence, without really losing its own traditionally Chinese flavor. They did it with Buddhism from India, with communism from Europe, and now, with aerobics from the good-ole US of A.

girl wearing mini-skirt on bike

Something that I have yet to really get used to is seeing women in short dresses riding bikes.

Okay, I apologize if this is offensive to anybody. But I've got an observation that I simply have to get off my chest. Sorry. If you're easily offended by honest feelings of the male gender, please type "Alt+Q" now.

There are some drop-dead beautiful women here. They ride bicycles with their skirts hiked up to areas that we, uh... don't needle without a third party in the room. That's all well and fine. I don't have a problem with that. The only thing that I don't get is why the Chinese men don't seem to notice.

I mean, even if they avert their eyes out of courtesy, and I support that, there are many women here who have gone to great lengths to appear as goddesses. And all I see from the men, is that they're staring at ME!

I'm at a complete loss. I asked around, it turns out that the culture did not, until very recently, support the voyeurism that is part of Western culture. Okay, that's fine. But what I've noticed, is that the women have embraced this new tool, seduction, but the men haven't. The women know what they're doing, but the men, except for a glance now and then, simply don't notice the women.

Something that I do like about China is their concept of beauty. It turns out that in China, fair skin and deep set hazel eyes are considered quite attractive. Body hair is exotic and exciting. A receding hairline is a sign of intelligence and people have been known to have their noses enlarged to look Western with plastic surgery.

Whereas, in the states, I'm a balding Jewish geek with a huge nose and too much body hair. In China, I'm Mr. Universe.

I don't have to understand everything to enjoy it.

Stray Images of Kunming, Part Deux

A few more stray observations and pictures that didn't require an entire article, but nice vignettes.

dubbed Princess Bride

There isn't a comic alive who hasn't done a little bit of mockery of the Hong Kong exported Kung Fu movies, and their terrible English overdubbing.

Well, I've got news for all of you. It isn't half as bad as the English language movies that are dubbed into Chinese. They're edited badly as well.

Anyway, here's a shot of Princess Buttercup and the Dread Pirate Roberts making their ways through the forest of doom, or something like that from the wonderful movie "The Princess Bride" showing on Kunming TV one night.

Incidentally, they've taken to placing all kinds of distracting messages on the screen while the program is on. Not like the subtle network identification that you'll find on CNN, but a huge colorful icon in the upper left hand corner, where your eye is most likely to see it. Additionally, they include a sponsor's message placed vertically on the right side of the screen, so you'll never forget, even during the program, who paid for it. Yuch.

American Architecture in China

At one of the parks in Kunming, they've set up some little villages showing the different architectures of the world. I began to sing Disneyland's "Its a Small World After All" when I saw these little buildings.

I was told that this was supposed to be an American village. I don't know which village it could possibly be. Perhaps my host misunderstood its intent or something. Fact is, I can't figure out what country's architecture looks like this.

A little bit about the parks here. Hey, they're kind of nice! Well laid out with a kind of random sense about how the paths lead about, cool buildings, great gardens. Gotta admit that what the Chinese lack in interior design, they make up for it in their exterior design.

When I say exterior design, I'm certainly not talking about their modern architecture. Here we see one of hundreds of lots currently under a state of demolition or construction. I'm amazed at how young the buildings are that are torn down to be rebuilt. Fifteen year old buildings are torn down daily to build new buildings that will get torn down sooner than later.

Kunming construction

The apartments in the background are probably less than ten years old, though from looking at them, you'd think that they were built in the 50's.

Siberian Seagulls

The Hi-Ohs have arrived. These are gulls from Siberia which migrate here for the winter. There's a big festival at their favorite lake in the middle of Kunming on the weekends during December. It's kind of the Chinese equivalent of the swallows arriving at San Juan Capistrano.

The common decoration all around the lake is the umbrella. They have colorful umbrellas everywhere.

It wasn't until the next day that I realized why the umbrella was the symbol for the return of thousands of Hi-Oh's. Its for protection from the bird droppings.

This theory remains unconfirmed by official sources.

Stray Images of Kunming, Part Three

Eat? Run? Eat? Run?

You're not supposed to eat on the job. And if you must eat on the job, you're not supposed to be photographed by a foreigner while eating on the job. But if you're really hungry while being photographed eating on the job, then you should get up and walk away. Though you shouldn't stop eating.

Architecture in China

Here is a female factory worker playing badminton in the morning while everybody else is doing Tai Chi, or Aerobics.


Note the tiles used on the outside of the building. I always found this a bit strange as in the states we usually use tiles such as these for inside bathrooms not on the outside of buildings. I was told later that the reason they gravitate toward this building material is that it is easy to hose down. Can't argue with that.

A born mimic

Here's a young man who, when I passed, called out to me in the obligatory "hallao" as many Chinese do. But as I passed, he added a coarse, growled "F**K YOU!"

His accent was perfect. His growl and general spirit while saying this told me that some American had obviously taught him this. Not to be outdone, I taught him how to growl "A**HOLE!"

I'm not sure how this is going to effect Sino-American relations in twenty years when this little boy is grown up, but I hope I'm around to witness it!

Xia-feng and son.

That's my friend Xia-feng on the left with her son on the right. This is her apartment window.

Xia-feng kind of kept an eye on me while in Kunming. She ordered food for me at restaurants, quickly coming to understand what I liked, and even sent me away with a jade ring necklace.

We had a lot of fun together. Xia-feng was very practical, courageous in her own way and she understood sacrifice too. She added some comfort in an otherwise difficult environment for me there in Kunming. I felt bad for her when I left. I felt bad for a lot of people in Kunming. Many would like to leave. Xia-feng wanted me to stay.

I hope Xia-feng can someday read this, or perhaps have it read to her. She was a beautiful woman, inside and out.

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