Monday, June 30, 2008

China Report

My grandson Jeff is in China and is sending written reports of which I will place in here in their entirety.

June 30, 2008

Beijing China.

I was walking around downtown yesterday and was not surprised to pass skyscraper after shopping center after bus station, normal city affairs. I turned a corner and a field of cotton greeted me with workers in pointy straw hats not 15 meters away from eight lanes of chaotic, rush-hour traffic. The city has expanded so rapidly that the old farmlands have not yet been sold, and people are cultivating crops in the middle of the city. As I stared in awe, a cool breeze blew over the field and the crisp, clean smell of dirt and water transported me back home; for the first time since I arrived in Beijing, I filled my lungs trying to hold on to that fleeting memory of a familiar, cleaner smell.

It's to easy to let time take hold of me and forget that not everyone is experiencing what I am, so I apologize for not writing more, but being in this place is a full time occupation. After living in one place for so long, your senses become desensitized to the things that you see every day, they just becomes routine. Traveling to new places makes me notice more things than I thought possible. Most places have different smells – Beijing smells of exhaust, dirty water and unwashed people. Pollution. I said in my first email that the pollution was not that bad until you needed to breathe…I think I spoke too soon. The nebulosity of the pollution obscures anything higher than 10 stories and farther than a furlong with the fluffy white blanket of an asthmatic's deathbed. The first week I was here I saw the sun almost every day— almost unheard of. After a while you get used to breathing as shallowly as you can (as if it makes a difference), and everything is dandy.

The longer I am here the harder it is for me to fathom the sheer number of people that populate this city. First of all, the city seems to have no end. Most landlocked American cities have a downtown area with high buildings and prices that decrease through gradients of suburbia and then fade into farmland. Beijing has no real central area; it has intermittent skyscrapers juxtaposed with shacks, wide streets, and shopping malls for miles and miles. Every turn of the road brings more of the same. As far as I can figure out, this continues for 15+miles in every direction. Construction cranes are as numerous as skyscrapers, and for every crane thousands of people are on site working. Construction sights are literally crawling with more people than seem possible. Every task seems like an overused bad joke:

Q: How many migrant Chinese construction workers does it take to dig a well?

A: 8. One to dig and seven to make sure that the feng-shui is right.

Yeah…Not funny but sad because it's true, (except the feng shui part). Every new construction project I see has at least four times the number of people watching than doing, I guess companies can get away with that because they don't pay their workers anything. Terrible.

A few days ago I was not paying attention to where I was, and before I knew it I thought that I was at the circus. A quick look around reassured me that I was not, in fact, at the greatest show on earth, but at Carrefour, which some of you may recognize as the French supermarket that some Chinese boycotted because of French behavior regarding the Olympic torch. Picture this: A store that looks like an American grocery store except that at the end of every isle an attendant is holding a product and yelling at the top of their lungs to let everyone know that such-and-such is on sale today, or that this brand of milk is new. They all work for the same store, and are not competing with each other to sell things, but they are all doing you the double favor of making sure you know what they are selling, and ensuring your stock in hearing aids goes up. Again, why do they need that many people doing something that seems trivial?

When in fact, there is a sale. (Such as tea for 2 kuai (32 American cents)) There is no hope of actually buying the product unless you happen to have brought your riot gear. Ninety year old ladies will wiggle their way through the throng in a way that I never thought possible to snatch up the last cheap goods.

That's ok; I'll pay 40 cents for that tea.

Some of you may have heard, after more than a year of searching, I finally managed to land an internship. I will be working with a company that is in charge of securing sponsorship for the Games, I will be going around Beijing taking pictures of advertisements and putting together portfolios for companies. The company also has bids for the next three Olympics, so who knows where this will take me?

Saturday was the highlight of the trip so far by far; a trip to The Great Wall. I have seen a lot of cool things, but nothing compares to the magnitude and sheer scope of the Wall. The Wall was as great as its name, and better. We drove one hour and forty minutes, an hour of which was traversing the city and forty up and down increasingly mountainous terrain until we arrived at the base of a large hill. From there we had walked and made our way through narrow passages lined with shops designed to rob tourists, with prices anywhere from 5 to 10 times what a Chinese person would pay after bargaining. Even though they warned us, some people still bought shirts for more than 10 times what others that bargained paid. N00b5

Our next obstacle was a giant stairway up the mountain. Fifteen minutes of climbing slippery, steep stairs got us to the top, just as rain began to fall. Luckily, it didn't last long, and we were able to stay dry and walk around. A thick fog kept visibility low but did not negate the fact that I was standing on the Great Wall. The most amazing part is where it is built. On the tops of hills, winding over their peaks like a giant snake, the wall guarded Beijing from the west of the world. More than any other thing I have described, the Wall is to much for my petty description, take a look at my pictures (On Facebook) if you want to see, and then imagine 100000 times the feeling of awe. That's the Great Wall.

I bought a cell phone on Friday, so I am communicado once again. If any of you want/need to reach me, the number is 011-150-1101-5224.

Lastly, an anecdote from my daily life…I was at the store the other day buying snacks. After I got past the old ladies rushing to the tea (Sale), I saw an isle of similarly packaged food items. They caught my attention, and upon closer inspection looked like hard candies individually wrapped for convenience and charm. I couldn't figure out why they said 牛肉 which means beef, but I thought that it must be a brand. After I got home and asked my roommate, it turns out they were small, individually wrapped pieces of Tibetan yak jerky. Delicious and exotic. What more could I ask for?

Until next week….

Jeff Vredenburg

吴杰 (Wú Jié)

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