15 November 2007

Peking Man

I spent my last day in Beijing doing a bit more sightseeing. Firstly, I went back to the Great Wall, this time to the tourist feeding frenzy of Badaling, to see it in its restored and more undulating form. Sadly, the undulations were invisible to me because, naturally, the weather turned foul and there was no visibility. The souvenir sellers on the Wall are particularly annoying, and I would like to have thrown them en masse over the side. Again, sadly, the Wall isn't actually high enough in most places to cause death-on-impact. I don't understand why they aren't banned. Even Egypt did that at the Pyramids. After I got my required photo at Chong Chong, I bused it back to Beijing (total cost of Great Wall experience: $6) and went over to White Cloud Temple, a Taoist complex on the Lower East Side. It looked like every other Chinese temple and prompted me to wonder how many more of them I'm going to pay for the privilege of ingress. Interestingly, there were a few whities there burning incense and putting foreheads to floor in front of the cheesy statues of the Peach Blossom Emperor or whoever. I wanted to go over and casually ask them what the hell they were doing--were they "Taoists"? why were they praying to cheesy statues? were they wannabe Buddhists who made a wrong turn on Lotus Petal Street? I swallowed my incredulity, however, and left.

Did I mention? South American may have had dirt cheap avocados, but China has cheap dragon fruit and "Asian" pears (nishi?). Oh heaven of joys!

My next destination was a very special one: the Old Cinema Cafe, where I'd been spending many an afternoon drinking overpriced tea and coffee. Supposedly, the Chinese cinema was born there. I saw Ang Lee's (new?) film "Lust / Caution" one night and realized then that all of his movies have the same kind of ending: tragic but flat and contrived, as all tragic endings might be, I mused, since they come with a thud, dissolving whatever narrative crescendo was at work to restore amity. I went to the cafe so often, I actually befriended the girls who work there--all of them!--who wanted me to stop by to teach them English. Which I sort of did. I went through their textbook with them the day before the Great Wall trip (they all gathered round, listening intently, obeying my instructions as my Japanese students--sorry readers in Japan--never did, and their boss even supplied free coffee). The following night, I was treated for my pains to a Belgian waffle, more free drinks, and more food. "God", I wondered, "what else might happen if I stay here?" Dreams of leading an empire of Chinese schoolgirls were to no avail, however. I had a train to catch. After the opera (yeah, I went to see Beijing opera that night, too), all the girls accompanied me to the train station to see me off. How charming that was! And now I have Chinese friends. They barely speak English, but they still seem sincerely enthusiastic to have met me, which is more than I can say for most of you ingrates.

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