Monday, November 8, 2010

Post-trip randomness

Dave and I returned to San Francisco on Saturday, so technically, the trip is over. But endings are never that simple. For example, I still have about two dozen browser tabs open: research on the places we visited. Some of them I can close with no regrets: I have five tabs dedicated to microbreweries in Beijing we wanted to visit our last full day there. It turned out, most of the pubs listed online have gone out of business, and the only one we found still in business, is a Japanese company that makes beer with a Russian name, Okhotsk. Actually, Okhotsk is a town and also a sea, the sea that separates Japan from the continent, and where the group of the disputed Kuril islands is located. Just the other day, these islands were in the news again, when President Medvedev went there for a visit, and Japan temporarily called their ambassador back from Russia. Never mind, I'm supposed to be closing tabs, not opening new ones.

Two more sites we visited our last day in town: Silk Street and Pearl Market, one of the places to go in Beijing for knock off purses. I wonder what the career paths of the girls who work there will be: the place is an amazing training ground for an army of aggressive sales reps. In the evening of our last day, we ended up at Sanlitun, a neighborhood of all-American bars, restaurants, shopping. There's a mall there that reminded us very much of the refurbished downtown LA (Nokia Center). The place was mildly creepy in its blandness, so we got out as quickly as possible. A couple of days prior, we'd walked by another touristy restaurant area mentioned in many tour guides, Nan Xin Cang, built in a restored old granary. It's another Disneyfied recreation targeted at tourists, and so stripped of any real personality.

Here's a cool discovery: http://www.dianping.com/, a Chinese equivalent of Yelp. The website is entirely in Simplified Chinese, but thanks to Google translation tools that wasn't a problem. We searched it for some fun restaurants and also it led us to a very decent and well priced foot massage place. Meanwhile, according to Dianping.com, the best restaurant in Beijing is a place called ebeecake. Cake sounded good, and we decided to seek this place out -- especially since the address showed it to be located at the 798 Art Space the day we were going there. Big mistake. Turns out, the right way to read the name of the place is e-Bee-Cake, that is "electronic" cake. When we finally found the right building in the middle of the 798 Art Zone, it turned out to be a wholesale bakery, and they asked us where we wanted our cake delivered. They gave us a pretty catalog with over a dozen titles, and told us that there was a cafe next door that served ebeecake. We found the cafe, but out of all the dozen pretty cakes on the brochure, the cafe was serving cheesecake and tiramisu. We turned up our noses at that, and opted for pizza and ice cream at a cafe down the street.

My other open tabs take me all the way back to Shanghai. Here's a blog by an American guy, Jonathan, that's been really helpful to me in finding the foreign-language bookstores in Shanghai. Jonathan is studying at a university in Nanjing, and his blog is a good source for information about the expat life in China. I've added his RSS to my Google Reader.

Dave's coworker, Laura -- she's an interpreter freelancing for Dave's company -- told me the story about the Soong sisters, three very influential women of the 20th C Chinese politics. The eldest of the three, Soong Ai Ling was married to the richest man and a finance minister of China. The middle, Soong Ching Ling was married to the founder of modern China, Dr. Sun Yat Set. And the youngest, Soong May Ling married Chiang Kai Shek. I immediately wanted to know more about them. Apparently, there was a 1997 Hong Kong film made about the three, but what I'm really looking for is a good novel :) While in Shanghai, I went to Soong Ching Ling's residence and memorial, memorial being a museum dedicated to the life of Soong Ching Ling from the point of view of the Communist party. The residence itself was like a small English country house, albeit with a few oddly angled walls. One very neat thing I noticed: she had her typewriter set up in the bathroom, right next to the tub. I wonder what her writing routine was.

Also, while in Shanghai, I walked down Duolun Road, a street famous for many turn of the 20th C writers who lived there. The street is enjoying something of a renaissance these days, and features some new cafes and bookstores and even one Museum of Modern Art. I walked into this museum to discover an exhibit of —Āontemporary Saudi Arabian art, a part of the World Expo.

Finally (for this mishmash post), David and Cici, our gracious guides through Hangzhou, left me with a list of (popular 20th C) Chinese writers I should check out. I have no idea when I will get to this, but here at least are the names they put down in my notebook: Jin Yong, Wei Si Li, Lin Yu Tang, Zhang Ai Ling, Xiong Yao, Lao She (the only name familiar to me on this list), Ding Ling, Han Han, Bing Xin, Lei Yu, Ba Jing, Guo No Ruo.

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