June 2008


We recently arrived in Beijing, a city busily getting ready to hold the Olympics in less than two months. To walk the streets of Beijing, or even look out the window, one has to ask how Olympic athletes will possibly compete here. It’s not possible to convey how polluted Beijing is in words. If Chengdu’s atmosphere resembled skim milk, Beijing is more akin to mushroom soup. One can see about a block or two, then the city recedes in the mysterious mists of smog. It’s like the early morning fog of California, but it never burns off.

Beijing Smog
Beijing, mid-day.

Beijing Streets
Modern Beijing.

It’s a wonder the government was able to convince the Olympic committee to hold the Olympics here. What would really infuriate me if I were a Beijinger, is the fact that for the Olympics, the government will stop the polluting industry, and restrict automobile traffic, so the air will be relatively clean. Then, once the Olympics are over, it’s back to pollution-as-usual. Lara and I discussed living in Beijing as embodying the frog-in-hot-water analogy. If the water, or air pollution, increases slowly enough, the frogs, or people, don’t notice. Until it’s too late.

Beijing Food Market
Beijing food market.

Food Market workers
Food market workers.

Bored Food Worker
Bored food worker.

Beijing is more hip than Chengdu. It is less socially conservative. People stare less here, or even notice our presence. The pollution is the first thing one notices, and it’s hard to get past.

We went to the Great Wall, or the Long Wall, as it’s known in Chinese. It’s pretty great. But again, the wall is overshadowed by the haze of pollution. One can barely see the wall itself.

Great Wall

Great Wall II

Great Wall III

Smog Wall

Steep

Wall Climb II

The most notable thing about our visit to the Great Wall was what happened after we climbed it. We sat down next to a group of people that looked like they were from Afghanistan, and had some coffee. We sat talking, while a women from Canada approached this group and they all started talking. Before you know it they were discussing Barack Obama and Bush. We soon figured out they were from Pakistan. They turned to us and said, We are against the policies, not the people. It was a big delegation, and a couple of them came and sat next to us, and began talking politics, explaining that Pakistan didn’t have problems with the Taliban until Bush and Mush (Musharraf) began with “their war policies.” He said they favored dialogue over war. He then introduced one of the members of the delegation as Musharraf’s brother, a “legitimate leader because he was elected.” Obviously Musharraf and his brother have some differences.

Yesterday we saw Mao’s body, under a red hammer and sickle flag, on display next to Tiananmen Square. Today we visited the Summer Palace. Tomorrow morning we leave for Portland. Our time in China has come to an end. Check back soon for final photos and some final thoughts on our ten months in Asia.

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We spent a weekend in Chongqing several weeks ago, and on the way home our Chinese traveling companions wanted to stop off to see what they described as an 800 year old Buddhist statue. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good Buddha statue as much as the next guy. But we’ve seen a lot of them in our ten months in Asia, and I was not feeling particularly enthusiastic about driving three hours out of our way to see another one. Boy, was I wrong. I was expecting yet another larger than life representation of Shakyamuni. Instead we got Dazu, the pinnacle of Chinese rock carving art, representing a blending of Tantric Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian influences as expressed in hundreds of images.

These carvings date from the 9th to the 13th century. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The photos do not really do justice to the enormity of this project. To see it in 360 degree imaging, go here.

Enjoy!

Scale
To get a sense of the scale of this, on the bottom left is the sidewalk.

Two Dudes

Scary Dudes

Three Wise Men

Sword Man

Hell Realm

Bird Man

Wheel of Life

Quan Yin