Beijing, March 3
This website was established by two very good friends,E.R. and T.H., so that a record of my trip to China could be made available to those of you who care to read about it. One has to marvel at the fact that I can readily establish e-mail contact from here in China, because of the inventions of the computer and the internet, which wasn't possible only 25 years ago. Those of you over 35 know how extraordinary this is, while those of you who are younger simply take it for granted.
My trip began March 2 with a flight from Atlanta at 8:50 am to San Francisco,followed by an Air China flight to Beijing that arrived at 6:15 pm on March 3. There is a 13 hours time zone difference in this that explains how it is possible that on my return April 18, I will leave Beijing at 3:30 pm and arrive in San Francisco at 12:10 pm the same day, yes over three hours earlier.
The Air China flight was very comfortable for a ten hour flight and they fed me dinner twice, the second dinner being called breakfast. My first breakfast in Beijing was also like dinner in some ways especially with respect to the vegetables that were served.
I am a guest of the Institute of Theoretical Physics, a part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. I reside in their guest house which is pleasant and characterizes itself as a two star hotel. Since Beijing has five star hotels, they know what they mean when they say two star. It is perfectly adequate for an academic traveling without his wife. It is also very inexspensive. Breakfast in the fanciest of their three restaurants was a buffet for 2 yuan, about 25 cents. It was excellent. While I am not complaining, I was surprised to have shitake mushrooms and broccoli (and broccolini) for breakfast, as well as dumplings and boiled eggs.
The morning was spent on hooking up the internet to my laptop and checking that my power points survived the trip. All is well in that regard. For lunch my host took me to the hotel restaurant and asked if I would like to try traditional dishes. I said yes and he ordered four. Each one would have easily fed two persons adequately. All four were rather impressive. We had a spicy fish and tofu dish, a pork and broccoli dish, an eggplant, tomato and green pepper dish and a plate of large beans that had been cooked in honey. I thought they might be fava beans because of their large size but they were very sweet from the honey, unlike any fava beans I have had. My host had them box up the leftovers and I believe he still has two or even three meals left to eat. Each dish was excellent. So much for my expectation that I will lose weight on this trip.
I will sign off for now and am eager to see how this will look on the www.fefox.com web site.
Beijing, March 6
Yesterday was Sunday. From the activity on the streets and in the shops it was like any other day. My host, Wei-Mou Zheng, took me on a bike trip through Tsinghua and Peking Universities. They are essentially adjacent to each other and not far from here. However, one does have to negotiate large traffic arteries filled with pedestrians, bikes cars and trucks. The cars and trucks move relatively slowly or else there would be many accidents. Car drivers often act as if they are superior to everyone else and will drive in bike lanes, even park in them, and then honk when you go out into their lanes to avoid the cars. We were able to cover a few kilometers of this sort of traffic without incident. In this part of Beijing there are many large buildings, mostly built in the last five years, giving the region a very modern appearance.
Once on campus, biking is much more relaxed, but pedestrian traffic is greater. Both campuses are very attractive and Peking U.’s older buildings are beautiful. There is a central park area with a lake, still covered with thick ice from the cold winter (today the temperature is starting at 28 F and will reach 64 F). The Center for Advanced Study is located on the Tsinghua campus and I will visit there officially a bit later in the trip. This Center was in part inspired by C.N. Yang, the physics Nobel laureate at Stonybrook. Both campuses were overrun by large, fancy looking, bluejays and by Magpies. Each campus has about 20,000+ students but Tsinghua is physically larger. Faculty housing exists on site as do shopping areas.
My hotel TV has cable with the usual assortment of programming, including news, documentaries, nature shows, music videos, soaps and sports. NBA basketball is very popular probably because of Yao Ming, and there is a station devoted to old Olympics programs ( Beijing will host the 2008 summer games). Several stations cover the Peoples congress, now in session with 3000 deputies attending. One such station is the English language station.
The next five year plan is comprehensive and includes increased support for science and education. It is planned that for all mandatory education there will be no tuitions or fees. This will be implemented in the rural regions first. The environment is another major issue with many reforms planned. When you have 3000 deputies you will get some strange ideas, just like with our congress. The one that caught my ear was the plan to make edible toothpicks.
Beijing, March 8
I am now completely shifted to half a day ahead of Atlanta. I experienced no jet lag (or jet advance in this case). I am still not used to eating all kinds of vegetables for breakfast, but I like it. I spend most of my waking moments trying to do physics or in conversation with persons I have met here. My arrangements for the rest of the trip are firming up and will include an overnight sleeper car train trip to Suzhou in early April.
My speaking schedule is also shaping up with talks two or three times a week. On Friday I give my Rectified Brownian Motion in Sub-Cellular Biology talk here at the Institute of Theoretical Physics. Next Tuesday I give them the talk: A Physicist’s Perspective about the Origins of Life, and then on Friday I give the Rectified… talk at Beijing Normal University that is down by the third circle (I am out on the fourth circle presently). The Normal U. visit will extend over three days since I have acquaintances there and will include a trip to the Beijing Zoo to see the pandas. During the next week, March 21, I will again speak here on Einstein: Centenary Commemoration of 1905, the Year of his Great Discoveries. My original title simply said …Commemoration of his Annus Mirabilis, but my host said no one would understand the Latin and they might not come. In April, while a visitor to the Center for Advanced Study at Tsinghua University, I will do some of this again, and when I get to Suzhou University later in April, again.
Yesterday I tried to find the five story book store where I can get English language books. I went down the fourth circle for over a mile but couldn’t identify the store. Perhaps it was further down. Traffic in the fourth circle is submerged below surface level. There are multi-lane surface streets as well on either side and most of the submerged traffic is on a road without a roof. You can walk out and look down. To get completely across one of these thoroughfares seems like a quarter of a mile. I believe there are five circles, maybe only four, with the first one closest in, down around the government buildings and the Forbidden City. The Peoples Congress is still in session and traffic down there is carefully controlled by police.
To my surprise many ordinary Chinese names mean something. Not knowing Chinese I was unaware that most of the names we run into with students actually mean something. The girl who serves me dinner, and practices her English with me, has a name that means fragrant cherry blossom, or so she claims. Her manager doesn’t like that she spends time talking to the guests but sees that I don’t mind and allows it. Yesterday when I showed up on time for dinner at 5 and they were still getting ready, I witnessed the manager giving a pep talk to about 30 waiters and waitresses. They stood in rank file and chanted when appropriate and even engaged in synchronous movements, some what akin to cheers at a sporting event. This lasted about five minutes.
This morning it snowed here, briefly. Flurries blew about for several minutes. This was an interesting follow-up to a strange event last night. We came out of a banquet that followed my first talk here, and decided to take a walk to clear our heads, given the quantity of beer that was consumed. I quit counting courses after 15, each of which was very good. By “we” and “our” I am referring to myself and brother Tom. Tom was already here on his annual trip to recruit students for Harvard medical school and came back to Beijing from Shanghai yesterday to spend the weekend with me. We have a big day planned with a tour downtown. But now back to the strange event. It was about 10 pm and quite cold. Tom said it was raining. I didn’t feel anything. However, when we entered the hotel we noticed that our clothes were covered with little whitish dots. I think the polluted air had condensed in the cold and precipitated, like rain, staining our clothes and my backpack with little dots. They appear to come off with rubbing and hopefully also with washing. This morning the whitish precipitation is really snow.
It is now 6 hours later and we have returned from the Forbidden City, the residence of 24 emperors up to and including the last of the Qing (pronounced Ching) dynasty in 1911. Today it is hardly a forbidden place with thousands of persons, mostly Chinese, visiting every hour. It is an enormous expanse with hundreds of pavilions, some small and some immense, separated by large plazas and garden areas. It snowed again while we visited, giving the entire event a surreal aspect. We spent most of our time visiting the wall of nine dragons and the adjacent museum of jewelry. The Yu Hua Yuan garden is impressive with many trees over 300 years old. Bonsai trees were out that were blooming and this offset the snowfall. When we left the Forbidden City we went to a nearby park on a lake and had lunch in a lovely building. Lunch was set price with 6 main courses as well as a few desserts. During lunch there was an impressive snowfall. After lunch we made our way back to the Institute amid bright sunlight. Traveling through the city with its contrasts of large new buildings and old dirty broken down housing (hutongs) reflected the contrast between sunshine and snow.
Tom will go back to Boston tomorrow. I will return to my monastic existence thinking about physics. Tonight, Chinese friends of Tom’s will host a dinner at a Ukranian restaurant, the Kiev. Another Chinese friend of Tom’s may show up and take us to a nightclub. He hobnobs with celebrities. So there is a chance that this evening will be interesting.
A few clarifications of earlier installments are in order. There are four rings for traffic in Beijing. The first ring, that is not obvious, surrounds the Forbidden City. The other three are roughly evenly spaced further out. An east-west highway bisects the outer three. Early Saturday evening, when we went to the Kiev for dinner, every road we took was jammed with traffic. I think the whole city is that way. By the time we left, about 9 pm, traffic was easy.
The climatilogical event the other day that covered us with little white dots was most probably the result of a Mongolian sand storm. The little dust particles nucleated precipitation when it got cold enough and Tom and I
experienced a light coating. The next day we saw many cars that experienced a heavier coating and they were completely coated in gray so that one would have to scrape the windows to see out. Oddly, very few drivers had done this, and many were seen driving around with their windows coated with dried dust. The ensuing snow fall helped clear away a lot of the dust naturally. This morning we experienced Siberian winds that brought in 20 oF weather. The wind chill felt much lower. Now (2 pm), at least, it is above freezing. These fluctuations in temperature and weather conditions are typical of March weather in Beijing.
I am learning some Chinese radicals, the atoms of Chinese characters (that may be thought of as small molecules). One has to also learn their history in order to really appreciate how and why they are constructed as they are. A favorite so far is the one for: to marry a man. It is the radical for woman next to the radicals for a pig under a roof. Historically, a pig under a roof signified domesticated and gave man his concept of home. Probably many American women would also view their marriage as a woman next to a pig under a roof.
I just finished the lunch lecture on The Origins of Life. Since lunch was provided, it was SRO with over 100 present, including a 91 year old gentleman, Dr. Peng, who heard Schrodinger talk on “What is Life” in 1943. Still ambulatory, his mind is as sharp as ever, I am told. He asked me questions afterwards and liked my model for primitive protein synthesis and genetics. He said that in ten years the model would be verified by experiments done in China. He may well still be around to see. Thursday and Friday I speak at Beijing Normal University, for which I will get a trip to the Zoo on Saturday.
More about Beijing’s ring highways. A fifth ring does exist, an expressway, that is quite far out, basically outside current Beijing. A sixth ring, even further out, is partially constructed. Beijing is spreading fast and will fill these outer rings before long. Permanent gridlock is a likely outcome, as well as bad air pollution. The Peoples Congress is well aware of all this and China may solve the alternative fuel problem first, out of necessity.
China is very sensitive to criticism from the west, especially about human rights. They like to go through a long litany of human rights violations by the US as a response. Most of it sounds pretty accurate to me, from the genocide of native Americans, the mistreatment of Afro-Americans to the destabilization of foreign governments. At the same time they are often muted in their criticism. For example, a recent news cast referred to the US intervention in Chile in 1973 as destabilization, rather than as something more dire like assassination or blatant support of the junta. No mention of US support for Pinochet was made, nor of the 30,000 persons he ordered killed after the coup. Whether or not Milosevic was a war criminal, or simply the brunt of a trumped up US allegations, was given an “even” treatment on the English language TV station. One participant stressed how the US kept upping the number of dead from 100,000 to a figure finally around 250,000, suggesting that the US made up figures. The other participant tried to explain that 100,000 was already a war crime. The moderator was impatient with him for this.
IPR, intellectual property rights, is another big topic for the Peoples Congress, as well as corruption, rampant capitalism and the environment. It is my understanding that IPR violations are perhaps greatest in China, with pirated soft-ware and books leading the way. “May you live in interesting times” is an old Chinese saying, often used as a curse.
( I have since learned that this Chinese saying may be apocryphal).
Everyday I try to take a long walk from the Institute as exercise. This is a somewhat precarious action here. There are cars, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians. Cars and trucks have the supreme right of way and do not yield to mere pedestrians. Nor do cyclists, or for that matter, other pedestrians who almost always act as if they have right of way over you. Thus, a leisurely stroll is not possible. One must constantly remain alert. Horns are forever honking, although I am told that this is mostly to inform the lowly pedestrian of their approach. Cyclists use a bell for this purpose although not all have bells. The lady who ran into me yesterday had been saying something in Chinese as she approached from behind and then simply ran into me. This was at slow speed to be sure and no damage was done.
The children get out of school sometime around 3 to 4 in the afternoon. Some parents fetch them, either as pedestrians or with bikes, and few wealthier ones come by car. However, most kids simply walk and this includes kids as young as 5. They negotiate the same perils as I do, but with a key difference. They have ultimate right of way over everyone else. I followed a 7 year old girl for a block or so yesterday. When we arrived at a major intersection, with a red light for us, she simply kept pace into the traffic and with a deft swish of her hand halted all traffic. She crossed unscathed. I waited for the light to change and still had to deal with cars making right hand turns and therefore ignoring the pedestrian green crossing signal. What with all the honking I have yet to hear anyone shout, except for those walking and talking on cell phones. It seems that it is an international phenomenon that you are better heard at the other end if you shout at your end.
On Thursday I gave a talk at Beijing Normal University (BNU) at 10 am about the Origins of Life. It was standing room only and went well, I think. Many have a limited understanding of English and even more limited exposure to technical biological jargon. But the questions were good ones so something must have gotten across. My hosts then took me and a sabbatical visitor from Harvard physics and his wife to lunch in a restaurant in BNU, It is independently operated, quite well known in Beijing and frequented by many outsiders. This was a feast with Chinese radish and eels and many other things. After lunch a young graduate student took me back to the Institute. He and a colleague had picked me up earlier in the morning. Today, Friday, he came back at 7:45 am and again took me down to BNU for an 8:45 am talk. This was on rectified Brownian motion, my real research area, and there was plenty of room for others had they wished to attend. Nevertheless, it was a good audience with some new faces, especially foreign ones and again the questions were good ones. They would have continued except that we had to vacate the room for another group. After this talk I was given over to two undergraduate physics major girls who took me to the Temple of Harmony and Peace, a major Buddhist temple in Beijing, and then to lunch. Lunch was downtown in a famous “hot pot” restaurant of the Mongol persuasion. Everything is served raw and then placed in boiling water, cooked, retrieved, dipped in bean and hot sauce and consumed. This took awhile and was excellent. We had lamb strips, mutton slices and cuttlefish balls among other delicacies. After this they took me to the main downtown shopping district where we window shopped for some time. It is difficult to put into words what this experience is like. It ranged from cheaply made replicas of native artifacts to high end curios including a wood carving seven feet high for $48,000 US. I saw quite a few cricket cages but none authentic enough to buy, even if expensive.
It is overwhelming to experience the extent of large highways and buildings in Beijing. Vast numbers of buildings are less than 5 years old and vast amounts of new construction of buildings, highways and subways is in progress. This city is booming like I have never experienced anywhere else before. The traffic is dense, but with cars, buses, trucks, bicycles and pedestrians. Doesn’t anyone work here anymore? The pedestrian traffic downtown is astonishing, and only a very small percent is foreign tourists. Words and pictures cannot capture it. The city is vibrant with bustle. There was no wind today so that by 4 pm there was also no visibility. A dense haze has covered everything. I fear that tonight I may again experience a “pollution rain” of whitish specks on everything.
Tomorrow the two girls (they are about 20) will pick me up at 8:30 am to go to the Zoo. We are seeking Panda. They are very different from each other, both charming, rather solicitous of the old man in their care, and neither really admitted that she likes physics. I think the day will be fun.
I am hopeful that some photos from the past two days can be put on the web site. I will know soon if this is possible. If it is you will get to see some pandas, as well as some other remarkable sights.
The trip to the Zoo turned out to be more. My facilitators, Cui and Qiao, came at 8:30 am so we could get a head start on the crowds (which never became a problem anyway). The 30 yuan apiece tickets get you into the Zoo, the Aquarium and the panda house. For the three of us, that’s $11 US. This is an incredible bargain. The setting for these venues is a beautiful park with a river running through it. The aquarium is a beautiful building and the Atlanta aquarium planners could have learned even more from Beijing than they apparently did. The Atlanta aquarium is much bigger and with time and adjustments may reach its potential which is great. Absent from Atlanta is a performing sea mammal arena. On Saturday we saw the show amid hundreds of 2 year olds. Young Chinese wear predominately western attire, and 2 year olds will have on outfits with images of Mickey Mouse, or other cartoon characters. Everybody seemed to enjoy the show by sea lions and dolphins.
Before the sea mammal show, we visited the panda house where feeding time had just commenced. Feeding amounts to throwing a large bale of bamboo into the habitat for the pandas, each of the five of which has its own area. They are much more animated than I expected when they are with their food. They roll in it and throw it over their heads and lay on their backs covered with it while they eat. They very clearly use their opposable thumbs. They will strip two or three dozen leaves from the bamboo and then twist the whole into a cigar like mass that they hold with their opposable thumb in one hand and munch down from one end to the other. This is repeated with an occasional interruption by munching of stems and stalks. The babies are not put on display in Beijing because of the weather. They have a special rearing house and are also sometimes taken to other more hospitable locations in China. Everyone agreed that one large panda badly needed a bath. After this we also saw the lesser red panda that looks like a cross between a fox and a raccoon. We also spent time with the bird exhibit, some of which is on a pond where you can see mandarin ducks, other water fowl and even the elusive Peking duck.
Lunch was the next stop of the tour. We went to a place that has as its English name The Goody House. It is a chain in Beijing and is very popular with the younger set. It bustles with activity. While our main dish was noodles with beef and vegetables, in a really big bowl, there were sides of pickled vegetables, steamed vegetable wontons, bamboo shoots, very hot something, and I also had a pork sandwich. Imagine, if you can, dim sum or dumplings but made so that the cooked dough is very light and fluffy, yet firm like light foam rubber. A piece of this that was flat, about half an inch thick and shaped like a stadium, was folded in half for the bun. This was filled with pork shreds and vegetable matter and made for a very satisfactory sandwich. We also got served Taiwan sausage that I liked but we hadn’t ordered it. It simply represented the degree of confusion in the place with so many servers and patrons. No, I did not have dinner Saturday night.
After lunch we went to the National Museum of China. I had seen ads on TV for an exhibit of ancient bronzes and ceramics. My guides decided to extend the tour into the afternoon and take me there. Neither of them had ever been there. This turned out to be a good decision. Many artifacts were 3000 years old and of exquisite craftsmanship. I had seen some in books. We also saw part of the permanent collection that was on display. This went from 3000 years old up through the Qing dynasty (that ended in 1911). Much of this was ceramics even though some bronze pieces were particularly notable. The large size of some of the pieces does not come across in book photos. This is especially impressive with silver or gold pieces. The Museum has a third exhibit, also permanent, a wax exhibit. There I saw Chou En Lai, Mao, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Yao Ming, Newton Einstein, and Bill Gates, among many others. The many others included many kings and emperors as well as Chinese scientists, artists, celebrities, a Chinese astronaut and political figures.
Traffic is always a problem. On Saturday it is also bad. Going from lunch to the Museum was clearly going to be faster by subway. Going back to my hotel afterwards would also be faster by subway. At first I was hesitant. However, the subway system is very clean and trains run every few minutes, and I mean few. For one stretch we were sardined in so that you really didn’t have to hold on, but otherwise it was even comfortable. And it was so much faster than a taxi caught in snarling honking traffic.
For the food lovers out there, I thought a note about “vegetables” would be helpful. The Brassica, or Mustard family, known in Latin as Cruciferae, is the most diverse edible vegetable family known, I think. It includes (this means these are all very closely related variants of the same plant, diversified by cultivation for hundreds of years) broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard, rape, rutabaga, and turnip. We have each of these in the States. In China we have variations that are not so familiar in the States, although in recent years many have become familiar. They include Chinese cabbage and Bok (or Pak) Choy, and types of sprouting broccoli such as Italian broccoli and asparagus broccoli. Other cabbage varieties are also plentiful here. Some are ornamental. When I had a bowl of noodles yesterday, it had beef, bok choy and sprouting broccoli in it. When we ate at the “hot pot” the day before we had lots of Chinese cabbage. Unrelated to these brassica varieties are the bean sprouts, bean curds and soy products that are also prominent here.
to see photos.
March 19, part 2
Wei-mou Zheng, my host at the CAS ITP (Chinese Academy of Science Institute of Theoretical Physics) took me on another bike trip this morning. He picked Sunday morning again because car traffic is really less on Sunday morning, if not so at any other time. This time we really got into it. Beijing is a bike path, all of it. Every street has a bike lane. The ones next to a multi-lane busy highway are scariest. Crossing intersections is scary. Wei-mou knew how and when to do it. We were on every kind of street and bike path. In some there are also buses making stops for riders. One has to carefully weave in and out of their way. There are also motor bikes in the bike paths as well as carts that are either motor powered or pedal powered. These are going in both directions in the bike path. Cars obey right left rules such as we follow in the US. In bike lanes however, there are no rules, although more often than not opposing traffic seemed to follow a reversed right left rule. This is a bit confusing for the novice when you are switching back and forth between bike lane traffic and highway traffic, which you have to do when you cross big intersections or make right angle turns. All those morning sit-ups I do paid off while biking (the bike is a bit low for me) and when we hiked (Wei-mou’s normal walking speed is around 4-5 miles per hour, mine is about 3.5) around in the Yuan dynasty park that parallels a water canal. This park is long and narrow, punctuated by major thoroughfares.
In one section, nearly everyone’s age was pre-cultural revolution, and there were dogs. I have seen small dogs only. In another section, that was newer, there were young persons and many small children. Two features of this section stood out. There were many young men with their families and on their cell phones. So they were there with their families but not really. The other has to do with toddlers wearing pants that are split open in back. No diapers, just squat and park it. The mothers scoop this up in plastic bags just as we do with our dogs when we walk them on our neighbors’ lawns. This practice with toddlers is probably more hygienic than diapers, at least for the toddler. No account of the experience of living here as long as I am going to do is complete without some discussion of the end product of eating. I have already written quite a bit about food and vegetables. Latrines deserve some time too, if not equal time. First, always check to see if the toilet paper is in the stall. If not, get some from the common dispenser outside the stall, or carry a handy pack of wipes with you. Sometimes the external dispenser is empty. Second, check for a western style crapper. I mean one on which you can actually sit. The norm here is the flat on the floor squatter. This takes some skill, learned early with the split pants (see above). It also takes thigh strength, not unlike that needed for skiing, and it takes character. While at the Museum of antiguities we were treated to a “latrine” for an emperor. It had beautiful stone work, and I noted that one wall was only about 3 feet high, topped off with a 6 inch high cylinder, two inches across, in just the right location to provide a grip for stabilization, so important for an aging emperor. All of this was in beautiful stone, carved from a single piece. I have since looked for such a grip in other facilities. Haven’t seen one yet. Fortunately, my hotel room has a western crapper, and ITP has the flat crappers, but the last stall of three is western style. What a relief !!
March 19, part 2, footnotes
For those of you who were appalled at my discussion about crappers in the last installment, I wish to inform you that the term is a technical one that we owe to a Mr. Thomas Crapper. If you doubt this, check out http://www.theplumber.com/crapper.html.
Near the top of this site is a link to the Chinese having invented the flush toilet 2000 years ago. The one to which they refer was not the one I saw at the Museum since that one had no seat and was flat on the floor. If you read carefully the link above, you will find that T. Crapper did not actually invent the flushing crapper, a Mr. Albert Giblin did. But Giblin worked for Crapper and Crapper bought the patent right from Giblin, and manufactured the product. I’m sorry but “excuse me, I must go use the Giblin” just doesn’t sound right.
More about vegetables. I did not mean to leave the impression that brassica and beans account for all the vegetables I am getting. I also get lots of red and green bell peppers, onions, carrots, radishes (daikon; raw, pickled and stir fried), lettuces, boiled or roasted garlic cloves, and seaweed, as well as a variety of fungi. I have probably overlooked something else.
Beijing is now experiencing Spring. Technically, they say it is Spring when there have been 5 consecutive days averaging 10 oC (50 oF) or higher. This has also occurred. Oriental magnolias, forsythia and peach trees are in bloom. Leaf buds are visible everywhere. All of this has happened in the past 3 or 4 days. It makes a difference. The birds, too, know it is Spring. The magpies continue to be raucous but other birds are now much more in evidence as well.
A few days ago, there was no wind and it got so “smoky” here that you could not see half a block away. The next day there were wind gusts of at least 50 miles per hour, the kind that stop you dead in your tracks. But the sky was clear. Today it is starting out very clear and no wind. Time will tell how the afternoon turns out.
We have had the international days of trees, of human rights and today is the international day of water. There have been others that I no longer remember. These get central stage in the news, whereas I am sure no one in Atlanta knows March 23 will be the international day of water. For Northwest China this is critical. China as a whole is a very arid country. Water conservation is essential here. On TV today they showed how women in Northwest China spend 8 hours a day traveling back and forth just to collect water, 1/3 of their lives!!. The government has introduced a technique for collecting scarce rainwater in underground cisterns. For some, this has already freed them from these arduous water treks.
Wood is another problem. A new tax initiative is aimed at disposable chop sticks. A report said that one million cubic meters of wood per year was wasted on disposable chop sticks. That’s a lot of wood (I think it is about 40 billion chop sticks). Think of the length of a football field and then make a cube out of it. By the way, I eat every meal with chop sticks, as does everyone else, mostly plastic washable ones. Speaking of meals, I did forget some other vegetable matter. There are kernel corn, bamboo shoots and lotus roots. I had lotus root today as part of breakfast. I had it earlier at BNU for lunch and it was prepared differently.
Tuesday night, Su Yi (here they would say Yi Su) took me to a Sichuan (Szechuan) “hot pot” restaurant. Su is from Sichuan and says this is the best such restaurant in Beijing. Su was an outstanding graduate student in physics at Georgia Tech, getting his Ph.D. with my colleague, Li You (or You Li over here). When I go to Tsinghua at the end of March, my host there is Mei Zhang (Zhang Mei), another outstanding GT Ph.D. from Li You’s group. Su is already a permanent member of CAS ITP, quite a distinction. The meal at the hot pot was something. There were too many dishes to eat but Su did take the extras home. The pot had two concentric chambers, one of which had a very hot broth, hot thermally and hot spicy. A large cake of compressed spices had been dissolved in the spicy chamber. I enjoyed all of it and noticed that after eating from the hot chamber the Chinese beer tasted sweet.
This is the 60 year anniversary of the end of the war of aggression by Japan. This is a deeply felt and resented part of past history that continues to make Sino-Japanese relations chilly. (This war was also responsible for my grandfather, Dr. Max Joffe, leaving Shanghai 1937 for the US, and giving up his pharmaceutical company there. See http://www.sinepharm.com/HTML/history.asp )* A few very old individuals from various towns still survive and are featured in TV documentaries. Lately this has gotten more play than anti-US rhetoric. In the States, it is not appreciated just how badly the Abu Ghraib atrocities have turned the rest of the world against the US as a hypocritical nation that preaches to everyone else about human rights and then sinks to the depths of depravity by using torture and abuse of human rights if it sees fit. It is too reminiscent of what the Japanese did to the Chinese 65 years ago. However, the TV commentary, that I have previously characterized as anti-US, is really anti-US government, and the distinction is made between the government and the people. In fact, on Dialogue, a TV news talk show in English, a frequent commentator is from the US, Dr. Russell Moses, now teaching at Renmin University in Beijing. While a critic of the Bush administration, he brings balance to the presentations. This week was also the week in which Russian President Putin visited Beijing to have talks with President Hu of China. Their TV statements exhibited a continuing strain although they tried to play up the new initiatives and increased economic and political inter-relations. Putin made a point of stating that this arrangement “was not aimed at any third party”, read “the US.” Chinese commentators feel that Putin has failed to live up to earlier agreements, probably because he has so many multi-national interactions in play. He simply can’t keep all promises to all parties. Instead of extending his stay in Beijing to work out substantive agreements, he went off to a Shaolin temple in central China to witness martial arts demonstrations; he is a black belt in Judo. From the pictures, it is clear that this part of the visit was what he liked most. This is the year of Russia in China, and next year will be the year of China in Russia. All sorts of exchanges will take place, in economics, trade, education, agriculture, energy, science and technology, etc.. Today, trade with Russia is about 10% of China’s trade with the US. They want to double or triple it by 2010.
* When at the site look for SINE. You will note that the historians have emphasized how Max Joffe’s leaving made SINE a national company, rather than anything about the Japanese invasion. It is ironic (Fe-ic, for those in the know) that this is the year of Russia in China, given my heritage with three or more Russian grandparents (we are not sure whether the fourth was grandpa Jakob or great uncle “grandpa” Morris), and a mother who lived in Shanghai for so many years, eventually commuting to college in California. Were it not for the Japanese invasion, I probably would not exist. When at Suzhou University in April I will go into Shanghai and will be shown my grandfather’s old company (and the new version) by a present day representative who has already met brother Tom on several occasions and brother Larry last year.
March 23, part 2
Oh gentle reader, I did not mean to forget to add that I have given two more talks. On Tuesday, I lectured here, CAS ITP, on Einstein. This was the Einstein Centenary talk I did at GT last October. While the turnout did not compare with that (SRO) for my Origins of Life talk, even with the free lunch, those present were very appreciative of the content. On Wednesday, I gave the Rectified Brownian Motion talk at CAS IP ( Chinese Academy of Science, Institute of Physics). This Institute is 50 yards away from ITP (theoretical physics) and the principal researchers are experimentalists, including some biophysicists. Some of their associates are theorists. The host at IP had written a paper in which he referenced my earlier work, but failed to do so when he got to the key results of his paper where results identical to mine were presented as new. I had mentioned this to Li You last fall and Li had made it possible for me to meet the group leader while here. I am happy to report that the oversight appears to be innocent, even if a bit sloppy. The group leader had not written that part of the text, as became clear when I went over the details during my talk. Thus the matter was never directly broached and the talk was well received, especially by the group leader, and a few theory students that work with him. I have a break from giving talks until next Tuesday when I speak at Peking University on Rectified Brownian Motion to an audience of physicists, chemists and mathematicians. For this, my host here, Wei-mou, and I will bicycle over just after rush hour. I have done 6 talks in 3 weeks and have 3 already scheduled for the future.
Spring has brought pollen to Beijing, large quantities of it. I believe the culprit is a variety of cottonwood poplar; cottonwood from the bark and poplar from the catkins. There are no leaves yet, so my evidence is scant. When fully leafed out, these trees provide a lot of shade, and they are everywhere. Catkins are everywhere. They rain on you if there is a breeze. The female tree is responsible, and there is a program to replace 200,000 female trees with males over the next few years. Pollen sufferers are suffering. Fortunately the pollen doesn’t bother me.
Today I spent the morning doing physics. At noon I went for a walk out past the grocery store I have visited. There is a park just across a major highway, and an overpass pedestrian crosswalk to get you there. When I got to the park, it was lovely. I noticed not too far away that many persons were going in and out of a small modern pavilion, too many given its size. I went over and discovered that an escalator would take you down underground into a vast shopping mall. This mall is not unlike an American mall of middle quality. Food, shoes, jewelry, clothes, watches, sporting goods etc. are available. Hundreds of Chinese were there shopping and eating. I went into a bookstore but discovered that in China I am illiterate. Nothing seemed of a quality that I wanted to buy. I went out and back across to my grocery store to restore my chocolate supply. Earlier I had bought dark chocolate by Dove. It was okay but not up to my usual standards. This time I found dark bittersweet chocolate by a Chinese company. When I got back to my hotel and tried it, I discovered that it was distributed by a Chinese company for a Swiss chocolate supplier. It is quite good. Tastes like 60% cocoa butter rather than the 70% that I prefer, but it will do for now. Did you know that cocoa butter comes from the cacao tree (theobroma cacao)?
I feel like I get a better exposure to world news over here than I do in the USA. There are a lot of things the free press in America is not telling us. I have mentioned CCTV’s program Dialogue before. I try to catch it everyday. Yesterday the moderator interviewed a female Dean from Columbia University (I can’t remember her name) about the middle east, on which she is an expert. They discussed Sunnis versus Shiites, how the middle east countries are divided into Sunni and Shiite camps, whether there will be civil war in Iraq, who does or doesn’t want it, whether the US will take military action in Iran, and many other aspects of a tense complex region. The Bush administration took a lot of hits from both participants. The Bush administration promotion of democracy followed by the victory of Hamas and the dilemma this poses was discussed. Of course, democracy is good when you get the outcome you want. Sometimes it is preferred that there is no democracy like in Saudi Arabia. Over here the US does not look good given this dichotomy. Don’t forget what the US did in Chile (1973) when that election didn’t turn out the way the US government wanted.
In the early morning I have been watching Last Witness, an account from octogenarian survivors of the war of aggression by Japan from 1934 through 1945. This is a heart breaking series that has been going on as part of the 60 year anniversary of the defeat of Japan. 270,000 Chinese died from the bubonic plague that was introduced by the Japanese as part of their germ warfare program (they also used nerve gas and mass exterminations in villages). No one denies this including the Japanese, although to date they have refused to pay reparations. The 1946-1948 war crimes trials show that it pays to be the victor. Several Japanese military figures, including Tojo, were convicted and executed. There were no war crimes trials for the dropping of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki A-bombs, or for the Allied forces extensive incendiary bombing of Japan, together accounting for far more than 270,000 civilian deaths. The deaths of Chinese during the war with Japan are put at about 20,000,000.
Let’s now turn to the lighter side, evening sports programs. There are five major sports on TV. Of course there is football, i.e. soccer. Then there is basketball. The CBA is like our NBA and the hometown team here is the Beijing Ducks, no joke (I already tried this on you back on March 19). The three sports I like to watch are ping pong, badminton and snooker. Not all the winners in ping pong and badminton are Chinese. There are other Asians and a few Europeans. If you have never watched snooker you are missing something. I now no longer understand why all the great snooker players in Britian have come to the US to play nine ball, unless it is the money. Snooker is a far better game.
Yesterday, two graduate students, Ming Li and Xin Li, took me to the Ming Tombs and to the Badaling portion of the Great Wall, an all day excursion. Ming Li is a biophysics student who just passed his Ph.D. defense on Friday and told me it was very unusual for students to get out this way since they are expected to work 24/7. The trip was taken care of by the Institute that provided a car, driver and expense money for tickets and meals for the day. The driver arrived at 8:30 am in a nearly new black Audi with leather upholstery and took us up the Badaling (pronounced Ba da ling) expressway (toll road) to the Ming tombs. This takes about an hour by car and is a distance of about 50 km. I was surprised to see signs in English for Filling Station, an expression for gas station (Sinopec seems to be the national brand) that I recall from the 50’s, Carriage lanes for normal driving lanes, and Overtaking lane for what would be our fast lane.
The Ming dynasty, 1368 until 1644, was a dynasty that produced high level porcelains (everyone has seen the typical blue and white porcelain copies depicting dragons) and gold, silver, bronze, silk, satin, and calligraphic arts. Ming in Chinese is made of two radicals side by side for sun and moon and means brilliance. Ming Li is certainly brilliant but claims no connection to the Ming dynasty (some Chinese families have ancestry records going back as much as 1000 years!). While many of the beautiful artifacts from the two Ming tombs unearthed for the first time in the 1950’s have been taken to other museums, a few remain at the tombs, two of which are open to the public (there are 13 altogether). We descended into the Ding Ling tomb quite some depth. The Ming vases still there at the graves are colossal in size and exquisite in workmanship.
From this site we drove a short distance to the divine highway, the original entrance to the tombs, now separated from them by peach tree orchards. This is now a walkway for tourists and is lined with stone animals, 6 to 10 feet tall, including horses, elephants and qilins (pronounced chelin), mythical hooved beasts with scales and a lion’s head. There are also stone armed soldiers as you near the tomb’s end of the road and finally stone dignitaries about 12 feet tall. This site was overrun with American, British and German tourists. Everywhere else I saw very few foreigners (there were some on the Wall but heavily diluted by Chinese). I was told that most of the Chinese tourists were from the South where they are generally wealthier.
We next went to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Here the driver left us and returned to the Institute to perform other duties for visiting dignitaries. I was a bit concerned about how we were getting back; Beijing was now 78 km away. This part of the Wall has been greatly restored, covers a considerable distance and change in elevation and can be negotiated as a big loop. I made it all the way, but it was taxing, and my two young guides said I had earned the merit of hero for the accomplishment. It was also considerably crowded going up. Most did not loop around to come down because it is generally known that this down section is even harder than going up. Going up there are hundreds of steps. Much of coming down is simply a stone slope, at a rather steep angle in spots. This is hard on the ankles and thighs. From the top you see portions of the Wall that have not been restored, and you get a great view of the mountains in which all of this is situated. I must say I do not understand the need for the Wall in this locale given the difficulty of the terrain for any invader. When we got down, we were in the middle of an amusement park, on the side of a mountain. There were 3 or 4 pits, nice ones, in which there were numerous sun bears. Bowls of apple slices were on the wall of the pits so you could toss them to the bears and amuse both them and you. As a foreigner, I was besieged by persons trying to sell me everything from curios, hats, water, T-shirts of ex-Chairman Mao to real estate. My two guides beat them off with sharp Chinese remarks. They all seemed to think I was American but I persisted with nicht verstand.
How did we get back to Beijing? At about 2:30 we made our way back up the mountain road to where we had begun the Great Wall climb, some few km away from where we came down. We passed this point and went a few km further to the train station, a decrepit building alongside some tracks. Eventually the train came and we got on. It was old, dirty and very crowded. I was the only non-Chinese on it. I estimate the 6 cars each held 140 passengers. Two and half hours latter we were a block from the Institute in Beijing. Nevertheless, this was well worth experiencing. It cost each of the three of us 3.5 yuan, about 44 cents US. Chinese are very friendly so that I quickly felt at ease. The view from the train is different than that from the highway, as in every country. At first we descended the mountains very slowly and got a stunning view of the Juyongguan portion of the Great Wall. This portion is very long and parallels the train tracks. Eventually we got down to flat ground and picked up speed, except for the 6-7 stops we had to make; this is a commuter train. In the outskirts of Beijing the train goes through agriculture developments and heavy industry sites. I have never seen so many raw steel products stacked alongside the tracks for many km’s, steel wire bails by the hundreds, a meter across and two meters long, rebar bundles 5 meters long, rolls of steel sheet metal, etc.. One last comment about the train ride seems appropriate. We waited for the train for about 30 minutes and rode for 150 more. Let’s just say that for such lengths of time I enquire about bathroom availability just to be on the safe side in case I need to relieve my bladder (older men…). I was relieved to learn that there was a WC on the car. Indeed, two hours into the trip the urge moved me and I availed myself of the facilities. This amounted to a small room, crowded with soiled mops, with a hole in the floor (remember the flat on the floor squatters?). It was a moving train. For my purposes, good aim was sufficient, but I pondered what would be required physically if one had a more serious need.
A note on geo-politics seems in order. The situation between the Japanese and Chinese, and Koreans for that matter, seems to have to do with the movie actor like, flamboyant, gray haired Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. He likes to pay his respects at the Yasukuni Shrine. While this shrine is dedicated to the 2.5 million Japanese that died in wars from 1853 until 1945, the Chinese and Koreans see this as a slap in the face because those wars were mostly against China and Korea. Moreover the “war criminals” of WWII are enshrined there as well and this is especially galling to the Chinese. Koizumi has made a point of being insensitive to these feelings.
A note on food is also in order. Last night I had cuttlefish and broccoli, with mushrooms and carrots, all in one tastefully arranged dish. The cuttlefish is simply what we call squid. The whole dish was, well let’s say, slippery. As I struggled with my chopsticks to get morsel from plate to mouth, pieces of whatever would sometimes shoot off into space. This must have been something to see. Two waitresses hurried over with knife and fork. I was not ashamed to use them. The Great Wall climb had left me ravenous.
Food for thought first. I characterized cuttlefish as our squid in the March 27 installment. The next night I let my waitress talk me into sleeve fish for dinner. She assured me there would be no bones. What I got was a nice dish of calamari, i.e. sliced squid. You see, once you have squeezed out the squid’s guts you have sleeve fish. Just slice it into rings, cook and serve. It is really quite nice. That means the cuttlefish was cuttlefish. By the way, cilantro and ginger are frequent ingredients in many dishes.
Yesterday was spent at Peking University at the Center for Mathematical Biology where I gave a talk. At 9:30 am, I bicycled over amid heavy automobile, truck and bus traffic. The bike was faster than a car would have been and it is a distance of 1 to 2 km. I talked with faculty for awhile and then had lunch. I said that since I was speaking at 1 pm, I did not want to eat too much. Well, after seven dishes had arrived, each one better than the last, I dug in. There were just three of us. The leftovers were taken home by one host. The talk went well and questions lasted 25 minutes. There were a few Brownian ratchets adherents present, whom I usually disparage during my talk, and this lead to lively discussion. They actually finally got the point about how rectified Brownian motion is not Brownian ratchets. I am always amused by how much many scientists are controlled by the “accepted dogma.”
My host here, Wei-mou, who had lead me over by bike, had already come back to the Institute. A student of PU lead me back so that I would get here safely. This occurred at 3 pm and traffic was minor. I could have done it alone. Now that I have adjusted to this life style, I must confront the fact that in just two days I will move to Tsinghua University.
Long March, …gone quickly. Tomorrow I will move to Tsinghua University’s Institute for Advanced Study. Four weeks of this China trip will have expired. I am now quite used to my routine here but must suddenly pick up and move on. Everybody tells me that the accommodations at Tsinghua will be an improvement and that the atmosphere there is much more like a University than here. So I look forward to the move, but am also saddened to be leaving CAS ITP, which has been very interesting and where I now have new friends. Mao’s Long March ended 71 years ago.
For lunch I decided to go to Caprio’s Pixxa and Steak (there is no typo, at least not on my part (in Chinese x almost has our z sound and their z doesn’t)). I have twice gone there for dinner and have had pixxa, that was as good as most that you can get in the states (except from Mellow Mushroom, that has no peers). It was almost my only exposure to cheese in China. Today, the one manageress at Caprio’s who speaks as much English as I do Chinese came over with the waitress, and rather than let me pick from the menu, sold me on a steak. This too was very good, came with fries, ubiquitous broccoli, and what appeared to be a stewed tomato. The tomato appeared to have had the upper half scooped out and then refilled with something of about the same color. When I tried it, it turned out to be filled with kernels of corn and hot sauce. Unusual but OK.
Spring continues and today is a bit warmer than it has been recently. As I walked back from lunch I again observed the phenomenon of women, young and old, but mostly young, walking arm in arm. Not hand in hand, but one’s arm hooked through the other’s arm. I must have seen half a dozen of these in a few blocks, including one threesome. The men don’t do this. I also again witnessed the young couple near ITP, in the oriental magnolia grove, in a perpetual bear hug. I have seen them before on several lunch breaks and they were at it before the blooms came out. As I have indicated before, Chinese generally appear happy and friendly, and when in groups there tends to be laughter. Those whom I have met here also work hard and long as well.
A reader of the Chronicles has asked me to comment on the behavior of students in lectures. They are deferential and silent. There is applause after the introduction, after the talk and after the question period. They do not say a word during the talk but are uninhibited during the question period. Half way through my Origins talk, I ask the audience to respond to several questions. The students didn’t say a word. At BNU the only response I got was from the visiting Harvard physicist (Michael Cross). Even with urging they did not speak up during the talk. I cannot address their behavior in the classroom since I haven’t witnessed that yet. Maybe I will at Tsinghua.
In some context, Ming Li (of the Great wall trek) said to me that I probably see all Chinese as looking alike. I said that I distinguish a large variety of Chinese physiognomies. After being here and having watched TV (there are Japanese thrillers with Chinese sub-titles), I no longer believe I can easily tell apart Chinese, Koreans and Japanese, as I once thought. The overlap in appearance is too great, maybe because of all those wars. But the variety of each is also great. These thoughts bring me to ponder modern human lineage. Genetic evidence suggests that there was a serious population bottle-neck about 75 thousand years ago, at which time fewer than 10,000 humans are thought to have survived. As a species, we were nearly extinct. This time coincides with the last super-volcano eruption, the Toba eruption in Sumatra, 74 thousand years ago. After that, the most recent radiation of mankind out of Africa is believed to have occurred. This is also supported by genetic evidence. In those 74,000 years all 6,000,000,000+ of us have come into being, in about 3,700 generations. So except for a few isolated cases, such as maybe the Australian aborigines, and maybe the deep Congo pigmies, we are all very very closely related. Those physiognomic differences mentioned above obscure our truly identical inner natures. We are, in this relatively long term sense, one of: African, Afro-Aryan, Afro-Asian, Afro-Caucasian, etc.. Even if the remnant population 74,000 years ago was in the middle-east and not in Africa, as some have argued, they emerged from Africa earlier. What divides us is not our innate natures but racism, nationalism, religion and economic status.
You have probably had enough seriousness. In the long term vein explained above, I have sometimes quipped to family and friends that I am Afro-American, intending no offense to those who mean this term in the sense now in common usage. I have also joked that when asked my age, I tack on nine months to my birthday age, not intending anything along the lines of pro-lifers in the doing. It turns out that in China, it is the custom to consider one’s age from date of conception, not date of birth. How they know the correct date I haven’t learned (at least not when I wrote this; since then I have learned that they simply add one year). In my case in works out to have been New Years Eve, 1942-1943, which is probably correct.
Feedback (no pun intended) about cuttlefish has come in. There are squid, octopus, cuttlefish and nautilus. None is a fish. Each is a mollusc, i.e. a very fancy clam. I believe the phosphagen octopine is responsible for their differences from clams, but that is another story. For a nice picture of a cute cuttlefish, go to http://www.tonmo.com/articles/basiccuttlefish.php
I promise not to eat any more of them.
In three days a lot has happened. On Friday, a little after noon, Zhang Mei came to the Institute to take me to Tsinghua University’s Center for Advanced Study. It took a taxi just a few minutes to go the short distance between the two locations. I checked into the hotel and then went over to the Center to hook up my PC so I could send Lynn my new phone numbers. At first we could not hook up. Eventually, the IT expert was able to create a new connection for me, albeit a very slow one. Unlike the Institute, where I was hooked up by merely inserting the cable, Tsinghua has several firewalls that make hook up quite difficult. I did send the phone numbers but had other difficulties with e-mail. Later that evening I asked at the hotel for a hook up and had one within minutes that works like it should. So I will do my e-mail from the hotel, once or twice a day.
Tsinghua has maybe 30,000 students on a large campus with a park-like quality. Across from the hotel is a small lake dominated by an island, with a hill, atop which sits a Qing dynasty style pavilion. At the base there is a large patio with a roof and a stone floor. Early Sunday morning, music could be heard (from a boombox) and about a dozen couples were waltzing, and doing other slow ballroom dances. This can be observed from my hotel room. With the many willows leafing out and the peach trees blooming, everything has a fresh look to it. Traffic on campus is dominated by bicycles, but each of the surrounding streets is busy with honking cars and trucks and buses.
Saturday morning at 8 am Zhang Mei and Zhang Jian (a first year graduate student) met me and we took a taxi to Beijing Botanic Gardens west of the Summer Palace (Tsinghua is East of SP). As I have previously noted Spring is in full swing and many trees and shrubs are blooming. Notable are forsythia, cherry, peach and oriental magnolia. Sounds like Atlanta this time of year. Moreover, the Tsinghua “mascot”, rather than being an animal, is a tree, the redbud, and the school color is the color of a redbud flower bud, purple. When we arrived at the gardens, it was overcast and cold. Many flower buds were ready to, but not yet, open. We visited the conservatory, a large modernistic building filled with mostly tropical and some desert plants. Hundreds of blooming orchids were on display throughout as well as many other wonderful plants. It took some time to see the entire conservatory. When we came out the temperature had risen and the sun was out. By the time we left, many blossoms not open earlier were now fully open. One section of the gardens was devoted to many thousands of tulips that now only poked their leaves a few inches above the ground. When in bloom, they must be spectacular, especially the section with the black tulips. There are many sections to the gardens and a significant Buddhist temple. On the way to the temple there was an oriental magnolia fifty feet tall in full bloom. We visited everything and had lunch in the gardens. Of the 5-10 thousand persons there, perhaps 10% were from IBM (China) on an outing. Very few of the visitors to the gardens were not Chinese. By 3 pm it was time to go back as traffic became more difficult. I slept well that night.
At 8:30 am Sunday morning Mei and Jian met me at the hotel with bicycles for each of us. I am using You Li’s bike. Since it needed air, we stopped at a bicycle station and used a hand pump for the fee of 2.5 cents US. We pedaled to the Summer Palace in about 20 minutes. This required the usual jousting with cars and buses, lots of buses, but it wasn’t very far. The summer palace is a vast area with many types of offerings and we got comprehensive tickets that eventually took us nearly everywhere. There is a large man made lake (3 meters deep) and the earth from the lake was converted into a tall hill on which the summer palace sits. The lake is large enough that the morning mist nearly made the far shore invisible. For example, we could not locate the 17 arch bridge until much later. We arrived just in time for the morning music performance on Cixi’s stage (see photos). There are numerous small museums with splendid bronzes, porcelains, calligraphies, etc. Outside there are also many large bronzes of dragons, phoenixes, qilins, deer, ox and various types of pots and incense burners. In one picture you will see an old pine tree and a large bronze pot. This pot was filled with water in case of fire because each of the Summer Palace structures is made mainly of wood. In winter they kept the water from freezing by building fires around or under the pots. For lunch we elected the 11 course meal for three ($25 US) in a secluded part of the palace. In spite of the presence of thousands of visitors, this restaurant was mostly empty. Most Chinese tourists bring their own food or frequent the fast food pavilions (our restaurant would have been too pricey). We even climbed high into another Buddhist temple. We then walked around a small part of the lake’s perimeter to the 17 arch bridge and took a dragon boat ride back to the main palace area across the lake. After 8 hours of exploring we biked back.
The summer palace was for the dowager empress Cixi. She was for awhile in complete control, even over the emperor. In fact, for a time he was in house arrest in unmarked quarters at the summer palace. There is a photo of Cixi with her three attendants and her husband’s favorite two concubines. The concubines were next to Cixi and the attendants were further removed. One of the concubines was the emperor’s favorite and fell into disfavor with Cixi who had her thrown down a well to her death. I saw this well earlier in my trip, at the Forbidden City. Cixi, on the other hand, had her favorite eunuch living close by her quarters at the palace, closer than where the emperor was confined. This was all at the end of the Qing dynasty and rather baroque. Cixi’s stage, where we heard Chinese music performed on traditional instruments, was solely for the empress. No one else, other than her immediate associates, was allowed to hear the concerts. The music had a kind of droning sleepy quality that I would not have missed had I known I was missing it back then. Brother Tom, an accomplished percussionist, would have loved hearing all the tuned bells and tuned stone gongs, perceptible in the photos.
Now that I have been to several tourist spots and also simply around town I have seen tens of thousands of persons. Women may be interested to know that Chinese women mostly wear pants, the young are almost exclusively in jeans and the older wear slacks made from other materials. Less than 1% are seen in skirts or dresses. This may have to do with the fact that so many of them use bicycles for transportation (however at Tsinghua I have seen a woman in a skirt suit and high heels ride her bike). Designer jeans are very popular. Younger adult men often wear suits or black leather jackets. Unless I am near a school, I see lots of children up to about 5 years of age but relatively few older ones and very few teenagers. Very few teenagers were at any of the tourist spots. Because it is so crowded in spots, Chinese tourists think nothing of pushing you out of the way so they can see something, or of stepping right in front of you while you read a legend at an exhibit. However, whenever a photograph is being taken, and this usually requires that pedestrian traffic along a path completely halt, it is expected that everyone will wait. I am sure that many of the photographers who expected me to wait for them to shot would also run over me if they were in their cars. Since I was last at the Summer Palace in 1992, they have built many new restroom facilities, that are kept very clean. This is true at many tourist sites and the Chinese are happy about it too. At the Summer Palace there are quite a few very new buildings that house part of the treasures in climate controlled rooms. This makes it possible to see artifacts that were not previously displayed there.
Peanuts!! I forgot to include earlier that at nearly every meal you get peanuts, usually as an ingredient in a dish. They are roasted, salted, sugared or boiled. They are often part of a green (think brassica) vegetable dish or part of a dinner appetizer, such as boiled peanuts and chopped celery bits. You are getting good with the chopsticks when you can pick up three or more peanuts at one time. I can’t.
You may have noted that I have visited several Buddhist temples. The adopted religion of the Qing dynasty, and of some others before it, was Buddhism. You will sometimes read that Buddhism is really a philosophy rather than a religion. In China it is definitely a religion with a God. In my discussions with Chinese about this dichotomy, they find the suggestion that Buddhism is not a religion laughable. That Gotama did not invoke a God is irrelevant. In rural areas there are many practicing Buddhists but apparently not so many amongst the educated urbanites. The various temples are preserved by the government as historical sites but are still in use as functioning temples as well. Thus, on every visit to one, one will also see a few monks. No photographs of the Buddha statues, arhats or artifacts are permitted. At the Beijing Botanic Garden, the reclining bronze Buddha weighed 54 tons. Some visitors come to perform religious rites before the Buddha idols, while simple tourists watch. One of my two hosts at Peking University, Ouyang Qi, said he had among his students 2 Buddhists, 2 Christians, 1 Moslem and 5 communists (and that should probably be Communists, with Mao in place of Buddha).
Click to see photos.
For more about empress Cixi see http://www.royalty.nu/Asia/China/TzuHsi.html
Yesterday I gave another talk on rectified Brownian motion. The audience was rather mixed and many had a poor grasp of English, especially technical, biochemical English. Even though I slowed down and explained things in detail, I sensed that it did not go so well. Nevertheless, the dinner that followed went very well. Chinese food and Chinese beer always go well.
Two days ago it was lovely springtime in Beijing. Yesterday the Siberian winds came and it hovered around the low 40’s (F) all day with a worse wind chill. Today it really rained, except when it hailed. This is in spite of weather predictions that today would again be warm springtime. Weather prediction in Beijing is dicey at best. The rain has stopped but it looks like more could occur at any moment.
I have taken a few pictures of the campus with a loaned digital camera. I hope to have these up in a few days. I have shots of the lakeside dance “hall”, a flowering tree, and a magpie on a big rock. The magpie may be hard to see since I wasn’t close enough. They are a favorite bird in Beijing and a symbol of happiness. The make large nests of sticks that are conspicuous in the trees. Magpies are almost as large as big crows, but their nests are disproportionately large, much like an osprey’s nest compared to the size of an osprey. One sees them flying around carrying large sticks to build their nests which they seem to use over again each year. Thus the nest size grows with the years.
I have also photographed some sculptures on the campus. You will see a large sculpture of a protein structure with alpha helices and beta sheets, a three dimensional projection of a four dimensional cube, that is located in the atrium of the building that houses the Center for Advanced Study, and a cubist man. There are many sculptures on campus, as well as gardens, lakes and wooded paths. Tsinghua’s grounds were part of the extended gardens belonging to the Summer Palace before the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the date Tsinghua was founded. The Summer Palace gardens extended to the west to include what is now the Beijing Botanic Gardens, and to the east to include what is now part of Tsinghua University. A high ranking official for the Empress Cixi did not want to see the gardens here destroyed with the fall of the Qing dynasty and instead established the University so that they would be protected. This has worked to a large extent and explains the park like nature of the campus.
I have been bicycling my way around campus, like most everyone else. I eat meals at the student center, where dinner has cost me as much as 75 cents US. These are not 11 course meals, just a meat dish and a vegetable dish. I buy the China Daily, daily, for one yuan (12.5 cents US). It’s not the Times, but it serves the purpose, and it has a crossword puzzle, in English. The yuan has been gaining against the US dollar. When I arrived in China the exchange rate was 8.05 yuan per dollar. It is now 8.02 yuan per dollar. I also manage to obtain a daily supply of Sino-Swiss dark chocolate, the essential vitamin for harmony and peace.
The paragraphs above were written just before noon. It did indeed rain again during mid-afternoon. The humidity continues to be high and the wind chill is below 40 F. Since I was on my own today, I worked until about 5 and then biked back to the hotel to drop off my PC. After checking out the TV news, I decided to return to the fine restaurant we attended last night after my talk. I ordered the Peking duck since so far I haven’t had it. Green tea was served with three appetizers, peanuts, beans with some pickled green vegetable matter and mildly hot pepper slices. These are fun to eat with chopsticks while you wait for the order. I also ordered what I thought was a tossed salad, US style, based on a photograph in the menu. It came next and was made of green lettuce, red cabbage and black seaweed. The dressing had hot red peppers in it. I think this is my first salad experience with a hot dressing. The seaweed helped brunt the impact of the peppers. Then the Peking duck came. This is served with what I think are rice based pancakes about 4-5 inches in diameter, sharply flavored onion slices, cucumber slices and plum sauce. One makes little packages of ingredients wrapped by the pancakes, doing all manipulations with chopsticks. I did rather well and probably made 15 of these little goodies. The duck meat was breast meat and was very good. As I was nearing the end of the meat they brought me duck neck soup. I hadn’t expected it but had a little. One uses their characteristic little ladle like plastic or porcelain spoon for this. There was also a bowl of rice, much of which I ate. This all took about 45 minutes to do and the slow process of making the packages of duck meat is good for the digestion. What did this one person feast cost? About $6.25 US.
Click to see photos.
On Saturday, April 8, Zhang Mei, her husband and her 5 year old son took me to a very nice farewell lunch just outside the campus. We went by bike and ate in a modernistic restaurant in a not quite finished new skyscraper. I was impressed to find that in addition to the car parking facilities under the building there were also ample bike parking facilities at street level, and nice ones at that. We ate what turned out to be my last meal for about 20 hours. After returning to the Center for Advanced Study, Mei transferred some more photos onto my computer, but from there I could not e-mail them to the US yet since I had checked out of the hotel where I had the good e-mail connection. My train for Suzhou wasn’t leaving until 7:30 pm.
At about 5 Mei and I took a cab to the Beijing train station, an immense edifice downtown. This took awhile by cab because of traffic. Mei knew how to get me to the front of the line for the Suzhou train by paying the right person 5 yuan (52.5 cents). I got on and found my sleeper compartment, #19 of car 2. The entire train, 14 cars, is comprised of sleeping compartments. These are 6.5 by 6 by 8 feet in size and house four persons. I found myself with a Suzhou surgeon who spoke good English and basically took care of me during the trip, and two Chinamen, one of whom spoke a few words of English. We had assigned bunks, each about 2 feet wide. You had to bring your own food and drink. The WC’s were at the ends of the cars, one, a flat on the floor squatter and the other western style. There were also two washrooms, each with three sinks. A narrow passageway provided access to these facilities. There was a TV for each passenger, with 8 channels in Chinese. However, the most common show on every channel was a German version of Candid Camera dubbed in Chinese. Sight gags work in any language and I found myself laughing out loud. At eleven the lights go out so that everyone must sleep. One companion snored, and another, like me, made a few journeys down the hall during the night. I actually got some sleep, but no food or drink. The AC in the compartment wasn’t set right and no one else seemed to care but it got to 85 F during the night and I was parched. Finally I went down the hall at 3 am and found the hot water spigot, inverted my head under it and turned it on. By then the water wasn’t boiling anymore and I got a drink, albeit a rather warm one. When we arrived in Suzhou 11 hours later, Shiqun Zhu was there to meet me and take me to the Suzhou University guest house. We recognized each other immediately even though he had been a graduate student at GT during the mid 80’s. They gave me a temporary room to shower in, it was just 7 am and not really check in time at a full guest house. Then we had breakfast; food and drink at last.
Shiqun had his student Wu Dan (Chinese name order) spend the day with me showing me the gardens and temples of Suzhou. It is said: paradise in heaven, Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth. One gets the point rather quickly. There are canals and myriads of flowering plants. Streets are tree lined with tree canopies that cross the entire 4 lane street. It is really gorgeous. I knew Wu Dan would be my guide from an e-mailed itinerary. What I didn’t know was that she was a very pretty and charming 27 year old woman, who as a student of Dr. Zhu considered herself to be my intellectual grand-daughter and treated me as if I were her grandfather. We went to 4 gardens/Buddhist temples, each more splendid than the last. She had a digital camera so there will be photos. During the day Wu Dan and I became good friends. The day ended with a banquet that included several University dignitaries.
On Monday, another student, Xiang Hao, took me to another private gardens. It was huge and beautiful. It had rained during the night so everything was wet and fresh. It is hard to imagine how these acres of gardens were built about 400 years ago except that hundreds of men must have labored for years. Gigantic rocks were used to construct hills and vast areas were dug out for lakes and canals. Fish and turtles thrive and here there were many pairs of Mandarin ducks. The so called house of the rich person who built these gardens is a series of separate, usually one room, buildings in different parts of the gardens dedicated to the purpose of the building. For example the study was just that but in a separate open air building in a quite, contemplative part of the garden near a canal and a bamboo grove. The eating area was elsewhere, as were the sleeping quarters. Each “room” was outfitted with hanging calligraphies, porcelains, bronzes and beautiful carved furniture. Overall it was magnificent, if you didn’t think too much about how it was built, i.e. the laborers. The communist government has preserved these wonderful places as national treasures and tourist sites without any anti-capitalist propaganda.
Today, my host, Shiqun Zhu, Dean of Graduate Studies at Suzhou University, had his driver and a University car come for me to go to Shanghai where Shiqun and I were given a tour of the new quarters for SINE pharmaceutical company that was founded in 1924 by my grandfather Max Joffe. I learned several new things that brother Tom hadn’t told me from his many previous visits. Max first had his own company in 1916, also called SINE (pronounced sy nay) and meaning “credit and friendship”, the motto still for the company ( they add on “and good medicine”. 1916 sounds wrong to me since I always thought my mother (and her brother) and grandparents escaped the Russian revolution in 1916-1917. Max is also said to have been German (he may have had to have a German passport to get out of Russia and into China, or maybe in those days it was better for them to say German rather than Russian). He “gave up his shares in the company in 1937.” This is legalese for “don’t try to make a claim on the company.” It isn’t quite how or why he left. Moreover, for their 80 anniversary in 2004 they had Tom give a talk. He is referred to as the President of Harvard Medical School. That isn’t quite right either. We were also given directions to the original facility in old Shanghai (the new facility is in Pudong). Pudong is very modern with much new construction just completed and in progress. It gives you the same sensation as you get in Beijing, but in a much nicer setting. The building architecture is stunning and varied. The old facility took some doing to get to. The driver parked and a man came out to tell us to move. Shiqun said I was the founder’s grandson and we were left alone to look around. Shiqun thinks the building will be preserved as a historical building. SINE is the second largest earner in Shanghai business.
Tomorrow I leave e-mail access for awhile. I go to Wuxi to lecture and then to Hangzhou to lecture. In each place I will also sight-see. I wont get back here until Saturday. I also get another trip to Shanghai for sight-seeing and shopping before I leave for home on Tuesday.
Click to see photos.
Tomorrow I leave e-mail access for awhile. I go to Wuxi to lecture and then to Hangzhou to lecture. In each place I will also sight-see. I wont get back here until Saturday. I also get another trip to Shanghai for sight-seeing and shopping before I leave for home on Tuesday.
Yesterday Wu Dan took me to Wuxi, her birth town, so I could see some sights and give a talk at South Yangtze University. It is about an hour’s drive away from Suzhou and transportation was by car and driver provided to me by Suzhou University through the generosity of the graduate Dean, Shiqun Zhu. We first saw lake Tai in bitter cold and sporadic rain. Nevertheless it is a beautiful place with many gardens, trails and pavilions. We then went to the University for lunch. This turned out to be a 20+ course feast for at most 9 persons, including our driver. Wu Dan said that we must treat him as part of the family since he is providing us with a service all day, even though she had never met him before. This is characteristic of Chinese generosity. The talk was given to mostly undergraduates in a 40 minute time slot. This posed many obstacles for me and I think the outcome did not include the transfer of much information. I did say hello to them in Chinese, which caused a mixture of laughter and applause. Then I said my name is Hu Li, and got the same response but only after my local host, Dr. Wang, properly told the audience what I had said. Apparently, I say Hu Li too slowly; it should be HuLi, according to Wu Dan. After she told me this, she was very apologetic for criticizing me since this is simply not done by students with respected professors. However, as I have mentioned she thinks of me as her (intellectual) grandpa and tells me this behavior is OK between family members. If she were another real grand-daughter, I couldn’t be more delighted.
Next we were supposed to go shopping in Wuxi but it was so cold and rainy we chose to come back to Suzhou where Wu Dan, Xiang Hao, the driver and I went out for pizza. We ended up at Pizza Hut, to my surprise, and with some dismay that I kept to myself. However, no Pizza Hut in the US has a choice with crab, fish and wasabi mayonnaise. I ended up eating more than my share. I then returned to the student offices where photos from previous days were downloaded to my PC. I will edit these and put some on fefox.com.
Today, Wu Dan, Xiang Hao and the driver met me for an early breakfast and then the driver took us to the Suzhou bus station where Xiang Hao and I took a bus to Hangzhou. Hao and I will stay in Hangzhou until Saturday, coming back Saturday afternoon. When we arrived, we were met by a representative, Dr. Xu, of Zhejiang University, considered the number 3 university in China, behind Tsinghua and Peking in that order. We were treated to a lunch that rates as perhaps the best meal I have had during my entire trip. The mountain potato slices in an orange juice syrup was especially nice, whatever a mountain potato turns out to be. The fish was very good too. We then rested during which time I discovered the internet connection in my hotel room. Just plug in and go. At 3 we were asked to go over to the university and give the talk. This went well, especially the Chinese hello and the my name is HuLi, said properly fast. (By the way, HuLi jing means brilliant fox and has come to be used for prostitute. One must be careful about what one says.) After another short rest we went to the banquet hosted by the Physics Chairperson and Dr. Xu. This was another excellent meal. I was convinced to try their traditional clear liquor (104 proof) that is used for toasting. I kept up with all of them and was able to walk out under my own steam. If you know that I am almost a teetotaler, you would be impressed with the quantity of liquor, Chinese beer and Chinese wine I consumed. I write this now because I may not remember any of this tomorrow morning.
A few words about these banquets to which I have been treated. I am told that the more dishes served the more respect is being shown. That apparently accounts for these many course meals. Everyone uses chopsticks where suitable (i.e. not for soup). Every big meal is served on a “lazy susan” rotary table in the center of a circular table around which we all sit. When you want something simply rotate the lazy susan to the right position. Take from the dish what you want with your chopsticks. At some point I asked myself whether the experts simply did not insert their chopsticks into their mouths, just the food. I watched and found that like me everything was in the mouth including the chopsticks. No one cares that this practice is a little less the ideal from a disease viewpoint. The same chopsticks that go in your mouth as you eat go into the next dish when it is served. Fish dishes contain whole fish that are often nibbled at by chopsticks from all quarters. Some belching occurs, but not nearly as much as during my visit in 1992. Holding a small bowl close to one’s mouth and shoveling in the contents with chopsticks is a common scene.
The hotel in Hangzhou, the Lingfeng Guest House of Zhejiang University is a 3 star hotel. What a difference the extra star makes. Even my wife Lynn would stay here. At first I was reluctant to leave Suzhou for Hangzhou for three days but it is easier now with a hair dryer, a toilet that really works, internet connection and room in which to move around. Nevertheless, I am anxious to return to Suzhou and happy that tomorrow’s weather forecast for Hangzhou is dry and warmer.
Click to see photos.
Dr. Xu came for Hao and me at 8 am. We were to go to West Lake, the prized attraction of Hangzhou along with its Leifeng Tower. He said it was close by and that we could walk. It was about 2 km away as it turned out and once there walking is the only recourse. I’ll say it now, we walked until 5 pm. I think we covered 15 miles all told.
The lake is large and surrounded in its entirety by beautiful park. There are numerous walkways, pavilions, museums and the possibility of boat rides to the central island that itself contains a lake. Many fish thrive in the lake and we watched at one point while a heron tried to down a fish a bit too large. Leifeng tower has one of many Hangzhou love stories associated with it. It was actually almost completely demolished by time and has completely been rebuilt recently. Now there are escalators and elevators that get you to the top for a wonderful view of the entire lake and part of Hangzhou. While strolling we ran into troops of 3 years olds, troops of 5 year olds, troops of 10 year olds, etc. The little kids are really cute. They fall into lines with one holding the hem of the jacket of the one in front, producing long trains of kids. When they saw me there were choruses of “hello” and “welcome to Hangzhou” in good English, even from the three year olds. Four teenage girls stopped me for what I thought was a request to take their picture for them. Instead each had a camera and they took turns taking pictures with the foreigner. My Chinese hosts were very amused.
The long walk was followed by a very nice dinner with Dr. Xu’s family and students at the Zhejiang conference center. I was agreeable to drinking some Moutai (82 proof) for toasting. The meal was excellent and Xu’s wife and 8 year old son are very nice. Dr. Xu was a very gracious host.
A few topics deserve attention at this point, Aside from more food stories, such as trying pig’s feet, chicken feet and lily bulbs (lily bulbs are really delicious), I think enough has been said about food. I finally reached the point where the quantity of food being served was offending me and there really was no polite way to insist on fewer dishes. Smoking too is finally starting to bug me. Today at lunch, Xiang Hao and I ate in a no smoking restaurant, western style. After finishing their meals a number of patrons lit up and no one said a word. Going to last night’s banquet we were entering an elevator with a big no smoking sign on it. We were preceded by two men who simply cupped their cigarettes is their palms as if no one would notice. I simply refused to get on until the next opportunity. I think little demonstrations of this sort make a point. Driving continues to be a thrill. Lane markings are mere suggestions. Any two lane road is surely wide enough for three lanes of traffic, but in which direction does the third lane go? It goes in both directions. Four lane roads easily accommodate 6 lanes of traffic, 2 in one direction and 4 in the other, or vice versa. Motor bikes are happy to use sidewalks if needed and then the pedestrian no longer really matters. I have seen some pretty good accidents. The growth in the number of cars is rapid and the development of commensurate driving skills is not. Playgrounds have caught my eye. Or at least I thought they were playgrounds. I noticed them in every city and they are mostly yellow painted piping of large bore, 3-4 inches. They come in many designs for feet, arms, hands, etc with various moving parts. These turn out to be for adults and are places to exercise in the open air. They are the equivalent of our exercise gyms without electric power. At Tsinghua there was a half acre of weights and weight stands outdoors and in use by students. Kites are another interesting topic. Everywhere you go you see kites, especially in Beijing. Usually old men (they look older than I) are holding string on large reels as large as a foot in diameter. They get their kites up a few hundred feet. There are many kinds of kites from bird kites to giant dragon kites with multiple sections. In the west lake area of Hangzhou we saw several kites. Xiang Hao was convinced he was seeing a hawk and got excited. I had to explain how the wing movement gave away the ruse to an otherwise very convincing hawk. Finally, I simply had to show him the man on the other end of the string. There was also a butterfly kite not much bigger than a butterfly. That it flew at all took great skill on the part of its operator.
I have returned to Suzhou from Hangzhou and am resting on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I plan to go over the photos and select some for fefox.com.
Click to see photos.
The trip to China is over. I am home in Atlanta. However, one last installment of the chronicles is due, covering my last days in Suzhou and the trip home.
The return from Hangzhou occurred Saturday by bus. Xiang Hao and I arrived in Suzhou and went for lunch. My afternoon was free, although I had hoped to see Wu Dan again, but she was home somewhat sick and her mother came in from Wuxi to take care of her. While in Hangzhou I had had e-mail contact with her and she had a paper accepted for Physical Review E that we were going to celebrate. That evening I accepted an earlier offer from Zhu Yan to play ping pong. Another student was called to get a key to the ping pong room. We walked across campus to the building on the fifth floor of which the ping pong table was located. About 6 young men met us and we played mostly un-scored doubles. They switched in and out and I remained at the table for about an hour. I was told that the young men commented, in Chinese, that my game was pretty good. It has been many years since I played and in my college days I won a few tournaments at ping pong. None of that past glory was evident this night. The students had never before played with a foreign professor and got a big kick out of it.
On Sunday morning, Wu Dan arrived at the hotel with car and driver and we went to Tai lake on the outskirts of Suzhou. We strolled along the lake shore park looking at sculptures and flowers and enjoying the beautiful weather. The driver followed along and took pictures. We caught and looked at a small soft shelled turtle along the way. By now Wu Dan and I had grown very fond of each other as grandpa and grand-daughter. We contemplated that in two days I would go half way around the world and perhaps we would never see each other again. Next we went to see the new campus of Suzhou University that is nearby. It is already partly open but much construction is still underway. I especially liked the new library, a spherical building designed by an American company, according to the driver. Then we went back to Suzhou proper and spent some time with lunch and a little walking. However, just before returning to the old campus, Wu Dan had the driver stop at her “house.” By this is meant a condominium in our usage. It is in a big building that houses many other condominiums as well. Wu Dan and I went up and in and I was introduced to her mother, who by now had heard of the new grandpa and was very approving (Wu Dan’s real grandpas are deceased). Wu Dan showed me around the house. It is very comfortable and spacious with an extra room for her mother who visits her often from Wuxi (I should perhaps explain that Wu Dan’s husband, a physician, works and lives in Wuxi so Wu’s mother keeps her company when the married couple are separated by work and school).
I had the afternoon free to write up a previous installment. At five or so, Zhu Shiqun showed up in his private car with his wife, his daughter and her boyfriend to take me to dinner in the Sheraton hotel restaurant, a western style buffet featuring Asian foods, European foods and some American foods. I tried everything as did the other participants. After finishing my fourth chocolate dessert, I developed a peaceful inner glow (enough chocolate usually does that to me). After dinner, Zhu Shiqun took all of us back to his house which they designed and had built in 2001. It is on three floors and is very beautiful and beautifully accessorized. I was shown around the entire habitation. This sort of experience really is at odds with what we Americans expect to see. It is very modern and tastefully put together. The life style of a Dean of Graduate Studies in China is very nice indeed.
On Monday Morning, Wu Dan and Xiang Hao came for me early to take the train to Shanghai for one last shopping trip. Unlike the commuter train from the Great Wall, that was crowded and dirty, and unlike the overnight train to Suzhou that was a sleeper with three other riders, the train between Shanghai and Suzhou was clean and comfortable and quick. We did our shopping in a part of old downtown Shanghai that draws shoppers and tourists. I got some nice jade pieces for my wife and daughter. We had lunch and later ended up for some time in a nice tea house drinking green tea. At one point Wu Dan said she wanted to give me a gift; she would sing two Chinese folk songs for me. She is an accomplished singer with perfect pitch and I was enchanted. The other patrons did not mind either. When we got back to Suzhou, we three had dinner. Then we went to the student offices so I could say goodbye to all the other students and get my PC to take back to the hotel. Wu Dan and Xiang Hao accompanied me back. We said our parting good-byes and I gave Wu Dan a big hug. I was going to miss her. She then gave me a hug back. She was going to miss me too. I was a little saddened when they left.
Early Tuesday morning, Zhu Shiqun was supposed to pick me up with car and driver for the trip into Shanghai to catch the first of three flights back to Atlanta. I packed and went down to wait. It was a beautiful warm morning and I waited outside. Zhu Shiqun was late but there was plenty of time. I was thinking about Wu Dan when I looked around and there she was. She had come to see me off with a greeting from her mother. She said that Dr. Zhu had not asked her to be there and that he might be surprised (their relationship is properly formal). When he did arrive and saw her, he quickly sized up the situation and told her to take me and the driver to breakfast. Thus we had a few more minutes together before I left. Wu Dan and I will be friends for life.
I arrived at the Shanghai airport with time to spare. Dr. Zhu took me in and made sure I was headed for the correct gate. We parted company and I was nearly gone. When I passed security and got to the gate I waited in the lounge (I was flying business class back, but domestically it is first class and I was merely going to Beijing first to get a plane to San Francisco.) There was food and drink and not too many passengers. I had told Lara, my daughter, that I had a 12 hour layover in SF so she and I could get together. Suddenly, the board showed DEL for my flight. It seemed there was a mechanical problem with the plane. We were told to wait for more info. Well the wait got longer and longer and connections were being missed, including mine. There were a few passengers fluent in Chinese and English and they told me that I had to take matters into my own hands if I wanted to get home. Air China would not do anything for me otherwise. Early on I went back to the ticket desk and asked if there was a non-stop from Shanghai to SF. There was, but from the other airport in Shanghai, in Pudong, and I couldn’t get there in time. I went back to the lounge and then was convinced to try again when just about everyone else had left. I was told to retrieve my original ticket stub from position 61, China Eastern Airlines. I went there and a man with dual language skills told me to flash my first class boarding pass, which I did, and I got immediate service and my ticket stub. Now go to position 68 and get a new booking. Once again a dual language person helped me secure another flight to Beijing for later that day and also continuing reservations. With the new ticket I was directed to luggage retrieval where I got my bag back. This done I went to a new lounge for a ten hour wait. At least there was food and drink and quiet (first class ticket). This plane was also delayed (the earlier DEL went from meaning delayed to meaning deleted). I got to Beijing at mid-night. When I deplaned there was an airline representative with a big sign on which was printed RONALD FOX in big letters, not by hand but by a real printer. She took me to luggage claim and then into the interstices of the airport, that was now closed, where we met two uniformed men, an older and a younger. They squabbled for a bit and then the younger took me to the taxi line where he first attempted to get me to the head of the line. There was a long line and few taxis. Americans in line screamed at him and me in English and finally a military person came over and made us get in line. It was 50 F and I was in a coat but my young guide was in short shirt sleeves. He was good natured and we waited our turn for about 15 minutes. I was put in a taxi that took me to the nearby Swiss Hotel. The taxi driver squawked. Getting in a taxi costs 10 yuan (125 cents US). After that the driver gets 20 % of the fee, the rest going to the government that operates the taxi service. To the Swiss Hotel the fee is a total of 15 yuan. The driver will make 1 yuan (12.5 cents). Even in China this is worth a squawk. He took me anyway and I was given a free room for the night. It was a very nice hotel. In the morning I went back early to be sure my new reservations were converted into real tickets. They were and I was on my way to SF at noon. Once in SF, I had to go through customs and find my Delta flight to Atlanta in less than 2 hours. It took twenty minutes and I called Lara, whom I had called from Shanghai earlier to tell her my visit was cancelled. That call, by the way, cost me 5 yuan. 46 hours after I left Suzhou I was in Atlanta.
My China trip was over. It was a wonderful and educational experience. I gave 11 talks in 8 institutions in 4 cities. I saw many impressive, beautiful and peaceful sights. I experienced hospitality lake nothing before in my life. I gained another grand-daughter whom I love the way I love Isabel.