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Adjusting to Beijing time, customs and food - Part 2 of 4

October 10, 2006

Photo Helen

Clip Art Chinese Flag

To share a bit of what they taught us about China, the population of China is 1.3 billion. The majority of people in China, over 90%, belong to the Han nationality and the country has 55 other ethnic minority groups. The shape of China can be compared to a rooster. Beijing is located at the lower part of its neck. China is the third largest country after Russia and China. The Yellow River is known as the mother river. The Yangtze river is the longest and divides China into the north and south. Postage to the US costs 50 cents. The easiest way to call home is from the hotel room, but this is also the most expensive way, at $1.20 per minute. Pre-paid phone cards were available for much cheaper (I was able to buy a 30 minute phone card at the hotel for the equivalent of $12.00.) Unfortunately, phone cards were not good from city to city, for example, a card purchased in Beijing could not be used in Shanghai. Chinese toilets were not the same as Western toilets. Chinese toilets are basically little more than a hole in the ground. You plant your feet on the platform around the hole and squat. Chinese people prefer this method because it is cleaner than sitting on a Western style toilet. Fortunately, Western toilets are available in many hotels, including the ones we would be staying at. They are also available in some restaurants and other public places around the city. But we were warned that there may be times that we may not be able to find a Western toilet. China is large enough to cover a number of time zones, but all of China goes by Beijing time. Tap water in China’s cities is generally clean but particularly hard, that is, it contains excessive minerals and is not drinkable, so bottled water is provided at hotels and other establishments. Chinese money is measured in “Yuan”. 1 Yuan is the equivalent of about 12 cents. Credit cards are accepted in hotels, some restaurants, shops and other locations. Many places do not accept credit cards, so it was recommended that dollars be exchanged for yuan at the hotel. China, including Beijing, is considered to be safe, but pickpockets are a concern. It was recommended that passports be kept in the hotel safe. Mandarin is the official language and about 150 dialects are spoken around the country. Each morning began with a “Ni Hao”, meaning “Hello, how do you do”. We were taught some other words, but memory is hazy for most of them, but I did remember “Xie xie”, meaning, thank you, so that we could express our appreciation to the national guides and to others we may encounter.

The national guides also briefed us regarding some of the political and cultural history of China. Chinese is one of the world’s longest continuously used language systems. China has been a source of many great technical innovations such as paper, the compass, gunpowder and printing. China is one of the world’s oldest mostly uninterrupted civilizations comprising successive states and cultures dating back 6,000 years. China was governed by various dynasties which were headed by various kings and emperors from about 2000 B.C. until 1911. In 1911, the 1911 Revolution or Chinese Revolution, a republican revolution, overthrew the Qing Dynasty, bringing an end to the monarchy which had been in place for 4000 years. Due to the Chinese Civil War that began in 1927 with major hostilities ending in 1950, there are two states named China. One is the People’s Republic of China that administers mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. The Republic of China administers Taiwan and surrounding islands. Although tensions between the two states continue to exist, armed clashes have ceased and since the late 1980’s there have been growing economic exchanges on both sides. Mao Tse-Tung, chairman of the Communist Party of China from 1945 to 1976, led the Chinese Communist Party to victory in the civil war, thus creating the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. He was also the first president of the People’s Republic of China from 1954 to 1959. In 1958, Chairman Mao launched the “Great Leap Forward”, an economic plan aimed at revitalizing all sectors of the Chinese economy, but this plan did not work out. Because of the outcome of this plan, other members of the Communist Party removed Mao from actual power, and his role was changed to largely ceremonial and symbolic in nature. In 1959, a new president was named and Mao remained Chairman. To correct the outcome of the “Great Leap Forward”, Mao initiated the “Cultural Revolution”, another comprehensive reform movement, which lasted until about the time of Mao’s death in 1976. After that time, another revolution occurred when Chinese leaders implemented a comprehensive economic modernization and organizational reform program. Among other things, this brought much improvement to the quality of life for the Chinese people and opened up China to much of the rest of the world. China and the Chinese people are far more open today than a few years ago, but they do not like to discuss matters that put the country in a bad light, for example, they do not like to discuss the Tienanmen Square protests of 1989 or the Tibetan uprising against China. Helen also talked about how it is good for us as Americans to visit China to go to the source, so to speak, to learn what China and its culture and politics and such are really like. One example of this is the common American perception of the one child policy in China. Helen informed us that for many this is true, they are only allowed to have one child. But there are exceptions to this. For example, families in rural areas are allowed to have more than one child.

Photo Wendy

Clip Art Flowing, Relaxed

Our introduction to China included an orientation at our hotel, the Beijing Marriott West. The highlight of this orientation was a speech and question and answer session with John Pomfret, Washington Post Reporter and author of “Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China”. He was an American exchange student who attended Nanjing University in Beijing in 1981 and lived in a cramped dorm room. Over the next couple of decades he returned to China twice as a professional journalist. “Chinese Lessons” tells the story of the recent history of China through the perspective of his classmates, from the 1970’s until the current decade when he reunited with his classmates. I was able to obtain a copy of this book and look forward to reading it to obtain another perspective on Chinese life.

Buy this book from Amazon.com!

Book Chinese Lessons

Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China

Sleeping

But I had just arrived in China and would get my own first hand perspective as I traveled China with this group of attorneys for the next 12 or 13 days. At this point, however, on our arrival date of October 10, 2006, I had been up and traveling since about 6:00 a.m. Los Angeles time. There was time to doze on our long flight from LA to Hong Kong, but no opportunity to go to sleep in a real bed. We did have dinner and attended yet another session, this time with journalist, Melinda Liu, Beijing Bureau Chief of Newsweek Magazine. But for most of us, it was all we could do to just stay awake, let alone pay attention and take in much of what was spoken. By the time we got in to bed at 9:00 p.m. Beijing time, it was 6:00 a.m. Pacific Time on Tuesday, about 48 hours later. Yet, Rodney was up at 6:00 a.m. and ready to go by about 7:00 a.m. for the first full day in Beijing of meetings and sightseeing. That morning, I was struggling a bit, but excited about being there and helping Rodney, amazed that Rodney could be so ready to go at his age, while I was slow to wake up after all this traveling. After a few cups of coffee, however, I was wide awake and good to go.

Coffee Coffee

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