12.03.07

Manufactured Landscapes

Posted in China, Life at 17:01

Last week I went to cinema once again. In the tiny Kellerkino they showed the documentary “Manufactured Landscapes”. It is definitely a movie that should be seen by everybody.

The Canadian photographer and cameraman Edward Burtynsky attracted a lot of attention by his longterm work about how mankind changes the natural landscapes. The movie “Manufactured Landscapes” is showing us how industrialization in China looks like. He did choose China because it more and more becomes the factory of the world with all its negative consequences.

But compared to the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” by Al Gore about the global warming this movie does not rate the human acting. “Manufactured Landscapes” does not explain or discuss the destruction of nature it only shows it. Exactly this neutrality of the film-makers does lead to a speechlessness. You cannot totally accuse what you see because we depend on it and we provoke it with our economy. But on the other site it irreversibly destroys what has been on earth a long time before mankind.

The mixture of pictures and videos is underlaid with cold music and industrial noise. Sometimes there are short interviews, for example with a Chinese girl who assembles about 400 fuses a day, since six years. Or with an official of a coal mine trying to prevent the artist from filming their facility. You see the construction site of the Three Gorges Dam and the people destroying their own houses because their city will be flooded by this project. You see girls destructing our Computer waste for regaining the materials. But they cannot drink their ground water anymore because it is full of heavy metal residues. The movie shows the city of Shanghai which has to assimilate an increase in population of more than a million people per year. These are definitely other dimensions than we can even imagine here…

If I made you curious now you can watch the trailer of “Manufactured Landscapes” online.

What finally made me writing this article are some recent news about the Three Gorges Dam. First there was a video from National Geographic about landslides threating Chinese farmers. There they were still talking about a threat but today in the news there was already reported about a big landslide killing 34 people in the region of the Three Gorges.

Did you see the movie? Can we continue our extensive life forever? Can China handle this big challenge? Discuss it in the comments…

03.10.07

The traditional China – 8. 3. 2007

Posted in China, Guangzhou at 00:52

Beause I could not connect to the Internet the evening before I had to rely on the guide book copies I already used the day before. My first target was the Jade Market near Changshou Lu. About nearly one hundred shops selling all different kind and shapes of jade (photo) were settled down here. Some even with their workshop open to public sight (photo). One woman was always taking care that the craftsmen were doing their work and not watching me. I was very surprised as I suddenly saw in a shop window a variety of ivory carvings. very detailed traditional Chinese ships, landscape sceneries and most amazing a sculpture consisting of several ivory balls bound into each other. Through the bars structure of the surfaces you could see all the inner balls. I could not imagine how they did this. Just a five minutes walk from the Jade market was the Chen Tiu Lu 陈家祠 (also known as Chen Clan Academy or Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family) (photo) that houses the Guangdong Folks Art Museum. A lot of different specialized craftsmanship works were displayed and explained. Masterpieces of colored embroidery, Chanzhou wood carvings, sculpture works, colored pottery, painting and of course ivory carving (photo). And sometimes I could not stop to be astonished. A fisher net with all kinds of fishes and sea food INSIDE the net carved from a tree. Here I also learned that ivory carving has a long tradition in Guangzhou and they even showed how they did this special multiple-layered ivory ball (photo). It is a very impressive place and full of variety views into the more traditional China.

Unfortunately the weather was rainy all the time what did not really gave me mood to walk around in the streets. I was looking for a place to sit down eat something, have a beer and check out what to do next. This time I checked the guide papers more carefully and there was really a small place next to the Pearl River where there were several bars next to each other. It is called Shamian Island and is the “Western Town” district of Guangzhou. In the 18th and 19th century it was the only place where foreign traders were allowed to set up warehouses. For Chinese people the access was permitted. The small district with only colonial style buildings and a nice park still retains the atmosphere of these times. In contradiction to the rest of the city it is normal to see western people here. Also every sign is suddenly in English. I decided to go to Lucy’s bar, where I could eat something and already understand in advance what they will serve me 😉 .

After the lunch it stopped raining and my way lead me over the river to the Honan district. Until the communist revolution it was the red light district of Guangzhou and afterwards much improved. The guide told me it is a model district of the “Civic Spirit” campaign in the eighties. Sounds interesting even when I had no idea what to expect and what I found was totally different of this anyway. A nice old street, no modern buildings and everything quite lazy. Half of the shop owners were sleeping behind their desks. The total contrast to the modern city center I saw the evening before. That was how I imagined China before (photo, photo).

Already my last sightseeing point was the Huanghua Gang Gongyuan (Martyrs’ Memorial Gardens). Near the main entrance there was the Communist Uprising Monument (photo). It was build to remember the heroes of the communist uprising in Guangzhou in 1927. Just next to it is the mausoleum of the 72 martyrs of the Canton Uprising in 1911. Finally I could see communistic hero admiration in live. It makes quite a difference to feel this if you stand in the former East German part of Berlin where it is closed history, or in Guangzhou China where it is still real. Especially with all the coated soldiers around. Also here I could hear some music. But no speakers, this time it was live music. An old man playing a Chinese bowed string instrument sat in the Sino Soviet Union People’s Blood Condensed Friendship Pavilion (photo, photo). Next to him a woman slowly moving and dancing. It was looking like she would dance to to music. Another unique moment in China and my last impression of this city.

I was often warned that Chinese people would be quite different than Taiwanese or Hong Kong people. When I arrived in the train station yesterday and denied the taxi driver he yelled after me “Take care” and also by the entry guard in the Yuexiu Park. Fortunately I could not really find out what they meant with this. Even here in China I was asked one time by a young mother with a child on their shoulders if I find my way. So nothing offending at all.

But one more story: For souvenir and for my China fans at home I wanted to buy some Chinese cigarettes. They are very creative in designing nice packaging and so I choose the nicest one’s. I first thought that I only had bad luck because they were strong like hell (15mg tar/1.2mg nicotine). Later I was told that Chinese do not really know lighter cigarettes. And the smoking behavior is also one of the biggest differences I found between Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. In Taiwan you do not see many people smoking. And when then they are mainly elder men and young want-to-be cool guys. Except in pubs it is forbidden in restaurants and also on many other places like generally most of the buildings. In Hong Kong the law is much more restrictive. There it is even forbidden to smoke on most public premises like also parks. But on the other side because of the mixture of people there are again much more people smoking. And in China it is different again. Smoking is not prohibited in many places. Even in shopping centers people were smoking and the price for cigarettes is nearly nothing. The cheapest offer for a packet of cigarettes that I saw in Honan district was 2.5RMB (CHF 0.40) while the mean price was about 6-8RMB (CHF 1).

The journey back to Hong Kong was the same smooth like the outward journey. From Hung Hom I wanted to take the ferry back to Central but unfortunately the last one already left half an hour before. So I had to walk along the seaside to Tsim Sha Tsui. Behind a six-lane road I suddenly heard live music playing. Ah… on the wrong side of the road. My luck was a foot bridge just 50m further. The music came from the Bulldog’s Bar & Grill. Like in Taichung before there was a live cover band with two cute female singers. It was interesting to watch the people at this place. Only western couples or Hong Kong business men. Except four screeching German girls no young people here. Because I somehow enjoyed the live music I stayed for a while and had a self-brewed Bulldog’s beer for expensive 68NT$ (CHF 10). Eventually the last star ferry brought me back to Hong Kong Island once more.

03.09.07

The beauty of Chinese parks – 7. 3. 2007

Posted in China, Guangzhou at 20:27

Another big day for me today. I would go to China 😀 . Only with a small backbag, the main luggage I could deposite in the HK Hostel, I started to Kowloon Hung Hom railway station. Approximately every hour an intercity of the KCR is connecting Hong Kong, Dongguan and Guangzhou. Like mentioned before my target today was Guangzhou. A return ticket for the less than two hours ride in Standard Class was 380HK$ (CHF 57). The procedure before the departure is the same like on the airport. Passport check and then customs. The travel in the modern rolling stock was very comfortable. The train crew even handed out a free bottle of water to every passenger. When passing the border you still could see the difference between Hong Kong and Chinese mainland territory. Floodlight constructions, high barbwire fences, guarding towers and plane areas are still marking the boarding line near Shen Zhen. Before arrival in Guangzhou everybody has to fill out two blanks. Firstly an arrival card where you had to write down who you are, where you will stay and why you come to China. The second one was more interesting. It was a health form that cared about who the avian flu. You had to answer if you were in close contact with birds within the last few days, if you carry any blood or animal products or human tissues (?) and if you felt well at the moment. Of course I was very curious about the entry procedure. But nothing special there. Handing out the forms, waiting until the customs clerk made his stamp into the passport, passing a drug detection dog and suddenly I was definitely in China.

Like the cities I visited before also Guangzhou has a very modern Metro system (photo). The stations where announced and named in both English and Standard Cantonese. The confusing difference to Taipei and Hong Kong metro however was that they translated the entire station name into English. So for example NongJiangSuo became suddenly “Peasant Movement Institute”. Guangzhou is one of the most important cities in south China and attracting a lot of poor people from the countryside who try their luck to find work in this city. Because of this it is not really known to be very safe for travelers. Therefore I decided to stay in a decent four-star hotel, the Guangdong Hotel, that I could book for 43$ for one night. It was also next to the main sightseeing spots and easy to find. The luxury was in first sight quite amazing. Several doormen, a big entrance hall, own restaurant, health center, communication room, travel agency, bank agency and also an own jewellery and watch store. My room was on the 9th floor and had a nice view to the surrounding district (photo). I did not find a Tourist Information at the train station but fortunately I had previously copied the chapter about Guangzhou from a China guide of a friend (thank you Gregor. It had the value of gold) and the hotel provided me with a useful tourist map so I was ready now to explore Guangzhou.

Just next to the hotel was the Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall (photo). It is a big concert and theater hall. In the inside people were practicing for a scene. After read about all the glorious performances that took place in this hall I went a few blocks down to the Yuexiu Park 越秀公园. Already at the entry people were welcomed by classical music spreading a coherent ambiance. It is China’s biggest urban park, encompassing over ninety hectares (0,9 km²; Hyde Park London 1.4km²). It is not an open area with green but a hilly forest with many branching paths and cultivated places to sit down and relax. A lot of historic monuments like the Sun Yat-Sen Monument (photo), a long section of the ancient city wall from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) (photo), with a guard tower, that is the Municipal Museum today and a lot of other monuments and themed areas like Flower Garden, Garden of Chinese Idiom or Bamboo Forest, make this place to an interesting and very beautiful green island in the 12 million people city. Here you could easily spend half a day by only enjoying the hundreds of exotic plants which are home for many voiceful birds. With a heavy heart I had to leave this paradise again. Unfortunately five a clock already passed and so most of the temples and other sight-seeing places where closing their doors. It was time to experience Chinese street life. Along the Perl River (photo) I made my way towards Tianhe district a commercial center in Guangzhou down town. The life here did not seem that busy like in Hong Kong anymore. Arrived at the City Plaza on the Tianhe Lu nothing remembered me of the China how I did imagine before. Modern skyscrapers, shops and restaurant from western chains were stamping the cityscape here (photo). The only thing that made me aware that I am in China were the numerous soldiers and policemen which were patrolling in their traditional coats and uniforms. On every street corner, near every half-important building, in every subway station they were taking care of the behavior of the people.

After I futilly tried to find a bar for one hour, how I found out the next day this was definitely the wrong district, I returned to the hotel to plan my second day. In the hotel description wireless Internet was mentionned but when I asked at the reception they only ordered the housekeeping service for me. This one never appeard in my room and later I found out that I could only go online over the analog phone line where I had to pay the costs myself. Even in the cheapest hotel before I could use Internet from my laptop for free but here it seemed impossible. Or are they just not trusting a western tourist?