Thursday, February 24, 2005

China, Beijing

On the way to the Chinese embassy in Perth to apply for my visa, Brett affected a spot-on, intimidating High Mandarin accent: "What is your business in the People's Republic of China?" Then he affected a spot-on, bouncing Midwestern American accent: "Freedom! I'm here to bring American freedom to the Chinese!"

When I got into China and exchanged dollars for Chinese yuan, I noticed immediately that the old Mongolian script is one of five languages printed on the back of every Chinese bill.

I trained into the country from Hanoi and trained north through the vastness of China to Beijing.

A week in Beijing. American expatriates, European tourists, and friendly Chinese.

Olympics in 2008.

Hung out with Alexis, a French photographer, in Beijing. She had come to China to get photos of the Chinese New Year celebrations for a magazine in France. Unfortunately, she had not gotten a single photo of a dragon dance, because she had not found a single dragon dance. This was problematic for her because the French magazine wanted photos of dragon dances, because all of the people in France know that all of the people in China celebrate the New Year with dragon dances, even if all of the people in China do not know this.

Went with Alexis and some Chinese fashion models to an uber-trendy nightclub one night. The models started playing drinking games. I fell asleep.

Many say that Beijing and Shanghai and Xian and a dozen other Chinese cities are changing daily. Half of all the construction cranes in the world are in China.

"When China wakes, she will shake the world."
--Napoleon Bonaparte

My high point in Beijing was hanging out with a dude named Tulgaa in the Mongolian embassy. He speaks Russian but no English. He was on his way to Hong Kong to buy watches to take back to Ulaanbaatar and sell in his shop. I rode with him to the train station to catch his train. We got in a cab with a Mongolian driver. I asked the driver if he spoke Russian, and Tulgaa told me that he was Chinese. I was confused. Then he told me that the driver was from the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. This was the first Mongolian I had ever met who was from China, even though there are more citizens of China who are ethnic Mongolians than there are citizens of the country of Mongolia. So the driver had never studied Russian, but spoke fluent Mandarin. Then I realized that he, along with the three million other ethnic Mongolians in China, must read and write Mongolian in the old Mongolian alphabet, not the Russian Cyrillic. I had never thought of this before, not even when I had seen the old alphabet on the Chinese money.

Tulgaa chatted with the driver in Mongolian on the way. After we got out of the cab at the train station, Tulgaa said to me, "He's a Chinese Mongolian. He's just like all the other Chinese." Tulgaa speaks not a word of any Chinese language. Hanging out in the train station, speaking Russian amongst the convulsing hordes of countless Chinese, we made plans to meet up again in UB after we both got back there in the next week.

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