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email 4

September 15, 2010

After writing the email for last week, I realized that I forgot to include one of the funnier stories from the former period. On either Wednesday or Thursday, I had awoken later than usual-this is particularly tempting to do because I live no more than a 3 minute walk to the classroom. As a result, I was barely awake by 8:15 when I heard a the high-pitched squeal of a bomb, before BOOM. Oh my gosh! World War III! Why is the US bombing China?!?! Obviously, I should get up earlier, because this makes no sense. We realized in a few seconds that a nearby store was celebrating their opening with fireworks, big fireworks. Early? Yes, I know. Fireworks in the city? Yes, I know. Fire Hazard? Yes, I know. Remember this is China, these types of laws aren’t enforced so much. It wasn’t so long ago that the striking CCTV (government-run media corporation) building, almost done with construction, caught fire because employees were setting off fireworks in downtown Beijing.


Today was a pleasant. Nathan and I had been discussing going to this museum on the outskirts of town on the grounds of a former Japanese military base run in the 1930s and 1940s. The Japanese military committed some truly atrocious crimes against humanity at their bases in China (and Korea, but that’s another story). In addition to widespread rape, so-called comfort women, the Japanese troops performed experiments in the line of eugenics on random Chinese citizens (including pregnant women and infants) randomly picked from the nearby citizenry and from the prisoners of war at the base which contained Chinese, British, Russian, and American soldiers. Some of the experiments: Surgery (always without anesthesia) after infecting the patient with various diseases including the bubonic plague. The plague seemed to be a favorite of the Japanese as they had thousands of rats by which to spreading the disease. One of the intact buildings was an underground rat breeding center. It’s amazing that there wasn’t a major outbreak at this time. They experimented with germ warfare by dropping loads of plague-infested fleas out of planes, killing thousands in China. Removing limbs and reattaching them to the opposite sides, freezing limbs to study the effects of gangrene and rotting and amputating limbs and simply studying blood loss. Testing the effects of different weapons and their effects from various distances. Seeing how long it takes one to die from hanging upside down (choking to death), being burnt, spun to death (in centrifuges). At the end of the war, in order to cover up what had happened at the base, the Japanese military bombed it. Well, the truth came out as a result of an investigation carried out by a Japanese journalist in the 1980s, fourty-years later. It gets even more repulsive though. At the end of the war, the US granted freedom/amnesty to the captains of the base as a result of their handing over the results of their experiments. It is disappointing how little is taught in American schools about the Pacific theatre of WWII. I knew little if anything about the Japanese treatment of Chinese and Koreans before taking a Modern Chinese history course at the UW. Anyway, why would this trip be so pleasant? This museum reminded me of what I find so interesting about being over here. The perspective is so different. Their use of history at this base was just as much to inform others (particularly Japanese) as it is to incite criticism of the Japanese. You’ll see this in my pictures of the place on flickr. Furthermore, I have more or less been surrounded by people since I arrived in Beijing on July 15th, and I really appreciated the open space outside of the museum on the outskirts of the city where half-way torn down buildings back up to lumber yards, and trees have had some time to grow and demonstrate their resilience within the oppressive surroundings of an urban environment.

Entrance to the 731 Former Japanese Military Base and Internment Camp

On our way out to the museum, Nathan and I discovered the answer to a question we had been asking for a while-why does it smell like crap on campus sometimes. Well, we saw the source of the smell-a massive furnace a few kilometers away from campus that constantly gushes with orange, acrid fumes that blanket the surrounding areas with an awful smell. Some have told us that it’s from a medicine factory. It only reaches campus if the wind is blowing hard enough in the right direction. If anyone has any connections to a journalist, it would be great to bring some attention to the pollution of this chimney for the sake of the people who have to live under that unhealthy thing year round. 11 august 2010 Buying a xiaochi (say shao chur, small eat, or snack) today, I was speaking with the lady making it. An aside, these types of snacks are usually made on small grilles on the back of tricycles on the street. She asked me if I wanted this hot dog thing on my jianbing (similar to a French galette-thin pancake with egg and veggies). No thanks. Are you a vegetarian? More or less. You’re pretty much all Americans (we had spoken before) vegetarians? These are the types of conversations that tell you a lot about Chinese people. So many of them know so little about issues outside of their locality, much less outside of their country. To think that all Americans are vegetarians! She was genuinely curious. This curiosity arises despite the low levels of education. I doubt this woman had been to school past 8th grade. These are the kinds of things that you have to keep in mind when youre being stared at because you’re a whitey. They’re coming from such a different place, it’s hard to understand at first.

August 13, 2010

Yesterday, the school hosted a banquet for all of the short-term Mandarin students with lots of food, lots of beer. They even had French fries which were almost immediately all eaten and broccoli. Surprisingly, I can’t say that I particularly missed French fries, but broccoli, I’ve really been missing, so I got seconds and thirds and maybe even fourths of this dish. The teacher of Nathan’s class put together a slideshow, with some of the cheesiest music I’ve heard-think a drama movie from the 1980s-which used many of my photos from this trip-as well as some that were taken in Beijing, and thus have no relation to the program. I found this funny. Later, while eating, the leader of the program told me, I think you look Arab (). This is the third time that a Chinese person has told me this since i arrived in China. The most recent time, was with a few of Nathan’s Chinese friends at dinner. Wang Shu said, I think you look Jewish. Later, he told Nathan that what he actually wanted to say is that I look like Bin Laden. This has taught me that Chinese people are very similar to my dad.

August 15

Yesterday, I took Liz to the 731 base, because I believe than anyone who visits Haerbin should see this place. While leaving, the sprinkling turned into rain. On the street, as usual there were no cabs-all cabs are taken when rain comes, plus Haerbin’s Subway construction has lead to more traffic and a shortage of cabs. After waiting about 15 minutes, some guy in a mianbao che (literally a bread car, the name for a popular cheap van that looks like and supposedly drives like a piece of bread) stopped and asked us where we were going. HeiDa, we replied. After settling on a reasonable price, we boarded for one of the most dangerous rides in my life. The rain had quickly turned into a hurricane type flooding downfall, and Chinese streets are so poorly drained, that most of the water sits on the road, drastically reducing friction with the road. All drivers turned their hazard lights on to improve visibility in the pouring rain. Soon we were on road with 3 lanes going in our direction and one lane going the other direction. Weird we noted to each other. Then we were able to see the yellow-line on our right. Oh gosh, we were actually driving in the lane that was supposed to be for the opposite direction. Not 5 minutes later, some crafty maneuvering had lead to 4 lanes going in our direction and the drivers going in the opposite direction being forced to drive on the shoulder.

I had procrastinated on purchasing tickets to travel from Changchun to Changbai Shan, so when liz and I went to buy tickets for tomorrow’s trip, none were available. This is how traveling in China goes. We brainstormed for a while, frequently returning to the ticket counter to see if the tickets we were interested in were available. After speaking with the extremely patient ticket ladies an embarrassing amount of times, we decided on scrapping the trip to Changbai Shan. We would return to Beijing, where we would have a place to stay at a friend’s and then head somewhere from there. We were lucky enough to find a sleeper to Beijing for the same day as someone had just recently returned their tickets (they were sitting on the desk in front of her), for the price of 250 kuai/person ($37). As weird as it sounds, I am kind of happy that Changbai Shan didn’t work because as people from the West Coast of the US, we’re both seen some pretty amazing topography, and I was very worried that the touristiness of this area would lead to my feeling like I was in a tourist trap, it’s disappointing. Afterward we walked to a Shanxi noodle place where they serve the famous Biang Biang Mian with some classmates (ordered yuxiang chao mian and youpo mian). In the afternoon, we took a cab downtown to walk around the old town area along the Songhua Jiang River and Zhongyang Da Jie pedestrian only street. We enjoyed an interesting ride downtown, all of a sudden we ran into a large traffic jam on the freeway. We observed another uniquely Chinese traffic maneuver. Cars in front and behind us began turning around to avoid the traffic, driving in the opposite direction on a (one-way) freeway, on the inside lane.

After seeing the historic Russian cathedral, we began looking for places to eat, eventually stumbling on a Uighur (Muslim minority that lives in the Xinjiang [New Frontier, also known as East Turkmenistan] Autonomous Region in Northwestern China bordering Kazakhstan) restaurant. Even though the waiters and cooks had been in Haerbin for about eight years, their Chinese was only marginally (in any) better than ours, so we had an enjoyable time communicating with them, they spoke very slowly-a friend said chicken and then did a chicken wing flapping dance to order chicken wings. If these restaurant workers are any amount of an accurate representation of Uighurs, you could say that these people are truly from an extremely different culture. They carry themselves completely differently-much more of what I think as casual. The young waiter ate dinner at the table next to us with his baby in his lap (and his wife in the corner eating by herself, they’re Muslim), forgetting half of the dishes we ordered, running outside leaving a half-full restaurant with no-one to run the tables, watching the outrageous music videos on the CCTV’s (Chinese Central Television) Arabic station, looking up at the murals of ancient Arab figures with quotes beside them. When we asked for the bill, he looked at our table and counted aloud with his fingers. Very different from Chinese, and not very interested in assimilation.

We are currently staying with a couple of Liz’s friends from her time studying at Beida in 2007, one of whom is working at a communications firm another who is interning at the EU. Last night, we watched a great Taiwanese movie that I would recommend to you all, called Au Revoir Taipei. Looking back on the language program, it was very enjoyable, very helpful for assisting me acclimate to being in China, and I made some great friendships who I look forward to keeping up with as we split up going our separate ways across the world.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    September 25, 2010 03:17

    Great post! Sounds like you’re getting into now and having some awesome adventures. Making me wanna travel

  2. Marissa permalink
    October 7, 2010 12:54

    Babies pee and poo on the street?! But, pampers are made in China. More Chinese irony. love the stories

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