Di is traveling again, she sends a letter home:
My dearest Max
I have safely arrived in China and as I’m writing to you now, it is still dark outside. It has been quite a long trip, and in these few days, many interesting things have happened, and it occured many times that I wish you were with me. I miss your compagnonship a lot, you know. While I was in Sürich airport, I decided to go check out the downtown area myself with my huge back pack. It took 10 minutes of high speed train to reach the old Sürich, and I got a map from a nice lady selling excursions nearby the train station. As I have little time, I circled the river and walked through the famous commercial street banhofstrasse. It felt quite nice to be back in Europe. Architecture never fails to enchant you in the oldest part of the town, especially those churches that pop here and there with really long and a sharp tower. I loved the little streets that take you immediated towards a more intimate and pedestrian experience. When I was there in the morning, no shop was opened, so I was just window shopping most of the time. Eventually, I found a bakery which sells those Luxemburgeli, their version of the macaron. They happened to be just a little smaller, not so impressive. I luckly found some market near the bridge at the end of Banhofstrasse. The flower bouquets are most delicious looking. And I bought some cheese from a certain Peter. It took me two euro and I ate that huge chunk of cheese for the next fifteen minutes. With the change, I also got three huge figs. Not the average size. A little disappointing, cause it tasted like someone forgot to pick them up on the right time. Well, at least I have gotten a strange mixture of snacks. The only thing I omitted was bear and I am sure they have an excellent selection of those. I got back to the airport on time. Had to run a little because I was quite anxious about not being able to make it on time. On the next plane to Beijing, I met a really nice guy from Spain. He does puppet shows for children to sensitize them to the environmental causes. He was so shy, we only started talking when we got off the plane. My dad didn’t see me at the airport, but I found him. He looked like he haven’t changed since the last time I saw him. He was wearing the red classic touristy Canada Shirt with white stripes, traveler type kaki pants, a pair of bright orange sandals, and a tissue bag with the slogan of the cultural revolution printed on it. Although it was a most unusual combination, he does fit the mental image I have of him. Together, we went to Nan Luo Gu Xian, the only huton area left to Beijing, thankfully preserved beaucoup a lot of the high rank communist leader lived there during the revolution. We took a bicycle ride around the huton with a native Beijinger. He is the same age as my father, but looks much younger, and skinnier. My dad negociated the same price for two hours, but the guy didn’t realize why it would take us twice as long to do a standard tour until he saw how much a photography fan my dad was. He is so pationnate about his pictures that he would stay in the same spot taking shots repetively in the same position using the same frame a few time. He also photographed absolutely anything. From the visits, I learned a lot about the courtyard house as a type, and it occured to me that its charm is related to a large extent to its inhabitation by the people. A regular Si He Yuan, translated as a complex of buildings surounded a courtyard with concerns about the four directions. The entrance is a big act, and the procession beautifuly coordinated. The door usually indicated the hierarchy of the household, painted red with beautiful motifs on the beeams. The opening doesn’t imediately gave up any view of the couryard yet. A wall blocks the sight of it. The visitor first encounter the house through the smell, the sounds, as well as the atmosphere of this transitional space. That is why I absolutely loved the one inhabited by an old woman and her son. Theirs was a beautiful space decorated with plants, fake cherry blossoms, and stuff that you would have in any household that makes it approachable and living. Turning to the left, one enters into the courtyard, a rectangular shaped and it could be adapted to the needs and tastes of its occupants. It usually is a good place to socialize, eat, plant trees and plants, and a great playground for children. Facing the courtyard and the entrance is usually the master bedroom dedicated to the elders in the family. the have a great view of the courtyard, enjoy watching the va-et-vient of their children living in the opposite unit, and are the first to see the visitor coming from the main entrance. Siheyuan embodies the Chinese ideal of living, but unfortunately, it gradually became forgotten and became an absolete museum piece. By chasing the people away from the houses, they have lost their essence. The inhabitation and occcupation of the siheyuan is so key, and still not so many people are aware of this, I feel. The bicycle rider is a character. He hated life in Beijing and feels helpless about the situation of corruption and the lack of human rights. Interestingly, he goes as far as to confond the two. As I explain to him that in Montreal, corruption exists, he looked pretty impressed. He also complained that Chinese nowadays lack empathy, being only motivated by interests, economical interests above all. He contradicted himself, however, when he repetively let us know that he would have made more money if we have taken one hour intead of two.
In the afternoon, I went to Yong He Gong, an anciant residence to the emperor Yong Zheng in the Qing dynasty, converted into a tibetan monastery by his son. It really is a popular attraction and the number of Chinese worshippers is pretty great. There are actually lots of people who are really sincere looking. People like me who are actually touring the place, observing its architecture and treasures are a minority. The architecture is a mixture of the Han and Tibetan cultures. The gracefullness of the whole complex is its most salient characteristics. The main buildings were channeled by a central axis which runs through the middle of the complex and those aligned bulidings, thus making the walking experience richly layered. You can choose to go through the central ones following the axis and returns to the entrance visiting the side ones. It occured to me that those buildings were really a synthesis of many arts like painting, sculpture, architecture, something that must result of group work.
Later, I was invited to eat with my dad’s best friend and his family. His background is similar to my dad’s. He was borned in misery and got enrolled in the army when he was yound. He got promoted in the governement because of his services to the leader of the country, Deng Xiao Ping. He recently quit the government to become a business man, head of some big company in Henan. It happened that he was envolved in building cheap housing for the government. We had a good meal, but somehow we started talking about the changes, namely the negative ones that China projects internationally, like corruption and the lack of democracy. He was given me all those reasons I have heard before, such as we are a big country and revolutionalry changes could only happen in great chaos. But most chockingly, his attitute is that of disillution and indifference. He said that following the patterns of the history, the changes will happen when our generation takes control and that China will be better with people like me and his son who had a western education. I was quite shocked actually, by his shamelessness and his open selfishness. He left me a homework, he said. Find out why nobody change the education system while everyone knows that it is deeply defected. A good one, I suppose.
After I got back to Nan Guo Gu Xiang, where my hostel was, I walked around that busy street that only closes until late at night. I met a group of girls selling instruments for Xiang Dao, or the incence ceremony. We talked a lot about it and she gave me a quick demonstration. For although she loves what she is doing, she only started learning about it, and still shows little confidence. She is not a good saleswoman, for as I was asking about the princes, she gave me instead an overview of everything she sells in the shop. Her passion for her own culture is very inspiring. However, she keeps dismissing the Japanese and Coreen cultures, being clearly prejudiced against them. I am quite amused to make that discovery, because sometimes, prejudices which we hold so dear, only keeps us away from learning more about what we love.
Anyways, this is a long summary of what I have been through. If you can, can you please post some parts that you find okay on the blog for me, please. I have alas, no access to this website, nor blogger. Maybe I’ll find out something else, if I have more time.
I love you and say hallo to everyone in the family. I miss you all, very much