Sunday June 10, Day 8
For some unknown reason, I felt compelled to leave Shanghai quickly. We had thought to go back to the Yu Garden Market, but instead opted to catch the 11am Bullet Train to Beijing.
Part of my task as a writer, is to notice things. Strange things, little things, different things. Sometimes I notice trends or patterns and will develop a theory to explain some logic behind it.
For example, the Chinese (and I don’t mean to offend anyone with my broad generalizations) seem to scream a lot. What would ordinarily seem to be an ordinary conversation is conducted at decibel levels that are close to deafening. For that matter, the volume in the movie theatre seemed to us much higher than in ones we’ve attended — do they all have some hearing impairment?
On one of our train rides was a man who must have been in his sixties, stocky, with iron-gray hair, a leathery complexion, smoke-stained teeth (with one front tooth notably absent), and clean-shaven except for some white strands of hair that grew out of a beauty mark on his chin. The strands must have been at least a foot in length and were probably not cut since he was born. It did nothing to enhance his appearance (and he was particularly loud). Are such hairs sacred in their culture?
China is infamous for its draconian one-child policy, however, I’ve noticed a number of interesting details. A significant number of 2-child families walking around (though the most common still seems to be the child, mother, grandmother combination). Another oddity is there are very few strollers. I’d have to say that the majority of babies we saw were simply being carried in their mother’s arms. No stroller, no baby carrier, nothing. Just a mother carrying their child down the street or through the subways as a Western mother would carry their child to the crib. Also, some of these babies are quite large and seem to me as much as a year old if not older (and bigger). One baby outfit that surprised me was one where the baby’s bottom was completely exposed. No diaper. Nothing but an uncovered bottom primed to do whatever it needs to do. In any case, I wondered if the lone child is so precious to their mothers that they will not allow any contraption to separate them from their baby?
Tamara noticed that Chinese woman either wear flats, or extremely high-healed, big shoes with designs that look like multi-colored seven-layer cakes, sometimes with big bright plastic flowers on the front. Why isn’t there a middle ground in women’s footwear?
The biggest issue on my mind since we’ve arrived is the pronounced wealth and development of these communist cities. The speed and magnitude of development is simply breathtaking. The comfort and enjoyment of the population of these cities is apparent. On our way to Chabad in Beijing we passed by a beautiful sports/country club. The hotel we are in (very nice — real, legal hotel) is by a river with beautiful sculpted gardens on either side with locals strolling with their dogs (the Chinese were once so poor and starved, they’d consider such animals dinner), playing ball and enjoying an evening walk. Statistics claim that the number of Chinese who are enjoying the modern luxuries and wealth is approximately 300 million. While this is only a small percentage of the total population and the rest remain in abject poverty, that is a number close to the entire population of the US. There is great debate as to the future of China, but to me at least, some aspect of the current regime and leadership is proving itself.
But enough ruminations. Back to reporting.
We caught the Bullet Train and got upper class tickets (there was Business Class which was even more expensive, but we passed. The train compartment was extremely comfortable and fairly empty, while the second class cabins were full. It was two chairs on either side of the aisle. The chairs can be swiveled around, so in fact we had four chairs to ourselves, two facing two. We departed muggy Shanghai where you could barely see a mile away and sped through more massive residential areas, more rice paddies, eventually some mountains, forests, rivers, and transversed over 1,000 kms in less than five hours and arrived at sunny, bright Beijing. The modern train station was undergoing expansion and renovation. A taxi took us to the hotel. We checked in without any issue. Found the Chabad within a few minutes walk, had dinner at their kosher restaurant (seared salmon sandwich was particularly enjoyable and Tamara enjoyed what looked like a pepper steak, but she wasn’t convinced it was really peppers. We met a student I knew from the Gush (Joey Israel of the UK) who is in the country to study Chinese. We met a few 18-year old Chabad girls, doing the equivalent of Sherut Leumi. We decided to make it an early night as we are being picked up tomorrow at 7:30am to go to the Great Wall of China…