China Saving the Giant Panda

July 22, 2014

The giant panda is popular.  I just Googled “Giant Panda” and there were almost 27 million hits, and a Google Blog search resulted in 620 thousand hits. The second Blog listed on that search was the Smithsonian and the post was about giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian at the National Zoo.

When we took my sister and her youngest daughter to China in 2008, my forty-year-old niece wanted to see the pandas and have a picture taken of one sitting on her lap. That was one area of China we didn’t visit, so that didn’t happen.

The giant panda—because it’s so cute with its black and white coloring—is considered by many of the bear’s fans as docile, but it has been known to attack humans. It probably isn’t a good idea to have a giant panda sit on your lap. An adult male may weigh 330 pounds and a female 275 pounds. After all, it’s still a wild animal.

In fact, China’s giant pandas are considered a living treasure. Although the dragon has historically served as China’s national emblem, recently the giant panda has also served as an emblem for the country. The Chengdu Research Base is working hard to breed the pandas so the species survives.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Visiting Beijing’s Summer Palace

July 2, 2014

The history of the Summer Palace starts with the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD) when the Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site that’s a tourist attraction.

The Summer Palace that exists today dates back to Kublai Khan (Yuan Dynasty: 1277-1367), but I took these photographs in 2008—I’m not that old yet.

In 1750, Emperor Qian Long (Ch’ing Dynasty: 1644 -1911 AD) had canals built from the Forbidden City to Kunming Lake, which was enlarged to serve as a reservoir for Beijing and is still in use today. He also built palaces on the hill to celebrate his mother’s birthday.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, a combined British-French military force invaded Beijing and destroyed many of the buildings.  Twenty-eight years later, the Dowager Empress Ci Xi’s brother-in-law rebuilt and expanded the palaces using money—when he was the leader of China’s the navy—meant to modernize China’s navy.

After the Ch’ing Dynasty was swept aside during the 1911 rebellion, this new Summer Palace was opened to the public.  In 1990, the Summer Palace was designated a world heritage site by the United Nations.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Shanghai and the Complexity of Spoken Language in China

June 24, 2014

The first time I flew into Shanghai, the jet landed at Hangqiao Airport. In 1999, there was no Pudong with its Maglev Train, which moves 150 to 200 km/hour—running eighteen miles to the city.

Even with the larger Pudong airport, Hangqiao still handled more than 31 million passengers in 2010, but more fly into Pudong (44.8 million passengers in 2012).

Model of Shanghai

Regarding spoken languages, China’s leaders are finishing the job Qin Shi Huangdi started twenty-two hundred years ago, and it’s not going to be easy.

The first emperor unified China with one written language but didn’t touch the spoken word. Today, the country is being stitched together with one language, Mandarin. It may take several generations, because most people still speak the language of their parents.

How tough is this goal? Well, there are about 250 spoken languages in China and some of these have dozens of different dialects (especially Mandarin and Tibetan). For instance, Shanghainese, or Wuzhou that’s about 120 miles upstream from Guangzhou, but its dialect is more like that of Guangzhou than that of Taishan, 60 miles southwest of Guangzhou and separated from it by several rivers. In parts of Fujian the speech of neighboring counties or even villages may be mutually unintelligible. Learning English is also mandatory in the public schools. In 2010, there were estimated to be over 100,000 native English-speaking teachers in China.

I’ve shopped on this street.

When England and France started two opium wars with China to force the emperor to allow them to sell the drug to his people, Shanghai was only a sleepy fishing town. The 1st Opium war was 1839 to 1849. The 2nd was 1856 to 1860.

The treaty that ended the first opium war made Shanghai a concession port bringing expats to China from all over the world, and they are still arriving.

Today, there are about 210,000 foreigners living in Shanghai (another 45,500 live in Pudong) out of more than 24 twenty million residents in the municipality of Shanghai with another 21.7 million in the urban area around the city—making Shanghai the most populated city in China and the world. Shanghai has more than 20,000 buildings 11 stories or higher with more than 1,000 exceeding 30 stories.

The 121-story Shanghai Tower will be completed this year, and it will be the tallest building in China. For a comparison, New York City has less than 6,000 high-rises and only 97 are taller than 600 feet.

The next four Shanghai photos are courtesy of Tom Carter,
photo journalist and author of China: Portrait of a People

See the Shanghai Huangpu River Tour

See more at National Geographic, Shanghai Dreams

See more about Shanghai at Eating Gourmet in Shanghai

 

Discover Hollywood Taking the “Karate Kid” to China

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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The Return of Confucius

June 4, 2014

The bronze sculpture of Confucius stands tall at 31 feet (9.5 meters) and is described as having a serious expression. Four months after appearing in Tienanmen Square staring at Mao portrait hanging from the walls of the Forbidden City, the statue—without fanfare—was quietly moved to the courtyard of a museum in Beijing.

Chang writes, “Confucius is enjoying a revival, in books and films, on TV and in classrooms…” In fact, a $500-million dollar museum-and-park complex is under construction in his hometown of Qufu in Shandong Province that includes a statue of Confucius almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty.

For those who don’t know, Mao declared war on Confucianism and education during the Cultural Revolution.

My wife, who grew up in China during Mao’s era, still believes Confucian values for harmony and peace are what made China weak and a victim to Western Imperialism during the 19th century and to the Japanese during World War II. She may be right. At the time, China believed it was too civilized to worry and wasn’t prepared to defend itself as it is today.

However, she also says to pay attention to the small things the government does. Don’t expect Chinese to be as direct as Westerners.

There’s a strong message in Confucius standing opposite Mao across the vastness of Tiananmen Square as if he were scolding Mao for what he did and few mainland Chinese will miss the meaning. Mao, the student, has been chastised and Tiger Mothers such as Amy Chua are being sent a message to stay tough with their children when it comes to having the kids eat bitterness and sacrifice having fun while working hard earning an education.

Confucius wouldn’t want it any other way.

Now that China is a capitalist/socialist nation with an open market economy, the need for Confucian values is making a comeback with government support. Confucius taught duty to family, respect for learning, virtuous behavior (three traits rare in the West) and obedience of individuals to the state.

What Chang doesn’t say is that Confucius also had expectations for the state to lead by example and to act the part of a gentleman. China’s leaders are aware that they are responsible to provide security for the nation and economic progress for the people in ways that most Western rulers would never consider.

Although China’s central government hasn’t launched a Western style public relations campaign to resurrect Confucian values, which are still a strong foundation for most Chinese families, Chang indicates that we will see some top leaders promoting Confucianism.

In fact, in 2010, a movie of Confucius with Chow Yun Fat was filmed and released in China.

There’s another message that most American weapons’ manufactures and conservative hawks won’t want the world to understand. If China is really moving back to Confucian values, that means China will not be the aggressor in war but will keep a modern military for defense only.

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Lloyd Lofthouseis the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

His latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Blonde Lotus: book review and guest post by Tom Carter

February 26, 2014

Guest Post (book review) by Tom Carter

If there ever was an expat author in the Middle Kingdom whose enthusiasm and love of life was as contagious as Cecilie Gamst Berg’s, then that person has yet to be published.

Part travelogue of a directionless backpacker, part bedtime stories of a frisky European babe who enjoys seducing young Chinese guys “out of the festering prison of virginity,”

Blonde Lotus is in fact one in the same person.  Gamst Berg, via her alter-ego protagonist Kat Glasø, accidentally arrives in late-1980’s China (“all I wanted was to be on the train; I had no interest in the journey’s destination, Beijing”), back when the mighty bicycle was still king of Peking and foreign tourists were a rare sighting.

Expecting a people with “long, billowing sleeves, reciting poetry and plucking at stringed instruments,” what Kat finds in New China instead are street corners populated with shady money changers and young hipsters whose knowledge of English is limited to the words ‘Okay-la’ and ‘Sex!’  Lulled by their charming incessancy, Kat shrugs her shoulders and good-naturedly gives it to them – the money AND the sex.  “How could so many men find the women of a race attractive, and so few women find the men the same,” she ponders postcoitally over a shared Zhongnanhai cigarette.

Queen gweipo (devil woman in Cantonese) Gamst Berg is an unpretentious, fun-loving writer with nothing to prove.  She’s not out to save China as so many a self-righteous foreigner here are (“I hope this country never modernizes” Kat admits in one of her many blunt moments of sincerity), she’s not trying to force feed them Faulkner (“I loved books and he never read one”), nor is she out to land a career in journalism like the rest of us.

No, the author is clearly just looking to have a good time (“We were young, stoned and in China”), and maybe learn some Putonghua while doing it, and therefore spares us the sappy, sympathetic observations and “deep understanding” of life in China that makes most Laowai Literature such a torture to read.

Conversely, nor is Gamst Berg out to tear Communism apart, vilify Chinese people or point and laugh at the “strangeness” of their culture, a common last-resort for some western travel writers (whom I refrain from naming as a professional courtesy) who don’t want to admit that they have learned nothing about the Chinese during their stay here.

Indeed, while her fellow expats spend their time in China sitting around at bars “shouting out orders in English, and when they weren’t understood, complained loudly to each other about how stupid the Chinese were,” rather than join in, Kat moves tables, literally and figuratively, to the Chinese side of the bar.

Instead of whining about China’s infamously filthy public toilets, Kat hangs out in them (smoking dope), then laughs when there’s a line of squeaming girls waiting to use the stall.

Rather than bitch about the People’s Republic’s chaotic queues at its railway stations, she jumps right in, elbows swinging, with the rest of the seething proletariat.

Our Blonde Lotus ain’t no saint, and she would laugh in your face if you dared suggest it.  “I wanted to experience everything and sleep with everybody…” confesses, nay, asserts the Norwegian-born Kat Glasø – and then proceeds to actually do so, from coal-and-petrol-scented industrial North China all the way down to the steamy islands of Hong Kong, her final destination.

Throughout her candid memoir, the author employs an uproarious combination of reluctant intellectualism (“learning Chinese was better than being in love because there was no danger of waking next to the Chinese language wanting to kick the f*cker out of bed”) and ribald hedonism (“I felt something push into me, shudder and expire. Was it an asparagus?”) that is sure to win Gamst Berg as many fans as frighten them away.

If Blonde Lotus is a window into China, then that window has been fogged with the sultry breathe of its occupants.  If it is a work of reportage; then the author was too distracted by eating, drinking, smoking and playing cards with the peasantry to be concerned about making the front page.  And that nonchalance, that self-depreciating humor, is exactly this novel’s charm.

Blonde Lotus is a refreshingly unserious memoir of an infectiously upbeat young woman (this reviewer’s favorite line in the whole book: “Ha ha, life was perfect and made for me!”) who, lost in China and unsure of what she wants to do with said life – as many of our kind are – inadvertently ends up making a new, better one for herself.

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Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of China: Portrait of a People (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review), a 600-page China photography book, which may be found at Amazon.com.

Discover more “Guest Posts” from Tom Carter with Is Hong Kong Any Place for a Poor American?

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