Tomorrow we go to Xian.
Last day in Beijing: Very windy today, the kind of weather that March is famous for here. Cold and blustery, enough to change the plan to go on Fragrant Mountain (in gondola cars to the top), which Kandy had planned for us. Instead we'll have lunch at a nice place near her. I'm taking a cab to Shangri-La Hotel, and then we'll go from there. If you're not on a breakfast plan (which we were last time but aren't this trip), where to have it is the first decision of the day. Usually Hou's Wonton, a lively place on the corner of Jinyu Hutong (our street—not really a hutong anymore, but still retains the name) and Wang Fujing dajie. This morning we opted for a local noodle place, where Linda and Dawei had a soy-milk drink (can be sweet or savory), and a long fried dough (like donuts, although different shape, and not sweet). I had noodles of course—my favorite, with pickled vegetables. The fried egg on top I gave to Dawei—a few days ago I had what was called "tea egg", a boiled egg cracked and soaked in tea, so it is a dark green color inside. Not appetizing, but good.
In the afternoon, Linda and I searched for insoles for her. Not in the pharmacy, they suggested the department store. Inside Beijing Department Store (notable for its statue of the founder in front) we were directed past the usual Western branded makeup sections (looked just like Macy's, but prices were even more!) to a small section on the side in which prices were very reasonable. We got several items for 14.50 rmb. Every morning we also debate how to escape the street vendors lie in wait for us, especially one guy who has a different bag of merchandise every day and gets quite angry at the other vendors if they succeed in selling us something. We've bought hats, Mao pins, small purses, etc. from various ones—he also keeps giving Dawei little gifts, insisting, even though Dawei doesn't want them, and resists mightily. At least one is assured of a few big smiles for the day. The doormen and desk clerks also are free with smiles.
The hotel we stay at here (Novotel Peace Hotel) is French-owned, and very gracious. Quite a good deal for this area, only US$88 per night, although probably you could pay less in another area. Curious about the rest of the guests, I usually ask and so far got French, Australian, Russian, Filipino in about that order. The only American family lives in Shenzhen and is only visiting Beijing from there. You often see Chinese-looking children (but obviously culturally American) as part of a family group of foreigners. At least I assume they are American, they look it.
I was to climb Fragrant Mountain with Kandy today, that was the plan. But the wind was intense this morning, and we decided to just have lunch, and make it an hour later. She directed me to the Shangri-La Hotel, which I went to by taxi, and then she picked me up there and took me to a Ching Dynasty-themed hotel, with a lovely old garden. Everyone was in costume, and canary yellow was the dominant color. A bit over the top, but delightful. The canary-yellow tofu soup wasn't really that great tasting (although delightful to see), nor was the chicken nor pine-nut corn. I guess people don't come for the food. It was the first time in many meals that I didn't overeat. But the conversation was delightful. She brought her friend, a writer for a CCTV program, a host with guests, who was quite opinionated (good!) and up for a lively and heated discussion for the next three hours.
Kandy was very tolerant, freely giving her own opinions also, and an excellent translator (although he didn't think she was expressing him that well. He frequently struggled to do it directly, even though his English skills weren't up to the task). We discussed their personal lives, opinions about China's problems, future, and past. Much too free-wheeling and long to detail here.
A couple of highlights: my question about whether women are equal (citing the "women hold up half the sky" slogan we heard in 1974). No, of course we are not, Kandy said, although she went on to equate it more or less with the desire to have a career outside the home or not (women don't necessarily want to be equal, they want to stay home and take care of their children). She herself would like to do that for a couple of years, but did express frustration (or perhaps it was just the fact) that she, a vice president in her company, can never be president.
Only if a woman starts her own company can she be its head. But she seemed to think it was more natural that men are the new millionaires, not women, i.e., her example of those in the online game world. She couldn't think of another example, or one in which a woman might succeed. She said most women think the main way to get rich, or succeed, is to marry a rich man, and their "job" in that case is to catch and keep him.
Reminds me of the pre-women's lib American movie, "How to Marry a Millionaire." Of course, plenty of American women want to and do make their "fortune" that way, but the difference seems to be in the differential respect each country now accords the goal, compared to achieving success through one's own efforts.
Kandy's friend refused to offer an opinion about whether he would respect a woman more who achieved it through marriage or through her own efforts. Equality between the sexes doesn't seem to be a goal either in public slogans or private conversation—the latter saying either women ARE equal, or to the extent they're not, it's because they don't want it (they're lazy, they want to focus on their families, they're not competitive by nature, etc.).
Everyone concedes that the Chinese government is run by men largely, and even most companies are, but this doesn't indicate any opportunity bias, although women do reluctantly admit it is there. With such a small sample, I could hardly draw serious conclusions, but despite people's impressions that it is improving, the trend seems to be the other direction. Trophy wives and girlfriends seem to be acceptable as a concept. The cab driver who had a girl said "girls are better" because they are easier (to handle, to educate?). Little boys here are clearly indulged tremendously, girls do not seem to be as much.
Impressions. We also discussed at length whether religion is necessary for a strong moral code, which Wang felt one needed. Coming from the heart of a country which had set a world standard for many of us for a moral code WITHOUT and above that followed by at least most religions, this seemed strange to me.
The rules which they all learned to live by falling by the wayside, which said, for example, unique in Chinese history (and maybe the world) the "red army shall take not one needle from the masses," and not rape or pillage nor decimate the population which they lived among, a demand for equality and renouncing corruption. Now reputedly corruption was common. Certainly, several generations had grown up under a moral, ethical system that no longer held, or at least was no longer the official exhortation. How to conduct their lives?
He was also excited that we traveled in China during the Cultural Revolution, and took pictures, even super 8 film. Very little film or candid pictures, except that for official purposes, of that time now exists. Don't I think we should consider pulling together an exhibition of photos from visitors who came during that time? Yes, a great idea.
I'm calling it a night, since we get up at 5 a.m. to make an early plane to Xian. Last entry from Beijing, although later I may transcribe some of the interviews and try to make sense of them.