Sunday, November 20, 2005

I'll do my best not to talk physics or maths on this one I promise.

It's now Sunday evening and I sit in my apartment satisfied after another excellent meal. The last few days have been a bit strange. It turned out that the combination of initial jet-lag, 10-12 hour days, much rushing around and confusion, a change in diet and weather along, perhaps with the standards of hygiene in most places I've been were enough to bring me crashing down to Earth with my first Beijing cold. I've been told that two weeks is a pretty impressive time for a Westerner to last before catching it so I'm not too bothered. I'm also feeling a lot better after a course of Chinese herbal medicine which is both effective and distasteful in equal measure.

Anyway, this meant that yesterday was a bit of a write-off but by midday today I was feeling like it was time for another mini-adventure.

I headed off to an area called Wangfujing with one of the guys from the office though this time I asked to be the one to talk to the cab driver. I wanted to make sure that had I been on my own I could have arrived successfully. After some initial suspicions from working out which direction we must be going using the sun as our compass (the guy from the office is an ex-Taiwanese marine) we did arrive at the correct destination without going round the Hutongs (small traditional Chinese back streets).

The area we were heading to is one of the areas that is somewhat similar to Oxford street at Christmas in both its crowds and garishness. It turns out that this is one of the areas where the rich, stylish Chinese, as well as the not so stylish Westerners, hang out. I really wanted to go because there's a foreign language bookstore but I found that unlike everywhere else I've seen, this one only sold genuine copies of books which were imported from England and the States. They were therefore extremely expensive by my current standards and all I bought was a locally produced map of Beijing with Pinyin (the latinised translation of Chinese pronounciation).

So we wandered around getting our bearings and I took a couple of photos though it's mostly pretty commercial. The only difference between here and back home is that tie-rack is replaced by chopstick-rack, I jest not.

This church is right in the middle of the fashionable area. I didn't have time to see how active it is but it certainly appears to be a popular meeting spot.

Other than the language and the newly built pagoda tops, this street could be any shopping street in just about any capital city.

So we wandered around the busy streets for a while and to my relief I found that I can get clothes my size, at least for my top half, and bought some supplies ready for the freezing months ahead. After this we went down one of the traditional looking sidestreets where we stumbled upon something I'd read about in my guidebooks. This is another culinary delight which I shall not discuss but have posted some photos in a link. Those who want to look at them can do so with pleasure while those who don't can skip them in the knowledge that they will never come across this back home.

I didn't try these as it turned out that when he tapped the pot, they were still moving.

I did try these which taste a little like cheese.

That's pretty much the end of my not very exciting weekend. Taking it easy yesterday did mean that I had the chance to read which, because I've been exhausted at the end of each day, I've not had the chance to do much recently.

I just read a book recommended by a friend from TASI (the summer school in Boulder COlorado which I attended this June), one of many who I should have kept in good contact with but have not done so due to time/life/apathy. My apologies to all of those with whom I had a superb if exhausting month and have not kept up the contact deserved.

Anyway, this book is by a South African author, playwrite and comedian called Pieter Dirk-Uys. He's a hugely influential comedian in South Africa who has always (and I say this only through what others have told me) been unafraid to push the boundaries in extremely tense times with highly political commentary (his main act he plays as a woman called Mrs Evita Bezuidenhout - "The most famous white woman in South Africa! "). It turns out that he is also a relation of mine through my grandfather who was born in Vienna. We've recently reestablished contact with that part of the family specifically through Pieter's sister Tessa who is a concert pianist. Last year we went en masse to Berlin where she was returning a Bluthner grand piano to the holocaust museum. Her mother (Helga Bassel) who was also a great pianist managed to get it and herself out of Berlin to Cape Town just in time, before the second world war may have spelt the end of the family. The reason it has now been returned is that only last year did Tessa come accross documents realising her suspicions that although she had been bought up in the Dutch reform Church, her mother, and therefore she, was Jewish. It was because of this realisation of the important history of the piano from Nazi Germany to Apartheid South Africa that the return of the Piano to the holocaust museum was carefully organised, culminating in a very powerful performance for its inauguration.

Anyway, the book by Pieter called 'Trekking to Teema''s also a poignant story, about the return of a white man, original from Apartheid South Africa, from LA to a South Africa, post-Apartheid but deep in turmoil to find his old nanny Teema who is his only surviving link with his deceased family. He is faced with a country full of paradoxes and suspicion with his own memories of a country that once was and prejudices from TV news of South Africa. Some things are still the same as ever and he is hit by this when he finds his old family home but some things have
changed greatly. I presume that it is a realistic account of South Africa, post Apartheid but pre president Mandela where I was shocked and surprised by the violence and suspicion endemic to almost every character in the book. Anyway, I think it's a fascinating account of South Africa from that time and I'd be interested to know how
realistic it is and how things have changed since then. I've never met anyone who has been to South Africa and not loved it and I'd love to go there one day.

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