Saturday, March 29, 2008

Josh Miller's Blog on China

Josh also wrote a little and posted a bunch of photos


Photos Click on the link on the left that says "Mar 2008 China"

Friday, March 28, 2008

Looking for answers in China

I left for china a few days after all the business in Tibet was taking place. My friend Jeff, who is doing the website for Students for a Free Tibet and who was the media guy for a direct action in Tibet last spring, asked me to find out what the people in China were thinking about the current uprising. Now, I didn't know much about China (I still don't) but my assumption was that I wouldn't be able to hear or see anything about Tibet while I was there. I had always heard that China censors the internet heavily and that the big propaganda machine keeps any outside information at bay. However, I was quite surprised when we were able to pull up Jeff's site in China.
Going to Yangshuo and saying I've been to China, is a bit like watching Transformers and saying that I know something about artsy independent films. Yangshuo is the most popular tourist spot in all of China. One upside is that it is frequented by Chinese tourists 50 to 1 over foreigners. However, there is still something about a touristy place that makes it touristy (think Sun Valley- is this a slice of America?).
Yangshuo is near Guillin which is in the South Eastern part of China. It is famous the world over for all the limestone towers that litter the area. I heard that there are 50 000 of them. I wasn't able to justify this answer personally, but after having looked out into the expanse, I can certainly believe it. It is really quite an amazing place. It sort of reminded me of Southern Utah except with limestone instead of sandstone, lushness instead of desert, and agriculture instead of wilderness. O.k. so it wasn't really like Utah at all, but something about the unlimitedness of it all and my desire to look behind that tower to see what was beyond, made me think of my trips to the desert.
Picture towers as far as you can see. The qwack of duck farms interspersed with the sounds of chinese farmers egging their water buffalos on in order to plow the rice fields terraced throughout. Rivers crisscross between and around (and through) the towers with stone houses spotting the landscape. Old woman on bicycles dodge busses with horns blazing (Chinese drivers use their horns a lot- I mean a lot). Meat dogs run wild with climbers trying to pet them. A great scene really.
One day we are walking out to a crag named The Egg. On this day, we were doing an exchange of new routes with a Hong Kong climber, Paul Collis, who has done a lot of the new routing at Yangshuo as well as having wrote the guidebook. He was in Chiang Mai a few weeks previous and had managed to get the first ascent on a route that i had drilled. He felt a bit guilty about this, so he offered up a first ascent to a route he had just finished drilling at The Egg. As we walked out there we passed a farmer and his Water Buffalo. One of the guys we were with (known as Shanghai Bob) speaks fluent Mandarin (Chinese) and muttered something to the farmer. The farmer replied with a big smile and muttered the same thing back. In Thailand, when you see someone randomly, the accepted greeting is "Gin kao ru yang" which means "Have you eaten (literally eaten rice) yet?" I figured this must be somewhat the same greeting, so I asked Bob what it was he was saying. He told me that he commented that the farmer was working hard and that the farmer replied, smiling, that he was indeed working hard. I asked Bob what this was about and he says it stems from the communist days when hard work was stressed as the most important trait a person can have. In thailand, eating is the most important aspect of life (as the shoddy workmanship can often show) and in China working hard is everything.

Climbing can be hard work. Especially when it rains a lot, and rain it did. Out of the 11 days in China, we had about 8 of rain. One might think this would stop a climbing trip in its tracks, but one would be wrong. Yangshuo has lots of overhung climbing. Unfortunately, due to my ongoing shoulder injury, I wasn't in the best of shape for this trip, but we managed to get our butts on some really fun climbs. I think my favorite area is the sweeping White Mountain cliff. This cliff is massive with routes ranging from 5.10a to 5.14. On one of the days we were there, some of the best female climbers in the world were climbing there Lisa Rands and Emily Harrington. Cedar Wright of Yosemite fame was also on hand. They were all being photographed by Tim Kemple. We also had the pleasure of climbing with a great guy buy the name of Nick Martino. Funny story here. Tim was all rigged up and ready to photograph Cedar on a 8a+ (13c) when yours truly decided it might be fun to climb a 7b (12b) climb right next to Cedar's line, meaning that he couldn't climb it without also getting a lot of photos of myself climbing my wicked project. Ooops. Not that they own the crag or anything but I realized that I had snaked in front of Cedar as I approached the 3rd or 4th bolt. All of the sudden I was very aware that everyone was waiting for me so I kindly asked for some beta to speed my ascent and got the full beta blow down from Cedar and Tim and everyone else. I fell a few times and then came down feeling a little sheepish for making everyone wait. I just didn't really think outside of my bubble very well when I jumped on it. Although, it was kind of fun to get beta from a photographer hanging a few feet above my head as I pulled through the crux.
So climbing was fun. We met some great climbers, hung out with the Hong Kong crew (see my post on Hong Kong), and ate some amazing noodles. On one rest day, Josh and I managed to work our way out into the countryside where we went into my favorite of all favorites, a cave. But this wasn't just any cave, this was a deliciously decorated cave lit up by colored lights and all. After having poked my way through some really dark caves, a colorfully lit friendly cave was pretty nice. Some of the features were absolutely incredible. I kept thinking how excited I would be if I had been caving with my friends and found something like this. Oh well, the hordes of tourists and signs saying "Don't Beat" will have to do.

As you can see, I had a good time indulging in outdoor pursuits while in China, but I still was not able to answer Jeff's question of what Chinese people think of the Tibetan uprising. Hmmmm. Maybe a trip to the local market will get me intermingling with the locals. The trip started out well enough. After purchasing some "Hong Kong House Wife Buns" we strolled through the vege and fish part of the market. No problem. It kind of reminded me of Thai markets which I am now very used to. Open stalls everywhere. Live eels and fish heads smattered across the floor. Colorful mounds of yellow flowers hawked by ancient ladies using generations old balances as scales. Nothing new.
We finished our buns just about the right time as we then strolled into the meat section. (this next part is a bit graphic) Thai meat markets are a little gory with pig heads next to gory animal parts but Chinese meat markets are a bit of a step up. Rows of freshly killed ducks, cages of live bunnies awaiting the axe, water buffalo heads half torn apart, strings of intestines hung up to dry. Then we came to a stall with jaws scattered about. But what did these jaws belong to? And why were they selling live dogs at the market? Ohhhhhhhhh. My mind connected it all together. Those cages of dogs are not for sale as pets. Then we saw the small cage. We watched as they loaded a cute fluffy dog (who seemed very mellow about what was to happen) into the cage, put the clamps around its neck and bludgeoned it with a mallet. At this point I looked away, but Josh watched as the first strike seemed to only stun the pupster. They lifted the dog out of the cage, gave it few good whacks and then slit its throat. So I guess the dogs wouldn't be able to tell me what they think of tibet, and I didn't get a sense that I could start up a conversation with the market sellers. Actually, language is a fairly large barrier in China. Not that many people (at least where we were) speak much English. We got good at pantomiming our needs.
Time went by, we had some fun adventures (including having our bike tires slashed, riding in the back a tractor truck, dancing the robot with a large crew from a chinese bank, developing a relationship with our noodle lady) but I still never got a feel for China. I guess i wasn't that worried about it.
It became time to leave so we boarded a taxi to take us to the airport. It is about a 100 minute ride to the airport and we ended up sharing it with Shanghai Bob. Bob has lived in China for 25 years. He seems quite well read and has that feel about him of a long term expat. Fluent in the language, comfortable with the customs, and pretty much jaded to anything that can happen. He also happens to read a lot of books about China. What a perfect guy to ask about Tibet.
This is what I learned from him. China's biggest public office is the Office of Propaganda. These guys are masters of controlling the thoughts of the masses. They've been doing it for a long time and in Bob's opinion it is somewhat necessary to do it. There are 1.5 billion people in China. This is a lot of people that need to get along nicely and compete for resources. It is much easier to govern a group this big if you can get them to buy into the "dream." The dream of getting along nicely and working towards a common good. The idea of economic Communism is now gone in China, but the social aspect is still very much alive. So the media is controlled by the government to keep the peace. I asked Bon what would happen if I talked to someone on the street about Tibet and the fact that the Tibetans don't want China in there. He says that the Chinese would disagree with me and that Tibetans do actually want the Chinese to occupy them because of all the benefits they good. That the Tibetans who are protesting are just a fringe group and that China is doing Tibet a favor. It really isn't an issue. If I try to argue with the Chinese person they would just laugh and say I don't know what I am talking about (they are right, I don't really know what I am talking about with Tibet). If a Tibetan were to talk with a chinese person, then there would probably be fist-a-cuffs.
So there we go. I talked to one person who has lived in China and I learned all about how China feels. I do find it interesting about mind control and China. It makes me wonder what kind of mind control I have grown up with under the guise of freedom. It is hard to say from my perspective.
Bob did say one thing that I thought was interesting. "If you visit China for 6 months, you can write a book about China. If you live in China for a year, you can write an essay. If you live in China for 5 years you can't write a single thing." I find that true for myself living in Thailand. The longer I live somewhere, the less I realize that I know about a place. Point in case, I was in China for 11 days and I wrote this incredibly long blog. Thanks for reading it.