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Calligraphy, Beijing Opera, Bicycle Culture!

Written by Al Wong

This is my experience in Beijing, China in the Summer of 1999. If you came to this webpage first, it's better if you start from the beginning of the story.

Tuesday, July 13th

My stomach was feeling a bit queasy after last night's dinner. I hope it was just from over eating and not something else. Eugenia said she was feeling OK.

As predicted, there was some disturbance about who unplugged the washing machine. Caroline asked me about this. I admitted I did it and explained:

  • Fair warning was given. I have made several complaints to Cathy about this which led Cathy to make an announcement to the group for quiet after 11pm. This was made last week.
  • Caroline herself also made a similar announcement last week!
  • *I* made a similar announcement last week!
  • I left a note attached to the washing machine about this. Someone moved my note.
  • I was not getting enough sleep.
  • Nothing was being done about it.
Cathy said she will disconnect the washing machine herself at 11pm. Great.

My second load of laundry came back today! It only took 2 days this time and was delivered right into my room! This service is getting better again.

My expected fax from Hong Kong for the hotel reservation still hasn't arrived yet. I will have to shoot out another email tomorrow.

Today's activities include:

  • Class Session. Today we covered likes and dislikes, hobbies, sports, and celebrating the Chinese New Year. This session went pretty fast today for some reason.

    On another note, one of my classmates, Miranda, fell ill during one of the class breaks with stomach pains. A doctor was called. I hope she gets better soon.

  • Calligraphy Lesson. This was my first real calligraphy lesson and it was a real eye opener! It was a good lesson. I need lots of practice to get the brush strokes right. My main problem was judging the proper ink to water ratio on the brush. Too much water and the brush writes too light and your strokes will run/spread on the paper. Too little water and the brush won't glide right on the paper and the ink will streak (the stroke won't be solid). This is on top of trying to get the brush strokes right.

    I think it would have been better if we had two lessons in calligraphy and one lesson in painting rather than the other way around. I think calligraphy would be more useful. I certainly had more fun doing this than painting goldfish.

  • Beijing Opera. Today, I got to see traditional Beijing Chinese opera, Jingju, at the Theatre of Beijing Huguang Guild Hall.

    To tell the truth, I didn't care for this performance. I guess it was a matter of expectations. I thought there would be more variety in the performances. The opera was basically two acts that were unrelated.

    First the good part. The costumes and makeup were bright and colorful. The lighting was excellent. A very bright stage. They had a silent radio running subtitles in English so you know what is going on. The performers evidently knew what they were doing. The performers will poise with you and your friends for a photo opportunity too.

    I didn't bring my camera this time because I assumed an inside performance would be too dark. They have been up to now. I didn't know there would be bright spotlights on the stage. Oh well.

    I seem to remember an TV program like Eye on LA reviewing this place! I have seen a short take of Chinese opera with the silent radio subtitles before on TV! It has to be this place.

    Now the bad part. The music was way TOO LOUD! It was drowning some of the performer's voices. Not that I could understand what they were saying but I couldn't hear them singing at all! Especially loud were the percussion instruments, the wooden drum and the cymbals. The frequencies of the percussion instruments were hurting my ears! Bring ear protection if you plan on seeing this show.

    The theater was only one third occupied when the show started. This was my first clue. I guess Jingju isn't that popular with the natives or with the tourists.

    There were some covered bird cages next to the bar very near the musicians. Presumably there were birds in these cages. I don't think these birds got any sleep at all during the performances. I felt sorry for these birds. They probably lost their hearing long ago.

    I wanted to get some postcards but they were asking way too much for them ($50.00RMB for one packet!). I get the impression this place is now basically a tourist trap.

    Some trivia. Cathy says that Dr. Sun Yat Sen organized the National Party at this theater. So this theater has been around for many years.

  • They Still Think They're Bicycles! As we were riding back to the language academy on the minibus, I was chatting with one of the newly arrived teachers. She mentioned the dangerous driving in Beijing as we almost hit a group of bicyclists. Then it hit me why people in Beijing drive the crazy way they do, why they cut people off, why they drive on the wrong side of the road, why they straddle two lanes, why honking isn't taken personally, why narrow misses is a way of life, why left hand turns are a free-for-all, why tail-gating is normal, and why there is no road rage. All the drivers still think they are riding bicycles! If you think about it, this is how thousands of bicycles would behave en masse on the streets. For many years Beijing had a large bicycle culture and this tradition or mindset still lives on! Now I understand.
 
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Calligraphy, Beijing Opera, Bicycle Culture!
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