A Blogger's Guide to Beijing

You've read the blog... now get the book. The Blogger's Guide to Beijing is now available in eBook format in five volumes from Amazon. Click here for more details...

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Red Dreams in BJ

OK, I know many people think I am pig ignorant, but I have to admit that before coming to China I had never heard of a book called Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦 (also known as Dream of Red Mansions), which is widely regarded as one of the four ancient Chinese classical masterpieces. It’s required reading for almost everyone, much as Shakespeare is for the Brits, and many rank it with the likes of 'War and Peace'.
The writer, Cao Xueqin, was born in the early 1720s and lived for only forty years. He devoted the last ten years of his life to the writing of this novel, which paints a vivid portrait of an aristocratic Chinese family surrounded by wealth, power and prestige, while under the surface, is a family in which chaos and dissension frequently prevail. Those of a “certain age” will see parallels in Peyton Place or Dallas! The success of the novel is derived from the characterisation of the 400 or so people and the nuances of family life as it affected those who lived during the Qing Dynasty.
To add to my ignorance, it has taken me over a year to discover one of Beijing’s parks called Da guan yuan – 大观园 – or Grand View Garden, which is a 130,000 sq. m. landscaped garden themed around the Dream of the Red Chamber, and boasting more than 40 pavilions, terraces and buildings.

It’s located in the southwest of Beijing at Xuanwu District, a brisk 20 minutes walk from the nearest subway station.  Using the description in the story as a guide, it was created between 1984 and 1989 and was originally used as the location for the first CCTV television series (36 episodes in all) based on the novel which aired in 1987 and is regarded by many within China as being a near-definitive adaptation of the book.
Not surprisingly, it has become popular with Chinese visitors, though not one westerner did I see there the entire time. Come to think of it, my western colleagues at work have never even heard of it either, so maybe that is no surprise. Anyway, just in case one should be in any doubt as to whether it is worth going all the way out there to see the place, there is a notice saying that Da guan yuan is one of China’s top 40 tourist attractions … at least I suspect that is what it means…

But today is a cold day and even the lakes are frozen solid, so it’s no surprise that the place isn’t actually crawling with people … thank goodness!

Not, you understand, that that stops the park management from adding some artificial colour in the form of plastic peach and cherry blossom throughout the park… perhaps just a tad too early guys?

Kite flying appears to be quite popular in this corner of Beijing, as can be witnessed by the abandoned kites caught up in the trees…

But the winter chill is enough to attract a number of people out onto the ice…

… and we all know that signs telling you what you are not allowed to do only ever apply to other people!

The entire park is actually laid out with more than 40 scenic spots set within it. The most attractive parts are the courtyards which replicate the residences of the main members of the wealthy Jia family in the novel. Many of the buildings are red-coloured, but this is the most magnificent… 

The Red Mansion Exhibition in the Enjoyment Red Hall is the main display of the Red Mansion Culture and Art Museum where inside there are numerous displays of anything  remotely to do with the novel. Here’s Jia yuen Chun, the sister of Jia Bayou, one of the principle characters who was born on the first day of the first lunar month (Chun means spring) – gazing out through the doorway at all the visitors …

There are a couple of palanquins on display too – one red and another yellow.

While around the walls of one room are costumes used in the TV drama series…

I’m not sure what these plaster cast mouldings have to do with anything, apart from the fact, of course, that they are characters in the novel…

There’s even a bust of the author Cao Xueqin – though as no one appears to have had a handy Polaroid or iPhone around at the time, no one is really sure what he looked like – hence the “vague” look of the sculpture.

(Just to put it all into context, Cao was ten years older than George Washington; and when he was 20, Voltaire was just starting to publish his own works, whilst the steam engine was invented one or two years after Cao's death.)
Cao was born into a noble and powerful family, which was reduced from extreme prosperity to poverty. They say that the life of luxury in his boyhood acquainted him with the ways of noble families and the ruling classes, while poverty in his old age enabled him to observe life more clearly. Of the book’s 120 chapters, the first 80 were written by Cao, while the last 40 chapters were thought to have been written by another writer, Gao E.
Dream of the Red Chamber describes the life and declining fortunes of a large feudal family. At the heart of the novel is a tragic love story between Jia Baoyu, Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai – often described as China’s answer to Romeo and Juliet! Instead of telling the love story superficially, Cao taps into the social origins of the tragedy through probing deeply into the characters' minds and the complicated relationship among them, hence exposing the hypocrisy and cruelty of feudalism and the decadence of the ruling class.
Naturally wall after wall is covered with drawings, photographs, sketches, explanations … ad nauseam, though some are highly  attractive…

Sketches of the heroine, Lin Daiyu are superb..

… as are those of the Lady Dowager…

One of the first films of the book was made in 1936; so naturally there are still-frames from the film on display…

Another of the best known productions was made in 1943 and directed by Bu Wancang.

We have already talked about the CCTV series made in 1987. But there was also a later remake for TV, which aired in 2010 and was one of the most expensive Chinese TV series ever made at RMB118 million - US$17.55m. It was made up of 50 episodes, but wasn’t as popular as the earlier version.

And never one to miss a marketing opportunity, there is plenty of tack for sale to the hordes of red mansion fans; though what one would actually do with a painted egg, apart from dust it occasionally and hope it doesn’t fall off its perch, is beyond me.

…though this vase could at least be used to hold flowers (or even plastic blossoms?)

Back outside once again there are plenty of painted covered walk ways to delight the eye

while the snow-covered lakes set off by the red pavilions are a joy to behold.

It’s been a freezing cold day, but I am now determined that when I get back to my apartment, one of the first jobs on my extensive to-do list is to download a copy of Dream of the Red Chamber from the internet. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Arrogance of Serenata Flowers

It never fails to amaze me sometimes how some firms ever manage to stay in business. I’m not talking about problems with cash flow, which affects all businesses at one time or another. No. I’m talking about the cavalier way in which they treat their customers, expecting them to return to use their abysmal services, as if they have a god-given right to assume that their business will carry on regardless of how bad the service is that that they offer.
A classic case in point is Serenata Flowers - http://www.serenataflowers.com – whose corporate arrogance beggars belief.
Serenata Flowers is a sister site of Serenata Wines, Serenata Chocolates, Serenata Hampers and Serenata Plants.
Their web site sounds enticing (even if their grammar is appalling!): “London florist Serenata Flowers delivers beautiful fresh flowers in the UK. As an independent florist, we cut out middlemen and offers cheaper flowers by buying flowers direct from the best growers and flower auctions around the world. Our flowers are fresher that what you will find in traditional flower shops in the UK, since we buy flowers internationally delivered to the UK and shipped out via our Free flower delivery service the same day.” (sic)
As an afterthought, it adds “For last minute flower deliveries we have partnered with local florists throughtout England, Scotland and Wales to offer same-day flower delivery” (sic)
On the web site it also lets you know that Orders placed within a certain time frame will be accepted for the following day…

… while they also give a “guarantee” that they will deliver on time, every time
As I wanted to send some flowers to someone with a 60th birthday in two days time I decided to try them out giving a full 48 hours notice. Unfortunately, the web site crashed twice as I was placing the order, and also “decided” to include a paid-for card when I had not checked the paid card check box. I wrote to them:
Hi - your web site has been really bad this evening and has twice forced me to return to the very beginning of the order process. I did NOT want a paid-for card, and although I checked the free card box, it still added a paid for card. Please will you amend this order to include only a free card and not a paid-for card. Thank you.
I received a reply from Lily Calyx, Serenata’s Head of Customer Services, saying “Further to your recent contact with us regarding order Q3854996 in which you informed us that you wished to change the products in the order, we wish to inform you that we have organised a refund of £2.99 back to the payment method used when placing the order. Please note that it may take 1-3 days for the refund to show on your statement.
“Please do not reply to this email as it has been sent from an unattended email account. To contact us, please login to your account via http://www.serenataflowers.com/login.asp or use our contact form at http://www.serenataflowers.com/contactpage.asp?ticketID=E45EE07C-F0CD-4516-982D-4B9B6D57FA1B.”
All well and good, you would think … except that when I clicked on that link above it took me to correspondence between Serenata and another of its customers who was complaining about late delivery. (It’s no use trying to click on that URL now as Serenata removed the page after I complained about their “security”!) So much for their Security and Privacy promise!

As I hadn’t heard anything from the intended recipient two days after the flowers should have arrived, I decided to check Serenata’s web site, where they have a tracking facility. 
What’s this? The “parcel” is still in the depot ready for dispatch? I wrote to them immediately:
“Just what is going on with your web site? I placed this order to arrive on January 26th but STILL your site [on the 28th] says the order is at the depot awaiting delivery! Please CONFIRM that these flowers were delivered on the date specified and which I paid for. I am in Beijing, China, and have relied on you to carry out this order properly but I have had nothing but problems with your web site. Can you please tell me what time of days these flowers were delivered?”
Exactly one hour and 45 minutes later, Franny Cook from Customer Services Admin replied:

I can confirm that your bouquet was delivered on 28/01/13 at 15:05. Please accept our sincere apologies for the late delivery of your flowers on such an important occasion. As the flowers arrived late we would like to offer a 20% discount off of a future order. Simply use the voucher code ’##### [number hidden]’ when you place your next order.
Were they trying to be funny? Did they honestly think that I would be using their service again when they had failed to honour their contract the first time around? I wrote back again…
This is simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!!! You failed to deliver on a very important occasion and to expect me EVER to use your abysmal service again just beggars belief! I am absolutely furious. Your web site stated categorically that you would deliver on the 26th. And it took a complaint from me to actually trigger some action from you guys to deliver it at all - two days late! This is absurd. Kindly rebate the 20% off what you have already charged me straight away and stop this nonsense. I am absolutely disgusted!
This time Hannah Mills in Customer Service Admin wrote back: “Please be advised, we have recieved (sic) a response from the couriers: Good Afternoon,Thank you for your enquiry. Unfortunately due to the extreme weather we had Friday night, Saturday morning, the driver was unable to deliver this, it has however been delivered today. We do apologise for any frustration and upset caused on this occasion.”
Just a moment though… doesn’t their web site state categorically that “we cut out middlemen”? So what are couriers if not middle men?
And sure, there had been snow that weekend; but it hadn’t stopped my daughter being able to drive some 200 miles to get there. I wrote back again:
You are now adding insult to injury. The fact that my daughter was able to drive all the way from the Midlands to this address for a family reunion on the 26th shows that the roads were passable and your courier company is not telling the truth. Your company entered into a contract to deliver the flowers on the Saturday morning. You failed to do so. Worse still you didn’t even let me know. Neither did any action even start to be taken until after I had contacted you on the Monday afternoon UK time ... it was midnight here in Beijing … asking what was going on. I now repeat - I expect you to make compensation for the embarrassment caused me and the fact that you failed to honour your contract. If I have to escalate this believe me I will do so. Do not fob me off with excuses. I want to know what you now intend to do to bring this miserable episode to a conclusion.
Mark Davis, their Customer Service Manager now took up the baton …
Thank you for your email Apologies for any upset or embarrassment caused. As advised by my colleague, this was delivered late due to the bad weather that we experienced and unfortunately this is something that was out of our control. We appreciate that some of the roads in the area we accessable [sic], however some of the roads were very icy and as a result of this the driver was not able to make any deliveries that day. As stated in our terms and conditions, we are unable to offer any form of refund or resend due to the non-delivery as this was out of our control and cannot accept any responsibility for this inconvenience.
Yet again, your favourite blogger wrote back…
“When you took my money you confirmed delivery on January 26th. And your web site states categorically "Our Guarantee - the freshest flowers guaranteed delivery on time, every time". It was only on the Monday afternoon AFTER I had complained that your team should get off its collective backside to send out the delivery that you made any effort to deliver, even though I now understand the roads were perfectly clear in the morning. Your website also goes on to say "Our Guarantee - If you are not 100% happy with your Serenata experience, we will offer you a full refund or replacement..." Well I am certainly  NOT 100% happy so please organise a full refund without any further delay.”
Note that wording of theirs – not we MIGHT offer… but we WILL offer.
But this time Faith J wrote back… “We do understand your frustration, however the issue may have been enroute to your recipient that the weather had affected the roads for delivery, rather than the roads near to your recipients address.” Errr… can you say that in English, please, Faith?  “…during adverse weather conditions … we cannot accept responsibility for the late delivery of the order. Therefore, in the event of adverse weather conditions, we aren’t able to refund or offer re-delivery of affected orders.”
She also manages to avoid the fact that along with all the other “guarantees” on their web site it states categorically “in the event of non-delivery on the selected delivery date, we will either refund you in full or redeliver your order – it is your choice, just let us know.”
So, dear blog readers; where we are at the moment is a stand off with Serenata basically saying “Get lost dear customer. We have your money and you can carry on singing for it.”
But those of you who know me well know that I will not give up. I intend to post this account on my Blogger pages which typically get around 300 regular readers every week. I will inform Serenata of the URL so they too can enjoy reading all about themselves.
If I get no satisfaction from them, it will then be posted on my main web site which gets around 3,000 visitors every week. Failing that too, it will then get onto Facebook… well, you get the idea…
Oh, and dear Serenata customer service agents, you might care to know I am a journalist and I have a track record of embarrassing companies such as yours into starting to give real customer service rather than trying to hide behind the small print (which in the case of your web site you conveniently hide on your Help page).
I will of course continue to give you, my blog fans, full up to date coverage of how this develops.
Oh, and as of the time of writing, Serenata's tracking service still says that the flowers are in the depot!
Addendum 1. - 31/01/2013
Five days after the flowers should have arrived and three days after they did arrive, Serenata's web site still lists them as arriving in the local depot ready for dispatch!

Addendum 2. - 31/01/2013
Message from Katie Upton in Customer Service Admin: Dear Brian, Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we are unable to view the link as security setting will not allow us to, if you could please forward your comments to us directly we will do our best to assist you.

Oh what a shame! I will write to them again, this time with the link to both web sites that currently carry this blog entry!

Addendum 3. - 31/01/2013
My reply to Serenata: "What a shame about your security settings. I would suggest that now as well as yesterday's blog entry:
you also try to get in to:

Of course, you could hide once again behind your security settings, but this episode is not going to go away!

In the meantime, as per your web site's advice: "Our Guarantee - If you are not 100% happy with your Serenata experience, we will offer you a full refund or replacement..."
(Please note the wording: not we MIGHT offer… but we WILL offer)
So as you know I am very unhappy with what has gone on, I would now like to claim a full refund for this order. I await your reply.

Addendum 4 - 31/01/2013
One of my blog fans informs me that she was so insensed by this blog that she wrote to Serenata's web site to complain of their poor service! Thanks Suzie. Much appreciated!

Addendum 5 - 01/02/2013
Lily Calyx picked up the baton one final time: "Further to your recent contact with us regarding order Q3854996 in which you informed us that your order was delivered unacceptably late, we wish to inform you that due to the 100% satisfaction guarantee, that we have organised a refund back to the payment method used when placing the order. Please note that it may take 3-5 days for the refund to show on your statement. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the poor experience and inconvenience caused."
Bravo Lily! Finally common sense prevails. I won't now be leaving polite messages on your FaceBook page; nor will I be posting comments about you on my FB page either.
Herewith the matter rests!

Oh, and your web tracker still lists the flowers as being in the warehouse ready for dispatch!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Three into Two Does NOT Go!

There are times, it has to be admitted, when common sense isn’t always high on your favourite blogger’s list of obvious attributes – for how else can you explain the sudden desire one day to go see an open air museum, when the mercury outside is hitting minus 16 degrees?
I had passed the Chinese Ethnic Culture Park (中华民族园), located just to the west of the Olympic Green, on many occasions and had, it must be admitted, been intrigued by an oddly shaped totem pole stuck up on the corner of a not-so-busy interchange. From my bedroom window, it looks a glorious day outside and I determine there and then to go and explore…
The 50 hectare park isn't normally overflowing with tourists, even in the summer. But on a day like today I am not really surprised that at 9.30 in the morning, I am the only visitor. I even have to knock loudly on the ticket booth window to wake up the girl inside to ask for my ticket – special price today of just 60 kwai instead of the normal 90 one is charged in the summer months.
The blurb is enthusiastic in its descriptions. “In Ethnic Culture Park Beijing, tourists not only can enjoy the traditional constructions, appreciate the amorous feelings, watch song and dance, buy the national arts crafts, but also can have a taste of national cate personally. The Ethnic Culture Park Beijing covers 450 thousand aquare meters, which include South Park and North Park. There are the biggest cast iron sculpture, simulated tropical banian forest, karst cave in water, panlong waterfall, painting on rock, karisuma of Ali mountain in Ethnic Culture Park Beijing.” (sic)
Unfortunately it fails to mention, except in the small print, that the South Park is open from April to November only. Hence the price reduction. But there are still 16 national villages in the north side and “tourists can enjoy and participate in the dance, celebration, production, habitude when they are visiting the national villages. They can achieve the unique enjoyment of culture and art.” So let’s take a look!
The entrance of the north park looks enticing enough, though as I walk through into the park itself, no one asks to see my ticket; until, that is, a rather chubby guy starts to run after me, having obviously been disturbed from doing whatever it is that chubby Chinese guys do when they are expecting a morning of sitting contemplating life’s mysteries. He tears my ticket and goes back to contemplating life’s mysteries once again.
According to the China Ethnic Park’s website, the museum's goals are to demonstrate ethnic architecture, preserve ethnic relics, spread ethnic knowledge, study ethnic heritage, enhance ethnic culture and promote unity of all Chinese ethnic groups. You notice the key word there, no doubt?
Construction began in October 1992. The North Section was opened to the public in June, 1994, and the South Section was opened seven years later. The park covers some 50 hectares and all the buildings are constructed to a ratio of 1:1. It appears to have taken the idea from Jakarta’s famous Taman Mini Indonesia Indah and attempted to create a Chinese equivalent.
The web site continues: There are many attractive scenic spots in the park. The big banyan tree symbolizes the 56 ethnic groups banding together. The Ethnic Bridge which connects the north and south park adopts the architectural styles of Bai, Dong and Zang People. The Tenggeli Waterfall which falls from 161-feet high is the biggest man-made waterfall in China. Many typical ethnic architectural styles are available for viewing. Examples include the Tujia People's stilt-house, Mosuo People's wooden house, Hui People's cave house and Li People's ship-shaped house. Hundreds of young men from a range of ethnic groups gather together and proudly be the guide to introduce their own culture. The park also holds ethnic groups' festivals and invites visitors to join in. The Water-Splashing Festival of the Dai People, the Mongolian's Nadam Fair, the Lisu People's Knife-Pole Festival, Miao People's Sister Festival and Yugur's Harvest Festival win much applause from visitors. At the museum, several ethnic groups grow traditional crops such as paddy rice or buckwheat, and each day Tibetan lamas from the Tar Monastery of Qinghai chant Buddhist sutras.
Well, perhaps in the summer months that might apply, but today it appears that half the buildings in the north section of the park are also locked well and truly shut.
But it would surely be churlish to complain. Who, in their right minds, after all, is going to want to visit today when it’s -16 Celsius? I even wonder if the fire hydrants scattered around the park, are likely to work in such cold weather.
It’s all so different from some of the more fanciful descriptions I have read on the net: “A brook murmurs through little bridges, flowers bloom in the sun, birds sing on the trees while rice and wheat send out fresh fragrance. Strolling in the park you can feel the strong flavor of the Chinese ethnic groups. It is really a good place to refresh your mind and relax. Staff members decked in colorful traditional costumes stroll around each village, offering information on each nationality's culture, while various small shops sell ethnic-themed souvenirs and handicrafts. Many of the sites also hold performances and events at regular intervals.
But not today. Instead I come across one of the many museums-within-a-museum. Here is the Salar Museum, where a noticeboard tells me that the Salar nation has a population of 100,000 - mostly Moslem - and they mostly live in Xunhua Autonomous county in Qinghai Province. This particular Salar building, together with a minaret and mosque which are all about 500 years old, were removed from Xunhua in 2003 and rebuilt here. All the objects on display are original and arranged according to the local customs.
I’m just reading up on how the main products of the region are chili and pepper, when a red faced girl, who is surprised to see anyone at all in her particular “museum”, rushes up to me gesticulating wildly. Bu hanyu I tell her; but she prattles on, oblivious of the fact that I understand not a single word of what she is talking about; and taking my arm and all but shoving me out of her museum door she points frantically at the “Seaweed House” a few metres away.
It is clear, even to this befuddled blogger, that something is going on there. So with a smile and a XieXie, I stroll over to see what is afoot.
The seaweed stone house of the Han (Han Chinese constitute about 92% of the population) has walls built of stone and a roof covered with seaweed. The style of building is representative of the area along the Jiaodong coast in Shandong Province. After it rains, the seaweed apparently becomes sticky from the glutinous stuff inside, and this protects the building from heat, corrosion and combustion. Typically a roof lasts for up to 80 years without going rotten. In addition, the blurb tells us, the seaweeds near the gables will increase in thickness like the camel humps sticking up elegantly!
I wander inside where it is totally silent, save for a faint noise coming from the back of the building. As I wander down the passageway, the noise gets louder until, as I open a door I see inside a room where a group of students are playing indoor-badminton while others are knocking a ping pong ball around the place.
Silence falls, and then a plethora of voices all jabbering away in Chinese bid me welcome and I am all but marched to one of the seats facing an empty stage and told in no uncertain terms to park my bottom, as someone rushes over to an amplifier bay and turns on some “ethnic” music.
Bu hanyu, I once again tell my newfound friends; but this doesn’t stop them using that old trick we Brits have mastered over the years… if a foreigner doesn’t understand a word you are saying, you simply RAISE YOUR VOICE!
Any thoughts of being able to slip silently away are totally out of the question, of course; though I have to admit that after only 10 minutes in the open air, I am quite glad to warm up inside.
A girl walks up onto the stage, having forgotten to take off her cardigan in all the excitement of having someone to perform to! And then she proceeds to explain for five minutes in fluent Chinese what pleasures await. I smile, wishing all the time she would get the message that I haven’t a clue what she is talking about. But this is a well rehearsed performance, and nothing is going to stop her in her moment of glory!
I remember that in the summer months at least there are numerous performances throughout every day, including a flag ceremony, stunt performances, a water splashing carnival, and of course various ethnic dances. (The official web site asks that one respects Dai People's Custom by waiting for Dai People to splash the first bowl of water before you splash or touch the water. Please … splash water in the specified place!) But in the winter, this seems to be the best they can muster.
Soon enough a group of students, who have by this time donned colourful costumes, emerge from behind a curtain to perform for your favourite blogger’s delight.
One of the girls comes up to me and gestures that I should join them in their dancing; but I politely decline. In my vast experience of such things, it is nothing short of embarrassing to see foreigners “going native” and making absolute fools of themselves. Is it my imagination, or does the girl look slightly relieved?
No sooner have they shuffled off the stage than a guy, who obviously seems to fancy himself somewhat, jumps up and starts a rendition of some patriotic number that would have them all standing in the aisles at a karaoke bar. But this is not karaoke, and instead he moves on to performing what appears to be a take off of Gangnam Style – minus the Korean lyrics!
Next up, the failed PSY-lookalike joins in the antics as a group of guys shove one another with a pole – a bit like a tug-of-war, but in the opposite direction if you get my drift. Once again I am asked if I would like a go; but I fear it would not be fair to subject these guys to the effects of my rippling muscles and once again I politely decline.
Eventually, all good things must come to an end, and with tears in their eyes the students bid me all a fond farewell as I prepare once again to face the outside world.
A few metres up the path I come to a Gaoshan village, situated on a hilltop near a brook, recreating the mountain landscape typically inhabited by the Gaoshan people on Taiwan Island. The path is guarded over by two more totems. Now, have you noticed that whenever someone wants to push forward the idea of ethnicity that you invariably get a quaint looking ethnic statue that has an ethnic penis dangling from somewhere in the vicinity of its ethnic legs?
Well here they go one better. Not just two totems with attached penises, but two totems with three penises between them. I look around to see if there is an appropriately super-endowed female totem to be able to take advantage of what’s on offer (I’m beginning to understand the expression “a double whammy”!) but alas for these two totems proudly displaying their stuff, it is not to be.
A notice board tells anyone interested enough to stop for a while that, with a population of 400,000, the Gaoshan live mainly in Taiwan, though there are 4,461 who live on the mainland (how often is that updated, I wonder). They are good - we are told - at carving and drawing; and Gaoshan people believe in a primitive religion. (ah, then they are definitely ethnic, I suspect).
As I walk through the Gaoshan village, I come across yet another ethnic, penis-obsessed piece of art. Talk about one-track-minded! How come the Gaoshans haven’t outnumbered the Hans by now?
From the top of this eerie, one can perch over into the abyss below and see two ice-bound canoes in what presumably passes for a river at other times of the year.
While, turning to the left is a model of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture's Manfeilong Pagoda – the original of which has been left behind in south western China.
Totally oblivious to this all, however, are three local residents wrapped up sensibly in fur coats.
I pass yet another ethnically-painted wall – this one featuring no-doubt-meaningful ethnic serpents surrounding a-supposedly ethnic woman and hardly notice directions to the Xibe Museum, Man Museum, Oroqen Musem, Salar Museum, Buyei Museum, Daur Museum, Mongolian Museum, Tujia Museum, Bai Museum, Naxi Museum, Dai Museum, Tu Museum, Miao Museum, Qiang Museum, Wa Museum, Zang Museum or any other blessed museum for that matter. I have more pressing thoughts on my mind and hurry on to the loo, the cold weather playing havoc with your favourite blogger’s bladder!
Inside it is spotless and in addition there is a working hand dryer (somewhat of a rarity in Beijing, I have found) and from then on I amble my way around the park stopping at every public convenience I pass in order to bask in a blast of hot air from the aforementioned dryers. Ahhhhh….. bliss!!!!
Before very long I have arrived at “A glimpse of the Dong Landscape”. This area is dominated by a stunning pagoda and a sign explains that with a population of around 3 million, the Dong live mainly in Guizhou, Hunan and Guangxi.
Their language belongs to the Tibetan group of dialects; and the Dong traditionally dwell in two storey houses built on stilts. “Their embroidery is full of characteristics,” the blurb continues; “and the Dong homophonic singing style enjoys a long time fame. Dong people worship ghosts and gods,” it adds rather lamely, as if to stress their ethnic credentials.
Along the bank of the lake are three waterwheels, though the official Dong blurb makes no mention of these (or else my brain is too numb to take it in).
And crossing the Dragon Lake, joining the Dong to the Blang and Miao villages (ah – now I see where those three fur coated individuals came from!) is a pretty bridge, which actually looks better from further away than actually walking over it.
Over in the Dai area, is a rather splendid little tower known as the “Water Splashing Dragon Pavilion”. It’s a metal hexagon with five layered aluminium carvings. A dragon's head stretches upwards into the pavilion and when it rains, water comes out of its mouth. The pavilion is used for Buddha's birthday ceremonies and it was donated by Dehong prefecture in 1999.
But, oh dear. Whose idea was it to have this ghastly multicoloured Pi Xiu installed here. I have to say that of all the Pi Xiu I have seen in China, this one must be the most awful I have ever come across. Yuk!!!
One of the largest areas of the park – on the northern side at any rate – represents Tibet. Well, I guess it is one of the largest ethnic groupings isn’t it. To get to it you have first to climb up a trail through a rocky mountain “inspired by the Tibetan plateau". At the end of the mountain trail, a mini-Potala palace awaits, followed by a “stroll through a colourful village” along "Bajiao Street," modelled after its namesake in Lhasa.
A sign says, rather deprecatingly, I think, that “Tibetans have made great contributions to human civilisation by engaging in animal husbandry and raising yaks”. I guess that must be one of the things that makes them ethnic!
Just to underscore the ethnicity of the Tibetans, as if that is needed, are some rock doodles – no doubt copies of graffiti found in downtown Lhasa…
What? No penises or serpents? How un-ethnic!
But to make up for that, it appears the Ethnic Museum’s Tibetan Museum is stuffed full of museums in its own right
For instance there is a museum of Gau boxes (in which the Tibetans keep Caca, or religious clay models, Buddha figures or amulets), usually worn around the neck. Apparently they are cherished and admired by the wearers.
There’s also a frizzen museum.
A what?
A frizzen is a Tibetan type of tinderbox, used to start fires. It works on the age old principle of striking iron against flint and creating sparks.
And we mustn’t forget the plait adornment museum…
In the summer of 2001 when a professional inspection team led by Wang Ping, director of this ethnic museum, arrived in the Tibetan area of Qinghai, they rather fancied the plait adornments embroidered with flower motifs hung on the backs of the Tibetan girls.
According to local tradition, when a girl is about 13 years old, the elders will hold for her a ceremony called dai dun. (Dai dun means wearing beautiful headdresses.) When a girl wears such a plait adornment for the first time it shows she has grown up.
They brought a number of these adornments (minus the girls!) back to the museum and put them on display here.
And lest you should think for one moment that I have not as yet mentioned what Tibet is most famous for, I should add without further ado that there is a whole row of prayer wheels that the idle visitor can spin, leading up to a large prayer wheel at the end of the street.
The big prayer wheel is another means of chanting a mantra. The metal covers are inscribed with six-character words and the entire scriptures from the Taer Temple are found inside. Revolving it for one cycle in a clockwise direction has the same power as tens of thousands of mantra being chanted. (I would think that the guy who discovered this must have won first prize in the annual time and motion study awards that year!)
Having spun my wheel and fully now expecting tens of thousands of mantras-worth of good luck to come my way, your favourite blogger steps out once more into the real world.
But it is not long before I make my way to one final rest-room stop before heading for the subway station. Arranged at strategic intervals round the walls and over the urinals are multiple copies of these notices…
Literally translated they say love (or protect) public property; you are the most beautiful. Now, how on earth could they possibly have known your favourite blogger would be coming here?