Dajia hao! (Hey everybody!) Well, I've now been in Beijing for about 4 1/2 days, and I gotta say, it's quite a thought-provoking place. I'll dedicate this entry to describing the events concerning my travels to the country, and subsequent adventures and misadventures upon arrival.
The plane rides were made quite enjoyable by the presence of a few lovely and engaging conversationalists. I happened to be sitting next to a visiting scholar form China on my not so terribly tedious 12-hour flight who found great pleasure in correcting my Chinese and talking about the must-see/do aspects of Beijing. We spoke in Chinese nearly the whole flight, and I must say that I felt my Chinese had already improved substantially due to this engaging dialogue. During my promenades to the back of the plane in order to stretch my legs, I happened to meet a psychology major from Australia who was also keenly interested in the invidious distinctions that people make between their area of study and others,' which induces an impoverishing effect on the pursuit of knowledge and dialogue.
After landing in Beijing and laughing with a few Chinese men about my footwear (apparently they had never seen crocs before, and they were wondering if I was cold) I made my way out to the taxi queue and met a very friendly taxi driver who apparently knew about as much as the streets of Beijing as I did. We set out into the dark looking for the Shatan hotel, with me reading the address in Chinese over and over to the various people on the street who we asked and got conflicting directions from. The Beijing accent has a very heavy 'r' sound, and the taxi drivers sound like pirates on the highways of China. We were actually having a lovely chat in chinese when we weren't flagging down bicyclists for directions, though I was tempted to turn to him and go "Arghhh matey" every time I noticed we had gone in a circle, for the 3rd time.
Riding along the highways of Beijing allows one to breath in some of the finest fumes of the city, and I must say, it's bad, terribly awful. The inside of my mouth felt like I had just finished chewing the dirty stockings of a skunk (if skunks were not ashamed of their nakedness) accompanied by a strange prickling sensation in my nose and eyes. Getting lost in the dark smog, I could not help but hear the words of the poet Wendell Berry, "There are no unsacred places, there are only sacred places, and desecrated places." I began to think philosophically about how and why people could ever let their world become so painfully disgusting. It's a frightening form of apathy when people live in a place where, no, the air is not good to breath, and oh, the water, don't even think about drinking it. Believe me, I'm very interested in hearing the Beijingers' thoughts on this desecration, and I just have to ask them, why? It's not only nature that we desecrate, look at what we do to our bodies, what we do to each other. Research shows that a desecration and exploitation of nature is intimately connected to a prejudice and oppression of various stigmatized, socially oppressed, and devalued groups (see ecofeminist theory). I really wanted to discuss the insights of ecofeminist theory my new friend the pirate taxi driver, but we were too busy getting directions to the hotel, and trying to hold our breath.
Even though breathing, drinking water, or trusting Chinese products is not encouraged (two men were recently executed for selling hundreds of tons of contaminated milk that killed 6 babies and made 300,000 ill) the people here are very sweet, and love talking with you. I look forward to learning from the people of this city, and what it's like to live in the clouds, thirsty for something.