Articles in dawn jones-garcia’s travel blog
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Many great questions have been pondered throughout Chinese history. On a hot June day in 2009, four brave women dared to ask: “Where is the toboggan?” Their quest was part of this year’s Reporting China assault on the Great Wall of China and a special mission to search out a toboggan ride discovered by the 2008 Reporting China team that provides travelers the option of a little mechanical help in getting up to and down from the battlements, with a few thrills and chills thrown in for good measure. Join them now to see how they fared.
In hopes of becoming the next Bruce Lee, 10-year-old Qiu Bao endures demanding training at the Zhao Changjun Wushu Institute, a martial arts school located in the suburbs of Xi’an. For Qiu and his classmates, the tough conditions represent a test of character in a hoped-for tradeoff for a better future.
With a half-dozen ceiling fans pushing around the hot, humid air in the school gymnasium, Qiu does his best to keep up with the grueling daily routine. He dashes down a strip of burgundy carpet, sweat pouring off his face, leaps in the air, sticks his landing and returns to the back of the line to repeat the process.
But the heat and exertion take their toll. During a subsequent drill, Qiu falls, hitting the ground with a loud thump. Hastily righting himself, he steals an apprehensive look at his two trainers. Then, in the last group routine before a break, he lags behind the other students, clearly exhausted, with bruises visible on his slim legs. Yet by the end of the drill, he manages to stand straight and tall, ultimately triumphing over his shortcomings… Shortcomings will have to disappear if Qiu hopes to ever prove that he can master this demanding vocation.
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When I arrived in China, I expected to meet people sporting red armbands and green hats, like icons from a 1950s propaganda poster. So when I began seeing young people in Beijing that broke this mold – Mohawk-sporting musicians, tattooed skateboarders, extreme-sport enthusiasts – it seemed more significant than what this same behavior might mean back home. Thus the question: In a country that has put so much stock in conformity, do new forms of self-expression represent small but meaningful forms of rebellion?
The day began at the Beijing Normal University, where I spoke with Chinese philosophy students about the teachings of Confucius. My interest was indirectly inspired by the piles of bricks, both old and new, that I had seen in the hutongs around my hotel. Construction workers routinely incorporate bricks from torn-down structures with new ones to erect the modern buildings now sprouting in Beijing.
Thus, the idea of combining new and old forms made me wonder how traditional Chinese culture persists in the face of the country’s fast-paced economic growth. I wanted to know what metaphorical “old bricks” are reincarnated in the new China. A philosophical conversation seemed like a place to start. As the day wore on, I got schooled in the oldest aspects of Chinese culture. Appropriately enough, the most intriguing lesson came with little explanation. . . .
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The village of Nuanxuan is just a three-hour bus ride to the west of sprawling, modern Beijing. Uneven dirt roads swallow tires whole after a good rain, laundry is hand-washed in a concrete reservoir in the center of town and bright storefront billboards starkly contrast with the sharp odors wafting from 300-year-old outhouses across the way.
But according to Zhang Wenbo, the town’s mayor, Nuanxuan is on its way up in the world. In late 2005, the town was one of 85 across China . . . .
I’ve been in Beijing for less than a week, but already I have a favorite place to sit and watch the world go by: Jin Hai Restaurant, just outside the old neighborhoods in the original city. My Chinese vocabulary doesn’t stretch far beyond “ni hao” (hello) and “xie xie” (thank you), but my translator explained that Jin means “landscape” and Hai means “ocean”.
And here, on any given day, you can sit on the patio and observe waves of sweaty blue uniformed workers, gossiping grandmothers and egg-delivering scooters pass by, as this fishing net of a restaurant lures neighborhood denizens and visitors alike to its plastic patio furniture and the sound of hearty greetings from owners Ho Pin and Ho Kon.
The Ho brothers epitomize a changing China, a nation in which capitalism has taken hold and the entrepreneurial spirit is alive. . . .