Showing posts with label China watch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label China watch. Show all posts

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What a difference 20 years makes

As the 20’th anniversary of the slaughter of protesting students at Tiananmen Square approaches, my wife Donna sent me this photo from yesterday. Looks peaceful enough now but Chinese authorities are not looking forward to June 5’th. And security will naturally be tight (or I should say tighter, as security in China is always tight.)

She took my good Kodak digital camera with high optical zoom, but even so I told her not to point it in the direction of any of those ubiquitous folks in olive green uniform.

Too bad male Amherst town officials could not show such balls.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

You can go home again

Professor Li, a Chinese visiting scholar to Babson College and a friend of ours lives here in Hefei and picked us up at the airport. His university is only a few blocks from the Novotell and he once had the main manager as a Grad student so he got us a room upgrade from economy closet to penthouse suite.

He also hired a comfortable van and driver for the two-hour trip to Kira’s orphanage and came along with his 11-year-old daughter to act as interpreter.

Although we had prearranged the visit a week prior to leaving the US and paid the $150 tour fee plus $50 to our adoption agency for delivering the cash to the orphanage, the director still seemed surprised by our mid-morning visit.

He said we could take pictures outside the main gate but had to stow the cameras upon entering the compound. Ten years ago the BBC aired a documentary—“The Dying Rooms”--about the horrors of Chinese orphanages; the proud country became enraged and shut off international adoptions for a while.

Thus they are still distrusting of anyone with a camera. Probably a good thing.

The orphanage is bordered on one side by a graveyard and as we stood at the front gate swarmed over by dozens of children anxiously grabbing the small toys and trinkets we brought a cacophony of booms rang out, like the grand finally at a July 4’th fireworks.

Professor Li was told it emanated from the graveyard—to ward off evil spirits.

As the sun climbed higher in the pale blue sky the concrete/tile structure oozed heat. Combined with oppressive humidity and carrying my new 25-pound daughter who screamed if I even thought about putting her down on the ground, I was once again bathed in sweat.

The compound, about half the size of a football field, consisted of a perfect square made up of four narrow hall-like walls two stories high allowing for a large courtyard inside with an overgrown garden and one small, recent play structure (monkey bars, slide and swing)

Kira’s old room still looked the same: 21 ft by11 ft with one large open window in the center back wall. Three metal cribs on each sidewall with two babies per crib. The room was stifling. An air conditioner mounted on a wall up near the ceiling went unused.

Just as well, because the stench—even with the window wide open-- was overpowering. The white plaster walls, discolored and streaked with a sooty grayness, added to the somber scene.

They use industrial strength brown reusable diapers that look as rough as burlap and then cover them in plastic. Large 10-gallon red clay pots are lined up outside each room as bathrooms. Although we would occasionally see children simply squat in the courtyard and relieve themselves.

The older children helped the caregivers distribute baby bottles with formulae. The toddlers knew enough to lie flat on their backs to receive the bottles. And the nipples had extra large holes so the formulae flowed swiftly.

The second floor had four rooms marked “infant rooms” although only one, with five babies in residence, were what I would describe as infants (under one year old). The other three rooms were at full capacity (one dozen) and they all seemed to be about Jada’s age (18 months) or even older,

While Jada now eats solid food, drinks from a glass and dresses in normal clothes (over diapers) these children were still on the bottle and probably stayed in nothing but diapers the entire time.

The Huainan Children's Welfare Institute currently houses 100 children with responsibility for another 30 outsourced to foster parents in the community.

They have 30 employees. The director was not the same as five-and-a-half years ago when we adopted Kira. He was in his early 30’s and seemed as harried as he was bored.

My batteries died after only 3 or 4 photos out in the unrestricted area. One of the workers who shadowed us the entire time looked mentally challenged, so I’m sure if my camera was working I could have seriptiously snapped a few photos.

The wide-eyed kids with open sores on their face, a child with no hands, an albino boy, and the less than hygienic condition of the kitchen or piles of dirty diapers in the doorways.

But no camera could capture the most stunning assault on the senses: the smell, that awful smell. Smells like…misery.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Night and Day

View from the 15'th Floor of White Swan

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Grand Falls

China Thursday

Like the opening scene of a classic Godzilla movie the monster is heard way before being seen.

Huangguoshu, or The Grand Falls, is the largest waterfall in Asia and a Mecca for folks all over the continent, including China’s last half-dozen leaders.

It was drizzling as we boarded the 7-passenger van with our driver, Mr. Hung who just recently returned from earthquake relief volunteer work. And our guide/interpreter, Xiao Xiao (pronounced show show).

The falls were a two-hour drive from our hotel thru some of the most scenic farmland in China.

This province, in spite of the modern city of Guiyang, is predominantly agrarian and one of the poorest in China. We would pass huge open fields of rice segmented like a patchwork quilt. Some of the fields were flooded, the crops lost.
Rice and corn seemed like the predominant crop and many rows of corns were planted in terrace like steps up the side of mountains.

The round trip cost 1,5000 yuan or $225. With the price of gas (also a little over $4/gallon) and the tolls ($40 round trip) we thought it was well worth it…even though it was raining.

By the time we arrived at the main building to get our tickets ($30 each, plus 30 cents mandatory insurance, children free) it was pouring. The price of admission also included a rain poncho like the kind you can buy at Disney or Bush Gardens for $10.
The Falls were about a mile trek with a 900 foot vertical drop negotiated by stone stairs far more refined than the ones we used to climb the top of the mountain to the ancient Buddhist temple.

Before the descent we passed thru a Banzai Garden (some of the trees are over 100 years old) and within minutes we could hear the distant roar of the monster falls.
After about a half-hour of careful walking we caught our first glimpse and for the next 10 minutes it was constantly in view. The trail under the falls was closed due to high water levels but we got close enough to where Kira was getting spooked.
After a few minutes trying to shoot video in a pouring rain and shrapnel like mist coming off the falls we decided to head back, almost continuously upward.

Three older matronly women gently accosted me, complaining about Jada not being properly protected from the elements (both the mist of the falls and the driving rain). They realigned my poncho and suggested I tuck Jada under my shirt. As they were “helping”, two other younger women snapped pictures.

As we excited the attraction you had to pass a gauntlet of booths selling all sorts of food, souvenirs and clothing. Donna purchased a metal ornate teapot marked 300 yuan ($45) but he ended up taking 100 ($15). It pays to bargain, and it helps to have a translator.
We had lunch at a little fat food restaurant near the main parking lot. An old woman dressed in black aggressively tried to sell us a kid’s trinket for 2 yuan (30 cents) and Jada started screaming. The shop owners chased her away.

It continued raining the entire two-hour trip home. The driver talked non-stop to our guide. As we pulled into our hotel Kira announced she was going to puke.

Donna leaped up grabbed her head with one hand and opened the sliding door with the other…barely in time.

Just then the sun broke through the clouds.

Taken about 10 minutes after the first video after the rain stopped and I no longer feared for my life.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

To the top of the mountain.

Qian Ling Park reminds me of New York City’s Central Park: an oasis of green among a sea of concrete, although in this case it just outside the capital city and a lot harder to reach via a mile hike with a 500 foot vertical gain.
At the top of the mountain lies the main attraction: the oldest Buddhist temple in the provice dating back 500 years. And it is still active as the sprawling facilities with shrines. Prayer centers and enormous Buddha statues still houses 42 monks, their sleeping quarters, and a vegetarian restaurant.

Our guide (who is a Buddhist) said she recently met the 92-year-old head monk and he is the picture of health.

The base of the mountain, with a peaceful stream, is where the “park” amenities cluster with amusement rides, games, fast food, and ubiquitous trinkets for sale. The Olympic Logo (which reminds me of Teletubbies) in flowers attracted native tourists as a backdrop for photos.
The weather was an almost perfect 72 degrees and only slightly muggy but it was not very long after starting the climb up 12” rock steps cut in the mountain, hugging Jada to my chest, that I was sweating profusely.

About 10 minutes into the climb we spotted our first wild monkey. Our guide warned us they could get aggressive. On her last tour a five year old got too close and the monkey slapped him in the face.
Naturally with hundreds of people making the trek daily the monkeys are no longer afraid of humans and since they get plenty of food some of them are looking a tad overweight. But they are government protected so they thrive.

Because of the steep grade the rock staircase would curve as it snaked its way to the top.

The monkey was sitting on top of the rock guardrail and we stopped to take a picture. Folks coming down the trail stopped to let us get the shot resulting in a slight traffic jam. I noticed the other tourists were far more interested in our multi-racial family than the monkey.

The top of the mountain looked nothing like the tourist attraction clustered down below. It is an active monastery and many of the folks who made the climb performed prayers, the gong of ancient ritual bells frequently pierced the air and the smell of incense was everywhere.

The huge Buddha statues (including the bright gold “laughing Buddha”) were off limits to photographers and robed monks in sandals sat in the entryway to all the buildings.
We descended via a paved road on the other side of the mountain (naturally many tourists prefer to drive to the top rather than hike). About half way down at a sharp corner we could hear the loud whine of a motorcycle so we stepped completely off the road.

Two kids, one about 18 and his passenger maybe 12, were showing off by going to fast and pointing to us. He cut the corner to sharply and went down with a loud crash, sliding sideways down the road for perhaps twenty yards.

They were both stunned into silence. Our interpreter ran over and pulled up the younger one, wiping his bloody arm with a tissue who looked like he was in shock. He had “road rash” on his right arm (exposed because he was only wearing a t shirt) and probably his right hip/leg as well.

The older kid looked like he suffered little damage. The bikes front cover blew off but it managed to restart. Our guide told them to be careful, don’t show off and be respectful.

They restarted the bike and tore off. Our guide shook her head. About five minutes later we came across them on the side of the road as the bike had died.

Almost down we spotted metal tracks looping below. Kira recognized them from Disney World and yelled “roller coaster”. Donna and Kira took a ride ($2.25 each) while I sat with Jada and our guide.
The owners of the ride—a husband and wife about my age—came over and sat next to us at the picnic table. The women gave me a thumbs up and told the interpreter we were “good people” for adopting Kira and Jada.

The husband, who looked Mongolian, said he was ashamed his people would abandon these little girls (as he we speaking I noticed our guide/interpreter wince slightly). I really didn’t know what to say. I could tell he was not patronizing me and genuinely felt bad.

We shook hands, as my other one hugged Jada close.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Selling is the same all over the world

Monday (dawn)

The immediate area around the city center are honeycombed with funky side streets and alleyways that look unchanged for generations.

Although you have to pay attention to the cars making their way along the narrow single lane or motorcycles and scooters competing with them.

Call it a Farmers Market melded with a giant flea market as all sorts of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats (cooked and still running around) are available all along the way.

Some of the buildings house mini open markets as well, so this is all probably year round activity.
As the only Americans in sight we stand out. As Americans with two Chinese daughters in a nation that enforces a One Child Policy we stand out all the more.

A few folks even came up and took photos on their cell phones (that, like cigarette smoking, are ubiquitous).

No, I did not consider that stalking.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Greetings from the (other) People's Republic

Sunday morning (Asian time)

Arrived in Beijing after a 13-hour flight from New Jersey. The main terminal is the largest I have ever seen and looks brand new. The marble floors, which span the square footage of a few football fields, look like you could eat off them or use them for a mirror to shave.

Our layover was three hours and we thought we would be hanging out with time to spare but the connecting flight run by China Air took forever to coordinate and we just barely made the packed flight.

We were also spread out in the plane but two passengers’ kindly switched seats so we could sit together. The flight to Guiyang, capital of the Guizhuo province, added another three hours to our airtime. It’s a bustling city of 3.5 million.

The modern airport, about the size of Bradley International in Connecticut, is nestled among mountainous peaks. The driver failed to appear, so we took a taxi to the Regal Hotel, a modern western operation in the heart of the city.

For the brief time we were in Beijing we barely attracted a second look and saw lots of other Caucasians. Here we stand out. After a brief walk around the block almost everyone we encountered looked us up and down (but in a friendly way).

Donna and Kira would use their limited Chinese and some of them would respond with limited English.

Our guide left us a note at the hotel saying rather than getting Jada on Monday afternoon the orphanage will be fringing her to our hotel lobby today at noon.

The government in China even works Sunday’s.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A matter of respect

You may not want to click to enlarge

Child pornography laws strictly forbid the publishing of sexual explicit photos (or even suggestions thereof) but it’s perfectly fine for the Daily Hampshire Gazette to publish this stark Front Page photo showing the remains of a child who suffered a violent death?

There were other--less shocking--ways to illustrate this terrible tragedy in China.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Suffering knows no bounds

We’re confident Jada is fine as her orphanage is in South West China, about 150 miles from ground zero. But the reports coming out are simply devastating. An entire Middle School (not much smaller than Amherst’s--and I will be thinking that as I enter it tonight for Town Meeting) instantly collapses entombing 900 kids.

The People’s Republic of China can mobilize government employees en mass like no nation on earth. And yet, confronted with nature’s wrath, they are powerless.

Note to terrorists: no mater what your diabolical depraved minds conjure up, you are no match for Mother Nature.