November 16, 2011
Let me start by assuring you that I love Liam again. He is forgiven. OK, perhaps my calves and thighs do not yet forgive him, but I do.
Today was a lighter day. We walked around Tiananmen Square and appreciated architecture. Some is SOO communist – rigid, lifeless and HUGE (like the Chinese Museum and the Great Hall of the People). Some is truly inspired like the National Center of the Performing Arts which is a Ying Yang egg rising out of reflecting pools. OK, I admit that my description does not sound impressive, but the structure is.
We did not check out Mao’s embalmed body. I saw it in 1986 and, well, it is embalmed. I am pretty sure not much has changed.
The highpoint was the Forbidden City. Once the home of emperors, it is now a massive museum that features a big painting of Mao Tse-Dong.
Aligned perfectly on a North-South axis, the Forbidden City is a study in symmetry, subtlety and size. The details of the stone carvings, their eaves and the gardens are lovely and sublime. But subtlety is not the forte of the Forbidden City. In fact, some of the lovely details are simply lost in the sheer scale of this place. It occupies 7.75 million square feet of space (kinda makes the current house feel small, eh?).
I also struggled with it the way I struggled with parts of Vienna, Versailles and the Vatican (alliteration here not really intended). At each of these great European icons, the scale seemed wrong to me. Humans are only so big. Structures can be huge and awe-inspiring, but only to a point. Beyond that our minds just think “really, really big” and shut down. I connect with museums that focus on a genre or an artist more than the Louvre. St Peters or St Pauls are too massive, I prefer St Marks in Venice or even the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Sure they are huge – even awe-inspiring, but the scale is still digestible.
I hope this is making sense. There is a size and scale that is awe-inspiring. Anything beyond that feels like overkill. The Forbidden City is amazing, but I think it crossed the line. If I were Emperor of China, I would have stayed at the Summer Palace. [Note to Camp Champions families – you have my word that I want nothing more than to run camp with my lovely wife. If the fine people of China ask me to serve as their Emperor, I will respectively decline. I suspect that they will not, but I just want you to know.]
Here are some fun pics from our day in the Forbidden City:
With that update, it is time for random thoughts from the last few days.
On our trip to the Great Wall, there was a VERY loud group of 6 from Argentina. On the bus ride to the Great Wall, I thought them annoying. After our climb, Terrill and I ended up at their lunch table. It turns out that they are a blues band called “Fresh”. Once they learned that I am a big blues fan, we got tight fast. They got excited when they learned I had seen Stevie Ray Vaughn live. They were giddy when I told them about seeing Buddy Guy. They almost exploded when I told them about seeing Eric Clapton, Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck and the Rolling Stones perform at a wake in a room that was just 2000 square feet. I was a student at the London School of Economics working a part time job and was luckily scheduled to work that evening. (If you visit my office at camp, you can see a picture.)
On the ride back, they played harmonica, got everyone singing (except some irritated Danes) and just had a blast.
Today, as we walked in front of the Great Hall of the People, we heard “STEVE!!!” yelled by 5 people who then passed us on bikes. It was Fresh. I felt like a rock star. I want to go to Argentina now!
I Might Be a Rock Star, But Susie is a Goddess
Everywhere we go, people are taking our picture. I am not kidding. They act like they are using their phones to read a text, but they are pointing at us. Some pretend to be taking shots of buildings, but adjust to shoot us.
We were initially baffled at the excitement. Sure, we are a pleasant looking group, but not THAT cute (OK, maybe Susie and the kids, but me? I am just a star in Argentina). Surely they have seen westerners.
Then it struck us. China limits families to one child. Occasionally, someone might have twins. No one has four children. I have taken to calling Susie “goddess of the blossoming womb”. People with rudimentary English skills point and say “four?!?”. I smile when I think about how hard we struggled to have even one. The boys are the result of successful fertility treatment. It seems that once Susie’s body got this jumpstart, she over-achieved!
We have decided to embrace this. We pose. We give them the Camp Champions double-thumbs-up. We take pictures with them (even if it is not their idea). At one point, we had 8 cameras shooting at the same time.
Here is an example:
Susie in Heaven
Remember my telling you that Susie is baby-happy. OK, just imagine how apoplectic she was when she saw this group.
You might think that she fainted and I took this shot, but she managed to hold herself together and say “hello” back as we all waved.
This One is JUST RIGHT!
After a long day, we debated our eating options. The spectrum was very wide. We felt like Goldilocks.
This one was too Marble Falls:
This one was too Indiana Jones:
This one was just right.
It is a traditional Chinese Hot Pot restaurant. You get meats and veggies and drop them into steaming soup to cook them. One of the soups is a vegetable broth. The other is a volcanically spicy death soup. The kids got a huge kick out of watching their dad sweating like a stuck pig.
One more day in Beijing and then a night train to Xi’an to see the terracotta warriors. I have no idea when I will have the next internet connection, but I hope to post close to on-schedule.
PS I have been asked to blog on Psychology Today and posted my first blog yesterday. The blogs are a little more serious as they’re asking me to blog about youth development and summer camp, but I hope you will check them out at www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smores-and-more!