Archive for January, 2007

Spring Festival is in the Air

31 January 07

Spring Festival Decor

Spring Festival, aka Chinese New Year, will begin soon, and nowhere is it more evident then in the streets of China. All the restaurants and shops are gearing up for the festivities by decorating the windows, doors, entrances, walls, etc. with red banners and all manner of bells and whistles. The supermarkets are also selling decorations for home use. Where before there were Christmas decorations, now there are red paper cutouts, gold and red banners, glittery Chinese characters proclaiming happiness and good fortune and big red lanterns. I’ve even noticed that supermarket sections that usually sell bed sheets, socks, housewares, etc. have pulled out all the red and gold colored sheets, socks, housewares, etc. to sell for good luck.

Ivan and Spring Festival Decor
DH browsing the decorations in Linyi’s Wholesale Market

Soon the skies will be filled with the noise and sight of colorful fireworks – meant to scare away the bad spirits. Families will be reunited – already the train stations are filling up with people trying their best to make their way home. (Millions of Chinese travel far away from their homes to work or attend University. There is no guarantee they will get a train ticket home, so many start the migration early.) And, Global Gal and the DH will be doing some traveling of their own.

Last year we spent Chinese New Year in Cambodia & Thailand. This year we have decided to journey to Lhasa, Tibet on the new high-altitude railway.

Red Lanterns
Red Lanterns for sale in Linyi’s Wholesale Market


The Forbidden Starbucks?

30 January 07

While the internet was being difficult, I managed to make a few posts at my mirror blog. This is one of them. (Originally posted on Going Native in China 17 January 2007)

The Forbidden Starbucks
The controversial Starbucks outlet located in the heart of Beijing’s Forbidden City, otherwise known as the Palace Museum.

Since the internet has been on the fritz, I’ve been reading a lot of the China Daily, the English language Chinese newspaper and website. Most of the stories seem quite sanitized for our reading pleasure, but when it is the only website that loads in less than 2 minutes, it’ll work.

I’ve noticed a few articles lately about the Starbucks outlet in the middle of the Forbidden City. It seems a popular TV host complained about it on his blog, and other Chinese took notice. Now there is a public debate happening about the shop. Some people say it is an insult to Chinese culture. They make a good point when they ask if Starbucks has plans to put an outlet in the Taj Mahal or the gardens of Versailles. On the other hand, some people say that Starbucks serves a purpose and hasn’t changed the overall look of the building it is housed in. In fact, it was the Palace Museum management that invited Starbucks in. There are lots of other vendors inside the grounds of the museum selling food, water, instant coffee & souvenirs.

I took this photo in January 2006 on my first visit to the City with the DH. At that time we had already been in China 5 months and the thought of a Starbucks coffee sounded pretty good to us. I think I got a Chai Latte and the DH an espresso. We sat on a bench in one of the courtyards, admired the architecture and enjoyed our drinks. I’ll admit we were both a bit shocked when we first saw it. It seemed ironic that in the heart of the “Forbidden City” a potent symbol of Americanization and capitalist culture thrived. Inside the tiny shop we saw a European family, a couple of backpacker types reading and a handful of Chinese tourists. An art shop is attached to the coffee shop selling University student artwork, original paintings and art books.

On my second trip to the Forbidden City, in June 2006, I got my latte-addicted sister-in-law giddy at the thought of a mid-morning Starbucks pick-me-up. But when we arrived at the area I remembered the store, it seemed to be closed. Evidently not, since the newspaper say it has been doing business there for 6 years. According to the news articles, the museum officials will decide by June 2007 if the store can continue in its present location. For better or worse, I’d bet they say yes.

And with a sigh of relief…

30 January 07

Okay, so it is time for some explaining — where have I been?

On a deserted tropical isle?
In the mountains of Tibet?

No, I’ve been here all the time, pounding away at my computer keyboard, hoping that each new day might bring a better internet connection.

The earthquake that cut several telecommunication cables off the coast of Taiwan on December 26th has been the center of my world for the past month. I’ve spoken to my mom back in the US and she said she hadn’t even heard about it. That kind of shocked me, but I suppose it shouldn’t. What impact does it really have in the rest of the world? (Well, if you were trying to do business in China over the last month, a big one!)

The cut in the cables led to a complete disruption in both international phone call service and internet service for websites located outside of China (and many in China). For the first few days I could not access hotmail, gmail or google. Two days later I was able to use my email accounts and search for information on google. A lot of good the google searches did me, when I found a website I wanted to see, it was usually not available. WordPress and the proxy server I must use to access it only became available today. One month later!

During this time I have become very familiar with China Daily, the English language newspaper for China. Their stories are dull and politically cleansed, but at least we had some access to what was happening beyond our own lives.

That was the most difficult thing for me to come to terms with. Suddenly I felt very cut off from the world. I couldn’t call my family to wish them a happy holidays. I couldn’t read the latest headlines. I couldn’t while away hours reading various blogs that I enjoy. I couldn’t even email! It is at times like these that we realize that technology has completely consumed our lives. How did we live before this? How did someone stay in contact with friends? How did someone even find a new job? Of course I am old enough to know exactly how life was before the internet infiltration –  it was fine. We didn’t know what we were missing!

I’ve done this before, after all. When I lived in Kuwait we had no internet. (Well, some people had just started to use it there, but it was very slow and not available widely.) We actually SENT letters to our friends & family, many of which never arrived thanks to an inefficient postal system. We listened to last year’s music on pirated cassette tapes. We watched old movies that had been censored. We constantly wondered what was going on back in the States, or wherever one was from. We did have Asian Star TV for a while, which included MTV, but they mostly played Hong Kong pop songs & Bollywood ballads, not the songs from the US we wanted to hear. (Although I remember that the Cypress Hill song “Insane in the Membrane” was so popular and so heavily played that even my Mother knew the words…)

I have always envied the explorers who were able to head out into a new world and explore it all for the first time, without the benefit of a lonely planet guide, so maybe this was a good time for me to reflect on my recent obsession with having information always seconds away.

But there is another aspect to this story which is not so great. Two weeks ago,  I was truly feeling sorry for myself. See, I have been accepted into the graduate Library Science program at Texas Women’s University for the Spring semester. Due to my inability to access their website or make an international phone call, I was unable to register for any classes before they were all filled. It is a difficult thing to be in an internet study program without internet! I’ve had to make the decision to postpone the start of my program to the Summer, and I was quite upset about this.

I thought, why do these things happen to me? How unfair! Poor me! But then I remembered the global rich list and how 99% of the world’s population lives under such dire conditions that not having a broadband internet connection would certainly not even register on their radar as a problem. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to apply to grad school without worrying about the expense. I’m lucky to be living in China of my own free will, knowing I can leave anytime I want. I’m lucky I ONLY have to worry about not having internet access. I have a home, a job, food and family.

And now I do have internet again! I’m back!

Global Gal tentatively steps back onto the web…

30 January 07

Could it be true? Can I actually access the Internet?

**Happy Dancing**

More to come on my lunch break!!