Last day of the old year is sunny and warm, not smoggy, riding to Beijing Nan Zhan Railway Station, going in another, new direction. My little leaf boat swirls in the current, drifting with the tug of tide! Faintly I detect the salt tang and morning mist in Qingdao.
I arrive at the large, new train station and find my gate. I have time to grab a cup of coffee at Starbucks, juggle it and ticket, passport, my medium sized, tao hongsede, wheeled bag and board. I have a great window seat in row 3 with two women.
The new, modern coach has plugs at the base of the seats in front of each passenger, convenient for mobile charging or laptops. Today I want to rest while traveling. I power off my mobile. Pepe the netbook is in the bag stashed at the rear of the coach. The reclining seats are comfortable with lots of leg room. Panda bears frolic in bamboo in the travelogue on the small, onboard screen above the bulkhead.
The ditch beside the elevated track is frozen. Brown, sere, dried weeds swipe past the accelerating train. Leafless trees hover in the distance. This train is not direct. We stop every half hour at a station. The distance between Beijing and Qingdao is 875 km or 544 miles and we travel at about 303 kph or 188 mph, arriving five hours later without lurching, grinding or swaying. The train softly decelerates as it approaches a station, picks up passengers and just as softly zooms to top speed in minutes. Our track runs parallel to a regular, electrified train which suddenly ends. The pandas now are sitting in snow eating bamboo.
We pass a cemetery with headstones lined up every square foot, a few temple like, small structures and conical evergreen trees lining out the blocks of headstones, all surrounded by a wall, about 10 acres. Next we cross a wide river with bobbing ducks, an army of electric wire stanchions march in every direction, delivering power.
My traveling companions struggle to get a huge bag off the upper rack from which they pull packages of food. They share a chunk of bread studded with fruit like raisins and dried apricots and a moon cake with red characters stamped on the outside with a delicious, pink, sunflower seed filling to accompany my coffee. They are friendly in a reserved way to Petty Taitai.
Sheep graze on stubble in a passing field. We pass a huge nuke reactor and tall smokestack at a power generation station. My travel companions are not migrant workers returning home, although there are many on this more expensive and faster train. These women are well dressed in casual clothes and have beautiful manners.
The on board entertainment has switched to a train theme. I watch maintenance of way men tightening bolts on ties by hand using a long handled tool with a T shaped handle with which they torque with a wrench that makes my shoulders hurt to watch.
There is a lot of industry around Jinan, a station stop, but at the same time I see empty coal cars and idle smokestacks. An area that could accommodate more or larger piles of coal is empty with a few empty trucks at one end. Nuke plants are fired up and churning out electricity. Can't tell if the factories we are passing are running or not. Stockpiles of concrete drain pipe, etc, are sprout weeds and look desolate.
January 1 10 C / 1 C or 50 F / 34 F
It's relatively warm with hazy sunshine, NOT SMOG. My young cousin, Justin, from the Bay Area has the day off along with a billion of Chinese and millions of westerners celebrating the new year. He has a BA in Human Development from CSU East Bay and works at Dr. Linda Early English learning preschool: safe, engaging and fun. This school aims to foster creativity as well as English proficiency in tots.
After getting a tour, we hit the nearest mall. I'm looking for something for my husband, Bruce. I love the
Chinese styling for men-- professional, conservative while at the same time casual. At the mall, big sales are tempting us before the Spring Festival holiday shuts things down. Justin is about the same size as Bruce, a little leaner with nice bulk. He's been a model back home but prefers to work with kids.
January 2 Painting day plein air
After an unexpected treat, visiting with an American from the US Consulate General's office and his new wife from Hapag-Loyd Shipping Ltd, at Starbucks near my hotel, I finally head toward the marina. The afternoon haze, NOT SMOG, is soaking up sunshine in bright iridescence.
As I pass the Olympics Sailing Center and the Chinese version of the boardwalk at Venice beach, I keep focused on the little, old lighthouse, dwarfed by the scale of construction going up everywhere. Persistent walking past the marina with yachts and sailboats, fishermen and a few tourists, I spy a dredging operation opposite the lighthouse at the mouth of the marina: two dredges with red clam shell buckets dripping as they chug and load silt and mud onto waiting barges.
I have carried with me in my suitcase two painting kits. One for oils and one for Chinese style brush painting, huahua. My abbreviated kit contains yellow ocher, paynes gray, alizarin crimson and white, a tiny can of Italian turpentine, a few brushes, a small bottle of medium and two prepared boards. I have to mix the paints right on the board or on the plastic wrapper off the board-- no palette. It works. When finished, I rub the paint out of the brushes with a few stingy drops of turpentine and then soak them in a dab of hand soap at the hotel. Reasonably clean.
January 3 Foghorn morning
Qingdao means green island and is located southwest of Beijing with a population of over 8 million and growing fast. Situated on the Yellow Sea, it is a major port, naval base and center of industry, home to the world famous Tsingtao beer. It also has the world's longest sea bridge across Jiaozhon Bay. In the media here in China, they call it the most livable city. Ancient people thought so , too. Human settlement remains date back 6,000 years. Qingdao enjoys clean, clear air year round. No smog.
Germany seized the strategic seaport in 1898 and held it until 1914. Numerous buildings in the city date to that period. During that relatively short time, the industrious colonizers paved streets, build housing and municipal structures, brought electric power, sewers and safe water. At that time, Tsingtao, as they called it, had the highest school enrollment per capita in China. Primary, secondary and vocational education was funded by the German government and Protestant and Catholic missions. The Germania Brewery 1903 later became the Tsingtao Brewery we know today.
Japan declared war on Germany in 1914 and took control of the region. In 1922, it reverted back to Chinese rule under the Republic of China but was again occupied by Japan in 1938. In 1945, Allied forces occupied the port, but finally in 1949 the CCP Army claimed it. Since the opening to the west in 1984, Qingdao, as it is now called, has surged. It is visited by fleets of many countries.
I take a taxi to the south, to Xiao Qingdao or Little Qingdao, to meet my travel companion from the train in front of her place of work, a hospital. The traffic here is a snarl as people are transported to the hospital by taxi or personal car and are then transferred onto gurneys right in the street. Apparently, no ambulance service.
Chuyi is a nurse. She just finished three months additional training in Beijing. We met on the train as she and her mother were traveling back to her hometown Qingdao. She will be starting work at this hospital on the night shift. It's across the street from this landmark German Protestant Church. Chuyi's boyfriend is a sports coach at a nearby middle school, and they plan to marry sometime this year, 2014.
We climb a local hill to get views of the city below and the sparkly sea in the misty-- not smoggy-- distance while an old man, laoren, chats us up. The streets wind through a charming neighborhood of apartments, Lombardy poplars and the occasional German house or building.
At the beach, kan da hai, tide is out and people are catching razor fish. First dig a small hole and pour in salt. The fish rises to the top and you catch it! The fresh sea tang and moist air is chilly but not cold. Walking warms me up quickly on the way to meeting her boyfriend for lunch at a restaurant filled with locals, but he has playground supervision and can't join us.
I purchase a small bag of juicy mandarin oranges and kiss Chuyi on both cheeks byebye before stepping into a taxi for the short ride back to downtown.
January 4 Travel day
The Qingdao Railway Station is cold and cavernous. Dusty, massive crystal chandeliers hang above my head in the D section where I wait for the Bullet Train to my next destination: Nanjing. I won't be arriving until after 8PM.
Once on board, I head back from my car #5 to find the Dining Car somewhere in the middle of the line of cars. There must be twenty on this train. The snack bar looks equipped for fast meal service but only packaged snacks are available on this train: nuts, dried fruit. I select a tub of fresh fruit, grapes, tomatoes and kumquat, and a package of dofu slivers rolled like cocktail canapes.
The seats in the cars are reversible. At main terminals, the staff turn them around and lock in the opposite position, swab the floor as well as the common areas. Outside the sides of the cars are washed and squeegeed clean before boarding passengers and departing in the other direction. The whole operation takes less than fifteen minutes.
At dusk 5:20PM, we arrive at Jinan. The young bass player and his parents who befriended me at the Qingdao station must be disembarking.
Our route from Jinan streaks through tunnels as we gain elevation. Peering out the window, I can make out dark bumps of hills in the dusky mist above farm land and the occasional light.
January 5 Seeking YANG Kaihui
Every morning starts with Surya namaskar Yoga Sun Salutation before breakfast in the dining room. Today's forecast is 14C / 3C or 57F / 37F and hazy sunshine, not smog. The Orange Hotel Confucius Temple is on a canal, the view from my room and from the dining room.
My goal today is to find the home of MAO's second wife, YANG Kaihui. The hotel manager writes something on a card for me to show the cab driver.
The neighborhood of the hotel is old style with lots of small shops crowded together on streets between a network of waterways. I'm ecstatic to see my China Construction Bank branch at the end of the lane and across a small bridge where Dashiba Jie intersects Pingjiangfu Lu.
The city of Nanjing is old with much history. I'm skipping the previous centuries and starting with the twentieth one with a primer on ZHOU Enlai. He was the first premiere of the People's Republic of China (PRC) or the modern China we know today. Between 1949 and 1976, he worked under MAO in a variety of capacities. He advocated peaceful coexistence with the west after the inconclusive Korean War and helped orchestrate Richard Nixon's visit in 1972.
At the end of MAO's life, ZHOU and the evil Gang of Four struggled over leadership of China. ZHOU's health failed and he predeceased MAO by eight months in 1976. Massive public outpouring of grief in Beijing over his death led to the Tian'an'men Square Incident.
The driver takes me to the ZHOU Enlai monument called Meiyuan Xincun. The friendly and helpful guides at the Visitors' Center are confused by my desire to find the home of YANG Kaihui, and I'm equally confused by the seeming lack of knowledge by them about this martyred woman. At last, they decide to send me to the Martyrs' Cemetery site in another part of town, commemorating the thousands who were massacred there by the KMT (Kuomintang) in 1927. They estimate 100,000 prisoners, dissidents and Communists were slaughtered when Chiang Kaishek split from the Communists, turned on and purged them from his armies and set up a rival government in Nanjing.
While we're on the topic of horrendous history, another gruesome atrocity was committed by the Japanese against the citizens of Nanjing, at that time the capital of the Republic of China, in 1937 when they captured the city, called the Nanjing Massacre (Rape). Unspeakable crimes were committed during a six-week period, they estimate 250-300,000 victims.
Perpetrators of this event were later tried, found guilty by the Nanjing War Crimes Tribunal and executed. A key perp, Prince Asaka, escaped, having been granted immunity by the Allies. Japanese revisionists have asserted the massacre was exaggerated or fabricated. This controversy is at the root of the contentious Sino-Japanese relations, focused at this time on the Senkaku Islands and the Yasukuni Shrine.
The tour guide at the Cemetary Visitors' Center is not able to help me either. I will attempt to share the story of YANG Kaihui. She was the second wife of MAO and the daughter of his favorite teacher. Born in 1901, she married MAO in 1920 and bore him 3 children. While MAO was off in the mountains, fighting the good fight against the KMT and the Japanese, he was enjoying himself with a new girlfriend and bodyguard, the pistol packing, bareback riding, guerrilla fighter HE Zizhen. Meanwhile, Kaihui was settled in Nanjing, organizing the underground revolution and raising the family. MAO divorced her in 1927. In 1930, a local warlord HE Jian captured Kaihui and her son MAO Anying. She was executed in Changsha at the age of 29. Her son, who later died during the Korean War, was forced to witness his mother's death by firing squad.
MAO's wives (not including lifelong caregiver and others):
- Luo Yixiu 1889-1910 married 1907-1910
- Yang Kaihui 1901-1930 1921-1927
- He Zizhen 1910-1984 1928-1939
- Jiang Qing 1914-1991 1939-1976
January 6 Leaving Nanjing-- sleepless again
Last night, my imagination was stimulated thinking about Book 2. When my characters start talking, I can lose myself in the unfolding story. Got up late and almost missed my breakfast. They stop serving at 9:30AM. I must have finallay crashed and fell into strange dreaming, sleep-like state. I packed and checked out late. Sitting in the coffe shop at the Nanjing Nan RR Station, I completed two sudoku puzzles. My thinking is clear, and I'm ready to write.
By the time I'm at Jin Jiang stop at 2:10PM, a half hour or so into my journey, I've killed a main character from the first book, seen him in the morgue and sit quietly eating a sandwich from the hotel while mourning his passing. One of the reasons for this trip to China was to gather more material for the next story of Mai-- An American in Beijing. That I've accomplished.
A hope was that I could find the solitude to actually write, something I can do on the train. It's enjoyable to watch the passing scenes and ruminate over the plot points and wrestle with the questions. The exquisite pleasure is allowing myself to face into the dialog and interaction of the characters as they move the story forward or sideways or wherever it/they lead.
January 7 Shanghai
Remember Lanping, my roommate from the Hainan conference? She lives near Shanghai and came into town to meet and take me to lunch. We walk past the Russian Embassy in a beautiful, old building on the river and near my hotel. We cross to the Bund side and continue along to the big shopping street, Nanjing Road where we gorge ourselves on pizza and salad at Pizza Hut over looking the busy street in the drizzle. Lanping's son is away at college in New Zealand on a research internship scholarship and won't be coming home for the holiday.
Lanping is an English professer at Shanghai Maritime University, and her husband is a Japanese professor at the same institution. She's been gone on a one year fellowship to New Zealand, just returning. Their university was relocated from Pudong to the New Seaport Area Lin Gang Xin Cheng. The entire campus is new and so is their comfortable and modern flat. To get there, we take a taxi to a bus station. The commute by bus is about one and a half hours.
It's dinner time when we arrive, and we grab something to eat at a local restaurant in the small, new shopping mall and then walk to her home where her husband, Mo, greets us at the door. We break open the small bottle of Cabernet Sauvingnan I brought as a gift. Mo produces some baijiu from his hometown near Qingdao which we dilute with water. We get to know each other, exchanging pictures of our families with CNN in the background. The cold weather in the US is all over the news.
In the morning, after Mo fixes us lunch, I reluctantly have to head back to the city, boarding the bus at 1:37PM, arriving at the Metro at 3:00PM.
I take Line 2 to the stop at Nanjing East after only fifteen minutes. Not too many people are out on the big boulevard at the blue, tinsel tree as I walk toward the Bund. The promenade next to the river is mainly deserted. Low clouds scud through the tall buildings on the Pudong side as coal barges chug by. I pull the hood over my head covered with knit hat, wrapped in a scarf, plunge my gloved hands into my pockets and walk toward the Russian Embassy I can see in the distance, thinking about my story. The long walk in the drizzle back to my hotel takes half an hour.
New book on USS Pueblo by Jack Cheevers
Hui tou jian