Jonathan Brun

Seared Russian Children

Not too much happening in Beijing. A lot of people are on vacation and so I have just been hanging out in the good old jing. My buddy Matt gets here this week and I go on vacation in a couple weeks, so its all looking good. This past weekend I went to a Russian restaurant in the Russian district of Beijing. I ordered some crazy Russian food, the appetizer was pretty good, and when my main dish of chicken showed up, I dug in. About three bites in, I feel something hard in my mouth, luckily I did not bite hard enough to chip a tooth. A tooth you say! When I got the hard particle out, it looked like a very small tooth or chite pebble. I kept eating the dish because, well, regardless of its origin, it tasted good. After lunch I took a closer look, and both Jason and I are pretty sure it was some sort of baby tooth. Babies sure are yummy. So the much-hyped myth of Soviet communists eating their young to work in their socialistic utopia was true. Who knew McCarthy was so clever. If you like babies, send me an email and I well tell you a good restaurant to have some seared baby meat with mushroom sauce.

Published on August 25, 2005

Part IV – Kung Fu (comical)

Prior to this weekend, I had not left Beijing for vacation in over a month. I was starting to go crazy and consequently, determined to leave the city for the weekend. I originally wanted to go to a Beach resort, but that proved next to impossible due to the number of people traveling. We finally settled on Luoyang, an unimposing town in Henan province, which was the capital city for most of the Chinese dynasties until 1000 AD. I went down there with my buddy Jason, who is from BC. On a side note, this will be my first non-serious article in a while, so bear with.

Friday evening, we purchased a dozen beers at the local corner store for about 20 RMB (2$) and took off to the train station by subway, on which we drank most of the beer, and thus had to purchase more. Arriving at the train station with an exorbitant 10 minutes to spare, we made it onto the train and to our beds. We had to purchase the tickets off scalpers due to the amount of people in this country and the lack of trains. After arriving, we promptly over paid for a hotel and got some food. We then made our way to Longmen, which is a UNESCO world heritage site, about 13 km from Luoyang. The site is home to over 100 000 Buddha carvings in grottoes and caves, the largest of which is 17 m short. Really, an extremely impressive site, especially considering the lack of Chinese tourists being, well, Chinese tourists. According to the posted information, “Westerners”, during the 19th century and early 20th, decapitated many of the statues. While this is true, a good deal of the statues were destroyed during the cultural revolution, but, curiously, this is mentioned nowhere at the site; only that foreign people took the statues away from their homeland. One of the larger frescos is on display at the MET, in NYC. Nevertheless, a remarkable site.

At the site you can hire electric golf cart vehicles to take you back to the parking lot as the site is quite large. We decided that the price of 8 RMB (1$) was out of our budget, so we stole a car. I wish I could have taken a picture as the Chinese women screamed Ai Yo Ai Yo Ai Yo ( I do not think I need to translate that) and running after us. After realizing that some of them may be summarily executed for losing a vehicle worth more than their entire extended family, to their great relief, we returned it. Eventually we found ourselves at the main bar street in Luoyang.

No matter where you are, you can usually manage to find some form of a party on a Saturday night. But, of course, not in Luoyang. After visiting every bar in the area, we settled on one with a half decent band. We ordered a bottle of Vodka, but afterwards, realized that the bar did not sell Red Bull. We then had to argue for 30 minutes to get our money back for the unopened bottle. This typical Chinese behavior of arguing over everything and certainly not putting the customer first is prominent and I have many stories pertaining to this. We then switched bars to one with few customers, but a cute barmaid. Pretty bored, we decided to get 2-hour, legitimate, massages, which, actually were pretty damn good.

The next day we visited the first Buddhist temple in China, the White Horse temple. The barmaid from the previous night was our tour guide pro bono, and the temple was actually very nice, one of my favorites so far. That night, after a traditional Luoyang Water Banquet, we ended up back at the same bar. A water banquet is dinner with only various types of soup; it was actually pretty good. Only that night at the bar, there were some people! We were quietly sipping on our 2$ coronas when some Chinese guys thought they would make a night of it and break bottles over each other’s heads. Now we are at the part of the story related to the title of such said story. Modern Chinese men leave something to be desired. Perhaps that is a little to general, but speaking from numerous testimonies and what I have seen I have less and less doubt as to the veracity of the previous statement. In the west, if you really have a problem with someone you will solve it with a good old fashion fistfight. In China, the land of Kung-Fu, people do not respectfully bow, take a stance and then beautifully fight until the opponent’s White Palm style is proven inferior to the victor’s Shaolin Wushu style. After the initial move is made, they both run for the bar and grab bottles, and attempt to play mole-in-the-hole with each other. The rapidity for which they go for weapons is really appalling; anyone doing such in a western country would run a high risk of jail time. Because, simply put, you can really fuck someone up with a broken bottle. So bottles are broken, ash trays are flying, and people are fleeing. There is blood all over the place, one guy is obviously drunk and just wants to keep going despite the 3L of his blood that now grace the floor, his friends shirts, and the benches. After the bar counter is cleared of potential projectiles his friends manage to get him out of the bar and into a taxi; mind you, not easily. Speaking of which, god knows what taxi would be willing to take 3 people covered in blood and one person bleeding very rapidly for a ride home. Now what’s even more remarkable is that after this fight we go back into the bar and order some more drinks; mind you, that is not what is remarkable. It’s that there were no bouncers, hence no one to stop the fight, god knows Jason and I were not going to step in to stop 5 stupid Chinese guys from killing each other, because we both have a desire to live past 27 and 22 years respectfully. Also, no cops ever showed up to take testimony or make sure no bodies were being cut up and buried in the basement. Talk about a great police state. After the other half of the fight left the bar, the barmaids breath a sigh of relief and explain how the fight actually started. Supposedly one guy bumped the other and the other did not apologize. Can you say Pai Mei and the massacre of the Shaolin temple?

So everything gets back to normal and we start playing Jenga. Ridiculous, yes, I know, but just wait. Then, we start chatting up a couple girls and when everything seems to be going well, this guy that had been “hanging” out with Jason decided it is wise to come and try and dance with me. This guy could not be any more drunk, or gay; and not gay in a bad kind of way, just gay. I have nothing against homosexuals, but this one was insisting on buying us drinks, grabbing our limbs and dancing with us. Enough said, the two girls take off. I promptly tell Jason that I am out of there and I try to grab some drinks that I had bought for the chicks, but were never touched. This guy grabs the drinks out of my hands and pours them down his throat, well, at least half down his throat and half on his face. I run out of the bar. I wait for Jason to extricate himself and we literally run away from the bar, this guy, his friends, the blood and the chaos; we then jump into a moving taxi.

Lets just say the night did not end there, but this entry is long, and I will leave the rest of the story for face-to-face encounters.

The last day of our trip, which was extended due to our inability to purchase train tickets, was spent at the Shaolin temple and some other surrounding ones. The temples were really nice, but like most temples, too much alike. The temples in China have a tendency to be rebuilt and be identical to all other temples. The actual Shaolin complex is huge and I had been for-warned of its touristy nature. The new buildings dwarf the old temple, but that is the cost of modernization. Nevertheless, it was very interesting. We saw some Shaolin Kong-Fu kids (up to 15 years old) do some pretty impressive things. One kid, at one point, looked more like a wal
king pretzel than he did a human. We checked out the famous stupas and took in the atmosphere. We Challenged the Shaolin monks to various feats of strength and I think they were convinced our Jianada Kong Long Kong Fu was vastly superior (translation: Canadian Dinosaur Kung Fu).

We got back to the city, picked up some scalped tickets, a case of beer and got on the train. I am back in Beijing, tired, but very happy to have seen some Chinese culture.

In the words of the great chairman Mao Zedong, “Hao Hao Xue Xi Tien Tien Xiang Sheng” or Good Good Study Day Day Rise Up, which means, “Study well everyday and you will rise to the top”

Published on August 25, 2005

Part III – Higher Education

I have been up at the Beijing Science and Technology University for the past week meeting with students and professors to look at their work. As pretty much all of the reports are in Chinese it is rather difficult to review most of their work. The atmosphere on campus is not un-similar to that back home, but it is definitely more “high-schooly” with breaks for lunches, huge cafeterias and much less recreation – though there are a slew of basketball courts.

The most particular thing that hit me is the different attitude that students have compared to the older Chinese people. And, by older, I mean 8-15 years their elder. They are much more western, are more confident and do not stare at white people nearly as much. I suppose all of these things are good things, but there is still a much more hesitant and rigid behavior pattern compared to a western campus.

On my first day, at about 5:30, A recording started blaring from the loud speakers all over campus. When I asked what was being said, I was told that it was Hu Jintao speaking about the 60th anniversary of Chinese victory over Japanese Imperialism. For the past little while, the Chinese television channels have been dominated by fiction, non-fiction, and partly factual shows about China under Japanese rule. The most curious thing is that they strongly maintain that China was the largest contributor to the defeat of Japan and that glorious China had a little bit of help from the west, but not that much. Which, is of course, quite ridiculous. So, as this is too much nonsense to handle, a friend and I decided to go trolling. Trolling entails going on websites and blogs to work people up by posting comments to their articles. One such patriotic Chinese citizen writes articles at the China Daily (the Chinese Governments English Language Paper), we would post various comments under various pseudo-names and to say the least, it got them quite worked up.
The article and comments can be found here:

The point of this is that Chinese people have a real difficult time dealing with foreign criticism of their various practices and policies. I mentioned this in an earlier post but would like to develop more on the idea.

Obviously nationalism makes people put up a barrier against any foreign criticism being deemed legitimate, but in the end I believe that logical discussion can make someone change their mind. In a previous post, I had sent an email to a Chinese friend and she had replied saying that we had no right to criticize China, but after a further reply by a friend, she has agreed that she was wrong. I even sometimes find it difficult to let critcism of something I know is bad go unchecked when the subject is close to me. For example, when someone criticizes Israel, I often feel compelled to defend its various policies despite the fact that I know those policies are wrong. The point is that on many subjects I can argue both sides with a significant amount of knowledge and while I try to distance myself from emotional attachment to a subject that would interfere with rational discussion, sometimes I cannot help it. I know I am really brushing over this topic quickly, but it is just to say that there is still a large amount of rigidity in public opinion and behavior in China that will definitely impede social progress and the improvement of the Chinese society. A society that is most creative and innovative must be fundamentally open and if social thought restrictions are imposed, then they will inevitably lead to less a less creative and efficient population.

When those loud speakers start up everyday, they remind me that yes, this is still a state controlled society. Not so long ago, those very same speakers where inciting students to bang pots to disturb the birds and to destroy all things of historic China. Namely, it was over those lour speakers that the Cultural Revolution began. Until the masses realize the truth behind the mirage that is presented by the government, this country will never become the “Great Chinese Superpower” that is heralded as inevitable in all the western countries. In fact, this year, a newspaper journalist from Hong Kong was whisked away to jail when he revealed that he had been informed that his paper should not mark or mention the fifteen-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Massacre. At the entrance of the universities there is a large Mao Statue and I am really curious when they will be pulled down by angry mobs just as Lenin, Stalin, and the other dictators of the world have been.

On a lighter note, my buddy Matthew Finn is arriving tomorrow. He is flying with Air Canada and already, 10 hours before departure, his flight had been delayed 4 hours! You know, it is really hard to see why Air Canada does not do well. I think Robert Milton (Air Canada CEO) should be nominated for best CEO ever. Matt and I are off to south china next week for a couple weeks of traveling and sightseeing. We were going to go to Tibet but I have spent all my money on bars and woman and can’t afford to go anymore. Oh well, South China next week and Burma in December, not too bad. Tibet has too many tourists anyways. Will definitely go to Bhutan soon, the most intact ancient culture remaining in the world, but that is really expensive.

Published on August 25, 2005