A Sunday On My Own: Roots


Hi All: Sorry about this but I just wanted to write this post with Suanne in mind. Somehow I felt everything I wanted to say is for her. It also makes it easier to write what is on my mind. So if you want to continue to read this, you don’t have to pretend you are Suanne. Just pretend you are eavesdropping on us and then if you want to chime in with a comment or two, please feel free. 🙂

Hey honey:

I must have been so dead tired and I did not realize it. It was Sunday, my second day in Beijing. This is a free day for me and I wanted to make full use of it. Actually the whole idea for me to arrive in Beijing on Saturday is so that I can have at least 1-2 days to deal with the jetlag before a series of meetings start on  Monday.

I was woken up by my team members at 9:30 AM in the morning when they called my room saying “Hey Ben, are you coming with us?” They wanted to go to the Jade Market and the Forbidden City. Since I just woke up, I needed to have time on my own to deal with some matters and told them to just go ahead and I’ll probably catch up with them later on.

Frankly I wanted to go on my own. Sometimes it sucks going in a group and you wanted to see something and others wanted to see something else … or I wanted to spend more time in one area and they did not. Done that before and so I prefer to just go on my own.

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LOL! My executive suite had what they call Club Floor Privileges on the 24th floor. Free breakfast and I reckon it is nothing to sniff at. I was not interested. Instead I am hell bent on eating where Beijingers eat.

So after settling my stuff, I walked across the street from the hotel and just went into a restaurant. It is weird. The moment I walked in I hear a lot of people speaking in Cantonese. And then I saw Bolo Bau on some of the tables … and also milk tea. Since I could not read Chinese, I did not realize it is a HK Style Cafe.

Well, guess what I got. Bolo Bau (Pineapple Bun) just like everyone. They normally sell this at a pair at 13 RMB which is like just $1.00 Canadian each. I told the lady … “yit geh go liau”.

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It was really good. It was served really warm and cut in the middle already. I slipped the butter into it and watch it melt. Oh man, this is really good. It is not like those in Lido Cafe back home. This one is different.

For one, it is warm. It is also soft and the “pineapple” thingy at the top disintegrates as I took the first bite. It was messy eating it. Yeah, I am gonna come here again for a Bolo Bau one of these days.

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Of course, I had milk tea like everyone else. It was rich. Very good. Not one of those watered down nonsense we find in some cheap HK Style Cafe. I really like it. Got oomph!

If I am not mistaken, this is 13 RMB ($2 CAD). Hmmm … quite expensive for Beijing standard?

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I wanted to try something else. Since the menu did not have pictures and they did not make sense to me, I just pointed to the poster of three noodles as you see on the left above.

I told the lady I wanted the third one, at the bottom and the one with the largest picture. I guess it must be good since it is printed larger than the other two.

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This was really delicious and is chockful of beef parts. I never had so much beef in one bowl of noodles. I don’t know man … I just find that the noodles, the soup and the meat here are so much more delicious than in Vancouver. Yeah, maybe it is just my imagination but I truly enjoyed it. A lot.

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They do take their food seriously. Can you imagine that … that they actually snip off the head and tail of the bean sprout and serve it like above? Yeah, it’s the middle section that is most important.

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Given that it was close to afternoon already, I decided not to go to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is one place I want to spend a lot of time going through it thoroughly. I think I need a full day there to do proper justice.

You know I love museums and I know your eyes glazed over when we are in a museum. Museums are just not your thing but I know this one will be one you will like. I think you can relate to the National Museum of China.

The imposing and huge building is located just next to the Tianamen Square. Yeah, this is the visit I wanted to learn more about my heritage. It is like finding my roots and understand what “my people” is like. That sort of thing.

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I guess I am not surprised with the long line to get in. It took a good 40 minutes just to get in. It is actually shorter if I don’t carry a bag.

I took it in stride but there are many people who tried to worm their way past me. Graciousness is not one of the virtues to everyone here I guess. It will take time for China to get to the level of politeness and graciousness that we take for granted in Canada. Yeah, I do find that people are surprised when I stop to hold the doors for them. 🙂

The queue was unnecessarily long. The system could be improved easily. If only I am in charge, I will cut the queue into half the time easily. All it takes is information and clear instructions. Some people were not sure if they can bring in camera and so they had to return to another winder to collect the bag to take out the camera. Some people did not know that they need to pay to leave their bag.

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Entrance is free. I expected it to be free. This is after all the people’s museum.

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The size of the museum befits the growing China. In sheer size, this rivals some of the biggest museums I had been to.

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I did not have a lot of time. So I picked two galleries to visit. The one I look forward to is Ancient China.

This is perhaps their largest gallery. It shows relics from ancient China to the end of the Qing Dynasty. You know I had been reading about the Chinese dynasties a lot for the past little while. Coming here and seeing it makes a few pieces fall in place.

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In the earliest history of China, the one artifact that is plentiful and most common is the ding (left, food container) and li (right, wine container).

I read somewhere once that the author argued that the advent of “cuisine” started when men began making vessels specifically for food preparation. The three legged ding is the earliest found for the purpose.

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It started with a container resting independently on holders.

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The ding got progressively more elaborate as time goes by. I wonder how they actually uses the ding. One of the things I felt the museum could do better is to show how these are used in food preparation.

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A lot of the exhibits of the early days had to do with food preparation. That is perhaps why the Chinese cuisine had attained that level of sophistication that you see today.

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You know, I was thinking about the rise of China in the past couple of decades. The growth of China is unprecedented in all of history. Already it had stepped into second place as the world’s largest economy. Analysts are predicting that as early as 2025, China’s economy will be larger than the US. Seeing what I see here, I now know it is a very distinct possibility.

So is a strong China good for the world and for peace? We read about China’s forays in space by sending men into space. They are building stealth fighters. They are building their first aircraft carriers. They flexed their military might in that grand show back in 2009.

Does US and the world need to fear a dominant China?

You know, I really think not. I felt that the Chinese as a people and as a culture does not care about domination like other countries do. They are inward looking. The only Chinese dynasty that ventures out to conquer foreign lands is the Yuan dynasty which is basically Mongolians and not the Han Chinese. That is perhaps why you see that the Chinese built the Great Wall … to protect themselves from foreign invading forces.

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The Warring States period was the time when war artifacts is found.

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Even the coins in those days were made in the form of a knife.

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Oh so, the Sun Tzu’s Art of War (above) was written in bamboo slips. That was the days before the invention of paper.

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I took my sweet time going through the exhibits.

You know, as big as this museum is, this museum is not known for its collection. The best collection are outside of China or were destroyed during the cultural revolution. The best collection of Chinese history is today in Taipei. The Koumintang took the best away with them when they abandoned the mainland for Taiwan.

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My parents told me when I was young that we were “Tong Yan” (in Cantonese). I am not completely sure but I think that refers to the people during the Tang dynasty when they were called the people of Tang. Is that right?

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I also went to this other gallery called the The Rejuvenation.

This exhibit is strangely hard to find. There are some smaller signs in Chinese leading to it being at the far end of the museum and unlike other exhibits, the English banners were absent where the entrance is.

I think that this is a gallery meant for the local Chinese people. Well, this exhibit talks about how the Communist party save the nation and made it strong again. Yeah, I think it was a lot of propaganda stuff here. 🙂

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This is one exhibit that is painful to watch by someone who is not Chinese. Most of the captions on the items on display are only in Chinese, unlike in other parts that there are a lot of translations.

The photos show how the world pillaged the country and things like that. I think a Japanese or an American especially might not stomach this exhibition. Yeah, I can see that it did draw out the emotions from the people there just like how people were affected going through a Jewish holocaust museum (which I went to several and so I know how it is).

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Deep down, China is still a communist country. Sometimes I forget that fact when I see all the progress that is taking place in the country.

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That exhibit ended of course with Mao’s declaration of victory at the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Yeah, strong propaganda stuff. But one gotta give them credit for what they had done for the country.

This post is getting too long. I am gonna have to continue in the next post.

18 thoughts on “A Sunday On My Own: Roots

  1. Thanks Ben for the write-up. I never made it into the museums etc. I cant stand line ups. LoL. Also appreciate your candour and honesty. It is refreshing.

    My .2 cents: Can not compare China to US. For one thing the US is a far more mature market. They have had over a century head start with the stability and ability to exercise democracy for much longer. China in the meantime has had centuries of rulers with their personal agenda’s. Don’t want to get political. But if you examine the last few hundred years. The peasants and ordinary folks have no say whatsoever. Just faith or blind faith. If any government could, they would love to be able to create propaganda promoting their ideals. And continue their reign and power.

    On to more important topics: food. So interesting to look at the pictures of the cooking vessels. Chinese cookery/cuisine has had a few major set backs. Most recently during the Mao regime in the 60’s when food took a back seat. In fact eating well or properly was frowned upon. Most cooking literature was abolished and chefs were ‘re-trained’ into labor camps and so for decades, centuries of chinese food was lost. There has never been a chinese chef that put together chinese cuisine cooking into print like Varenne, Careme, Escoffier, Bocuse. Cooking has always been thought lowly. Personally, I think my dad was shocked and although not admittedly, ashamed when he learned I took a job as a cook when i was 15. In it’s entirety without the hiccups due to political agenda’s. Chinese cuisine would reign supreme.

    Beijing is an ideal stomping ground to sample chinese cuisine. I was surprised that Ben considered Beijing a food Mecca. Lol! But he is right. Esp today. BTW Beijing duck iirc was created by Chef from Shandong(Lu). Beijing cuisine today represent’s a city that offers Imperial cuisine, cuisine from the hordes of immigrant from ALL the provinces and modern offerings for other countries. A food blogger would take over a decade to sample all the variety and offering’s. Unlike in Vancouver it would take about 3-4 years. Just my POV.

    • Hehehe … maybe calling Beijing a culinary mecca may stretch it a bit too far come to think of it. I had very good meals here even though the places I went to were random. They are not destination restaurants because I just find it too much work to go find them. Yeah, but I had great meals and all of them did not disappoint. Ben

    • If you can get into any provincial museum in China it is so worthwhile. Of course the one in Beijing will have long lineups but just going through and looking at the exhibits makes one very proud to be Chinese. The craftsmanship, detailing, the extraordinary age of the items are all very awe-inspiring; that the Chinese were so advanced then compared to Western civilization.

      • Hi Liz: Just the other day I went to another museum called the Fine Arts Museum. Too bad the entire museum is in Chinese with hardly a word in English. 😦 There are dozens of museums here in Beijing and was wondering if there is any you can recommend. I was thinking of going to the military museum and the train museum next (boys’ things). Ben

      • English is not common in China but it’s better in Shanghai. You can’t miss the palace museum in the Forbidden City and someone mentioned the Bell and Drum Tower. You gotta go where your heart takes you — military, train or police museum — just go do it. Are you going to line up to see Chairman Mao? It might be a bit of a time-waster. Maybe try the newer Imperial City Art Museum in Puchanghe Park.

      • Hi Liz: Yeah, I was crazy enough to line up to see Chairman Mao. The line was crazy long. My estimation is it is at least 1/2 km long, probably more. Ben

  2. Thank you for the tour of the museum. I was in Suzhou over 10 years ago. When I visited Shanghai I was in shock at the difference in pace between these two cities. I’m sure that the shock would be the same had I seen Bejing.

    I can hear Ben’s distaste with regards to the propaganda. I find it so hilarious. When I stayed at the University in Suzhou they would blare out propaganda early in the morning and it was LOUD! The rest of my group finds it funny that they’d think we’d fall for that crap. Besides, they didn’t understand most of the static Mandarin.

    I agree that there is no need to fear China’s domination. I think China wants to be accepted by the Western world as equals. Saving face goes as far as the nation.

    Looking forward to more posts of your trip.

  3. Ben,You are very correct in GDP per capita,For example while the Canadian economy is roughly the same size as the Indonesian economy,The Canadian Quality of Life PER CAPITA is way better.Sorry if I sounded a bit know it all earlier

  4. I don;t know how correct I am, but I’ve always been referred to, and refer to people who speak Cantonese as a “Tong Yun” which includes anyone from the cantonese part of Guang-Zhou to everyone in HK. Or maybe it is just vancouver slang

  5. Nice to read different perspective looking at today’s China, I am looking forward to read more writing from Ben in BJ. I have been to BJ few yeras ago and planning to revisit in Sept as part of tour to Tibet. To those who are not familar to Chinese history, after over hundred year of disperity and aggression from strong countries like Japan and Britain, Chinese people had endured a lot of suffering, from famine to being colonized by foreign powers. It is not surprising to see uncomfortable comments from people in western world. I admit there are a lot of area needed to be improved; like human right, law enforcement etc but I am so glad the rising power of China has made a lot changes in today’s world. One is not shame or embarrasse to be ethic Chinese.

  6. That’s right Han and Tang were some of the most prosperous dynasties. I only heard Tang ren (yen) in old SE Asia, but not in mainland China. Han ren (or choo) is most common heard in China. Ming & Song dynasty was also most prosperous but never heard Chinese said Ming ren or Song ren.
    When did they start to call Chinese as Zhong Kuo ren?

  7. Kai to update you,China has overtaken the US already as the number 1 exporter,number 1 car market,number 1 energy consumer,number 1 cellular market…..The IMF has officially stated the conservative 2025 overtaking,Some less conservative pundits point at 2020.Free Education,Human Rights etc are not factors in ranking GNP size.It is the size of the economy.The US will continue to have the number 1 Military but a number 2 economy.

  8. Until its people stop risking their lives to smuggle themselves to western countries, I fail to see how China can surpass the States anytime soon. This country doesn’t even have free education for its citizens.

    • Hi Kai: I can really feel the buzz and see for myself what it means that this is a country on the go. The shopping complexes were packed. It’s hard to describe properly. You need to be here to know. I am not saying all these uncontrolled growth is good. There are a lot of side effects. The traffic jams for one is terrible. China is still a growing country. Even though I mentioned that China’s economy will surpass the US within a decade or two but still it is a long way from PER CAPITA GDP. The average western country citizen are more educated and highly skilled than the average Chinese. The “scary” part is the rate of progress/growth in China and coupled with the slowing down of the western economy. As exciting as Beijing is, my home will still be Vancouver. The quality of life is what I look for more. Ben

  9. The Han and the Tang dynasties are the two most prosperous and strong dynasties in the history of China and therefore Chinese refers themselves as the Han people or the Tang people as your parents have mentioned.

    Great write up Ben!

  10. Ben Even as a none Chinese,As early as 10 years ago I saw the pride and nationalism of the Chinese people.An American woman I was riding a cab with said to the driver “Why dont you guys learn english”in frustration of the lack of english,The driver retorted that “yes we will but in 30 years you will all have to learn Chinese”Yet they have great respect for Canadians as you will discover

    • There’s a lot behind the Chinese’s term “Middle Kingdom” which loosely translates to “the central nation”

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