at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: China Page 3 of 17

Haikou Market Vegetable Pile

‘adventuring’ into Haikou Markets

“Cities are all the same nowadays,” you will often hear.

Global trade has led to many brands (seemingly) being everywhere, and many an inner city has come to look basically the same as any other, it is true.

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The beginnings of globalization in the Columbian Exchange (as in, when Columbus “discovered” the Americas and species of “Old” and “New World” started to spread and mingle) made global food offerings similar even sooner.

Yet, differences also remain, and nowhere are they more obvious than at local markets…

Such “wet markets” are particularly interesting in their regional differences, which speak to the extent to which different places are still shaped by their different ecological conditions, resulting in different offerings.

Unsurprisingly – in spite of all the talk of globalization and uniformity – on Hainan, this includes a much stronger presence of fish, shellfish and seafood.

Here, even the markets in Hunan, where carp and eel would typically be the major, if not the only, fish on offer, are already distinctly different, even though one may think of them all as Chinese markets – and of course, in Europe, things look different yet again.

(I have a whole series on markets over on ChiliCult, my blog about hot spices and the world to be discovered through them.)

Haikou (Xinbu) Beach Running With the Sunrise

Culture(s) on the Beach… in Haikou, Hainan

Going to the beach is not exactly a lesson in cultural identity and intercultural issues – except that, as the summer of 2016 came around, with the burkini ban in France, beachwear did show its political, cross-cultural side.

While this debate was raging, we went to the beach in Haikou, Hainan.

This being China, things were a bit different from what one might expect, here, too.

Haikou, Binhai Beach

Haikou, Binhai Beach

One, we first went to Binhai Beach – but only for night walks in the sand. After all, who’d want to get burnt by the hot days’ sun?

Haikou, Binhai Beach Walk

Haikou, Binhai Beach Walk

People do also come here during the day to paddle in the water a bit, but it’s nothing like the international tourist behavior one finds on beaches with lots of, well, international tourists (which one could already find in Sanya, on the Southern coast of Hainan).

Then, we also got invited (by relatives) to go stay by the beach, in the Hilton Haikou Meilan.

Supposedly five-star, apparently expensive, it is a palace by the sea in an area that seems to be getting newly built up – and remaining old and pre-modern, and falling to pieces, all at the same time.

(I say “supposedly five-star” because the rooms were not quite as clean and well-managed as a 5-star hotel’s rooms should be. The breakfast buffet was good though – in our opinion. The others had to complain that it didn’t have everything they thought there should have been…)

Haikou (Xinbu) Beach, Early Morning

Haikou (Xinbu) Beach, Early Morning

Hardly anyone is visiting the beach there, either, and even the hotel pools were hardly being used.
It was still, if not all the more, interesting to be the one person who went out on the beach in the morning to go for a run there:

Tropical City Contrasts: Haikou

China’s tropical island paradise, Hainan, may easily be one of the most interesting places for getting to know the craziness that is China.

Especially if you look at it with an awareness of Chinese history, it is quite paradoxical – and all the more interesting for it.

Hainan, after all, used to be one of the places where people who had fallen out of the imperial court’s favor were sent into exile; Sanya’s coast was considered the end of the world.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo), one of China’s great poets and polymaths, for example, ended up here.

He is memorialized in (the area of/beside, to be exact) the Wugong Ci, the Five Officials’ Temple/Memorial in Haikou.
There, among other things, he is shown as this exile who still did great things even in this backwater hellhole of a place, introducing the poor backwards islanders to agriculture and learning of a higher kind.

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple

Su Shi (Su Dongpo)Statue in Sugong Temple

Islanders who otherwise collected tropical fruits, for example. Of which Hainan still offers a lot of kinds and for which, certainly with my wife and me, it is now one of the favorite holiday destinations … and by the example of which, in my opinion, one can learn quite a bit about this our world, i.e. do some at-home-making:

Where there are fruits, there are markets.

Even as malls and entire cities seem to be getting ever more the same no matter where you are, at least with all the same global brands advertising their wares, local markets still have some ‘color’ reflecting their location.

In China, and in a place such as Haikou, particularly so…

But then, even as Haikou is much less popular a beach vacation destination than Sanya on the opposite, Southern coast of Hainan, there are also beaches.

This being China, you may visit them very differently from how other people do if you go with Chinese and like a local… and with a “real” visit to the beach (in more Western terms) being different yet again. See more on that here.

Haikou Beach Running

Finally, of course, with the rising popularity, the usual Chinese housing boom has come.

In my travels, this was a chance both to see how locals proudly present their latest property purchase to relatives – and a chance to just have some fun with photography. See more here.

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Haikou Construction Tilt-Shift

Writing Buddhist Temples of Beijing with Juliet Bredon's Peking (1922)

Back to Beijing’s Buddhist Temples

We feel that everything is changing ever faster, and that maybe it’s better that way, too – but there are also many things that seem hardly changed and all the more interesting for it.

The Buddhist temples in Beijing do all that and more.

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China Circle - On the Mountain

Running in a Circle… in the Heart of China

Three years – has it really been three years already?! – after the first time I visited the place my wife grew up and her parents still (mainly) live, deep in the countryside of Hunan, we returned.

One of the things I returned to was running in a circle.

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Jiubujiang Reservoir Lake Swim

at-home-making/adventuring, In the Heart of China

“My” China is not that of so many a visitor to or expat in that country.

I have not lived there for so long, took quite a long time before I finally went and stayed, but then it was neither the Beijing or Shanghai (or other large city) of most tourists and expats where I found myself.

It was Xiangtan, Hunan, where I lived and worked for three years (with only a month’s each interruption in Beijing and Shanghai and, more recently, another 6 months in Beijing).

With the woman I got to know and love there, and everywhere, I have made it even deeper into the country, to stays with her parents in her home town of Jiubujiang.

Where that is? Here:

It’s the China of old stories in rural settings, a China where a foreigner is still a strange sight – and also the China where many migrants working in coastal factories come from (or have returned to) and where development is also starting to both take its toll and bring improvements.

Jiubujiang Construction

There used to be “only” rice fields here, now it’s meant to become a tourist village…

(If one wants to delve deeper, it is also the China where many revolutionaries and generals came from, not least Mao Zedong himself – and fittingly for my interests, many people like to blame the Hunanese penchant for the chile pepper for all that martial prowess and revolutionary / “red” zeal ;)

So, being there in China is another situation where I am “adventuring”. And making myself at home.

Admittedly, “adventuring” there is different from doing so when in Austria.

I grew up in Austria, after all.

Therefore, it takes somewhat more special things to be thrown out of a routine and into the spirit of “something else” that makes the ordinary less usual and more eye-catching.

In China, just living with the parents-in-law, going for walks, accompanying the mother-in-law on the local market, having fun going for a swim in the local reservoir-lake (which is increasingly being turned into a tourist attraction), is somewhat adventurous.

Jiubujiang Reservoir Lake Swim

Swimming in the reservoir lake of Jiubujiang… This is right below a sign saying “The lake is large, the water is deep… No swimming!” ;)

But, it is also an at-home-making, trying to get to really know the place and live there, not just be the tourist who sees nothing but the most noteworthy and most strongly promoted attractions.

This is easier to realize you need, and to do, when you go somewhere other than “home”.

In fact, I may have noticed that whole problem-we-don’t-know-we-have of our need to make ourselves at home (rather than think that “home” is something we naturally have and get to and then know everything about, merely through our familiarity with it) because I went somewhere else for long enough.

It is only too easy, though, to remain superficially “touristy” both at home and somewhere else.

If you want to become at home in this life, in the places you are, in this world, you’ll have to make yourself at home. Educate yourself, explore, experience.

It’s worth it.

Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over...

Two Views of China

Said goodbye to Europe shortly after the OutDoor Friedrichshafen 2016, went to the other place that is home for my wife and me, while also always being something of a place for ‘adventuring‘: China.

Wanted to share a few impressions which show something of the very different views…

China West-East, From the Plane

Goodbye to Europe

Goodbye to Europe

Hello Himalayas

Hello Himalayas (between Pakistan and China)

Takla Maklan, probably

Takla Maklan, probably

More Chinese Desert

More Chinese Desert

Settlement, Far West China

Settlement, Far West China

Northern Central China

Northern Central China

Northern Central China

Northern Central China, finally with more water

Mountains before (west of) Beijing

Mountains before (west of) Beijing – and before everything disappeared in cloud cover (and/or haze)

China Intimately, In Rural Hunan

Rural Hunan

Rural Hunan, where the road ends. Seemingly…

Rural Hunan. Grave in the Hillside

And even that far out, graves speak of the millennia of human occupation

Rural Hunan. Tomb

And tombs as well…

Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over...

Rural Hunan. Mao Zedong still watches over…

Rural Hunan. Butterfly

There is also wildlife, though

Rural Hunan. Dragonfly

Rural Hunan. Trash Burning

Trash is still being treated as if it were all biological material…

Rural Hunan. Farm Workers on Break

…much work is still done by hand…

Rural Hunan. Traffic

… but much transport has long since switched to motorization.

Rural Hunan. Market

The market is as I know it from our visit three years ago, and as it probably has been for centuries (except for the plastic)

Rural Hunan. Village(?) Street

Even in this village (if that’s what one wants to call it), construction has kicked up a notch – but that may be a different story yet.


At-Home-Ness in China and the Miracle of the End

Home, the way I talk about it and want you to make yourself more at home in, is the ecological relations in a life and the connections we tend to overlook because they are so obvious, especially in the actual physical place you are in.

In this world of global trade and global migration, though, everything ends up connected, no place and certainly no life is unaffected by other’s.
Oftentimes, it’s all connected to China (just like my personal life has become).

And China is in a strange position yet again.

From poverty it has gone to economic power, from closedness to openness and on to the current climate that feels like a strong mixture of both, from a miracle to, supposedly, the end of the miracle, and to the beginning of a new and difficult normal.

The Financial Times Features piece on “The end of the Chinese miracle” is a good look into what’s been happening, in China and for individuals, and in the big picture and with influence on the whole world:

There is one caveat: I think they seriously under-used Gerhard Flatz (who I had a chance to meet at the ISPO) and KTC, who are doing just the necessary work to change China’s position in the global economy – and the page title itself is rather better than the headline one quickly gets to see, as it does not proclaim the end of the Chinese miracle, which has been proclaimed pretty much every year since at least 2008, but rather the end of the *migrant* miracle.

The Other

The problem, and the place where “at-home-ness” comes in, is that our view of an other, and especially one as different as China, is skewed from the beginning.

The “miracle” certainly has been a story of success in many a way, whether you want to interpret it as the success of the Chinese Communist Party or the success of the people out of whose way the CCP stepped.

Having started from such a low point as it did, all in the context of a pent-up entrepreneurial drive, however, it has been less miraculous.

It has, and that image is not unpopular, been like the growth spurt of a teenager finally in puberty, and it was rather similar to the economic miracles of Germany and Japan post-WWII (which started from similar low points), as well.

Similarly, now, the end of the miracle may be less of an end than a maturation. Changes will be necessary with it, growth will not be as high as it had been, the difficulties are particularly acute in China – but it will not be the end it is often portrayed as.

China has problems for sure, and international companies counting on nothing but the easy availability of cheap labor and a population profiting from higher incomes and a drive to consume will be in as much of a bind as people expecting that easy times would continue.

That, though, has – except for a small cohort among China’s millennials – never been quite the expectation, and even in the midst of much current moaning about difficulties, most people still seem to find work and get by, if not do even better.

The country is big enough that everything can happen at once, maybe even the miracle of an end: A time of change that, difficult though it may be, leads on to the next phase in China’s development – and perhaps the world’s.

The Fact

Everything cannot all go on based on consumption and growth, same as it had been going on, after all.

The main thing we should remember, especially for our own lives, is that change still continues to be the only constant.

Things will never go on just as they had before.

We keep forgetting this basic fact of life, trying to ignore it – or ignoring it without even trying to – because we become too comfortable with a recent situation rather than at home in the change.

It will happen, though.

Whether we want it or not, whether we get ready for it or refuse to acknowledge it, whether we let it steamroll us or find the niches and leverage points from which we can get through or even influence it: happen it will.

Time to accept and adapt. Which, incidentally, seems a pretty Chinese way of doing things.

Food for Learning

Civilizing China

We are all being told how we are supposed to behave.

First our parents (and teachers and peers) tell and show us what sort of behavior is normal and acceptable; later, advertising and various public and educational campaigns try to push us towards their preferred ways of acting.

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