China

Winter Wonderlands?

icy-plants-mossy-puddlesEvery so often I scan through my own blog and remember beautiful things I’ve seen. Last year for the first time, I did my own personal “greatest hits” selection of photos from the ten+ years I’d been blogging at that point. This year, I find myself thinking about ice, even though I’m a few hundred miles at least, I suspect, from the nearest  naturally-occuring ice. Perhaps because of that: listening to seasonal tunes about winter wonderlands and white holidays has reminded me of the ice and snow I’ve seen.

chilnualna-creek-ice-rock-2-jan12I also realize I didn’t photograph things I wish I had, such as snow piling up on the streets of Beijing in the winter of 2005…although I do feature skaters on Beijing’s Qianhai, and cracking ice on a pond outside Beijing during a winter hike, taken the same winter. Above & in the collage below are photos from winter in Yosemite & summer in New Zealand (icy grass on the Keppler Track in Fiordland; and also a shot of the glacier on South Island’s west coast). There are also frosted grass & icicles from a winter trip to the Great Falls in Paterson, New Jersey: yes, such beauty can be found right off Interstate 80, if you know how and where to look :-). Plus some frosted grass in the early-morning shade at Hood Mountain in Sonoma County, two winters ago. If you’re already experiencing ice and snow, maybe these won’t do much for you…let me know, either way. May your year be warm, safe and dry in 2017.


Paterson Great Falls & Frosted Grass




Remembering in December

My wandering field life passed the ten-year mark earlier this year. That’s ten years of finding my way into a new work environment and getting to know new colleagues once a year or so. In a more mundane way, it’s ten years worth of photo files to keep up-to-date and to try to remember to share on my blog. A cousin (thanks, Juliette!) noticed that the entries from my earliest days had lost their photos: mine was a rather early blog, and the ways of uploading photos have changed since then.  (Many of those earliest posts appear frankly so embarrassingly shallow to me now that I’m tempted to simply wave my editorial wand and have done with them…but thus far my sense for historical accuracy is controlling that temptation…) If my continued research succeeds, many of those photos will be directly restored onto the blog as I find their originals in backup hard drives and other obscure locations: ah, new year’s resolutions before the old year has even wrapped up!

In the meantime, I’m uncovering little treasures that never made it up here, while fondly remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I was recently saddened to learn that Nancy Schrom Dye, former president of Oberlin College, had passed this year. During my years of active alumni-association work I greatly appreciated her contributions to my alma mater – so I was proud to join some other colleagues in taking her for an end-of-year meal which, the digital date stamp tells me, occurred in Beijing on December 31, in 2005. Up above are also a few rediscovered December 2005 Beijing-area shots which somehow didn’t get posted at the time. (Posting photos was more challenging in those early days…)

Just below are some previously-unposted 2015 shots: early-morning moonset at my home here in Haiti; me with my brother and a colleague when I gave a talk at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this year; and some shots from the lovely Frick House & museum in Pittsburgh, from the same visit. And since this put me in the mood, I’ve wandered through the many countries & continents, family meals & trips & assignments on four continents that have filled the years between these two sets of photos so very fully. Assembling them’s been fun for me so I hope viewing them is fun for you too :-).

This time last year? In December 2014, I returned from Sierra Leone & later went with great friends to enjoy the Ai WeiWei exhibit on Alcatraz Island (more photos from that one in the original post….though that particular set of great friends – you know who you are! – are remarkably camera-resistant):

Where’d I spend 2013? Living in PNG, participating in meetings in Amsterdam & dive trips in Australia, then celebrating the holidays with Steve & Mom in New Zealand:

I began 2012 in the US (where I visited Washington, DC in cherry-blossom season), turned 50 in the company of Howard & Gene at Kakadu National Park in Australia, and finished the year in PNG:

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2011 was mostly Mweso, a little Lamu, a little London and a year-end back home seeing Frank Lloyd Wright homes of Pennsylvania with family:

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2010…wow, what a year. Just seeing all the continents and countries where I spent time (actually meaningful time, with friends and family and work) makes my head spin even now. The photos evoked so much for me that I just couldn’t narrow it down to three or four…so I’m giving you a lot from 2010, a mix of Manipur (start of year) and Mweso (end of year), with a sprinkling of Sweden, Berlin, Paris & California in between:

House, Valley, Hills on Hike - Pre-Monsoon Season

I entered 2009 in Tahiti, yes it’s true: during the year I took off from work to help Mom with her house, I dedicated two months to exploring Australia (and watching the Australian Open!) and New Zealand, flying in via Tahiti with a few nights in Papeete, just because I could. The year ended, of course, in Manipur and included a great trip to see excellent sites of Rajasthan with Howard & Gene:

Ngauruhoe Summit View of Lakes & Clouds

2008 started in Nigeria, and ended in Tahiti…with a lot of good work in Nigeria, a short assignment for the earthquake in China, visits in Germany with my exchange family friends there….and a good deal of time in and around NYC (Mom, aunt Judy & I enjoyed a harbor trip past Ellis Island where our own immigrant ancestors entered the country, and also a trip to our favorite sculpture park up th Husdon)…with a side trip for some hiking in Sequoia and other California adventures:
Rivers-Abia Border Boats & River

2007…I began the year based in Colombo but spend the new year’s period with Mom & Steve at  Angkor Wat, returned to Colombo to finish out an assignment, headed on for training in Paris where I also got celebrate Mom’s 71st birthday…back to the US to reorganize my life after my first two years in the field, and then off for a new assignment in Nigeria. At the time it felt big. Now it’s all fond memories:

…which will bring us back to year two of this current phase of life’s great adventure, the lovely year 2006. From Beijing & Yunnan in China, to Polonnaruwa & Sigiriya in Sri Lanka (where I was based at year’s end), with family time on Cumberland Island (Mom’s 70th birthday dinner!) and in Germany in between. With a special souvenir from Seoul, where I had the opportunity to work a bit with the young ladies pictured with their daffodils. In a small-world twist, I had dinner with one of those two young ladies just a few nights ago in Port au Prince, which she visits sometimes in her current work with the CDC. So much small world, so little time for it all. Happy end of 2015, and many good hopes for a 2016 of more peace and health to everyone, everywhere.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA


An Earthquake in Sichuan

I am deliberately leading with this photo, to remind us all that life does go on even in the midst of such tragedy as a 7.9 or 8.0 earthquake. Returning to the US with its continued willful obsession with the tragic events of 9/11 and sheer stubborn unwillingness to, as it were, move on…well, it seems there are things our leaders and fellow citizens could learn from the good folks of Sichuan about accepting tragedy and moving on constructively and engagingly with life.

So , as it happens, I was in Paris debriefing from my eight+ months in Port Harcourt, when the earthquake in China happened. Having studied Chinese language and history in college; having lived in China for more than two years if you add up my time there with MSF and my student days in Taiwan, and being readily to hand in Paris for the emergency desk to ask if I’d be willing or able to help out with any relief effort we decided to try to launch…well, let’s just say that rather than returning as planned to the US and enjoying Oberlin’s graduation weekend and the celebration of Shansi’s successful fundraising campaign, in which I played an enjoyable and not insignificant role for the past four or five years, I headed off to Asia less than a week after returning to Paris from Africa. Everyone’s read the news reports, I’m sure, and knows that the government’s response has been impressive and thorough. I won’t get on the soapbox for long, but let’s just say the citizens of New Orleans would have fared far better under this regime, which so many in the US delight in criticizing endlessly, than under the band of thieving incompetents we’ve allowed to run our country for the past eight years. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves here.


…Above, you can see the mountains in the hazy background — they’re really quite close, as this town butts more or less up against them, but there was always a lot of haze (or was it pollution?) in the air. Below: I do, always have and always will, love the countryside of China. I just love rice fields and wheat fields and the small low-tech way they’re still run in China, by contrast to the superfarms that have driven American small farmers out of business…while allowing us all to pay nearly nothing in cash for our food and put off the real environmental and social costs of such factory farming for future generations to sort out. (Ooh…sorry, I’m really in a soapbox mood today, aren’t I? Sorry!)









And Then There Were the Pandas :-)

During my brief time in Chengdu it was pretty much long work days and no down time really. On the very last day, though, I managed to slip out with my delightful colleague Sarah for a visit to the famous Panda Research & Breeding facility on the outskirts of Chengdu city. There’s a larger, more forested and wild place a good deal farther outside the city, but that one was out of the question. This one was possible, only taking up a couple hours on my last morning there. I’m not at all sure this layout will work: further down there’s a sequence of shots of some young pandas playing, which I tried to lay out in sort of a filmstrip fashion from top left to bottom right…if they overlap on your browser, try launching another one: I find that strangely enough explorer often interacts better with blogspot than firefox, much as I usually prefer firefox…

By explanation: adult pandas do what many of us have seen the adult pandas do in zoos in our home countries: lie around snoozing, or if you’re early in the morning (as we were) chomping on bamboo. (Yum! I’d like mine with the spicy salsa, please!) The young pandas are another matter altogether: they’re like the young of many other mammals, overloaded with energy and playfulness, and they were a total treat to watch endlessly playing with each other like a litter of puppies.

Anyway, it was nice to be able to enjoy Chengdu even a little bit. Otherwise it seems a very nice city and I was happy with how at home I felt there, and how well my spoken Chinese came back after nearly two years away from China; the city itself was very little affected by the earthquake or the aftershocks, though of course everyone felt them all and was quite jittery, understandably.













Eastern Qing Tombs: 清东陵 (and a new look)

Deserted Tomb and Blue SkyCanals & Tombs

Yes, friends, after 18 months my publishing instincts have reasserted themselves: I’ve become bored by my own blog, so I’m redesigning it. Actually, on some twisted little level I’m becoming bored by China (gasp, goes Paul’s audience and his inner censor – can this be true?!) and ready to move on to whatever comes next…but more about that later. The point here and now is: I’m trying some new things on the blog, so let me know what you think, OK?

But about that boredom, you’re thinking. Can’t be a midlife crisis – doesn’t selling up all my stuff and leaving the US qualify as a satisfactory resolution to that one? Especially when it follows a few years dedicated to becoming a certified advanced holistic massage therapist and doing energy work in Northern California? Is Paul coming unraveled, we all wonder? Am I regressing? Having been a dutiful little boy who got good grades and never cut school for my entire educational career (yes, folks, I’m boring) and done the career route – am I now dedicated to becoming a flake? J

Canal, Tombs, Hills

Nah – just shaking things up a bit so I don’t fall into a rut here. Never ceases to amaze me how much I’ve adapted to the most mind boggling things. Says my friend Ondrej (that’s Mr. Risk to those who’ve actually read the text rather than just skimming the photos), “Surprise? After 16 [in his case, a piddly four] months in China, I don’t know what that word means.” Actually, let’s blame all this on Ondrej, shall we? I lost my beloved first-ever digital camera (one never forgets one’s first): clearly his fault, since it fell out of the cab in which he’d distracted me with his charming ways and handsome looks. I shaved my head: clearly his fault, since he said he only likes dangerous-looking men. So he’s cost me a new camera, several haircuts just keep my pate shiny and tan – and all I get is a new friend who’s now in Brisbane missing the crowds of China. Sadly, it seems I still don’t look dangerous, even shaven-headed. So next I’ll start tattooing and piercing various parts of my body, no doubt. Would a big iron cross tattooed across my forehead make me more sexy-dangerous, do you think? It would certainly be SOOO me.

Paul @ Eastern Qing Tombs

OK, OK, enough about my summer makeovers and my failed love life. You want to know what you’re looking at. Well, they’re the Eastern Qing Tombs, duh! They don’t appear in any of your tour guides, you say? Haha! Finally got out of the tourist books! And it’s well worth it. Sorry folks, you won’t see these on any guided tours soon: they’re too far outside Beijing to fit neatly in the three-day packages that combine Wall & Ming Tombs, Forbidden City, Tiananmen, Temple of Heaven, and the mandatory stop at Yashow so you can purchase all those pirated clothes China’s no longer making or selling. (Yeah, right, just like all those pirated CDs that we can’t buy here any more.)

Tombs through DoorwayNow about those tombs…ever the boring academic, let me inform you that the Qing Dynasty (as noted in my last posts from the seashore) established itself after storming down from the wild northeast (aka Manchuria) and driving out the last of the Han Chinese Dynasties in 1644. (These dynastic dates all make it sound so neat and clean, but of course it really wasn’t – it was civil wars and gradual disintegration throughout China for years, until finally the Manchurians stormed the gates en masse.) It ruled, more or less, until 1911: again, saying “Qing Dynasty, 1644-1911” sounds so tidy. In actual fact, the dynasty reached its peak during the reigns of Kangxi (1661-1722) and his grandson Qianlong (1735-1799), and after that it was one ugly, long decline, during which Europe started trying to boss China around quite a bit. (The French and British, in particular, took a fancy to marching on Beijing and burning down palaces and things in order to make the Chinese open more ports for trade. See – the WTO does serve a purpose!)

What’s interesting about the Qing Tombs is they’re divided: almost everyone’s over here, on the east, spread along the slopes of these mountains at the edge of this gorgeous valley. Then there’s Yongzheng, Kangxi’s fourth son, who came between the other two and was – though quite ruthless – said to be one of the finer Qing emperors. Kangxi, living as long as he did and of course surrounded in the Forbidden City by all those concubines and wives, managed to produce quite a few progeny, of whom something like 13 were sons. If you think your family’s had some inheritance disputes, just imagine how Kangxi’s sons settled their differences! Yongzheng killed all but one (the most loyal) of his brothers and ruled from 1722-1735. When it came time to plan his tomb, though, he suffered some remorse, and chose a separate location far out west of town for himself, his wives and his concubines.

Socio-cultural aside about ruthlessness. In Chinese history – and to tell by my (modern, smart, female) Chinese teacher, still in contemporary culture – it’s accepted among men and emperors. Ruthlessness is just fine. My reading of Chinese history is currently turning up a few ruthless women, invariably the wives or concubines of emperors (or in the case of the Gang of Four, party leaders), and without exception they (Lu Hou 吕后 , Ci Xi 慈禧) are seen as the personification of evil. Just an interesting little note: as my teacher says, women shouldn’t hold power. Bad for them. But men – hell yeah, kill your brothers. No problem! Gotta be cruel to be kind, gotta be firm to rule well, and certainly gotta be a man to rule!

Lily in Courtyard

Tidbits about the tombs: there were far more than we could see in a full afternoon, surrounded by fields, orchards and chestnut trees, scattered like jewels along the verdant hillsides at one end of a hill-encircled valley. (Great 风水 – aka feng shui – one understands.) Only a few have been maintained and/or restored – rebuilt, as the critics would say. One great joy is how you feel they’re left in a fairly natural state of deterioration; indeed, Marg and I discussed whether thepeeling and faded paint at one tomb is original from when the emperor was buried there in the mid 1800s, or at least from dynastic-era maintenance (after all, the post-dynastic era didn’t bother much with tomb maintenace until at least the early 1980s, one assumes, given the various obstacles those years presented).

Pines, Tombs & BridgesThese aren’t ancient, certainly. But they’re old, and they’re dynastic, which places them in a very different time line from the one we live in now, in China. Also, the unrestored ones are very under-visited and atmospheric: the new ones, blesssed with dioramas of tacky statues representing the services that would have been held here to honor the ancestors during the dynastic era, see more tourists. But we spent more than half an hour wandering around one compound and only saw three other people! Final note: the names on the tombs are written both in Manchurian script (which I never even knew existed) and in Chinese characters. Though I’ve been to many Qing-era temples, etc. in China, I’ve never been to official Qing dynastic buildings, so I’d never seen this before.Fields, Hills & TombsTombs through TreesService Bldg & Big TombPlants @ Tomb Museum

Steps to TombsQing Tomb Through FieldsBig Display Tomb Building

(July 2016 editor’s note: I’ve edited this post to combine many separate photo-uploads which were necessary when I first posted it, and to take advantage of improved photo-layout options available now.)


Cross-Border Trade


Cross-Border Trade
Originally uploaded by paulbrockmann.

As I mentioned earlier, this is not a formal border crossing; indeed,

on the Chinese side at least I noticed a few soldiers with binoculars,

who I assumed were watching for illegal border-crossing attempts. It

interested me that on the Chinese side, there’s quite a bit of

development: this is clearly a regional draw, with tour groups coming

from Guangzhou, Nanning and elsewhere in the region. There are TONS of

stalls selling useless trinkets, what looks like a rather nice hotel

with views right out over the waterfalls and a decent restaurant, and

so on. Though it wasn’t overrun with tourists the day I was there, it

was certainly a popular attraction.

On the Vietnamese side, there are very few people. In some of the

following shots, you’ll glimpse the small footbridge that allows

people to cross from the mainland over onto the little island in the

middle of the two different sets of cascades — the island is in

Vietnam, and the boats that operate from the Chinese side come right

up to it, but no one is allowed to step out. However, the enterprising

young man here has set up a small operation from which he sells

drinks, cigarettes and various little trinkets to folks on the boats.

I found myself contemplating the meanings of borders and of history a

bit as I wandered the trails around these lovely falls. Any American

of my generation grew up knowing there was this dreadful war with

which so many in my country disagreed — for me and many like-minded

Americans of my generation, Vietnam has been for a long time a symbol

of American foreign policy gone tragically astray. It felt nice,

thirty years after my country stopped trying to defoliate Vietnam and

crush their independence, to give a wee bit back by buying a bottle of

water from this guy. 🙂 And on a broader note, to think about the

fact that thirty years ago, no American would have been welcome

anywhere near this spot — whereas now, I can have nice talks with my

fellow tourists and even a bit of a chat with the young soldier who

encouraged me to take the boat tour…for which I thank him, since it

was indeed interesting.


Paul at the Falls


Paul at the Falls
Originally uploaded by paulbrockmann.

The shot of me with the waterfalls below and farther away was taken by

the friendly young soldier mentioned earlier. (Couldn’t get a picture

of him since it’s not permitted; indeed I hope in mentioning him here

I’m not breaking some rule…) The one with me and two young friends

was suggested by the taller of the two guys, in the blue athletic

gear: he came up with his camera and asked if he could have a picture

with us both, with the Vietnam side in the background. Then his

brother joined in, and I decided to ask his parents to take a shot of

me as well.

This kicked of a bidding war for shots with Paul: this family was part

of a bus tour from Guangzhou, and just about everyone on board lined

up to get a picture with me. In the background is Vietnam. And while

we’re at it, let’s not forget that during the US war against Vietnam,

China worked with the Vietnamese…but within ten years of the end of

our war, China and Vietnam themselves had engaged in some pretty

serious cross-border wars as well. I’m quite happy that these seem to

have calmed down — it’s nice that in at least some parts of the world

things may be getting more stable and peaceful.

After this you’ll see a few shots from on the boat, or close up to the falls.


Nanning Running Tour

(Note from October 2016 – I’m slowly updating all the older blog posts to bring all the photos into one post rather than one by one, as I had to post them when I had to email photos to flickr in order to get them into my old blog…they’re still very low resolution and tiny images, sorry…but at least the posts will be more coherent, and I’m finding some other photos that had gotten lost through the emails or the censors or whatever over the years…)

Since I’ve been showing shots of the more touristy and lovely parts of China — Beijing, Nanhu Park and dowtown skylines in Nanning, and Hong Kong — I wanted to give you all a sense of the contrasts between wealth and poverty, developed and undeveloped, that we see every single day in Nanning. I hope there will be more of these photo tours
later, if you like this — I admit at the outset that I may have gone overboard. But I find these contrasts and views and ways of life absolutely fascinating. Though the blog will show these as posting on
nanning-running-tour13
Friday, June 17, here in China it is Saturday morning, June 18. I took my little digicam along for my run on Thursday morning, since my running route presents a good number of contrasts that Americans and other developed-world folks would find interesting I think.

So herewith, Paul’s running tour of the southeastern corner of Nanning. I also note at the outset that I’m trying a new method of posting photos, which may or may not work as I hope. I’m sending batches at one time, with a text block that’s meant to accompany all of a group. If the blog works as I hope, the text will appear only once. I’m afraid, though, that the text may post with each individual photo. If this happens, I apologize and hope you won’t be discouraged from clicking onward to see the rest of the photos. As you know, I have no ability to access my blog itself and thus manage its presentation better, while I’m here in China. When I get to Hong Kong or elsewhere where the restrictions on web content are not applied, I may be able to fix this. 🙂

In any case I hope you enjoy these shots. They include me and my housemates on the steps of our house, and the house next door to ours, which has been under construction for a while. These are pretty glamorous — enough that I’ve been embarrassed to show our house until now, when I could give you some context for it. My housemates are
(left to right), Francoise (doctor at AIDS clinic, French), Laura (nurse at clinic, English), Manuel (country logistician in
coordination, French with Spanish Mom), and me of course. The other shots show the street corner just uphill from my compound, with the start of lovely big Green Mountain Park on one corner, a new complex just going up on another corner (the big pylons you see, and the woman with the wheelbarrow), and two other complexes on the other two corners.

One last note about the construction in our compound. I’ve said before that it ain’t the unionized crews we know in the US…these guys work from 6 or 7 AM until 7 or 8 or later at night. Often when it’s hottest, they do the hottest work until midnight – roofing and tar and stuff. And another interesting factoid: the construction crews live in
the house they are building. There must be running water brought in, since I don’t see them carrying water, but I do see them showering and doing laundry (yeah, they shower in the houses without windows and stuff) and hanging the laundry out to dry…and cooking dinner and watching TV on the mounds of dirt on the ground floor at night. Guess
that means they have electricity already, too, which makes sense since I hear them using buzz saws and stuff a lot, too. Anyway, it’s interesting, though dusty and loud.

The work continues well. We’ve just submitted our second-half budget reestimation (my first big financial job), which included our action plans for both projects and coordination for the balance of the year. I can now say that the coordination team (with me) will move to Beijing in the fall, so the AIDS clinic here in Nanning can grow up a
bit more independently — this is the more typical MSF model around the world. For MSF it’s been a bad couple of weeks: colleagues arrested in Sudan, kidnapped in Democratic Republic of Congo, the anniversary of the murders of colleagues in Afghanistan. We’ve all felt these losses and worries, since many of us know people who work
in these places. But here in China, we’re trying to grow our projects and continue to take care of our clients, and it’s nice we can do this in a climate without serious security concerns. And I continue to be very happy I’ve made this choice, though I do miss my friends and family.

Take care, enjoy the photos, and keep in touch.


Glamor and Mud

(Updated as well, in October 2016, just to get all the photos in one place, and also to combine a lot of smaller posts into one. Sorry that all I’m finding still are very low-res photos. Hope they at least read better now, although in truth at the time part of what I wrote about was the posting process and how frustrating it was from China, and in the early days of blogs with lower bandwidth…)
You may recall the shots of construction and big buildings that I took from Nanhu Park back when you, my  readers, were telling me you wanted PHOTOS of Nanning rather than words. In one of these shots, you see what looks like an abandoned lot with grass and construction stuff strewn around, and in the hazy (after I got home from my run, I heard it was 94% humidity that day) background you can sort of make out some of those buildings. I think that skyline is less than five miles away, though I’ve not measured it.
The other shots include one of my favorite contrast shots – beautiful flowering tree next to lamp-post from streetlight, with shack in background in little hollow among the hills and mud where a family is living and making do somehow. Also in this shot: more views of construction, and a large wooden spool that for some reason is sitting on the sidewalk right next to the entrance to the (very glamorous) complex where my MSF housemates and colleagues and I have been spending many weekend afternoons by the pool, and several weekend evenings playing (finally, yay!) tennis. That’s the yellow building you see in the background, and in some of the previous shots; across the street from the big columns and the woman with the wheelbarrow you just saw. This is literally the end of the line for glamor development, until you get to Riverside Drive, a bit further on.

What I hope is the last shot here shows the glamorous part of what I think of as Riverside Drive (its real name isn’t shown on my map), of which you’ll see a good deal in the next set of photos. I think the relatively manicured and clean beauty of that shot contrasts nicely with the other photos in this set. This street here is maybe 1/2-mile long, and leads down to (or back from) the river and Riverside Drive.

It is lined with the cinder block shacks you see — right now almost all of them are empty. Once more folks move in here — when the development along Riverside Drive is complete, when the road that connects up to downtown is done, when all the many other buildings you’ve been seeing are occupied — no doubt many little shops of the sort that are omnipresent throughout China will go in. But for now, it’s what you see…including the women selling vegetables and meat by the roadside. (Oh, and by the way, since this road deadends in the dirt field with the blue arrow you will see in the next batch, it’s not like there are tons of cars on here, either; I’ve never seen one car yet, I think, but some motorbikes of course.) I think most of these folks live in the green hills and shacks you see in photos later on, many of which are back behind these rows of cinder block squares. Comment from Francoise when I showed her this shot: “what you can’t see in the photo is all the flies buzzing around the meat.” This is when I’m glad I’m only eating the vegetables – which you can’t really see here, but looked gorgeous.

I’ve got a basic circle loop that I run in either direction depending on my mood. Today I ran down this road first, past the building where we go swimming and play tennis, and over the course of maybe a mile I see so much contrast it’s boggling. In these shots you see the beautiful streetlamp designs that light this completely empty road at night, and some of the beautiful flowering trees that have been put in lining the road. You also see, in one shot, one of those same lamp-posts drawing up the margin on the left side of the shot, while we look uphill to another cinder block building where folks are living and carving out an existence somehow.


If you knew this street, and Nanning traffic as I do, you’d laugh at the pedestrian and wheelchair crossing sign. It’s lovely in concept, except for two realities: 1) There are NO CARS on this road — yet. (Don’t worry: they’ll come; as I said, this city is growing very fast.) 2) There exist in all of Nanning no more than 10 drivers that would take any notice whatsoever of those signs or act on them if they did take notice of them. To call Nanning’s roads a chaotic mess of terror is to somewhat understate the case, I think. My two acquaintances who’ve been here longest (English teachers at Guangxi U who’ve been here three years) tell me they think it’s simply that all the roads, and all the cars, are so new to folks that they just don’t know the rules of the road yet — they tell me most of these hard-surfaced roads, and the cars that go on them, have really just come since they’ve been here.I include the street sign of Qingshan Lu and Qingxiu Shan because that’s my street, and Qingxiu Shan is Green Mountain Park – uphill from this sign is the intersection I showed you earlier. I also include it because it, too, is funny to me in such a traffic-free context. But I do admire the advance planning that’s gone into building these roads and infrastructure for the needs that will surely come.

Then there are more contrast shots: the one with all the plastic hanging, and the brick shacks is a place where I think the family is raising fish in fish ponds to sell at the market. Having seen a woman washing her clothes in one of the ponds, though, I’m no longer as sure as I was the first time I saw this. Across the street from these ponds is the graveyard you see. This is interesting because, according to Keith in Hong Kong, graveyards have not been permitted in the PRC: some time after the Communists took power, they made the (to my mind, extremely logical) decision that China could not afford space for all the graveyards its population would need, so they’ve been encouraging (or requiring) cremation. This means graveyards are a very rare sight in my experience of China — except the old tombs around Xian up north, for example. And I assume that, when the development fringe reaches the few hundred yards further to where this graveyard is, this graveyard too will vanish. Perhaps I’m wrong.

A fairly wide and full, muddy river runs through Nanning. Colleagues and friends who’ve worked here a few years tell me that as recently as two years ago almost all of the city was inland and north of the river; I know for a fact that until two years ago there was only one bridge over the river in town (a town that now has two million people, with the airport among other things on the other side of the river from downtown — compare this to Pittsburgh’s 500,000 people and countless bridges!). In any case, the usual route for my morning runs is down by the river; the reasons for this include very little (no) car traffic, and this is the only road I’ve seen in Nanning that is paved with blacktop rather than concrete. My old running buddies from Long Beach Front Runners will know how I feel about running on concrete! 🙂 (It’s many times harder than blacktop, so it kills your joints.) In any case, this batch of shots shows you a bit of the road and its environment. The paved stretch is maybe two miles long. The pictures below include photos of both ends of it: at the southeastern end it peters out into a dirt track (it’s the shot with the flags and ads in Chinese running along both sides of the road) that runs into Green Mountain Park, which occupies the riverbank for a good stretch starting there: you also see a river shot that includes a pagoda that’s in the park, with more of the brick shacks in the foreground.

My China guidebook tells me (in the two paragraphs it devotes to Nanning, capital of Gaungxi — this gives you a sense how appealing Nanning is to the casual tourist industry) this is the tallest pagoda in Guangxi. I often see folks on bikes and mopeds that are loaded down with vegetables and greens coming from that direction: no doubt many things I’ve bought at my (wonderful) local fruit and vegetable (and meat, somewhat but not much more grandiose than the shot you saw earlier…being a vege, I studiously avoid that part of the market; it’s terrifying) are grown on the riverbanks further along, by people living in the kinds of brick and tin shacks you’ve been seeing in these photos.

I’ve also included two shots that show the landscaping along the road: one shows large mansions, with dense and lush plantings in the foreground. These roadside plantings have just gone in since I got here in early April, mostly by groups of women wearing s traw hats who chat away in Guangxinese (which I understand perhaps 5% of). Since it’s gone in, these being the tropics, weeds have sprouted up, and judging by the actions of the two ladies whose photo I took from behind, some of the weeds are edible: they were collecting, at 6:30 in the morning. Actually, the riverbanks on this stretch — including the brick shack you see in the shot with the pagoda, assuming that photo loads right (it’s been having trouble…), include many spots where people grow vegetables to take to market. On this run, I saw a father loading up his son’s bike with some things that look a bit like fern shoots…and yesterday at lunch, Stefano and Katja and I had a dish of those very shoots, stir-fried (OK, not from that kid’s bike, but you get the concept) — they were really yummy!

The other end of the road — running west/north along the river, heading somewhat in the direction of town, though the river winds a LOT — is the big field of dirt you see, with a small blue sign showing a right arrow. I find that right arrow rather funny. Let me just say this is NOT the litigious land of the US here…there are uncovered manholes, uncovered drains on the side of the road, manhole covers that extend a good six inches above the surface of the road, bricks and cinder blocks lying in the middle of the road…and folks just navigate around them. (Including the fifty or more young men I assume were military, who were doing some sort of road race that morning — first other runners I’ve seen in all my runs!) Of course, like I said there’s no traffic here yet, but were this the US it would all have “keep out, construction zone, no trespassing, hardhat zone, enter at your own risk” all over it, and big plastic cones everywhere to warn those would-be trespassers…and if I fell in and broke a leg, I could still sue. Here, I know I’m on my own with my brain and my eyes.

I leave you with a few more shots taken along the road by the river. As you saw in the previous shots, this road has lovely landscaping, is broad and generally well-paved (except the few spots they keep having to re-pave because of subsidence with all the rains, usually around power or water manholes), and already has a decorative railing for what will, presumably, one day be a lovely, planted walk along the river. Right now, though, reality hasn’t caught up with all that yet. In one of these shots, you the really lovely, large and glamorous hilltop mansions with elegant metalwork terraces, while at the bottom of the hill below the road, you see an older brick building in which, yes indeed, folks are living right now. The shot of the river and its banks is taken directly across the street from this one: the cleared space and piles of dirt will one day be the berm and w alkway along the river. I’ve not read the urban plans, so I don’t really know that for sure, but I base it on what I can see, and on the lovely riverside walks and park that already exist in the heart of town: which I’m fairly sure (from what I’ve been told) were themselves only created within the past two years. In the other two shots, you are looking inland a hundred yards or so upstream — closer to downtown and the dirt-and-mud dead-end of the current road — and you see some of the brick and cinder block buildings that characterize the parts of the road that have not yet been fully developed. I assume that just last year or earlier this spring, the road here was all dirt track…and that folks were already living in the lovely mansions in the gated compound on the hill. If these photos have posted as I’d hoped, you’ve got four shots with this caption, and these are the last shots in the current installment.

I hope in the future to show more of downtown and the markets, perhaps. Hope you’re all well, and thanks as always for reading my blog and for your support! 🙂


Paul at Forbidden City

Paul at Forbidden CityI finally made it to Beijing! Business will take to Beijing roughly
once every quarter, for a day or two. MSF-Belgium has an office there,
and I periodically meet to review administrative issues and so on.
Since I’ve been a student of China and its history and culture, off
and on, for more than twenty years — without ever making it to
Bejing! — this was a big deal for me. And I loved the city. I loved
it much more than I thought I would, and I found it far more
manageable than I thought I would.

I suspect the friends I’ve had who have visited in the past just
assume that I know what a wonderful city it is, so they feel free to
complain about the traffic, and the weather, and the people and how
they’re not as friendly, and pollution, and blah blah blah: all the
complaints you can make about any big city, really. But let’s face it:
this is one way cool city. With lots of really great history and
buildings, and a consumer economy that is booming — very nice, for a
second weekend in a row, to have access to Starbucks…and yes, I did
partake. Even though a latte and a cheesecake (such indulgence!) cost
five times the price of my dinner at a lovely little Szechwan place
where the waitresses really enjoyed chatting with me, and asking me to
help them translate their menu. (I learned the word for frog, after
they showed me the frogs sitting in their tank…poor guys, they
looked so happy in their tank.) Oh, and then there was the double dip
at Haagen Dazs…you see, these are all things we don’t have in
Nanning, so I felt a bit like a yokel in the big city. 🙂

Anyway: this is Paul at the moat around the Forbidden City, with one
of the guard towers behind me. Yes, it’s very impressive, and very
beautiful. What follows are other photos from my weekend in Beijing.
Thanks, as always, for your interest and support!