April 14,2006: day 2 of my vacation to Shanghai – Beijing. I woke up rather early that day, sometime around 0530, which is way before our tour’s common wake up call at 0700. Well, I’m always the early riser but somehow this has more to do with me being excited about the trip. I peered out of the window from my hotel room and saw a group of people doing Tai – Chi across the street and at the stadium. Oh, I really like to join them but I can’t since I don’t know how to get there. There is a fly over in between the hotel and the stadium and the road doesn’t have a pedestrian sign (I might be caught jaywalking if I did cross it) and there is no pedestrian bridge nearby. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I dropped the idea altogether. I went to have breakfast after my morning “rituals” and happen to meet up with the geneticist and her parents and had breakfast together. The breakfast buffet at Huating is quite sumptuous when compared to the breakfast I had at Beijing Nikko Century Hotel. The former has more variety to offer than the latter. I had a lively chat with the senior citizen (the geneticist’s father) over breakfast. Our topic of the day is the pace of life in Shanghai including the pace of their work and action. People in Shanghai like those in Hong Kong work fast and they walk fast also. By comparison, the pace in Manila would be somewhat “leisurely” if not tortuously slow. We left the hotel at around 0900 to continue our tour over Shanghai. Our first stop is the Silk Factory, where we will be shown how the silk is being manufactured as well as the making of quilt. Well, on the surface, the tour appears to be a factory visit or a plant visit but in reality it is one of the many shopping expeditions that were stuffed in our tour (part of tour package actually) and unfortunately, for me, I happen to HATE shopping! What can I do but to go along and “bear” with it. Our tour guide, Sally (just remembered her name) introduces us to this lovely company guide (I wonder if she is married but I forgot her name) who would be telling us how the entire silk manufacture is done. She first introduces to us the sericulture and intimidated that the secret to a “beautiful” silk is in the Mulberry leaf that is being fed to the silk worm (her English is good!). The worm then forms a cocoon and is of two types. The first type is the single worm cocoon. These cocoons have “heads”, where one can “pick up” the fine strands when the cocoon is soaked in hot water. 5 – 7 of these cocoons’ strands are intertwined to form a silk thread. The second of cocoon are those formed with two worms. Here, one cannot find the “head” to pull the string from. Instead, the cocoon is “cooked” and torn. Our guide actually commented that the twin worm cocoons are “romantic” because the two are tied together for the rest of their life eventually die together “till death do them part”. Her words actually sent shivers up my spine not that I abhor the idea of being together till death us part but the idea of dying. Isn’t it being together and living happily ever after sounds more Romantic than say dying together in a hot bath (more like boiling bath)? Anyway, once the cocoon is torn, it is then stretch and pulled while it is still soft and worn and stretch further over a wooden arc. The guide ask for a volunteer to do the “stretching” and the doctor volunteered and dang, that thing is tough for she could barely pulled it over the arc. The lady worker doing that task must be pretty strong to be able to do that. Around 5 “stretched cocoons are overlaid on top of each other at the arc. 4 female workers then pull those stacked “stretched” cocoons in different directions. This is to stretch it into the size of the quilt. About 5 – 10 layers make one quilt. Again, the guide asks for 4 volunteers to “pull” the “stretched” cocoons. 3 barely pulled it because it was tough but the geneticist manages to tear it (dang, she’s that strong). After the “little” show, comes the sales talk about their quality and the advantage of having a silk quilt over a cotton quilt. The silk quilt is warm during winters but cool during summer (Yup! She’s right on that. I put my hands underneath the sheet and felt it) plus it is non – allergenic. The end. Now, comes the shopping session (Oh, I so hate shopping!). Sat at the lounge the whole time (like more than half an hour) along with some of the male members of the group. Actually, I don’t mind “sitting” nor do I mind listening to somebody’s talk as long as I could learn a thing or two but when somebody starts to diatribe about his married life, well, that is another story entirely. Trust me, it’s boring and quite sickening. I excused myself the moment I saw an opening and wander around. Eventually, I bought two CDs on classical Chinese music (I’m into classical music). One titled “River” (which I recently discovered to be defective) and the other, “Song of the Mei Garden (Mei Yuan Yin). The latter contains two of my favorites, Mei Yuan Yin and Kwang Lin Xan, which if my memory serves me right is the oldest Chinese music, having been composed sometime during the Han dynasty (ca 200BC). Spent 42 RMB on it (Dang, these people don’t even issue receipts!). Anyway, after a long wait, we went to the local bar district. This is the place where one can fine turn of the century buildings and from the number and kind of establishments, it appears to me that this place is to host to a vibrant night life except that there wasn’t much of a “life” when I was there (because it’s in the morning). The first colonial building that we saw was purportedly owned by Jacky Chan (according to Sally). Fine piece of architecture I would and well preserved too. Anyway, Sally gave us 15 minutes to explore the area (didn’t remember the name of the street) and take pictures. We split up into groups and I joined with the geneticist and her parents since I’m traveling alone. I did take several pictures but largely hold back because I am keeping it (memory space) for the Great Wall. There was an area more like a plaza where one can find Starbucks. There is nothing to see at the plaza but the surrounding buildings (including where Starbucks is in) had patios at the second and third floor lined up with coffee tables and chairs. Because of its westerly (direction) orientation, I could only imagine what the view would be like during sunset when one is sitting at the patio sipping coffee and overlooking at the plaza. Pretty nice I suppose if not romantic. Anyway, the entire group met up 15 minutes later at Starbucks where Sally was waiting. The first thing she told us was that she has just spent the first of the 200 cups of Starbucks that her salary could afford. So that is how Shanghai people measure their salary, by the number of Starbucks that they could drink (her salary is about 3 – 4000RMB). Using Starbucks as a GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a economic growth indicator) leading indicator? Not a bad idea at all. At least, it was better than the Philippines where the leading indicator is the number of cases of San Miguel Beer being drowned (according to my macroeconomics professor at MBA). So I supposed that if you’re in Shanghai and you wanted to know a person’s salary but felt awkward to “ask” directly, we could instead politely ask for the number of Starbucks that his or she could afford (Starbucks tall size cost 20RMB). Well, going back, we next went to the People’s Square, which is an open park beside the Shanghai Museum of Arts. The place is actually quite pleasant and peaceful, a piece of green in an ocean of concrete that is Shanghai. Nice place for an early morning jog because of the clean air, and the wide streets plus there is a lot of people around. On our way back to the bus, we saw a flock of white doves on the ground feeding and a lot of kids (and grown ups too) surrounding it, playing with the birds just like in one of the American parks. Oh, what a beautiful scene, coming from where I‘m from, these are the scenes that I could only “see” on TV. I could understand why Megan wanted to chase after the birds, for I too wanted to do so but we refrain from doing so because of our fear for the dreaded bird flu. I mean we don’t know if those birds carry the flu virus but better be on the safe side than be sorry. Too bad though. Anyway, we finally proceeded to have our lunch, one of the 3 memorable lunches I had during my vacation. The place is called Basher and is owned by a Brazilian Chef, Chef Carlos. The restaurant model is a eat – all – you – can buffet type. They have a buffet table filled with great dishes of around 10. The sweets and fruit section are somewhat “few” and left to be desired but the main course of the buffet are the grills that is being serve by attendants at the tables. Chef Carlos himself led the attendants and serves his freshly grilled meats at our tables. Once at the table, we are to get a tong and grab hold of a piece of the grilled meat and the attendant would slice that piece of meat off for you. Dang! They had Angus beef, Shawarma beef, tenderloin beef, lamb meat, pork casserole, roast pork, ham, shrimp balls, fish (it never reached our table because it was “finished off” way before it reached us) and others. Dang! It was so delicious and everybody including me got so full that we actually had to beg Chef Carlos to stop serving us because we can’t ate another bite (with food like that, it’s no wonder that I’d gained 4 kilos during my entire stay)! After that sumptuous feast at Basher, we next went to see the port area located at the British section of Old Shanghai, where we took the cruise down the Pudong River the night before. There we saw the magnificent buildings we saw during the cruise. We took some pictures. After a little while, we crossed the street to the other side to the infamous (in my book) Nanjing East road, the shopping district of Shanghai. I so hate shopping! (Actually, I was thinking about drawing up a nuptial agreement with my future wife regarding shopping. The agreement would go like “never drag me to shopping unless it’s an emergency such as my clothes couldn’t fit because I’ve gotten too fat or somebody stole all my clothes and I’m left with the underwear I’m wearing. Otherwise, don’t even think about it!”) I really couldn’t understand the logic behind shopping. What’s the big deal anyway with shopping? Why buy something you don’t need? Enough with the hypothetical crap, as usual, I’ve teamed up with the geneticist and her parents and we’d gone window – shopping and also to look for mitten as my hands are freezing (got info from Anthony it was snowing in Beijing a couple of days ago). To my disgust, all of the stores are selling spring clothes in a weather where the temperature is 8oC?! I hate shopping! After waiting for what seems like eternity for the trio of bargain hunters to meet up with us from their expedition, we finally went to visit the Yu Garden, where the adventure of the day begins. The Yu Garden is located at the old Cheng Huang Miao district. Cheng Huang in Chinese means “City God”. In ancient China, all walled towns and cities has one Cheng Huang Miao. It is a local deity that protects the city from natural disaster and brings in prosperity. The area contains some of the oldest house in Shanghai, mainly Ching dynasty era architecture. To see one of those buildings is exciting enough but to actually see an entire neighborhood? Now that is quite a marvelous sight. However, nobody lives on those ancient abodes anymore, all of them are stores and restaurants. Capitalism definitely has seeped into China. The Yu Garden, the objective of our trip, is at the center of the district. In fact, I think the entire district was built around the garden. Once I got in the Yu Garden, I was immediately taken aback by its beauty. It is simply indescribable (even at my standard). Words are insufficient to describe it’s beauty. I have never seen anything like it. The closest comparison that I could think of is that the Yu Garden is the Chinese version of the Garden of Eve, a paradise on Earth. Indeed, the official who built this garden during the Ming dynasty intended it as a retirement house for his parents, so that they may forget the ills of the world. Indeed, the place exudes that tranquility, that harmony, that balance. Getting inside the garden was like being transported to another world cut off from the old world. No noise from the street just outside its walls. Ahhhh, I wish I lived here! No wonder this garden survived the ravages of war and occupation, for the beauty that is the Yu Garden conquered the conqueror. The British and the Japanese warlords made this place their official residence. The Yu Garden is not only a rare architectural gem but is also a still shot of ancient Chinese culture. Being the historian, it couldn’t escape my eyes the intricate sculpture and carvings and what it represents. Very few visitors pay attention to the roof of the buildings. For at the top of the buildings, one could see sculptural depiction of religious and mythical themes, of ancient heroes and villains, of gods and mortal men. The most famous of the roof carvings is the Dragon roof over the walls. The length of the Dragon roof extends to like 15 – 20 feet(?). in ancient China, the Dragon is the symbol of imperial authority and only the Emperor could use it. To use it was tantamount to usurpation of imperial power and therefore deemed as a declaration of rebellion. When the Ming emperor learned of the roof design of the garden, he was furious and summoned the official to explain. The official answered that the design is not a Dragon but something else. Pressed to explain, the official said the Dragons has 4 claws, the beast on my wall on the other hand has only 3 claws. Therefore, that beast is no dragon and the Emperor actually acquiesced to the explanation. Somewhere in the middle of the garden was a very old Ginko Biloba tree. It was 400 years old! Surprisingly, it is still sturdy. Oh I could just wonder, how many generations of children has played under its leaf? How many children in all those years have climbed its trunk? If I could only touch it (it was fenced off because it is considered a 5 star or was it 4 star cultural treasure), I could surely feel the touch of those people far remove from my time. As I was standing there in the middle of the garden, I could dream what would it be like living in a place like this. Standing in the middle of the garden basking under the sunlight of the spring sun. Breathing the fresh air and inhaling the fragrant scent of the flowers and all the while listening to a quite classical music like the Mei Yuan Yin. And in the afternoon, sit beside the pond, enjoying a cup of tea and reading a nice book. Oh, paradise! However, all good things always have to come to an end. As I stepped out of the garden as our tour of the place ends, the gates immediately closed behind me for we are the last of the visitors for the day. Somehow, I felt a sense of regret. Regret that I leave. Why leave? Can’t help but murmur to myself that someday I’m going to buy that place! The geneticist apparently having overheard what I said, quipped, “but it’s not for sale”. To which I replied with a sigh, “Yes, you’re right”. She then suggested that “why not built one like it?” Now, why I didn’t think of that? Sure, I could! I just need an acre of land, built a few ancient Chinese houses, dig a pond, plant a few Ginko Biloba tree, embellish some coral reefs, and then add a Dragon on top of the roof. That’s easy. The scene of the temple area just outside the Yu Garden looked surreal to me. For from a distance, it looked like the scene of ancient Chinese life (if you ignore the wardrobes). Ching era houses, crowds of people walking, buying and selling. It is surreal because there are some things that remind you that you’re not in some romantic past but very much in the present like Starbucks! I had a hot chocolate inside Starbucks (remember it’s freezing outside). Cost me 20 RMB for a tall size. Our next stop was to go shopping yet again (I SO HATE SHOPPING!). Sally offered to take us to a warehouse selling fake branded luxury goods (In China, they slapped a 40% luxury tax on all imported luxury brands, little wonder then as to why the “standard” department stores are bereft of shoppers). On our way to the “secret” warehouse, we happened to passed by a street littered with bridal stores and a few blocks later on the same street, pregnant wear stores abound. I cracked a joke then that it is convenient for Shanghai people to start a family since they just had to pass the street starting from the other end by buying bridal wardrobes and at around the block, look for a hotel for the nuptial reception and honeymoon, afterwards, they could continue their journey down the road to shop for pregnant clothes! And if my guess is correct, there is a baby wear up ahead, then the teen wear and so on and so forth. Of course, we didn’t get to see it because we made a turn. Upon arrival at the “secret” place, I volunteered to stay put and keep the driver company but was prevailed upon to join them “to get an experience” whatever that means. And so with reluctance, I went inside the covert store. Dang! The whole place has all sort of fake luxury goods. You name it they have it. Watches, handbags, leather belts, lighters, etc. Gucci, Ferragamo, Tudor are some of the names that I come across that I’m familiar with. Anyway, they didn’t buy anything and so do I (I hate shopping). And so, the owners usher us into another room filled with “better” products. I have poor taste in fashion but according to my tour mates, the quality of the goods is as good as the real thing and so is the price. They are asking for 400 – 500 RMB for a handbag, which translates to roughly 3000 pesos more or less. Again, according to some of my tour mates, the price is exorbitant and is almost the same price as the real thing. Can’t help myself but to sneer at the situation, I actually quipped in Filipino, “Wala yan, mas mura pa sa 168!” (meaning, that’s nothing, it’s cheaper to buy at 168 mall!). To which, I solicited a bout of laughter. And so with my heads high (others are quite disgusted actually at the “charade”), we left the place. We had dinner afterwards, which is good but quite as good as the one we had during lunch. On our way home, I recall the brief visit I had this afternoon at Yu Garden. I was to leave for Beijing early the next day and somehow, I actually wanted to stay. I’m only here for one and half day and although I hated shopping, I find myself surprisingly attracted by Shanghai specifically the Yu Garden. All I ask is for one more day at the Garden but I can’t have it. I had to leave. Why leave? Well, the answer is quite simple; we live on Earth not on paradise and reality bites.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
April 13, 2006, day 1 of my vacation trip to China. I got to the airport as early as 830 even though my flight was scheduled at 1130 in the morning. The newspaper (Philippine Daily Inquirer) advises everybody leaving the country to be there 3 hours before the boarding time to avoid unnecessary delay caused by the strict airport security. It turns out to be a real sick joke! There wasn’t much of a line and everything went smoothly. I was at the boarding gate by 930 and had to endure more than 2 hours of waiting (my flight was a little bit delayed) under the sweltering heat (apparently the government has turned down the air conditioning to save on cost). Thank goodness, I bought one of my management books to read (also since I’m traveling alone, to keep me company at night if I got bored and lonely). At least, I wasn’t going to bore to death inside the airport. I thought that things would be a lot tolerable once I’m inside the plane. To my chagrin, the same thing happened. Before the plane was in mid air, the temperature is hot and probably near “grilling” point if I were to exaggerate a little! Apparently, PAL is also on a cost cutting mode. Dang, what happen to customer service? I’d arrived at Shanghai two and half hours later. The first thing I saw while the plane is approaching for a landing at the Pudong airport was that the farms surrounding the airport had hothouses in the field. I surmise that the temperature must be too cold in Shanghai for the vegetation to grow successfully. At any rate, I was going to find out exactly how cold was the weather. The moment I stepped out of the airplane, cold wind coming from the open hatch of the connecting port greeted me and brrrrr, it was pretty, pretty cold (the temperature is like 7oC!). Too cold, that my denim jacket wasn’t enough to keep me warm. Luckily, I did bought along a winter jacket courtesy of my sister who does her homework checking the weather the night before I left. Even so, I still felt the chill because I was wearing a Nike running shoe made of cloth (for ease of walking) and not my regular leather shoe. Dang, I do sorely miss my leather shoe then. And my hands are also freezing. I didn’t bring any mittens along the trip and had to hid my hands inside my pocket to keep it warm. Going back, I met up with my tour mates and our tour guide. The first thing we did as a group was go to the toilet! It seems that everybody is dying to drain their bladders! Much latter on, we were to learn from our tour guide that one of the “peculiar” and expected characteristics of a Filipino tourist is in their penchant to go to the “washroom” very often. After that, we deposited our luggage to a bus waiting outside. The very moment I stepped out of the airport, the wind blew and boy, oh boy, it was so cold! I felt like a frozen Popsicle but that wasn’t the worst yet. We left our baggage and took the MagLev (Magnetic Levitation) train, which is operated based on the principle of superconductivity and electromagnetism. According to our guide, the German built train is the world’s fastest bullet train and we are about to find out exactly why. As the train started humming, it began to accelerate and in just a few minutes, we’ve reached a maximum speed of 432 km/hr and it took us just 7 minutes and 20 seconds to traverse 20 kms from the airport to the city center. Dang, that was indeed fast! It was so fast that we had to wait like 10 minutes for our bus to rendezvous us at the station. After getting into the bus, we headed to the Pearl of the Orient TV tower in Pudong, which take us across half of the city. On our way to the tower, we passed by a giant sundial in the middle of the circle, a magnificent piece of art I would say. As I was looking around at my new environment, I noticed that there are a lot of new buildings as well as new ones still being built. Not just a few nor a handful but quite a lot actually as in the entire city! The new buildings were like less than 5 years old! The oldest is probably a decade old. These buildings are not only new but they are also architectural gems as well. Their designs are not only impressive but are also awesome and grandiose! One of buildings has a giant lotus for it’s top. Another still under construction has a “sexy” wavy figure. The city hall, which they called the White House looks more like a museum of modern arts rather than the seat of government. Then there is the impressive, towering, ever conspicuous, black monolith that is the Grand Hyatt hotel at 88 floors, the 4th tallest building in the world. According to our tour guide, there is a new and much taller building that is being constructed near the Grand Hyatt. One in which will be crowned as the tallest building in the world when it is done by 2008. However, in spite of all these, one thing that is noticeable about the new buildings and that is most of them are empty. I figured that it maybe that the property prices are way beyond the capacity of ordinary Shanghai residents. Ordinary folks might be living in the outskirts of the city for I noticed that there is also an equally frenzied construction of apartment buildings at the suburbs. The implication of this frenzied building activity but with no apparent buyers is that the return on investment will be low or probably even negative. It means that real estate developers are losing money; money, which was borrowed from financial institutions like banks, which in turn derive the loans from deposits of ordinary Chinese. What I’m seeing here is the beginning of an asset bubble being formed (buoyant property prices that seemingly defy gravity) and if the negative return persists, bank runs will follow, precipitating into a financial crisis, which coupled with the size of the Chinese economy could be worst than the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, probably a magnitude of 10 in the Richter scale. What makes my analysis worst was that all of this frenzy was encourage by the government especially the Shanghai government. One could hear the incessant comparison by the tour guide to New York, the premier city of the world. They are no longer content in comparing themselves to Hong Kong or even Tokyo but New York. Take the MagLev for instance, it was losing money (due to slow passenger take up and subsidized fare) but the government persists. It was for “show”. They are trying to project an image of modernity and confidence. Being modest in Shanghai seemed quite out of place these days. Just look around and one will see why. Taken in that context, one wouldn’t be awed by the entire scene of frenzy but rather worry. Can’t help but think the implication of a bubble burst and its effect on the world economy. A bubble burst would result to falling or negative growth, pull out of foreign investments, massive unemployment. All this would force the Chinese to export their way out of the rut and would probably do so by devaluing the Renminbi, which in turn could trigger a region wide “competitive currency devaluation”. Cheap Chinese imports would flood the Philippines (if it is not flooded already) and thus put tremendous competitive pressures on the manufacturers like me and coupled this with cost pressures due to the weakening currency, the future would looked very bleak indeed (Couldn’t help it, I’m an MBA)! As we arrived for our tour, the bus parked at the APEC building, which by itself was an impressive architectural work. The building’s façade is Gothic in appearance much like the Lincoln memorial but with windows and walls and complete with columns. On either side of the building are two huge globes. One might think it’s a barbell but it actually is not. The entire designed seemed “proportionate”, the globes are neither too big as to dwarf the sandwich building or are too small as to look like dumbbell weights. It’s quite pleasing to the eye. The Pearl of the Orient tower on the other hand looks more like a “trophy”. According to our tour guide, the epistemology of the name is derived from a Chinese poem about the spring drizzle. The droplets look like pearls hitting on the jade plate that is the leaf. The seven spheres on the tower represents the “pearl” while the base of the tower is the jade plate. Base on the information on the leaflet that I took, the tower is 468 meters tall making it the tallest TV tower in Asia and the third in the world. There are three places to go in the tower to have a panoramic view of Shanghai. One is the Space Module, located at 350 meters above ground. According to some, one could Chin Huang Island far out in the China Sea from that vantage point. Another is the Revolving Restaurant at 267 meters, the highest elevated restaurant in Asia and the last is where our tour is heading, the Sight seeing floor at 263 meters. The ticket cost if my memory serves me right is something like 100 RMB (or was it the admission price for the restaurant, at any rate, the ticket is already included in our package), roughly 670 – 700 pesos. As I reached 263, I was quite amazed by what I saw. The view of Shanghai at the top is quite exhilarating. Sky scrappers literally littered the skies and it is not just a few of them or “scattered” around in clusters but seems to “cover” the entire Shanghai as far as the eyes could see. A few years back when my mom visited Shanghai, she told me that Hong Kong “looked” a lot better. However, from up here, the story is different. In a space of few years, Shanghai in my view has overtaken Hong Kong as the bustling megapolis of Asia. One could see a “growing” city complete with the busy streets along with the heavy traffics and the numerous constructions, the dazzling “light shows” from the buildings (its almost dark at that time), and the bustling harbor literally underneath my eyes. The naked ambition of a proud city is all too plain to see from my vantage point. Here at the top of the world, one would not only “see” Shanghai but the face of the New and Modern China as well. On our way out of the tower, I was to encounter another face of Shanghai and indeed, probably the rest of China – the hustlers. A set of crystal penholder, with lights and paperweight in the shape of the tower souvenir is selling at 200 – 300 RMB inside the tower but that same souvenir however is being peddled for 50 RMB by the street hawkers just outside the tower! They swarm at you, trying hard to convince you to buy to the extent that they seemed to be harassing you. One of our tour mates actually bought several of them from these hawkers and guess what, she bought them for 20 RMB (or was it 15 RMB?). What a hustle! Dang, if one is not skilled at bargaining (expert level required), one could really fall for their sales “trap”. Next in our schedule was the tunnel sightseeing tour. The tour would takes through the underwater tunnel and to the other side where our bus is waiting. The tunnels are “decorated” to dazzle the passersby and relieved them of their boredom, I supposed. Anyway, at the entrance of the gate, the themes of each tunnel rides are prominently advertised. One of them is a dazzling light show coupled with techno music and other is about Ancient Chinese Sex Culture (I wonder if it’s a tunnel tour or a bund tour, anyway, it is a very interesting topic). For a few of us in the group, the idea of the tour through the Ancient Chinese Culture caused quite a problem not because we are all prudish but rather because little Megan is 10 years old and me and a few others don’t want to “unwittingly educate” her at a very tender age. Well, we came up with a solution to our little dilemma, which is to cover Megan’s eyes while we are “sightseeing”. It turns out that we worry too much because we took the light and sound show (dang!). The tunnel length is actual short but the travel is extremely slow. It took us 15 minutes to get to the other end. The vehicle that took us there is small, good for 15 people. It was glass panel on all sides and with only 2 seats. It is automatically driven without a driver and you have a very beautiful lady ushering you in the train. I would say that the light and sound show is quite refreshing and gives one the feeling that he or she is entering a futuristic time warp of sort. As we alighted at the other end of the tunnel after the show, I would admit I’m a little bit disappointed. After all, sex and history taken together is a very, very, very interesting topic (I’m a historian). Too bad, I won’t be able to “study” about it. We had our dinner next. The dinner is quite sumptuous (more like a feast actually) with 7 or 8 dishes, soup and eat all you can rice plus soft drinks. The food was actually nice and ok but not great. One thing I notice about the food culture here in Shanghai (and in Beijing as well) was that they served the soup at the end of the meal as opposed to the Philippines wherein the soup was served at the start of the meal. They also don’t put serving spoons on each dish. We all have to “volunteer” our soup spoon for public use instead. After the dinner, we all went to take ferry cruise down the Pudong river. The ship we took is twin deck wooden(?) hull motorized ship. Took us probably half an hour to an hour to cruise a significant section of the river. Dang, the night view is great. All the buildings along the river coast are lighted, some even “performing” a show. According to our guide, the city government ordered the building owners to “cooperate” in order to project an image of vibrancy. It is amazing that they are actually doing this in spite of the fact that China is suffering from power outages. Anyway, the lower deck is enclosed, has chairs and is quite cozy and comfortable but is peopled with “seniors” (as in people older than me). At first, I stayed down, since it was cold outside but I suddenly realized that what in the world I’m doing? Here I am in Shanghai having paid my way to it and only to cloister myself with the “oldies”? Updeck, the beautiful doctor and little Megan are having a blast from sightseeing. Well, the choice was quite obvious. I went up. However, the very second I stepped unto the deck and embraced the wind. Well, it wasn’t cold but simply very, very, very, chilly. I couldn’t feel my nose. My fingers are stiff and numb even though they’re inside my pocket. My knees were probably shaking from shaking from the chill. My winter jack was totally useless, for it cannot keep me warm. I felt like standing naked inside the cold room although honestly, I haven’t tried that (cut me some slack for the exaggeration, ok?)! There is a shed near the center of the deck and it somehow protect the people inside from the chilly wind and I would have stayed there for the duration of the cruise if not for the fact that the good doctor and little Megan were “outside” taking pictures of the scenery (dang! Aren’t they cold at all?). And I am supposed to be the “man” and yet I cower inside the shed? Boy! So I stayed “out” with them and “occasionally” (like 60% of the time) served as their photographer even if I suck at taking pictures (for which little Megan called me “the low tech boy” for not knowing how to take pictures with a modern digital camera but I’m flattered to be called a boy)! The ship passed by a real 5 star luxury cruise liner. Call me a simpleton but this is the first time that I actually saw a luxury liner and boy, its huge! Gigantic would be a better term. At the topmost deck was the dinner section and I saw two beautiful women having dinner together beside the window. From my vantage point, I actually can’t tell if the women are indeed beautiful but what the heck, I waved at them. To my surprise, they actually waved back at me! Afterwards, we’d reached our end point and just about wrapped up our tour for the day. The tour guide brought us to our hotel, The Huating hotel, one of the 17 five star hotels in Shanghai (there is a six star hotel, which is the Grand Hyatt hotel). The hotel looks nice, modern in it’s design style with certain elements of minimalism. My room (I’m staying alone) is quite cozy, rather spacious. The bed is actually good for 3 persons. Lucky me (of course, I paid extra for the it in my tour package but still). The bathroom amenities though nice seemed to be “outdated” compared to the bathroom amenities in my hotel at Beijing. At any rate, the first thing I did when I got into my room was to turn the knob on and fill my tub with hot water and soap. It formed a little bubble and I soak in it to “defrost” (one reason that why I didn’t get sniffles that others in the group got). As I was soaking, I try to recall the events of the day and ask myself this question, Shanghai = New York? In all fairness, I’d never been to New York but given with what I’ve seen and the people I’ve met plus the rate of expansion, I would say 5 years or give another 2 years to that (if what I saw in TVs about New York is any indication). I might be exaggerating a bit here about my assessment but the pace of Shanghai is going right now is no exaggeration at all.
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Just got back home last night from a 6 – day vacation to first Shanghai then Beijing. Left the country last Thursday, April 13. Anyway, this is the first day in my “post – vacation” life and already I’m getting a “post – vacation” syndrome i.e., getting nostalgic, reminiscing, having a strange “difficulty” in “adjusting” back to “normalcy”, etc. It is not only psychological or emotional but also physical or physiological. Take this for instance, I normally have a light breakfast routine but during the tour, I got accustomed to having a heavy stuffed buffet style breakfast courtesy of the hotels that I was staying. And today, I started out with the normal light breakfast that I used to have but somewhere during the mid morning, I felt a hunger pang. I was so tempted to eat but I had to watch my weight since I probably gained a few pounds during the last few days. Another example, I got really uncomfortable with the summer heat today even though I sorely “missed” it. Back in Shanghai, the temperature was around 7oC on our first night and around 8oC the following day. I said to myself then that I was actually looking forward for a vacation to “cool down” but not to “chill out”. Luckily, I prepared some thick clothing for the trip. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wished that I have stayed home and “sun burn” to death rather than freeze to death in a distant place. Anyway, things got a little better during my stay in Beijing, the weather is a little warmer, like somewhere in the mid teens. It was cool but not cold except when the wind blew and in the words of Megan, it is just like you’re in an air – conditioned room except that you’re not inside a room but outdoors. I kind like got use to the weather in Beijing actually and I find myself swearing profusely about the temperature I’m in right now. I also sorely “missed” the daily “adventures” that I had the last few days. Those trips down the ultra – modern street of Shanghai or those walks in the labyrinth of the Imperial palace in Old Beijing or that “historic” climb to the Great Wall. Now, I’m back to the old routine that is both familiar and boring but somehow strangely new to me. And I surely missed that hot bubble bath that I’m having every night before I went to bed. It is my way of “defrosting” from the cold. Oh, I missed that relaxing and warm quarter to half an hour soak in the bathtub. Too bad, I don’t have a bath tub here and besides I don’t luxury of time for a relaxing soak. I also missed the hotel room that I’m staying. I traveled alone and got a room for myself only without any company. I got a bed good for two people (which Megan said to be a honeymoon bed), a sofa for relaxing and watching TV, and a bathroom. Well, actually, I have my own room here complete with a sofa, a king sized bed, and a nice bathroom plus my library. The difference between the two is that my room is a mess and looks like it’s been hit by hurricane Katrina (what do you expect of a guy’s bedroom looks like anyway?) and I had to clean it myself whereas my hotel room is clean and if I messed up, somebody cleaned it for me plus I got a good view of the city. Lastly, I missed the people that I’m been with the past week. Funny, how human beings develop relationships in so short a time. We were complete strangers at the beginning of the tour and along the way we somehow developed a bond and by the time we are parting ways, I actually felt sad and couldn’t really said goodbye but just “see ya” (which makes parting easier, I guess). How could I forget the good doctor, Sandra. She’s always cheerful, very friendly, and nice as in not bitchy. She has a very lovely smile. Or her father, Alejandro, who always manage to attract a flock of waitresses around him studying intently as he magically transform the table napkins into a white rose and he gave them to just one of them. I had to admit that I’m envious of Alex, I mean I can’t attract women like the way he did and women actually felt “happy” receiving the rose and for those who didn’t, envious. Wow! You know for 5 lunches and 5 dinners, I sat there watching him intently, studying his craft hoping to learn from the master the art of making paper roses but I still don’t get it. He once told me that if you give a real rose to a woman, she would probably dismiss you as a cliché but if you gave a rose made out of a napkin, well, you could swept her off her feet that very minute. Come to think of it, he got a point and I find it quite funny how women actually like fakes: fake roses, fake Loius Vitton handbags, and fake luxury branded stuffs. Then there is also, the mother, Solana, who is also very friendly and nice but she is the classic compulsive shopper like most women I knew (Dang, I hate shopping!). How could I forget Jennifer Tan, the microbiologist turned geneticist. She’s an American citizen but a Filipino – Chinese. She is the 5th person I knew to carry the name, Jennifer Tan. Is there something about the name as to make it so popular among Filipino Chinese? She was on vacation and is with her parents, Louie and Mildred. At 77 years old, Louie is the groups’ resident senior citizen and he is still going strong though able to climb and walk unassisted. I would surely miss those chats we have over breakfast. Then there is also Joseph, the group’s unofficial leader and his wife, Betty and their best buddy, Man. The trio could be best described as the bargain hunters par excellence. Dang, these people do know how to bargain and they do drive a hard bargain! Then there is Lily, the 50 - 60 something grandmother who always carries that infectious optimism and enthusiasm about life in general that I felt that I view things way too seriously. Finally, there is little Megan, the youngest member of the tour at 10 years old and Lily’s granddaughter. She is my “adopted” daughter because her father was my age and we really gotten so close and for most of the tour, I was her “guardian” when her grandma isn’t around to accompany her like during the climbing of the Great Wall. She calls me uncle, which makes me I feel "old" (my cousin who is somewhere near her age called me Big Brother) but it’s ok because I think it’s apt. We took pictures together, climb the Great Wall together, and played charades together although I suck big time at charades. Cute, pretty little girl, bright, and very sharp too. It would be a waste if she becomes a model just as everybodywas suggesting (she appeared in commercials by the way). I think she should be a scientist or a doctor or a lawyer someday. We had a ice cream party at my hotel room the night before we left and awhile ago, I was thinking of getting an ice cream to “cool down” and I remembered her. She is somewhere in Xian, China continuing her tour while I’m here blogging………
I know some of my friends would probably tell me to get married and settled down but you see I haven’t learn how to make a paper rose yet. “ )
I know some of my friends would probably tell me to get married and settled down but you see I haven’t learn how to make a paper rose yet. “ )
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Came home last Sunday in time to watch National Geographic Society’s special episode, the Gospel of Judas (Iscariot). I would say that I find the “facts” being presented as quite interesting even though strictly speaking, I’m not a man of faith. I don’t know what motive do the show producers have in mind but I find the timing of the episode quite “calculated” since it came the Sunday before the Lenten season and on the heels of the “Da Vinci Code” mania. Anyway, the episode is all about the story of the “discovery” of the Codex (an ancient form of book) containing the Gospel of Judas after it was lost for 1,800 years and it’s authentication process as well as the translation of the Gospel. Based on the translation, the Gospel of Judas tells the same story of the Last Supper but from a different perspective and interpretation. In the traditional view, Judas betrayed Christ for 30 pieces of silver coins but in the Gospel of Judas, Judas did betray Christ not for coins but because Christ told him so. Judas according to the Gospel is Christ’s favorite and the only person to really understand Christ and because of that, he is given the task of “betraying” Christ in order to liberate the Son of God from the body that “covers” him. This he did dutifully and for that, Judas is supposedly promised a “reward” in heaven and that Christ viewed him as greater than the rest of the apostle. Intriguing. According to the experts, the Gospel is widely circulated among the Gnostics specifically Coptic or Egyptian Gnostics, a church branded heretical group. In fact, St Iraneus of Lyon (France) in 180AD wrote an encyclical condemning the Gospel of Judas. So the question bears in mind, why is the Gospel of Judas written in the first place and how come it became so popular back in the 2nd century? Well, according to the experts, in the ancient times, printing technology is quite primitive and therefore there is no book publishing (printing press was discovered in the 15th century while “modern” paper was introduced somewhat earlier but definitely not in the 2nd century AD). Because of that, the Word was spread orally among the community of believers through different preachers. And each preacher tells the story according to his or her understanding and interpretation. It came as no surprise that eventually there are about 30 or more version of the Good News. It is much later on that the Church decided to “simplify” the message and chose only 4 canonical Gospels and condemns the rest as heretical. At any rate, the Gospel of Judas was among those 30 or so gospels in circulation. Egypt during the Roman times was a populous and rich province and it is one of the centers of Greek culture. It also has a huge Christian population. As a fact, the patriarch of Alexandria ranks equally in authority and influence with the patriarch of Constantinople, the pope in Rome, the patriarch of Antioch, and the patriarch of Jerusalem, a testament to the importance of the Egyptian Christians. The Greek has two important philosophical traditions, the Platonian and the Aristotelian philosophies. The Gnostic faith is heavily influence by the philosophies of Plato (FYI, the Matrix movies is out and out Platonian). According to Plato, the world of matter is but only an illusion. It is temporary, finite, and “unreal”. Reality exists in the mind (sounds familiar?), the world of ideas, the perfect world, a world of absolutes. A chair is not a chair that one is sitting on right now. It is not the chair that has 4 legs and a flat surface to sit on. The idea of a chair exists in the mind and it is anything that one could rest his or her ass on it while stretching his or her leg. A chair could be a bed, a table, or a stone, or a fallen trunk, or a stool. This theory of ideas became the basis of Plato’s philosophy of Man. During his exile in the East after the death of his teacher, Socrates, he came to absorb “oriental” mysticism, which I suspect is the early Hinduist beliefs. It is from this belief that he came to develop his theory of ideas, along with the myth of the fallen angle, and his theory of reincarnation. According to him, Man was once united with the “one”, a state of pure bliss, which possesses no matter at all. It is pure “idea” not as an abstract. Somehow, Man made a mistake and as a result, was cast down to earth (myth of the fallen angel) and captured by “matter”. In the process, Man loses all his “knowledge” that he possesses when he is in unity with the “One”. It is therefore the mission of Man to regain that “lost knowledge” in order for him to return to the “One”. The body, which is made of matter becomes a burden since the body has needs to satisfy, has desire to be fulfilled, which ultimately distract Man from his noble pursuit of knowledge. In the attempt to regain that lost knowledge, Man is condemned to earthly life and once he “used up his time”, he is reincarnated in order to continue to pursue that lost knowledge (Theory of Reincarnation). Does this theory sound similar to Hinduistic beliefs? At any rate, the Gnostics believed that each individual contains that “divine spark” that connects Man to God and that the body and earthly matters are evil because it prevented us from knowing God. Man has to understand this “divine spark” within him in order to go to paradise and once Man achieved enlightenment, he would be removed from his earthly body (could this be one reason that early Christians are “willing” martyrs in the face of Christian prosecutions staged by Roman Emperors?). It is because of this, Christ being already enlightened has to be released from his “body that clothes him” and goes back to heaven. Henceforth, Judas Iscariot’s act of betrayal was deemed as doing Christ a favor. Therefore, his betrayal was not betrayal per se but an act of love for Christ. That is of course, how the Gnostics interpreted it and ergo, we have the Gospel of Judas. Now, the next question that bears in mind is that is it true? My brother likes to ask that question to me. Well, truth to tell, I don’t know (besides, I’m not a man of faith, so why should I care?). A long time ago, I came to realize that the things I see, I hear, and I read are all ideas or opinions. There are no such things as “facts” (incidentally, one Catholic priest chided that one shouldn’t believe things just because it came out of the internet!). There are views, opinions, ideas and even propagandas of other people but not facts. Out there is a marketplace of ideas. Each person has one and everybody tries to peddle them, tries to convince others that their views, ideas, opinions are the absolute truth and everything else is wrong. The same thing applies to the Gospel of Judas. It is an alternative view or interpretation of the same “event”. So how should we take it? Or does this affect our belief? To the latter question, yes, it does affect our belief but if I may use an ancient story to further my point. This is the story of Sheng Tsu, the 3rd generation disciple of Confucius. One day, a man bearing the same name of Sheng Tsu committed a murder and soon the news spread around town. A neighbor of the real Sheng Tsu ran to his mother and told her that her son just killed somebody. Now, Sheng Tsu is a man of virtue and a very good man. His mother doesn’t believe that he actually committed the crime and therefore she ignored the man. Later, another man came and bear the same news and then another followed. Afterwards, the mother began the doubt as to the integrity of his son. Over the course of time, things like the Gospel of Judas would come along throwing in doubt our belief, some will question, others waver but my point is would you be convinced? Some may but others won’t. As Thomas Jefferson would say in his Bill Establishing Religious Freedom, that “the opinion and belief of Man depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds” and “that by influence on reasons alone”, we tend to follow “pastors whose power he feels most persuasive to righteousness”. Of all the living creatures on this planet, we alone possesses the capability to reason through logic and we should use this ability to discern for ourselves what is the “most persuasive to righteousness”. If one felt that the Gospel of Judas or anything like it is the “evidence” they are looking for then believe. As for others who are still in doubt about what to do, well, take this words from my philosophy professor, “Too see is not to believe, too (actually) see (it) is to know. To believe is to have faith.” And that doesn’t only apply to religion but also to everything we do.
P.S. In light of the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, I suggest that we refrain from cursing somebody with “Hudas” for being a traitor lest that particular person who would happen to read the Gospel of Judas would take it as a compliment. “ )
P.S. In light of the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, I suggest that we refrain from cursing somebody with “Hudas” for being a traitor lest that particular person who would happen to read the Gospel of Judas would take it as a compliment. “ )