Tuesday, October 24, 2006

China Day 4

Ok, my elbow is healing, so I'll write more about my China trip. Day 4 we only spent the morning in Beijing, visiting the Temple of Heaven, a very large blue round temple where the Emperor, the Son of Heaven, would come to do rituals twice a year. The huge round blue Temple of Heaven symbolizes Beijing in a way like the Empire State Building symbolizes New York.

When we got there, we went through one of the gates to a large arcade where hundreds of senior citizens were doing group exercies: social dancing (it looked somewhat like a fox trot); banging around a small ball on a white paddle in a group led by a leader; etc. Other seniors were singing opera in a group or playing mah jong. The arcades and the nearby areas looked like a giant senior citizen center. Our guide told us that since China doesn't have enough jobs to go along, people who are 55 are encouraged to retire so young people can get the jobs. So many people retire between 55 and 60. Where do they go? In the summer to the parks where they do group exercise. Actually I enjoyed seeing all the seniors dancing, singing, and gambling--much better than the old days when this whole huge area was reserved just for the Emperor who came twice a year!

Past the arcade area we walked to the Temple area itself: the temple halls are huge and round but the bases are square. The Round Alter was built in 1530 and rebuilt in 1740. The Emperor would do rites to ensure a good harvest, ask for divine guidance, and atone for sins of the people. Now hundreds of tourists walked up and down the stairs of the big blue Temple. I was a bit tired, so I sat down and started talking to a male Belgian tourist who said he just took the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow which ends in Beijing. He had just come from Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

What also comes from Mongolia to Beijing are dust storms as the desert is growing. Another environmental problen is the gray skies. All the skies throughout mainland China were gray. I heard that China is now burning a lot of coal for energy, and the coal burning pollutes the sky. Anyway, in the Chinese newspapers they announced they have a "Blue Skies" campaign, and what they do is have tree planting day once a year where they plant thousands of trees. So they are aware of the environmental problems in terms of dust storms, polluted gray skies, and polluted water. But in L.A. we have a group called Treepeople which has planted 1,000,000 trees starting in L.A. and then spreading out to the world. More tree planting is needed in China, I think.

That afternoon we flew is Xi'an, a city in the west of China near the famed terra cotta army of soldiers. Xi'an like Beijing was once capital of the Empire and is the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. Along with trade goods both Islamic and Buddhist missionaries came to Xi'an 1st and then to the rest of China. The city has a big mosque and a Muslim neighborhood. As we took our bus in from the airport, Xi'an looked poorer and dustier than Beijing. Yes, it had high rises--office buildings, hotels, and apartment buildings--but it had more 1-story stores lining the main road.

The next day when my group went off to see the terracotta army I was ill and stayed in the hotel. I knew that the Emperor who built the terracotta army did so because he killed a lot of soldiers, and wanted the protection of a terracotta army. I was also tired of imperial monuments. Anyway, in the gift shop of the hotel I found a wallet to replace my stolen wallet! Back in business! When the tour group returned, they kindly had bought me a book on the terracotta army and actually had it signed by one of the farmers who discovered the terracotta soldiers! A signed copy!

Six of us decided to go to the shops across the street, but first we had to cross the street. Everywhere in China cars don't stop for pedestrians, and large streets are particularly hard to cross. We finally did it in a large group, dashing across the street. We entered a shopping area which had lots of small stalls--mostly housewares, hardware, and wallets, wallets everywhere! I saw a small tea kettle which I liked, & pointed to it. The saleswoman took it out and also a calculator. She put 36 on the calcualtor for 36 yuan ($1 = 8 yuan Chinese money). I hit the key 30 yuan. She nodded. We had a deal! I was learning the shop and bargain without language!
Our guide in Beijing had taught us some simple words in Mandarin such as "hello" and "how are you" which I had learned, but no shopping words!

To get back across the street, we walked up the stairs to the upstairs pedestrian way which went over the street to walk among more stahls, but these were all clothing. A few Chinese women had sewing machines to alter the clothes if needed. Now the problem is most of the American women were too large for the Chinsese sizes! We're big and they're small!
Actually, I fit in into a Large (sizes were small, medium, large, extra-large) but some of the other American woman fit into an extra-large which they didn't like at all. They were quite unhappy and were not going to buy extra-large shapeless grandmotherly clothing.

That night we went to a theater where we had dim sum (many, many dumplings) for dinner and where where we saw dances in gorgeous traditional costumes. The finale dance had two dancers dressed as the Emperor and Empress and other dancers doing classical dancers for the imperial couple. It was fascinating. I seem to be enjoying traditional Chinese dance!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Koreatown in LA.

I haven't posted for a while because end of August I started teaching 5 classes
and then I fractured my elbow October 1. The elbow is nicely healing, but I had a
half cast for a week, which was tiring. Then the cast came off but I wasn't driving
for a 2nd week. I did a lot of walking in my neighborhood, Koreatown, and also
took the bus for two weeks. Actually I enjoyed walking, and will post soon about a Koreatown
walk. The elbow is nearly healed.

Today in the Los Angeles Times there was an article by Gregory Rodriguez called
"Seoul man," also about living in Koreatown. He calls himself a "proud resident
of Koreatown" as I am too! Whenever I'm driving home & start seeing Korean signs
on Western, I know I'm nearly home. Actually, the largest ethnic group in Koreatown is
Latinos, then probably Asians including Koreans and Filipinos, and then whites.
By on the major bouelvards of the neighborhood--Vermont Avenue, Western Avenue,
Olympic Boulevard, and Whilshire Avenue--most of the shops, particulary the smaller
ones, are Korean with Korean signs.

Like Rodriguez, I've been fequenting the restaurants in the neighborhood. Rodriguez
went to his first trip to Seoul. Rodriguez compares Koreatown to Seoul: "K-town is a highly condensed--if slightly shabbier-verious of this thriving, hyper-urban traffic-choked mteropolis."
What strikes me about walking Western Avenue, with its Korean-owned furniture shops dominating, is that it could be attractive street with some landscaping--trees, flowers, benches.
Let's have more trees planted on Western Avenue!

Second, Rodriguez says former LA City Councilman Nate Holden was roundly criticized for granting many liquor licenses to this neighborhood, but Rodriguez says, "According to a recent study, South Korea is the fourth-largest distilled-liquor consumer in the world. In its rigidly hierarchical society, it's clear that drinking is the great equalizer and a national pastime." Rodriguez says that Nat Holden "was merely being culturally sensitive." All I can say is that I went with some friends to a Korean bar-b-que restaurant (very popular). The food was excellent, and enjoyed seeing the food cooked on a little stove at our table. But on this Saturday night I was astounded to see how much hard liquor--whiskey, scotch-- was consumed at the other tables (I only drink wine myself).

What's changed in the last 6 years in Koreatown is house prices have doubled if not tripled. Rodriguez mentions thatg he sat in a seminar at the Grand Intercontinental Hotel in Seoul "where 700 prospective buyers showed to hear a sales pitch for condominiums that will be built only a few blocks from my apartment in K-town. ... According to one executive of the developmental firm, 60% of the units will be sold in Korea to investors who have no intention of moving to L.A.." He goes on to say that in the last few years Korean investors have been investing heavily abroad in Koreatown, causing inflated house and condomium prices. Well, a few blocks near my house three small craftsman 1-story houses have been knocked down, and large apartments to be sold as condomiums are being built.

Rodriguez is right when he says that this Korean investment in LA's Koreatown is globalisation at work "in which capital moves faster than people." 6 years ago when I moved to Koreatown it had less expensive rents and house prices than the surrounding neighborhoods. No longer. This process is not knew. During the 1980s when Tokyo land prices soared Japanese investors bought up a lot of high-rise office buildings in downtown Los Angeles. In the 1990s well-to-do Chinese immigrants bought up houses in Monterey Park area east of downtown. Again, we live on the Pacific Rim, and what happens in Korea, China, or Japan effects the neighborhoods and neighbors in LA.

When I was in Shanghai and Beijing our guides were complaining about how condominium prices are going up and up. I wonder if there is investment from abroad in Shanghai & Beijing. That lives us both in Shanghai and Los Angeles having the small problems: lack of affordable housing, particulary for young couples starting families.