China: By Journalists Eye XIV: Back to 19th century
The third day we devoured spell of western China and the knowledge that we have somewhere "behind" Tibet is our "ugly," said attractive. There, under the auspices of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, certainly can´t go, but Tibetan culture we meet at every step.
Qinghai Province to 1928 is had been part of a separate Tibet and Tibetans are just next to the Kazakhs and Mongols are one of the few for whom the Qinghai real home. They make more than one fifth of the local population.
The others, Han, as they say the majority population of China, and many members of ethnic minorities, came here for various reasons - in the best case government sent them here as the police officers, soldiers or officials. Rugged mountain region but has also become "educational institution" for political prisoners. Not for nothing the province is called Chinese Siberia. Here blow the winds, there's a frost, the area is remote, and therefore proved for the cutting inconvenient people and building labour camps. The lucky ones who survived have often had no choice but to settle here.
Tibetans for four millennia lived by nomadic way. With herds of yaks and sheep crossed the plains and mountain valleys to descend just to barter. I want to see at least one nomad, but I guess it somehow fit into our program. Indeed, this time we are going to see the town where just completed construction of a modern housing complex for the "poor inhabitants of mountain areas."
The Chinese government under the program "We are opening to the West" has set itself the task to significantly increase the living standards of local residents, and as we hear from our guide, "…program is implemented successfully, resettlement of people are happy to have hot water and electricity, health care, receive a state pension and the children can go to school ... ". Hmm, as far as I know, the reality is different. She somehow forgot to mention that most of the former nomads can´t read or write, few of them understand Chinese, let alone English, no one have any education, other than or pastoral practice, and to "retrain" no one give them money.
Instead of declared wealth is much more coming dispossession, loss of economic independence, the worst rather menial work or unemployment, poverty, people are reeling from nothing to nothing in box looking housing estate and poor state contributions eventually invest in cheap alcohol, whose consumption is punctuated by the playing board games and pool. The official number of displaced nomads and mountain people are different, but it is certain that we are somewhere around one million and a unique world of the Tibetan plains becomes irretrievably past.
We are in our aim. We arrive to the town, which at first sight certainly has nothing to do with the picturesqueness. We pass a number of shabby, destroyed, low dilapidated buildings, broken roads are slowly changing in the dirt road. At present a performance is frankly not looking forward too - we have a newly built housing estate type home enough and there are still binds them all that camouflage about raising living standards. People also don’t have a chance to say that no such worth that they want to live as it is taught parents, grandparents, and how it is comfortable for them. So I am already pre-sharpened and preparing for the captious questions, on which of course I´ll get just evasive answers.
The bus starts to brake suddenly, and we can look at a “picture” that is before us unexpectedly shucked. We are on the edge of the market, which winds along both sides of the road. Everything here is incredibly colourful and live, the beautiful Tibetan of all ages people sit, stand and run around and at closer sight, I understand we got back to the 19th century. Among us journalists it begins to hum and fizz, hand all of us quickly try to take a picture or film, and guides the great dismay of no one responding to their efforts to steer us into a side street, where probably lies the "concrete treasure."
"We do not have time. This is not in the program! A delegation from the city government is waiting for us. We can´t delay ..... "shout at us unfortunate ladies Beijing. In vain. We are both ecstatic about such a scene most of us have seen the uncompromising urge at least half an hour - a guide angrily allow us 15 minutes, even though they know that they have no chance of us in the grim limit to get us back. It is clear that something went wrong with them - we see how the west closer to the developed east China, and instead here we run excitedly around the market where time has stopped.
Unconcealed astonishment is on both sides. We take pictures of each stand with strange goods, every street craft "station" - incredible iron machine that produces a key monster on which sew shoes, horse shoe maker with horse shoes ... And the local people from head to toe observe us, the children huddle around cameras – we show them what we filmed - followed by laughter. More and more are added, they want to see them self, prevail even many adults. Proudly posing for us and we respectfully in advance ask them whether we can make a picture.
I try to get all the colours, which abounds with local people wear, women's scarves on their heads artfully shaped into some kind of turbans, braids interwoven ribbons that adorn little girls and old women, multi-layered skirt and then a few purely "Western" models of local teenagers who proudly disturb the atmosphere. Minutes go by incredibly fast, I have to go back to the bus, but thru still nervous and calling gestures guides resist and stop at a beautiful old woman with a face seamed and wrinkled incredible calmness in his eyes. Last ask whether I can shoot. This time it is without a smile. Gently nod, it stops and proudly looks off into the distance. Snap, snap, snap. Thank you and feel great humility hang a camera around your neck. Here we go to the estate house.
Text/photo: Andrea Fantová
Profane language and pornography shouldn’t be on the Internet. We would certainly agree with that if only this wasn’t just a cover for endless clutch of the Chinese Internet censorship. Under the cover of a protection of national cultural heritage, and public interest and prosperity the Chinese government tries to hide its rough cleansing.
Classical Chinese carpets have described Marco Polo in his travelogues, but till today in the world are still not too much to seen and know little about them. I look forward to our visit carpet factories in the province of Qinghai, Xining on the outskirts of the city, to widen my horizons. The lives of local workers I try to plug deeply into the subconscious and try to see the beauty around.
Exploring the China is join with infinite variety of impressions, perceptions, experiences and surprises for Europeans often shrouded under a veil of mystery, many time but just ignorance. I did get out of this country dominating feeling - China is incredibly colourful. Colourful from drab uniform gray to a beautiful rainbow combination.
To leave the province of Qinghai and thus few days of life in the past, sometimes the century before, it was the more sensitive nature really hard. Local on many places the virgin nature, proud mountain ranges, deep green valleys, vast dry plains, miniature boxes, herds of yaks and colourful mix of nationalities, often pristine civilizations us captivated, amazed, left imprint on the hearts.
We are in Shanghai, in a metropolis shrouded by hundreds of "firsts" that is, in the largest Chinese city. One "the best" there certainly lacks – the historic one. Shanghai, unlike many other Chinese cities has relatively short history, after the Middle Ages, you won´t find any foot mark.
When I looked at the city in evening from promenade of colonial Bund, Oriental Pearl enchanted me with its graceful shapes, and I watched long how at it clothed in new and new colours in regular intervals. I do not know, which one suits her most...
The second day in Shanghai. I slept great, the apartment from Chinese Ministry in one of the most modern hotels in Pchu - tung district, hardly compares to the most luxury holiday model.
Till the start of the World's Expo remains less than 11 months. Here in Shanghai the word Expo is inflected to suffer. Sky blue mascot of Hainan - pao exhibition more than a year before the outbreak this exhibition´s madhouse smiles from windows, posters, winks from light boards, and I decided to bring one teddy home.
The first ever Chinese word that I learned, and it still did not forget, is the "pi-jo". If you seem familiar, you are right - though vastly different languages, for favourite golden-coloured brew has phonetically very similar name as Czech and many other Slavic languages. Drinking beer is a hobby that is definitely common with the Chinese.
In China, people drink really everything you can think of. Everyday drink is inherent tea, whether green or black, fermented or semi-fermented. Water and hundreds of species of non-alcoholic beverages are part of food as well as beer or very popular traditional rice wine. On the tables of local "higher" classes but there are also wine from grapes, until recently marginalized drink.
To move on the other side of Euroasia is nothing easy for those who don’t know how. Especially when they are going to have a personal contact with a Chinese family, business partners, or politicians and officials. For such a stay it is good to make some little preparations, otherwise you will experience more than one faux pas.
Walks and rides in Shanghai are an infinite fount of learning unknown and different no matter where it is. I manage to sit down and observe rush around me for half an hour on one very busy avenue.
We have all this Christmas martyrdom behind us, more or less. New Year’s eve after-effects are the past now and everyday life came back again. Far in the east of our planet the holiday season is getting to its peak.
We had many formal meetings during our journey in China with government officials or top managements of some companies that tried to make themselves more visible through us, European journalists. In a hurry after these precisely scheduled meetings I always gathered prepared business cards and carefully placed them to my notes.
We all got used to all these superlatives surrounding China. I wouldn’t exaggerate if I said that she achieved some primacy every week.
If we set off to China it is almost imposible to miss out its capital - Beijing. Beijing is full of traces of history but Beijing also lives in the present and future in every of its wide avenues and narrow streets. Beijing is full of fabulous food, noisy traffic... And so on and on. Where would you look for peaceful moments in busy metropolis?
We are still in the far northwest of China, in the region, which is interwoven with Tibetan culture and history. After dense doses our Beijing hosts are served us bait to persuade Europeans ignorant about the interest of the central government in the development of local underdeveloped economy, improving people's living standards while maintaining support all the attributes of the original culture
Again our bus is going on the new highway, which I'd read that it was probably built for only one reason - to make available the Tibetan Buddhist monastery Ta'er. And really, this time not waiting for us any boneshaker dirt road and conveniently parked outside the gates of a large complex at the foot of greenish mountains.
Qinghai Province fascinates me at every step, or rather at every kilometre. A mixture of Buddhism and Muslim world humbly exist together is incredibly interesting phenomenon, especially for journalists from far, accelerated, often impersonal and intolerant Europe. This time we are heading into the valley that lies in Rebkong area, the centre of Tibetan art in the province.
Our bus finally stops at the end of a long, dirt track, in which about an hour ago has changed as if by magic a modern six-lane highway. My worries we will finish up on the roof, fortunately not materialized, we drove past woods and gouged out before us, football pitch right and green has left. Everything was dominated by ground shabby, battered gray building - school.
Finally Beijing. Our journalistic team has battled a series of security checks and we find ourselves in an endless airport lounge. The feeling that the local crowd have to absorb us was not correct. Then we see a smiling Chinese lady and in minutes everyone sit in a luxury air-conditioned bus.
China - land of unlimited possibilities, a country which, unlike the developed world is growing and whose economic growth in today's world seems like a miracle. Country with many cultural and historical monuments, a country, that sends a man into space.
China's hard work and discipline accompanied us at every step and a visit of Beijing Foreign Studies University just confirmed it. Here we had a chance to appreciate even more characteristic of Chinese - adaptability.
From the bus window, we could see Beijing crisscross, authentic atmosphere of the streets and alleys and hundreds of thousands of people in them, but we sucked up in the role of hikers and then of course after "bedtime" is ended with an official dinner with selected potent and our tired guide disappeared behind hotel room door.
Huge China is a country of contrasts. It consists of several climatic zones, there you can find a noisy city full of glass skyscrapers and smog, but also the traditional mountain village with mud houses and rice plantations.
Being in China and not visit the Great Wall is equal to savagery. The official program that the Chinese government has prepared us is this trip only alternative and we have to earn deserve it. From early morning we sit in the Red Hall headquarters of the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China and pretend to listen to propaganda papers enthusiastic speakers.
We "elect" could see the Chinese megalopolis through largely a luxury air-conditioned bus with a smiling dude behind the wheel. It is also part of local standard, certainly not just for a small group of natives and of course for wealthy tourists.
After four days in Beijing we packed suitcases and with our guide got on the plane. Before us is a big unknown - we are moving into one of the poorest provinces of China to west to the Tibetan border. It won´t be surprise just for us, but also our girls will visit Beijing - Ai Qing the first time in their life.
The first dining experience in China didn’t impress me too much. Five stars beautiful hotel, a lot of fuss on arrival our journalistic delegation - a bow and waving fans welcomed us beauties in traditional dress, from the table.
Ancient city of Xian, or Si-an is about 3000 years old. It is one of the most important places throughout Chinese history, since it is here that housed 11 Chinese imperial dynasties. At the time when Beijing was a mere village, golden Si - an shone by bright colours of temples, wide boulevards and architectural excesses.
World media today proclaims that the Chinese state television CCTV triumphantly finished its job and officially opened a new headquarters in Beijing. The futuristic-looking building that should symbolizes the emergence of China on the world stage, journalists dubbed it - thanks to the remarkable shape for her grace in the world called the Chinese "Great boxers."
Morning view from hotel window in Xining reveals a breathtaking backdrop. The city is surrounded by high mountains, over which the sun shines and I'm really looking forward for today's trip, which has sometimes copied the former trade artery between Asia and Europe - the Silk Road. The fact that I wet my feet in the Yellow River, it is still like science fiction.
Beijing is for us concentration of paradoxes. Endless skyscrapers, luxury living residences, shops of all tech brands on one side and then thousands of artifacts, ancient Chinese culture. We are interested in both of it, but the traditional one is but much more interesting.
Our bus goes on the perfectly smooth highway, where we ones a time meet some man in a hat, with a scarf over his face and a broom in his hand - he is alone, far from him you can´t see anything of civilization, the high mountains on both sides, and he sweeps the shoulder.
Visit of Beijing food market and edibles of all kinds, shapes, smells, often of unknown origin and a long life even more dangerously we were really stunned for a moment and quietly wandering Chinese traders staring at the blonde, which move at a rate of marathon runners. Phew. We are off and miraculously in front of us pleasantly familiar signs shucks "Starbucks Coffee".
Photo: Amy Challen a Jan Lidmaňský