Saturday, August 18, 2007

Closing Days of Changsha

We busied ourselves on Wednesday with a tour of the Yue Lu Academy, the oldest university in China. It was a beautifully tranquil place full of natural open space and traditional architecture. It also included a Confucian temple on site that students would present sacrifices at upon graduation. That would make for a very interesting processional. The most informative portion of the tour took place when our guide discussed the history of the library that stood at the center of the grounds. The library is only open to advanced graduate students and not the general student body. I asked if this was due to a large number of precious artifacts and ancient texts. This led Sam to tell us that in fact the library holds very few items of this description because the Japanese stole them and burned the library to the ground. It was very clear from the way Sam spoke that this offense is still a sensitive portion of Chinese history. The Japanese refuse to return any of the stolen items. But the action that Sam found to be most reprehensible is the fact that the Japanese still refuse to acknowledge their actions during this period of conflict. Sam felt that the fact the government of Japan continues to misinform their populance thus producing an entire generation with a biased and wholly inaccurate understanding of the time period to be indefensible.

We again got to enjoy a Chinese meal that evening, this time in the hotel dining room. The meal was delicious but the real story was Cainan. As he continues his coming out party, he is getting more and more direct in demanding what he wants. While we were waiting for our food to come, I fed Cainan a jar of cat food/chicken paste. If I waited too long between bites, he would let out a holler and start tugging on my arm to get me to deliver the next payload. He quickly plowed through the first course and was still yelling around for more. By then, our food had come so I decided to give him some of the beef we had ordered. The beef had a bit of a spice to it but he didn't seem to mind as he started yelling for more once he swallowed the first piece. He ordered me to keep shoveling in the food as fast as he could woof it down. But as he kept eating, we started to notice that he was getting a little color in his cheeks. Soon that pink color turned to a nice bright shade of red. Apparently the spice was starting to get to him although he didn't seem to care as anytime his mouth remained empty for more than a few seconds, he would try to claw himself out of his seat, over my arm, and to my plate, to help himself to more. To his dismay, we eventually had to cut him off for fear that his little head was going to explode.

Before leaving Changsha, we had one more required stop to make. Since it was listed as noteworthy site in both the Changsha and the Hunan province guide books available in our hotel room, we had no choice but to pay a visit to the neighborhood Wal-Mart. There really aren't a whole lot of difference between the Chinese Wal-Mart and our ma and pop store-killing Wal-Marts of home. The food section, that is normally filled with boxed, frozen, and highly processed foods at home at home, is dominated by a wide array of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as a meat section that offers up any body part one might consider edible in China. In the checkout line mixed in with the usual impulse items like Snickers and tabloids where packaged chickens feet. Just in case you had a hankering. Also, all the products in the Chinese Wal-Mart are made in America.

Visiting Wal-Mart, seeing what the Chinese people buy and utilize in their daily life, and what all the people on the street wear and carry helped me realize anew that the souvenirs that we buy and track back to the states to recall and represent the country we just left have very little to do the modern state of the country. You know who where's T-shirts with Chinese characters? Western tourists. It is like going to Boston, buying one of those Paul Revere three-pointed hats, and thinking this is how Beantowners actually dress. I always imagine that the Chinese characters on our souvenirs that we are told mean "love" and "peace" are actually translated to say, "I can't believe stupid tourists buy this crap." We just don't know the difference.

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