B A R R Y L A N D .



go east.
verbal snapshots from my weeks in china's capitol.








fast hannah.
a preliminary bit of blizz blazz

mad skills.
bbbbarry thRoWz U sOmE dEeP hOuSe

a painting i painted

the defense rests.
an original art work celebrates my dad's career

things I did in 99.
how do you measure a year in the life


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My ex-girlfriend Misti moved to China a while back, and extended an open invitation to all to come visit. So I did. For a month.


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 T H U R S D A Y ,   M A R C H   1 5 . 

I arrived Thursday night and met Misti at the airport, where there was a throng of funny-hat-wearing Chinese Muslims, some a bit unruly and being brutally beaten back by Chinese police.

We wondered for a minute why so many were traveling, and then I remembered that it was the end of the feast of Kurban Bayram, something I'd never have known if I hadn't taken that surprise trip to Istanbul the week before!

I settled in to the apartment of Misti's friend Edward, two floors up, and then Misti and I went down the improbably broad avenue to a humble little restaurant where they knew her well. Workers from the kitchen came forward to the window and gawked at us as we ate.


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 F R I D A Y ,   M A R C H   1 6 . 

I explored her neighborhood a bit. It's composed entirely of monstrous apartment buildings, scattered haphazardly among ruler-straight avenues. When Misti got home we had a quick bite to eat and then joined some of her school friends at an Irish bar called Durty Nelly's — it was the night before St Patrick's day, and the next day was the big Irish Ball (too expensive for us), at which Durty Nelly's catering service was a major presence, so their big event was this night, St Patrick's eve. We were in the heart of the area that has largely been taken over by Beijing's huge expatriate community. I'd been under the impression that it was tiny, but probably a hundred thousand or more expats live here.


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 S A T U R D A Y ,   M A R C H   1 7 . 

We woke to a beautiful, sunny, warm morning, and went to the Dirt Market (surely they can think of a better name before the 2008 Olympics!), where acres and acres of hucksters were hucking — and selling some lovely things as well. Misti bought a huge vase for a very good price; an expert bargainer, she talked the guy down, down, and further down. The vase is a handsome design of orange dragons against blue stylized clouds.

In the afternoon, we journeyed to the Summer Palace — the spot had been used by emperors for centuries, but the Empress Cixi really built it up into a mid-19th century masterpiece. It covers about 100 acres, mostly hilly, with a labyrinth of paths through the shade trees. The emphasis is on balance and harmony with nature: little rest areas, lavishly decorated, dot the place. The hugest collection of buildings is crowned by a breathtaking Buddhist temple.

Also along the way: a beautiful garden that surrounds a tiny lake; a porcelain tower (fenced off, but Misti and I clambered over the fence and explored all around it, getting ourselves filthier than ever in the process); a fortress-like lookout on top of the biggest hill, from which we could see everything; a splendid gate down on the huge lake; a couple-of-miles-long outdoor corridor, every inch covered by colorful fantastical paintings.


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 S U N D A Y ,   M A R C H   1 8 . 

We went to Misti's church — one of the two churches available to foreigners in Beijing. (Natives can and do go to church, but no mixing is allowed.)

The other church is a large Pentecostal church that encompasses Baptists and the religious right; Misti's church is a polite mainline catch-all, with Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and so on. The pastor is a quietly perky 50ish woman with pepper-gray pageboy hair; the place is a modest hotel ballroom with wood floors and paneling, decorated here and there with colorful folky tapestries.

After lunch, on the way to the Silk Market, Misti and I ran into the pastor and her husband with some other parishioners at an outside cafe.

The Silk Market! A bit more upscale than the Dirt Market, and, as the name suggests, a bit more focused on textiles — shirts, pants, lingerie, coats, bags, shades, robes, and more. Some really beautiful traditional Chinese silk and satin, along with more modern stuff.


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 M O N D A Y ,   M A R C H   1 9 . 

I got up and went into town. The first stop, of course, had to be the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. By the time I made it there, I figured I wouldn't have time to explore the Forbidden City completely, so I just bummed around Tiananmen Square.

It's huge! It is indeed the largest public square in the world. There have been several times when a million people have gathered there. Even the phallic vertical thrust of the monument in its center is well overbalanced by the flatness and wideness of the place. As I wandered along it, it struck me as only natural that the uprising in 89 was named for the place — because it is the place that made it possible. I found myself thinking of my own suburbanized city, and asking the famous question that indicts all such places: where on earth would you go to start a revolution there?

While I was there, two students approached me. They recognized that I was American. (Was it my spiky hair, blue jeans, and shades, or that I was the only person in this city of 13 million who was nakedly dressed in a black t-shirt and no blazer or jacket?)

They were thrilled to speak English with me, especially since I was from America rather than England — they loved the accent. I asked their names, and was answered with "Camilla" and "Jack." They're university students here, and we discussed various cultural and social topics for quite a while until they invited me to the internet cafe where they worked (and where Camilla had some art on display). The city is overrun by such friendly art students, and I didn't have much time — or money to spend on art — but figured it would be a good jaunt.

They led me past the ancient gate south of the square (the Forbidden City is north: the whole thing is a series of increasingly exclusive courtyards, like Solomon's Temple). To the right is a historic market district. Passing under its bannerlike gate, I suddenly felt like I was in a movie that took place in "China" — a crowded, narrow, colorful street, brimming with people and crammed with signs, lavish decorations, and bright red lanterns.

We ducked into a little nook and down some stairs, turned a corner, and there it was: an internet cafe whose walls were covered with art, and whose tables were absolutely deserted. Also, I didn't see any computers. After we'd gotten seated, though, I noticed a single computer in the corner of the room. When I asked if I could use it to check my mail, they said it hadn't been working in a while.

Ah, China. Nonetheless, I had a drink and a relaxing conversation, and looked at all the beautiful original paintings and drawings, most of which had some debt to the high style of traditional Chinese art.

Then it was time to meet Misti at Guomao, the spiffy, upscale international trade center in downtown where it became the custom for her and I to meet up after her school was out. We met Diane, a friend of hers from school, and all of us went to a shopping place to look at some jewelry that Diane wanted.

While there, we picked out some pretty stones and Misti designed a necklace and earring set for herself, out of peridot, her birthstone. Striking, and quite inexpensive. Then to the fabric place where we picked out some cloth for a couple of shirts for Misti and three suits for me, in preparation for the next day's tailor visit.


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 T U E S D A Y ,   M A R C H   20 . 

I went down to meet Carly's maid. Carly is a teacher at Misti's school, and the two of them have become close friends.

I'd agreed to play piano accompaniment for Carly's class in a performance the coming weekend, so her maid and I bundled up Carly's baby and went to the school. The choir turned out to be pretty good. Our number was a gospel thing to be performed at the third anniversary celebration of the Beijing Family Hospital.

Misti, Carly, Diane, Sophie (another teacher), and I taxied over to Sophie's lovely and spacious apartment after school to meet the tailor. He came with the stuff he'd made for them the previous week, which they tried on and oohed and ahhed over, and then took measurements and orders for the next week's haul. Among which, of course, were three suits for me: one a snappy 4-button classic suit in slate blue-grey, and the other two a casual style that I'd cooked up myself based on overcoats, one in tan and one in deep blue. Hope it'll work. Can't wait!

Outside, it was blustery, with a nasty dusty polluted wind whipping all around. From the windows of Sophie's 22nd-floor apartment, you could barely see more than several blocks, and then a grey-brown haze, with a paper-lantern-pale disk hanging in the sky that one could hardly believe was the sun. That, along with the arrow-straight streets filled with monochrome cars and lined with monstrous, drab buildings, made me think that I was looking at a scene in one of those scare-tactic environmentalist films from the 70s, where they showed dire pictures of what the year 2001 would look like if we didn't shape up.

Wednesday was no better, and I abandoned my plan to do the Forbidden City.








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