Sunday, June 27, 2004

Back from China!



Hello, Blog! I've just come back from China after an SCP conference at Chungdu University surrounded by sightseeing in Beijing, Chungdu and various points on the Yangzee River which we cruised down to the 3 Gorges Dam.

I have many thoughts about China, which will probably emerge over the the next few weeks. Visiting China, the worlds longest running high culture I felt crude, vulgar, barbaric and fat. I was at least happy to be short, for the first time in my life.

The cities are hideous though they've been careful to preserve a few pagodas and temples, some of which where splendid. Most of the buildings seem to date from the 1950s and beyond which makes me wonder what was there before the Revolution. The pagoda we visited on the Yangzee cruise, essentially a spiral staircase to the top of the mountain to which it was attached, was built without any nails (except for the floorboards), all pegs and joinery, and it seemed to a number of the other older buildings where like that too--I checked. One of the buildings had a second story that was attached entirely by some system of joints in four tortoises that held the thing up.

I found the culture oppressive. It seemed like what Egypt would have been if the culture had survived intact and, as I said to my roomie, 5 minute idea that it is, it made one realize what a revolution it was when the archaic smile broke, people started arguing and classical Greece emerged.

I've now visited 3 exotic cultures--Kenya, Iceland and China, of which China is by far the most exotic. China and Iceland are liveable while Kenya is not and China is certainly the richest, most interesting place. But prescinding from the utter poverty, crime and misery, and the unliveability, Kenya was in some way more comfey.

However, I'm fed up with exotic cultures. If I ever go anywhere again, apart from England with is more or less like going to Baltimore or New Jersey and doesn't count, I want to go to the conventionally nice places--Venice, Florence, Vienna, Ravenna, Rome, the south of France and, please God, Greece! And to Constantinople because I want to see Hagia Sophia before I die. I want to see, touch, immerse myself in the Mediterranean. It only struck me recently what "mediterranean" meant--I remember my mother saying the Romans called it "mare nostrum" and so it is: our sea, in the middle of our land and, reminiscent of pop biological documentaries about life emerging from the oceans, the sea from which our culture came, our birthplace.

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