Call me Fred. Some time ago-January, to be precise-having no pressing demands and great curiosity, I succumbed for once to an email blurb:
Jujo, himself, would take me on a journey to the land of "wei qi," which is the Chinese name for the game called go or Goe in the States. Ever since the rest of my family returned from China, I have wanted to go. I especially wanted those one of those neat stones-in-baskets sets that Kevin Moore brought back to our club in Pittsburgh. I asked each family member to get them and none succeeded.
I've got lots of stories; here's a few.
The general layout of the Forbidden City is a linear progression of imperial buildings with out-buildings forming against the walls on both sides. The imperial buildings have various ceremonial purposes: dressing, eating, rituals, greeting visitors. The out-buildings house barracks for troops. There are no tree in the Forbidden city; enemies could have placed spies in them. In theory the enemy would have to fight through the whole sequence of buildings and barracks before getting to the living quarters at the end. Imagine my surprise then when the end has not only trees but also only a single wall and moat separating it from the hoi polloi. As an invader I'd sure look hard at starting there.
A walk up a section of the Great Wall is a pleasant outing and certainly lets you see a cross-section of the Chinese people; when we were there, the vast majority of tourists were themselves Chinese. Many guidebooks recommend seeing a section other than the Badaling Wall, where we went, because they are less crowded. To me, the crowds were the best part.
Tiger Hill is a strange place. Allegedly, it is named because a son saw a tiger there after his father died. Whatever, it is not sort of an amusement park without the rides. The entry lane is protected by carefully spaced plastic tigers. There is a restaurant, the Leaning Tower of Suzhou, various concessions (not the tourist trap stuff), and a pony cart ride to take you around. For one yuan I visited the shop with engravings on rice grains. Many were various quotations. The most amusing was the three monkey hear/see/speak-no-evil; all painted appropriately; with plenty of room for palm trees waving overhead. The most amazing was an engraving of four figures from a myth onto a single human hair, a slippery surface at best!
In all, I was little impressed with Tiger Hill until I wandered through a small gate off in an unvisted corner. Wham! More bonsai than in the entire state of Pennsylvania. Dozens of bonsai, hundreds of bonsai, acres, even. I had to return to the bus to get my camera which I had abandoned due to the rain. It seems these bonsai were collected (liberated or expropriated) from local homes during the Second World War and were then placed in the park. The oldest, a magnificent piece-was five hundred years old. If you get near Suzhou, visit Tiger Hill and don't leave until you have found the bonsai.
The shops were less enjoyable. All such shops had almost identical wares selected from these factories and other producers of artistic goods suitable for the decoration of Western homes. The prices were reasonable by American standards, but far above the street price of the same goods at other places in the country. (Though elsewhere there was considerable risk of goods of lesser quality.)
Any tourist industry has the goal of extracting the most number of dollars from the visitors. Cancun and other sun-fun spots do this with various vices at exhorbitant prices. More honorably, China has chosen to do this with luxury articles peddled incessantly. Herding tourists to special stores helps allow the local economy to flourish at one standard of values while exacting higher values for the same goods from tourists. At least China has abandoned its former system of allowing tourists to have only a special currency which can be used only at special stores. After all, most of the street vendors are just as happy taking dollars as yuan. If I were China-what a concept!-one way I would try to increase income would be to reduce the number of copies of each item up for sale. Seeing forty copies of the same jade trinket, even as exquisite as they are, is rather palling. It would seem better to have only one on sale so I could at least imagine I was receiving a scarce commodity. That it was replaced from inventory as soon as I left the shop would be something I wouldn't have to know.
In addition to the formal shops, the tourist areas are rife with vender/entrepreneur/beggars. If they have something you want, you can bargain and get a pretty good price. There are rules for the vendors. At the jade factory a white line around the parking area separated us from motley vendor displays. Curious to see the vendor's wares, especially a little turtle thing, I crossed the line. Bedlam. I was instantly surrounded with dozens of outstretched arms offering copies of the turtle. Each arm attached to a mouth harranguing at high speed. The rest of tour group had a high old time watching; Jujo insisted that Fred had put himself in damezumare! I wish a had bought one of the turtles as reminder of the fun.
At the Bund in Shanghai, I did not make the same mistake and did purchase a dragon from a vendor for about a dollar. She was rather furtuve and said that her work was illegal, which it probably was, but that she was putting herself through school, which she probably wasn't. Her outfit was amazing. After I had demonstrated my gullibility by making a purchase, she found all sorts of other attractive trinkets in varous pockets. Not needing even more reminders, I declined. Later that afternoon, near the Yu Yuan gardens, I found a whole street of small shops offering the same sort of goods that the vendors were offering; the mother lode, as it were. I found I could purchase the same dragon for half the cost, but felt that meeting my vendor was worth the difference.
After the "art museum" we staged a coup and refused to go to more official shops. To his credit, our guide mostly succeeded; the Chinese Medicine Institute deployed parlor tricks to sell us over-priced herbs, but at least they didn't have the full panoply of other geegaws. (Our host at the Institute was a bit diffident in speaking in front of Jujo, who is, it seems, something of a television personality in China.) We spent the afternoon after the "art museum" doing "real" shopping in a downtown area where we saw no other tourists. My roommate, Jim, bought a Chinese-English dictionary; I wish I had done the same. I bought a good puzzle and a pastry, which was rather starchy-gooey. Observing the display dummies we decided they must all be built in a single collective because they all had identical features. And each and every one-unlike the customers--had blond hair!
For our return to dinner, the guide had simply written the address for us. We capped a pleasant afternoon with an airy pedicab ride.
Building throughout Beijing and Shanghai had many contrasts of old and new. Often a modern building would be fronted on the street with a row of old ramshackle shops, all seeming to be about the same four meters square. Modern condominimums would have frames outside their windows for drying clothes. And beside the modern building cranes is a flourishing old-style building industry.
Building products on the small scale are sold in the same little one-room shops as everything else. They are delivered by freight-bicycles that have platforms for carying all sorts of things. Even on some modern buildings the scaffolding is bamboo.
Aside from new buildings, there did not seem to me to be much building work; maintenance seemed to be neglected. Roofs on the low old buildings are often in bad repair, with tar paper held down by bricks. It may ot be economical to maintain these old buildings since they are likely to be replaced. Factory work areas are grubby, although the shop areas are well maintained. A general air of grubbiness and grey hangs about Beijing even when the sun is shining. It is not, however, unsanitary grubiness like New York. The real problem is that the wind is bringing the Gobi dessert a thousand to invade the city.
Our trip from Shanghai to Suzhou was along a super-highway through a hundred miles of farmland, all of which was enjoying the rain more than we were. The grey was deepened by the smoke from the factories in the distance across the farms. This was as close as we got to real factories. Along the road I noticed many six story apartment buildings big enough for about two one- or two-bedroom apartments per floor. One dinner in Jiading was sponsored by the Shanghai-Jaiding Industry Area General Development Company in their luxury headquarters building with two bars, two restaurants, and a bowling alley. (The building business is good.) One of the devlopers at our table explained to me that buildings taller than six stories are required to have elevators.
Breakfasts were typically buffet affairs with some Western foods as well as the Chinese. Lunchs and dinners were served at round tables seating six or eight and having a turntable in the middle. Dishes were placed on the turntable and you were to transfer some from the dish to your plate, and from thence to your mouth, all with chopsticks (which were no problem for any of us). The serving people were very particular. Those of us who had not napkined our laps were unceremoniously napkined by our waitress. Those who were reticient in taking food, found food graciously conveyed to their plate. When I used the wrong end of the chopsticks, they were removed from my hand and reinserted properly.
Despite the constant stream of diverse foods, I never felt bloated and did not gain weight. The Chinese cuisine emphasizes protein and vegetables, with rice for carbohydrates; there is none of the heavy emphasis on sugar and fats so common in my American diet. Indeed, only the first night did we have anything approaching a dessert; "sticky rice" and it was yummy.
Here is one lunch menu I wrote down in Jiading. Appetizers: two kinds of sausage, chicken feet, shrimp, chicken, slices (of something?). Main dishes: shrimp in dough, marinated beef, asparagus, bean/noodle, clams on half shell, swordfish slices, meatballs&pineapple, peking duck. Words cannot describe.
The restaurant at the Honored Guest Hotel in Jiading was very special. Each place setting has its napkin folded into an origami, all different. Like many fine restaurants they have live seafood available for your selection: various kinds of fish, turtles, snakes, crabs, and four sizes of shrimp. The most astounding was when they served turtle-duck soup to cap off dinner. Sadly it was at the end when we were mostly full, but I am glad I tried it. The taste was a startling mixture of the fat of the duck and the absolute crystal clarity of the turtle. Delicious. Exquisite!
In Beijing and Shanghai, Jujo took us for walks long after dinner. We left from the well lighted hotels and ventured down streets lined with the aging, crowded, dilapidated buildings in which live many city dwellers. (Our tour guides both lived on the outskirts of their city and had to travel by bus an hour each way before greeting us in the morning and after leaving us in the evening.) People were sometimes loud-especially near an automobile accident-but we did not see the drunks and drug addicts one would expect in such a neighborhood in the States. Despite not knowing the language, I always felt safe in China.
There are fifty-six nationalities within China, but ninety-three percent of the population are the Han People. Only the minority populations are permitted to have more than one child per family.
One effect of having so many people is that jobs are structured to utilize as many people as possible. In both the tourist stores and the downtown shops, one clerk takes your order, a remote cashier takes your money, and a third clerk wraps and delivers your package. The vendors are more efficient.
Another effect is that people can be selected early and trained for special skills. These sorts of skills were evident to the tourist in the amazing Chinese acrobats and the infinite care of the various artisans in the factories. Even wei qi players are selected at an early age and encouraged to study hard and excel.
Our very first day we attended and watched the first round of the tournament to determine the Challenger for the Mingren Championship currently held by Ma Xia Chung. To my untutored eye, it appeared to be pretty much an ordinary youth tournament; few of the players looked to be past their early twenties. However, none were below professional four dan in strength. Each game was monitored by a pre-teen who recorded the game, watched the clock, counted seconds, and counted the final score. It was interesting to see counting-seconds and Chinese-style counting in action; both began to seem quite reasonable. Play was so slow I was easily able to record three games at once. Game Record 1 stops where we had to go to lunch; White was trying to figure a solution to a trap that Black had just sprung. I believe Black later won the game.
In the afternoon, surprise, there was Jing Yang who I knew from Pittsburgh. We played a number of games, and he treated me with his usual courtesy while refuting almost every move. It was a real pleasure to have seen him again. That evening the Chinese Wei Qi center treated us to the first of our feasts and one of the best. I sat at the same table with Ma Xia Chung, the head of the Wei Qi center and the head of the game center of which wei qi is one part. Jujo held them all enthralled in conversation, mostly in Chinese.
There was no further time for go in Beijing as we saw the sights. In Shanghai one had one evening of go; I stayed in the hotel and was defeated in a friendly game by Rui Jun-Ru, Nai Wei's father. The rest of the go players ventured forth to a local go club in what appeared to be a converted topless bar. Their games were great, they said, but the rides to and from the club were full of adventure, what with chaotic driving and inaccurate navigation.
Wei qi was the main point of our visit to Jiading, where we were royally entertained by the local go club. We set up a playing room in the hotel where we played many games in odd moments. On Friday we had a one-round "tournament" with players from their club facing us. I played Cho Ming Qua and was assigned to play White, Game Record 2 . After I lost, Cho was kind enough to go over my game and point out a number of mistakes. In retrospect, many of my games seem to have attacks from weak groups, which makes my group weaker and lets the opponent make profit. I did play better after returning home, but unfortunately the effect did not last.
Is it worth going to China to study wei qi? Not for me, of course;
I still have lots to learn from people in the States, including Jujo
himself. The trip, however, was wonderful. Everything was so different
from the States that I have many new ways to imagine life. Perhaps
the most important lesson, one I am slow to learn, is that of patience.
In travel as in wei qi, the best opportunities and experiences come
to those who prepare and wait. I finally did get those stones-in-a-basket.
Game Record 1. Mingren League
White: Chen 6D, Black: Yu Pin 5?D
(The upper right 51-52 preceded the 51-52 in the middle.) Black 87
seemed to surprise White, who paused for a long think, during which
I had to leave for lunch. Black won, I am told.
Game Record 2. American-Jiading Wei Qi Tournament
White: Fred Hansen 2D, Black: Cho Ming Qua 6?D
Comments by Cho:
8 should be 99
10 should be 47
30 should be 31
60 should be 68
66 is wrong
72 should be 74
68 is wrong
80 should be 91
126 should be 127