The Year of the Dragon

February 9-13, 2000, between Beijing and Taipei

Wednesday, February 9, 2000

[from The International Herald Tribune]
1900: China's Relapse

PEKING - The policy of the Dowager-Empress appears to indicate a hopeless relapse into old Conservative methods. An Edict, issued yesterday [Feb. 8], commands the return to the old manner of study according to the teaching of Confucius for examinations for official rank, and orders the abolition of studies in regard to what are described as "the new depraved and erroneous subjects," persons engaged in teaching these being threatened with various punishments. This Edict can only be regarded as expressing open hostility to all forms of Western learning, and affords an indication of the feeling which exists towards foreign ideas in Court circles.

Linda and I are back at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai: eighty-two floors above the soil. Grand Hyatt ShanghaiThe last time that we were in Shanghai (October of last year) we had shirtsleeve weather, and Daniel Sun (Shen Dan) was our host about town. Now everything here is in the 30's and Dan is away in Taipei, preparing again to be our host; this time in his new home in once quaint Formosa.

Anyway, this afternoon we left Beijing via the new wing of the old airport. This fresh addition to the Dowager of Chinese airports has been opened for only a few months. It is so new that the first class lounges have not had an opportunity to attract and collect that assortment of pots, vases and other products of factory overruns that cling like magnets to so many other Chinese airport waiting rooms.

The Shanghai airport was awash with people and short on taxis. We jumped to the head of the taxi queue and commandeered two taxis: one cab for us and one machine for our luggage. As we left the airport our mini-procession was pelted with cabbages.

But, back at the Hyatt: while I was at the fitness club Linda was preparing to have her hair dyed. Ever since I have known her intimately she has had black hair. Tonight will be the last night that I shall sleep with her with black hair. Tomorrow it will be red. I can't wait. A new woman.

Good night!

Thursday, February 10, 2000

[from today's front page]
"Mixed Blessing From God Of Fortune"

"The God of Fortune received a bombastic welcome to the city on the fifth day of the lunar new year, leaving behind one dead, numerous injured and 9,000 tons of rubbish along with the proverbial promise of prosperity."

"Police, reporting the second fireworks-related fatality of the lunar new year, called it the worst Spring Festival death toll in recent memory."

"A 30-year-old man from Anhui Province, who ran a small business in the city's Minhang area, lit the fuse of a 20-centimeter box of explosives to welcome the God of Fortune on Tuesday night, Xinmin Evening News reported."

"The fuse fizzled, and when the man lost patience and stepped closer to examine it, the fireworks package suddenly exploded. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the Shanghai No. 5 People's Hospital."

"Chinese tradition says that the God of Fortune visits the earth on the fifth day of lunar New Year, and those who fire the loudest crackers will catch the god's attention - and his blessing."

Our mornings in Beijing for the last week were each born with blue skies. But, this first morning's Shanghai sky was long with bleak and dull and, moreover, the early afternoon clouds promised some wet. But it never came. Though, it would have been wonderful to see lightening bouncing off our building, this bedroom scene from so high in the sky looks mighty fine whether the sky is dreary or crystal.

Do you remember seeing those old Chinese propaganda films ... the ones that showed Chinese youth tearing through the streets waving Mao's Little Red Book? Most of them were produced here in Shanghai in the 60's and the early 70's. Whatever! Our host for lunch today was the man who was responsible for producing many of these pictures. He is now retired from the film business. Chef LindaHe and his wife live in Shanghai along with his daughter, her husband, and his 15-year-old grand daughter. Today we were guests at his house for a lunar New Year lunch. Linda's kitchen skills were pressed into service soon after we arrived. No doubt word of her dumpling schooling in Beijing had found interested ears here in Shanghai.

Dearest reader, something unusual is underfoot here. With Linda, that is. For starters, she has started to show a previously undetected curiosity in all things Chinese. This is already her second trip to Shanghai in just over three months. The closest that most Americans ever get to China in their whole lifetime is about as near as the neighborhood Chop Suey shop. And yet, since October anyway, Linda has been: taking wok lessons, showing interest in bound feet, reading about concubine duties, exploring water tortures, stuffing fortune cookies and worrying about the size of her nose. And now she is changing her hair ... under the expert tutelage of a mysterious young Chinese girl. These are danger signs. Oh, Lord, what Fu-Manchu stuff lies ahead? I shall keep you informed.

Friday, February 11, 2000

I think that more people will find this advice useful than the tip on how to jump from a Harley to a Chevy.


1) Do not try to stand up straight (you probably will not be able to anyway). Stay bent slightly forward, leaning into the wind. If the train is moving faster than thirty miles per hour, it will be difficult to maintain your balance and resist the wind; so crawling on all fours may be the best method until you can get down.

2) If the train is approaching a turn, lie flat; do not try to keep your footing. The car may have guide rails along the edge to direct water. If it does, grab them and hold on.

3) If the train is approaching a tunnel entrance, lie flat, and quickly. There is actually quite a bit of clearance between the top of the train and the top of the tunnel - about three feet - but not nearly enough room to stand. Do not assume that you can walk or crawl to the end of the car to get down and inside before you reach the tunnel - you probably won't.

4) Move your body with the rhythm of the train - from side to side and forward. Do not proceed in a straight line. Spread your feet apart about thirty-six inches and wobble from side to side as you move forward.

5) Find the ladder at the end of the car (between two cars) and climb down. It is very unlikely that there will be a ladder on the side of the car - they usually appear only in movies, to make the stunts more exciting.


The sizes and shapes of the cars on a freight train may vary widely. This can either make it easier or significantly more difficult to cross from one car to another. A twelve-foot-high box car may be next to a flatbed or a rounded chemical car. If on this type of train, your best bet is to get down as quickly as possible, rather than try a dangerous leap from car to car.

Last October Dan shepherded Linda and me around the ancient streets of Shanghai. Today we returned to one of these labyrinths to catch the last day of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. A lot was going on in every direction. Dragons all over the place ... people clicking shutters ... weird wares for sale ... faces doctored ... robots reading weights and telling fortunes.

Linda's China SyndromeAn old Chinese man approached Linda. They spoke for a long while about things that I did not understand. She laughed while he pointed. Then she lit a cigarette ... Camel unfiltered. I don't know if I can handle this.

A couple of hours after the sun went down ... and long after the lights went on ... we rode a boat along the Huang Pu River. This is the best way to see the city lights. On the south side of the river in the Pudong district lie most of Shanghai's major skyscrapers, including our hotel. One the north side rests the Bund with its eclectic European architecture.

Saturday, February 12, 2000

This is a very unusual glimpse of Shanghai ... unless, of course, you are flying over the Huang Pu in a noisy biplane with an open cockpit. Shanghai Under CloudsDuring the night the low lying clouds must have rolled in ... as the sun was just starting to surface, the jagged skyline of the city cut through the clouds like peaks in some Manchu painting.

And, as the morning grew a tiny bit longer I found a few more steel mountains that looked good in this faint light.

At this point I am going to flood you with some photos of what is a pretty rare sight.

By the time breakfast was here the clouds had bowed out of the way. And it was just like any other day in Shanghai.

Just before lunch we drove to Suzhou ... an ancient Chinese city located on the Grand Canal. The drive took about an hour. I haven't been there since Jean and I visited it about a dozen years ago. It was sort of déjà vu to plunge back into two hoary tourist sites that I had not thought of in years: the Suzhou Number 1 Silk Filature Mill and The Lingering Gardens.

The Life of the SilkwormI could have guided our walk through the silk factory; in the early '80s every tourist who visited China was walked through a silk factory or a bicycle factory ... and, usually both places were on the agenda. It was rather fun to watch Linda explore the life cycle of the silk worm: how it went from an egg to larvae to a cocoon to a really nice silk bathrobe ... all within the time that it took to talk it.

After the obligatory silk purchases we drove over to the Lingering Gardens. This place is also known as "Suzie The Runner" park. It was named after a former traveling companion of the legendary Fred Lebow. Fred, while he was alive, was the president of the New York Road Runners Club; and he was the founder of the New York City Marathon. In 1982 ... or was it '83 ... Fred and I ran the Shanghai Cup Marathon together. "Suzie The Runner" has never been heard of since.


1) Loud thunder indicates that lightning activity is approaching.

2) Seek a safe location immediately.

3) Wait for the storm to pass.

Good night!

Sunday, February 13, 2000


1) Get as far away as possible. An untrained shooter isn't likely to be accurate at any distance greater than sixty feet.

2) Run fast, but do not move in a straight line - weave back and forth to make it more difficult for the shooter to draw a bead on you. The average shooter will not have the training necessary to hit a moving target at any real distance.

3) Do not bother to count shots. You will have no idea if the shooter has more ammunition. Counting is only for the movies.

4) Turn a corner as quickly as you can, particularly if your pursuer has a rifle or assault weapon. Rifles have much greater accuracy and range, and the person may be more likely to either aim or spray bullets in your direction.

Our final full day in Shanghai was spent at:

A) The Exhibition for Chinese Ancient Sex Culture
B) The Shanghai Prison

Chinese Ancient Sex CultureThe former facility is open to the public while the other place does not encourage casual visitors. Linda showed no interest in the prison.

Dear reader, in order to follow Linda into this house you will need to be a "user" with a "password." (The Right Reverend Timothy Weems,'s in-house clergy, leaves it up to you to police yourself. Those of tender years or those with gentle minds are encouraged to move on.)

The rooms are named:

  1. Lesbian content
  2. Prostitution stuff
  3. Three-way fun
  4. Animals at play
  5. Erotic prints
  6. Erotic figures
  7. Et cetera

But, if you are content with just gazing at prison gates you can linger on this spot as long as you wish.

Next: Taipei

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