I really enjoyed this book. After having spent time myself wandering the streets (could have been the old streets he mentioned), it was enjoyable seeiI really enjoyed this book. After having spent time myself wandering the streets (could have been the old streets he mentioned), it was enjoyable seeing Beijing through another person's eyes. After having worked in China myself, in other cities, I to a certain extent pick up the desire most foreigners have after living in China, to eat non-Chinese food (i.e. those good random fusion resturants, decent western food, and the endless parade of Starbucks and Subway.) I unlike other foreigners still like poking in the old Beijing found wandering in those little mom and pop galleries and markets, as much as I like picking up western books and food.
The book itself was well researched, on a topic that I'm sure at times was difficult to find anything, and be able to portray it in an authentic way without being kicked out of the country.
It's a book that I would certainly suggest to those who will be going to Beijing, have an interest in Beijing, or have already been.
I enjoyed many of his little vinghnets of the city and experiences within the city.
I loved how one of his students commented on how they wanted to be a foreigner. The descriptions of the family who raised pigeons as a hobby were fascinating, as pigeons are viewed as such a dirty critter here. The widow's story was heart wrenching. I was curious to know more and more about her as the book progressed, and it was well worth the wait when I got to her chapter. Reading about her made me think whistfully of some of the older Chinese women I had come across in my time in China, being the mothers of some of my Chinese friends.
Some one-to-two-line zingers that I enjoyed from the book:
"I often say that on the eintire earth, there isn't a nation that could, in the name of the Olympics, destroy its own cities, and its own history. Beijing needs people who love to talk less and love to do more. They are just changing the appearance of Dazhalan, but that's not real, that's just fake antique. They don't want genuine history, but a pretend history." (p. 255) I find that this wasn't just true in Beijing, though. Certainly the idea of the Olympics did one up this in Beijing, but it's true through much of China. You look at Shanghai, a city that no longer has the real parts of China (aside from maybe the slums). When I lived in the middle of the country, my apartment buliding was updated by first knocking out all the windows from the top floor down, putting styrofoam over the existing brick, a thin layer of cement stucco, and then painted and fake bricks put on the bottom, then replacing the windows. China, and very evidently so, in Beijing, is all about the illusion of grandure.
Further in this page, Meyer is having a disscussion with a friend: "There is no such thing as a development company loosing tens of thousands by protecting a building. You can't say you're not profiting tens of thousands additionally. Earning less does not equal losing money." p 225-2556. Again, it's interesting to see that I'm not the only one who understands the overall lust that drives forth in the Chinese economy.
"The pond where Lao She (a Chinese architecht during the Great Leap Forward) was filled in with soil the razed city wall. Today, the site is a subway station." The sad thing, with much of the development of any country, not just China, is that historically important sites are becoming so meaningless, or rather a side bar to development. Lao She had written at this spot, "Facing it, with the city wall at my back, sitting atop a stone and watching the tadpoles on the water and the tender dragonflies atop the reeds, I could happily pass a day, my heart is completely at ease, without demands or fears, like a baby sleeping peacefully in a crib." (both quotes are from p. 289.)
There were students from Beijing Number 4 middle school, that wrote a letter to the mayor asking "If a city does not have its own culture and its own history, what makes it different from any other city? The skyscrappers we build in Beijing are commonplace, while our courtyards and hutong are unique in the world. Why in the name of following a trend, should we destroy this priceless treasure? We do not want to carry the stigma of being known as the people who destroyed Beijing's culture nor the last generation that witnessed its past-- but what can we do? What is in our power is so much less than what you can do." (p. 293)
Meyer had gone to a conference in Berlin as part of the research of this book. He was talking to an ambassador about the city, maintaning the history better than the city of Beijing. His comment had been, "The presenece of Berlin as a city represents and reflects the taste of its residents." Meyer followed up with If that's true, I really feel embarrased because the presence of Beijing thus also reflects the taste of it's residents. (p. 293)
He also brings up the valid point, of how with the idea of China wants to develop into the lifestyle of the western countries. "It's getting harder to protect the environment after China entered the World Trade Organization. The economy is growing so fast, and everyone is trying to get rich in the shortest time. If 1.3 billion want to get rich, just imagine the pressure-- it's enormous upon natural resources. Arable land, forest, grassland, water, all divided between 1.3 billion shares. Chinese want to live the life Americans have. The energy consumption of the U.S. is fourteen time that of the per capata consumption of a Chinese person. America has two hundred sixty million people, and one hundred thirty million cars. Chinese see this, they know this. And they want it. But if China wants to reach that way of life, then we need seven earths to support them. This i the darkest side of China. We want to imitate everything from the West."
He tends to favor the aspect of wanting to maintain old Beijing, which is very much the charm of the city. Saying that I myself have also spent some time in the city (no where near the amount of time that he has spent there), I tend to agree with the argument that he fronts in the book. It's harder to judge overall concepts saying that I went into it knowing that we had similar beliefs on this front....more
I don't know if because I had read Midwives before I had read this book, but I really thought this book was going to have far better potential than itI don't know if because I had read Midwives before I had read this book, but I really thought this book was going to have far better potential than it actually did. It appeared to have a interesting story, but I just thought overall I wasn't too impressed. I don't know if Picoult was more of a one hit wonder with her book My Sister's Keeper, but I just thought out of being on trial for the whole birth idea was better portrayed in the book Midwives than Plain Truth. I just never seemed to get to into this book, at least I had only paid $2.00 for it at Goodwill... too bad I didn't just check it out of the library when i got home...more