Time in Beijing is starting to fly by. Feels like I just posted the last blog entry yesterday, although looking back I see a weeks worth of activity, so it must be time.
This week on 'Tourist Thursday' we booked two tickets to a 7:30PM show at the Chaoyang theater. The Chaoyang theater is a Chinese Acrobatic venue. I guess the strictest translation is Chinese Variety Art, the origins of which date back more than 2000 years though it's no doubt changed considerably through the ages.
We saw a least eight different acts, all both impressive and insane in their own right. It all began with a man stacking chairs one on top of another. At five chairs high he climbed to the top, flipped to a one-armed hand stand, and performed several inverted pushups balancing on top of the stack. We clapped and cheered, but he wasn't done by a long shot. The man kept stacking chairs, one after another, until he was at least thirty feet in the air and assistants had to pass up his new chairs at the end of a long pole. By the end, the massive chair tower was swaying from side to side as he did the same set of handstands high above a now worried audience. All this without a safety net of course.
Moving on, there were a set of five contortionist women who's spines must have been replaced by silly puddy, a set of jugglers who juggled with their feet, and a woman in ballet shoes who spun pirouettes on the top of a mans head. Also a group of thirteen women piled on the same bicycle pedaling circles around the tiny stage.
Through it all Jess and I sat four rows back from the stage able to clearly see the intense concentration on the performers faces. Not all went as planned. A few girls were dropped, only to jump right back up and continue where they'd left off. The fact that the superhuman tricks weren't exactly perfect just made it all the more entertaining (or scary. Is that the same thing?). There always seemed to be a very real possibility that someone might get hurt.
Adding to our nervousness, we'd read online that the final act involved motorcycles, and that sometime in the previous month one of them had flown into the crowd. No one had been seriously injured, but when the first motorcycle road out, Jess and I leaned forward in our seats ready to jump if necessary.
But the motorcycles remained under control that night. Good thing too. By the end there were six insane riders flying around inside a large metal globe. They were driving on different axis within the sphere at speeds fast enough that several of them were actually riding upside down half the time, missing the other riders by mere inches (see video). By the end we just wanted those poor men out of there, so we could go home without having witnessed a catastrophe... Which I guess is probably the point. They'd wanted to raise our heart rates and had.
This week Beijing also played host to a far less intense, but also very interesting gathering: The Beijing International Literary Festival. Throughout the week, authors from all over the world came to discuss their work, and I bought tickets for several of the events.
The first featured Gary Shteyngart, a Russian-American author of a book I read years ago and loved "Absurdistan", and Andrey Kurkov, a native Ukrainian author who wrote a book I'm enjoying right now "Death and the Penguin". They talked with a moderator about the power of satire. The two, especially Shteyngart, were very funny, and drove home a point I think is essential in good literature: "You should make them laugh before you make them cry."
The second talk was given by 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery. He's a conservationist and scientist who's discovered 30 new species throughout his career (including two kinds of tree kangaroo). He also wrote a book on climate change called "We Are the Weather Makers" and more recently one called "Here on Earth" that apparently delves a bit more into the history of the planet and Man's role in this latest chapter. He fielded a lot of questions and ended up speaking on several subjects ranging from the latest projections that the earth's population will level off at 9 billion, to the feasibility and advantages of distributed power generation (ie, all homes and small communities generating their own electricity via "microturbines", leaving traditional heavy duty power generation only in areas where it's required (heavy manufacturing, iron smelting, etc). Throughout his lecture he compared mankind to a colony of ants (both positively and negatively), and also often referred to the planet and all lifeforms on it as a single "super organism". All very interesting.
The final talk was probably the least enlightening, though it was funny. The writers were Carol Birch (she's written several novels including one I recently read that was shortlisted for this year's Booker "Jamrach's Menagerie"). I'd never heard of the other author, Albert Pinol. He's a science fiction writer from Barcelona, and I guess his latest book is about a guy who ends up on an island near Antarctica that he's surprised to find infested with violent Amphibian Humanoids. Apparently he becomes sexually involved with one of them while fighting for his very survival which no doubt results in a moral dilemma or two. Mr. Pinol's book was not shortlisted for the Booker, but it has been translated to 35 languages and the Russian version sold 100,000 copies in the first month alone. Sigh...
Mr. Pinol actually stole the show. Despite frequent interruptions by the moderator he (via his translator) kept returning to a point that he felt very strongly about. Namely that the French have ruined literature with all their pretentious books about "men walking up and down stairs". It was funny trying to see both Mrs Birch and the moderator trying in vain to change the subject. Mr. Pinol did not like the French. He also mentioned rather offhandedly that the movie Star Wars is one of the finest examples of "modern film" and it will still be decades before people begin to understand it's importance.... Hear, hear!!
No, but seriously, he was crazy. I loved it.
On Saturday we went to several art openings and celebrated St. Patrick’s day for the second time. A few days before I'd been looking at an old calendar and got the date wrong. I pinched Jess for not wearing green (three days early). That evening we went out for Guinness at a local expat bar and were appalled to be only ones celebrating. A few beers in we asked if they had any St. Patrick’s day specials, and the waitress said yes they did, though we'd have to wait until St. Patrick’s day to take advantage of them. Ah well, better twice than not at all.
On going mini Academy Award Reviews:
Moneyball: Rare Sports Flick Managing To Not Be Corny
The Help: Good Movie That Could Have Been Great With Less "Disney"
Enjoying Beijing more all the time. Still munching on those wonderful breakfast burritos (actual name: 'Ji Dan Guan Bing'), I'm also a big fan of the stewed pork sandwiches filled with diced peppers and cilantro that you can find on every other block, and there's a little restaurant just around the corner that makes the best mushrooms that both Jess or I have ever had.
Only two weeks left before we load up our backpacks again...