Beijing, Seoul, Lijiang and Labour Camps

IMG_1305IMG_1352IMG_2596IMG_2541IMG_2526IMG_2517IMG_2306IMG_2262IMG_2223IMG_2097IMG_2038IMG_1876IMG_1828IMG_1661FotoFlexer_PhotoI’m sitting here, staring up at the light. There is a small green bug crawling. I’m feeling strange. I had some dramas at work and I’m supposed to call my manager today to tell her if I want to return or not. I feel strange mostly because I’ve checked my phone (finally) and there isn’t a bunch of missed calls on it as usual. She asked me to come back, but she is not desperate. Maybe she is still busy; I almost forgot entirely about the parent teachers meetings this evening. But that’s also another reason I expected her so much to call. I thought I was needed, I thought they would be anxiously hoping for my presence, I thought the school’s reputation would be at risk if I wasn’t there. Maybe they don’t need me as much as I thought they did. Anyway, my manager told me they would never want to fire me, they think I’m a good teacher, they can see how enthused I am about my students. But all this nonsense has put me in such a tricky situation. Joel is going home. Do I stay or do I go? I’ve decided to stay, so I have enough work experience on my record. I could lie, but if I intend of pursuing a degree in education in the future I think a certain level of comfort in running a classroom would be more than useful. I’m staying but yet I still feel the need to refrain from informing my manager. Maybe like her I don’t want to come across too desperate. I am sitting in my house right now with three South Africans. I have a soft spot for them actually, mostly due to the famed Die Antwoord, but despite finding joy in their company I also feel sad. It’s more difficult to do my ‘me’ things that I have adjusted myself to so well when it was just Joel and I and I also despite our long trip to South Korea together I still crave ‘alone’ time with him, especially considering the most recent drama with work. I feel like our house is becoming like a drop in centre. Anyway, I should probably explain the work situation, so here it goes… The weekend after the holidays Ryan had briefly mentioned that we had to work. We work weekends all the time and it disgruntles me but I still haul my drained body from the bed and I show up. Plenty of other colleagues have not always made the same efforts, but that’s not a sufficient excuse for what we did. We went to bed and just didn’t get up in the morning. There was a part of us that did not really believe Ryan because he is not in a position of authority, it should have been Faye the head of the foreign teachers, or Charming our manager or Lily our boss, every single other goddamn weekend we have ever had to work they had informed us, so why not now? Either way I figured that for once we did not really have a huge work load and thought the Saturday at work was going to be wasted. Before we knew it Charming showed up at our house to retrieve us and explained to us that the students were in fact present. I could not believe my ears, it was completely unheard of for me for students to be at school on a weekend, regardless, we quickly got ready and headed out the door. When I arrived, concerned with my students welfare I headed straight to class. If I had of known for sure we had work, but more so if I had of known my students were going to be there I most definitely would have showed up. Either way, lunch time came and I went to as usual buy a coffee. I ran into Ryan as I was about to leave and he told me that apparently I had a meeting so I went back inside, walked into my boss Lily’s office and asked her why it was Ryan informing me of this meeting not her. I suppose it was quite rude, I think in hindsight I was subconsciously defending my reason (by implying that she needed to inform me personally regarding important matters) for not showing up in the morning. She said to me quite aggressively that she does not know why he was telling me that, that she did not tell him to tell me that and my meeting was later. I said “okay” and walked out. As I walked away I heard almost incomprehensibly “come back!” “Come back!” but I continued walking. Joel came out to retrieve me and I told him that if she was going to speak to me like that I would not return. As I went downstairs and past my other bosses office and Lily’s husband Shawn. He asked me to talk to him for a minute. I obliged and he requested I return upstairs as my Lily had beckoned me. I explained that I did not want to with the way she was speaking to me but hap hastily agreed. I went upstairs, heard more screaming and decided it best not to intrude at that moment so went back downstairs and explained to him my hesitations. He asked me to stand outside the door and wait but I felt a little like I was eavesdropping so declined to do so. A few minutes later Joel came downstairs and said he was going home; minutes after that Lily rang Shawn and told him she had fired him. I stood up to walk out and my boss asked me to stay. I told him I was going to see Joel and he said something along the lines of “Joel has nothing to do with you” so I replied “regardless of what you might think, he does” and left. When I went outside I started bawling my eyes out. Joel had already expressed his desire to leave the company. I already knew he was returning to Australia yet before the whole process was in lingo. I thought we had time. Now leaving would come that much faster. I asked him what happened and he said that he told our boss she should pay us more and treat us better and she fired him. I thought she must have just done so in a burst of rage considering I had requested a salary increase from her an abundance of times (due to our 10+ hour a week work increase). Naturally I was feeling pretty unsettled at this point. Not just because of the treatment towards Joel but also because of a situation with my Teachers Assistant.

My Teachers Assistant was brand new the day prior to this happening. Lily had previously asked me about what I thought to be desirable characteristics in new staff and I explained to her that I wanted a person who is independent and self-motivated, will not contradict my authority but still feels happy to give suggestions at the right time. According to Lily this new Teachers Assistant was going to be fantastic, she was nice and quiet, and had previous experience working in schools as well as English speaking ability. She sounded pretty good to me. When she arrived, we had a chat and discussed the classroom rules and some of the children’s personalities and characteristics. As we were heading up to the classroom I stopped off for a toilet break and told her I would not be a moment and she could wait for me. She responded she was capable of taking herself to the classroom and not to worry. I said “okay” and off she went. I had a slight thought of concern but mostly considered her, as I had idolised, an independent person. When I entered the classroom I saw she was already helping the children dress. I thought it a little bizarre but in my mind offered kudos for her enthusiasm to jump straight into the job. My Nanny and temporary assistant (the P.E Teacher Mr. Lin) were a little confused as to whom the hell this woman was but ultimately there were no major concerns. Within a few minutes she suggested to me that the children should have music when they were waking up. I praised her idea but informed her I had also already considered it and I feel like it’s more peaceful to awaken calmly in silence. And quite frankly I did not really appreciate the way she suggested the idea, comparing our school to her experience at another in such a manner as to almost degrade ours. After that there were a few children sitting at the table waiting for their peers to finish getting out of bed and she looked at me and said it has been half an hour already and that those children waiting had nothing to do and they should start eating. I explained to her that time was not an issue, and asked her whether she liked being hurried out of bed in the mornings, I also suggested that those children could be washing their hands however there was no one there to monitor them. I said this as to subtly imply she should go and supervise them, but she did not take the hint. I also think it is vital not that the children necessarily begin their food at the same time but that they’re all awaiting their meals together. If it was not done that way then there would still be a waiting period for the children served their meals first after lunch as they would have to wait for the other children to finish eating before continuing with the next activity. I found that either way certain children would be left waiting and her method avoided valuable bonding and interaction time for the students.

Sometime after all this I had more issues with her. There was something with ‘wrong’ with one of my children. For a few days she had solemnly spoken, had avoided meals and generally seemed unhappy. She wet her pants and my TA informed me that she would not help her to change unless she spoke and requested the Teacher’s assistance. I continued my work trying with my best efforts to ignore the bawling child but I could not. Every inch of my body felt agitated, and my mind kept questioning “is this child abuse”? I went over there and coaxed her to speak to me before whisking her off to the warm shower and changing her clothes. I am adamant now that it absolutely was. Anyway, that day when Joel got fired I tried expressing my concerns to my boss only to be shut down and told I should not say these things about other people and it was not my place. I expressed to them that it was my place to say because I was the one witnessing the situation. I grew extremely agitated and called her a “crazy narcissistic psycho bitch” and accused my bosses of talking shit behind my other colleague’s backs before quitting in a rage. But they still asked me to come back, so I really need to be on my best behaviour from now on. I feel so terribly torn though, one of our bosses said in our training that if anyone ever dares harm a child then they would have to face the full brunt of the law yet my TA actively pushes around children and even slaps them and I know that if I tried saying something again I would be seen as the one inciting trouble. The best thing I can do for now is stop her if I see it.

A later development was that one of our colleagues had allegedly ‘seen’ Joel roughly handle children or smack them on the head. I told her she must be joking and surely she knows that he would never harm a child, if anything he would have tapped a kid on the head just to play around. But she was adamant that this was what she saw. She tried to make it out like the parents had come to the school about their concerns with him, that the children were afraid of him but slipped up when she blurted out that she told our boss to tell the parents completely contradicting her original statement. This greatly angered me. What a terrible accusation to make about someone, especially when I later found out her mother was the main instigator and I have heard many stories about the abuse she inflicted on her own children. Why was her Mother even allowed in the school considering the children’s own parents aren’t entitled to step foot on the grounds without a special pair of plastic shoes and an invite for a specific occasion.

There were also some issues because Joel did not have a good relationship with his TA. Plenty of Teachers and TAs disgruntled with each other had moved around the school to work with other people but for some reason the bosses were not going to give any le-way for their situation. They ended up having an argument and Joel was moved to another classroom. A short time later the bosses informed us that the government knew Joel’s career background and were asking questions. She blamed Joel’s Nanny for informing them. I personally believe that all these dreadful accusations about Joel were made up because the Teacher whose class Joel was moved into could not handle not being the only foreigner in the classroom anymore.

Anyway, as you have read the school is full of dramas and it is probably good for Joel to return home. I have to put on a happy face every day to continue working in my position but it’s not often difficult because even the worst days are washed away when I see the joy of my children arriving at school as they run up and hug me and say “ Nǐ hǎo Irena Lăoshī ”.

Well, I needed to get all that off my chest. I mentioned earlier in this text that I recently went on a trip to South Korea but I should probably begin with the trip a few days before hand to Beijing to meet my Father. I set off on the Saturday by myself. I was extremely nervous. It was the first time I had travelled that far since being in China without Joel. I cried as the taxi pulled away from him standing at our community entrance waving goodbye. The taxi took me to the train station, then I caught the fast train straight to Beijing. Once I arrived I headed straight to the hostel to drop off the ridiculous number of bags I was handling (I had brought gifts for my family and some of my useless possessions to send home with Dad). After the bags were dropped off I decided to head to the ‘Birds Nest and Water Cube’ or the Beijing 2008 Olympic park. It was one of the few major attractions I had not yet had a chance to visit in Beijing so I thought I would check it out. The stadium was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and Chinese architect Li Xinggang. The structure was designed deliberately to expose the frame giving a ‘natural appearance’. The form of the building looks just like a giant birds nest. Although the building from the outside were interesting I was not completely impressed. It was when I entered that I was awe-struck. The sheer size of the seating area was overwhelming, thousands upon thousands of seats were lined up row upon row. It made me think of the ‘hunger games’. I sat there for some time just taking it all in before making my way slowly down the steep steps to the bottom where the race track and medal platform were situated. I managed to ask some people to get a quick snap of me standing on the gold medal podium before being chased away by the looming security guard. After some time there I headed to the ‘water cube’ where all the Olympic water sports were held. This was underwhelming compared to the birds nest but I thoroughly enjoyed the lighting of the building at night and appreciated that they still use the building for swimming programs and recreation considering numerous Olympic parks throughout the world nowadays are simply disintegrating with time. When I left the park there were grouped a bunch of taxi drivers at the entrance trying to offer me ridiculous prices to go to the Art district (my next destination). I knew it wasn’t far and kept insisting they use the metre but they would decline and drop the price a little more. I am too argumentative because in no time I was surrounded by Chinese men amused by my Chinese speaking and argumentative manner, asking to take photos with me and offering to take me out for dinner. I eventually slipped away looking for the subway only to come across some young drunken men also wanting photos with me. Being in a big city was a little overwhelming for me as a lone woman but the experience was didactic. Eventually with some walking I hollered a passing taxi far from the entrance who took me to the Art District for the right price.

When the driver dropped me off at the entrance I was a little hesitant to step out of the car. It seemed nothing more than a dark alleyway. I cautiously proceeded only to find that the darkness was probably due to the majority of galleries already being closed. I enjoyed the street art, and came across some nice street vendors selling handy crafts which I purchased for people back home before stumbling across an open book shop selling wearable art and English books regarding all art disciplines. I bought Joel a lovely and unique tie printed with a photograph but my! As I often dream in places such as these I wished I had all the money in the world to purchase the wonderful dolls, wearable art and canvased masterpieces! I moved on and peered into swanky cafes and looked in a few more crafty shops. I purchased Joel a nice wallet and dreamt of having the funds to buy this gorgeous gold and silver ring embossed with the face of a Peking Opera singer, I swore to myself that I would never again buy any tedious garbage and reserve my funds for worthy expenses such as these knowing full well that with time my fantasys about gold rings and embossed leather bags would fade away.

After rambling the streets of the Art District I decided to head to Houhai Lake. I had intended to go there every time I went to Beijing but for one reason or another I had not yet made the journey. Ryan had recommended it to me and I had heard it was as pleasant in the evening as it was during the day so I decided I should go. I hollered the next taxi I could find and set off. Fortunately it was more than I could have hoped for. The lake with all its little paddle boats lit up by the lights on every building looked breathtaking and the street performers on every corner created a wonderful ambience. I took some time taking in a man playing the violin, he played so elegantly. Then I meandered the shops. I waltzed into a Tibetan shop and shared my interest for going there with the Tibetan owners whilst bargaining heavily for a fascinating mask created from a tortoise shell. I sampled a delicious natural hand-made ice-cream filled with fresh fruits before stumbling across a man selling live turtles. I asked him whether I could take a photo and he abruptly and rudely declined so I pretended to call the police on him in response and then carried on walking staring at all the lovely tables by the lakeside decked out romantically with candles and roses. I fantasized about taking Joel for dinner here one day, it was a beautiful setting. I gazed at the numerous musicians entertaining crowds of people and eventually when my exhaustion became overbearing I head back to the hostel to rest before picking Dad up at the airport in the morning.

I head off in the morning to the airport to pick Dad up. On the way I saw a woman whose boyfriend was striding well ahead of her as she struggled with numerous bags. I offered my assistance and carried a few for her as far as we went the same way and then headed to Dads arrival gate where I stood waiting incredibly anxiously. I was fidgeting. I went to the toilet line but it was too long so I popped out for a cigarette and stared through the glass doors in case he arrived. I watched the man in suit with flowers in hand. I waited and waited for what seemed an eternity and he just never arrived. I must have been nervous for I certainly did not have my thinking cap on. After all that time I again read the sign. It said departures, I was at the wrong gate. I ran around anxiously asking people where the arrivals were and called him what seemed like thousands of times. He was not picking up, but his phone was in service so it was clear he had I arrived. I just hoped he had not strayed too far from the gate as I would have no hope of finding him. It turned out the arrivals were downstairs and eventually he was found. I hugged him and profusely apologised sweating like a pig. He seemed relaxed and not concerned but alas I still suggested a coffee and a chat in Starbucks to calm my nerves. I know how it feels to arrive at an airport praying for the person picking you up to be there waiting but I did not realise that picking someone up could cause just as much anxiety. After we dropped his bags off at the hostel we headed to the Summer Palace. Dad has always enjoyed botanicals so I thought it would be an ideal destination to take him. I am not sure he packed the ideal walking shoes though. He only had with him a pair of business shoes and suit pants, I guess that’s what business trips called for.

At the Summer Palace, when we came across craftsmen painting people’s names in stunning Chinese calligraphy he was captivated. So quickly the artists painted and with such skill. I have thought for some time that I may get my name tattooed in a similar design. I know it sounds cliché but the formation of letters is so skillful and majestic that I doubt without a second glance anyone would realise it was calligraphy not solely pictures. After the Summer Palace we went to the Temple of Heaven. The architecture of the ‘temple’ here I find among the most beautiful I have seen in China thus far and I enjoy the musicians and expansiveness of the gardens and natural looking landscapes. As we eventually headed towards the exit we saw a woman who I had met last time I visited the area. We had previously danced to Gangnam style together. I approached her and asked if she remembered me and she did. She danced with my Dad for some time before I joined in. We gathered a huge audience fascinated by the spectacle and then proceeded once again to head towards the exit. The woman followed. Dad started making comments about how he was not interested in “sleeping with the woman” and I brushed him off thinking he was a little quick to jump the gun. We planned on going to Wanfujing food market so Dad could try some of Chinas famous ‘delicacies’ so I invited her to come along with us. I was keen to just get a taxi but she insisted that we caught the bus. I was becoming impatient as I was hoping to also catch the Opera that evening and so when she started questioning whether my Father had a girlfriend I was quick to realise he was right and I was wrong and it was time to bail! We slipped into a shopping mall which I thought was a theatre and I think anxious about the cost or realising we were trying to ditch her the woman sauntered off rather quickly. After that we jumped in the nearest rickshaw and were off to the market. Dad informed me he had previously seen the Peking Opera, as had I so in the end we decided to take our time at the market and discard that plan. Dad as I anticipated was keen to sample almost anything. If you have read my previous musings you probably know I have tasted a whole lot of unappetising foods including snakes, scorpions and spiders. Though I thought I was brave he was less hesitant than I and devoured the cockroaches like they were cotton candy. I was a lot more fearful but tried them anyway, I also tried bat and I ate scorpions again which it’s safe to say I never thought would happen! After Wanfujing I decided that we should head to Houhai. It was not on the original agenda but I had such a fantastic time there the night before I thought Dad ought to see it. We were both tired and he protested but we checked it out anyway and had a little stroll before sitting down at one of the very restaurants I had glazed at starry eyed the night before. We had a beer each and had a banter before calling it a night.
The next morning we arose early to head to the Beijing classics, The Forbidden city and Tiananmen Square. First stop was Tiananmen Square. I missed out last time so I planned on going to Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum but unfortunately it was closed. I thought it was just my luck and we headed to the gate. As I was heading towards the normal entrance a young girl approached me with extremely good English and we got talking. She told me she was a volunteer and so I felt I had no reason to be cautious. After-all she certainly was not asking for money. She suggested we opted for a different gate to avoid the crowds and I thought we may as well, but soon enough we wound up instead in a student art gallery with her showing us her works and the works of her peers. It was one of those situations where although you do not have to buy anything, you feel obligated, luckily the works were quite exceptional. After spending some time there she persuaded us to purchase entry tickets to a temple which was separate to the Forbidden City entrance ticket, we obliged (they were not expensive). After some time trying to find the entrance to the temple and having no luck with a looming awareness of the great vastness of the Forbidden City I decided we should hurry along as it was going to take the entirety of the day. When we finally reached the gates of the Forbidden City I was sorely disappointed to find them closed. It was the only opportunity Dad had to go there on this trip! Who knew that Tuesday was China’s Sunday. Plan B was to take Dad to a fancy lunch at the famed Quanjude for Peking duck. He insisted that the lunch was not necessary but I insisted on him eating there. The restaurant is amongst the most renown in China and Peking duck is the countries signature dish. To me a trip to China would not be complete without trying it, even if it is ridiculously priced and slightly overrated. Dad ordered an accompanying red wine and only drank a glass leaving me to get a little tipsy (after-all the bottle should not be wasted). After lunch I took Dad to the Olympic Park as I thought it was a worthwhile attraction. I am not sure he was as in awe as I was but he enjoyed it nonetheless. In typical Irena fashion I was pushing time for everything and when we finished we had to race to the hostel so I could pack up my bags in a tearing hurry so I did not miss my train back to Tianjin. I probably should have planned for a nicer farewell. I would have liked to have caught the later train but to dismay there were no tickets available. I packed up my bags in about 5 minutes stuffing things left right and everywhere and then gave Dad a hurried kiss and hug goodbye. He thanked me for looking after him and I was on my way. I will never forget three things he said on his trip, “you’ll earn your way to heaven”, “I’m depending on you right now”, and “thank you for looking after me”. The statements really warmed my heart. They really gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling, you know?

Other conversations during Dad’s visit entailed the huge cultural difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Perhaps terrible to say, but it remains very true. I think the underlying reason is because China is such an ancient country that has only opened themselves up to the world in recent times so their culture is independently developed, thus, very unique. For example recently I was at a restaurant (a very nice one I might add) and a man just spat on the floor. When I first came to Tianjin I went to the National Museum and a woman just spat on the floor inside. This kind of behaviour is very common. It is also common for Chinese people to spit their food out onto the tables. I often have children spitting in my classroom. Instead of peeling their prawns most Chinese people put them in their mouths whole and spit out the heads. It is also standard behaviour to eat at fine establishments shirtless. Parents encourage their children to go to the toilet in the streets and instead of dressing children in nappies they wear open crotch pants or kāidāngkù for convenience. The Chinese generally have no concept of lining up and always think their more important or busier or in more of a hurry than anyone. They also ask questions that would be considered exceptionally rude in Australia or make personal statements about your appearance, for example a complete stranger will ask you how much money you earn. I find these behaviours all very intolerable but their culture still greatly intrigues me, perhaps because of my complete inability to understand it. The other evening a woman made hand gestures whilst telling me how fat I was. I have become accustomed to this kind of remark however it was the 20th time she had probably said it to me and I became quite enraged that time. It was not so much what she said but the way she said it. I told her to leave my house and then there was some discussion between us about cultural differences. She really had no idea about what she had done wrong. She persisted to say that regardless of my feelings I was in China and I should accept that is their way of life. She had a good point but the situation still left me feeling quite bitter. My boss suggested that Chinese people have these mannerisms because they are accustomed to a life of no privacy, thus the things ‘we’ might do discreetly they have no shame in doing openly as there is no ‘private time’ for them. I am sure this ‘behaviour’ comes down to a lot of factors. One thing I do oddly admire about Chinese mannerisms is the ‘shame’ culture. Chinese people almost always manage to stay even tempered in work situations, at least, as a result of this culture. The shame culture is an ideal of Confucianism designed to gain control and maintain social order through the threat of ostracism. Comparatively our society is a ‘guilt’ culture which maintains social order through the threat of punishment either now or in the afterlife. Admittedly there have been quite a few times I have lost my temper and almost always the Chinese have remained well-mannered and even tempered. It is only when arguing with people who consider themselves in a position of higher authority than I have received backlash. “Shame is a reaction to other people’s criticism, an acute personal chagrin at our failure to live up to our obligations and the expectations others have of us. In true shame oriented cultures, every person has a place and a duty in the society. One maintains self-respect, not by choosing what is good rather than what is evil, but by choosing what is expected of one.”

Moving on, I only had a day or two after my trip with Dad in Beijing before Joel and I were heading for the October holidays to South Korea. Considering South Korea is so close to China I was surprised by the huge contrast. It was indeed very beautiful. It was a breath of fresh air to be able to see natural trees and hills surrounding the city landscape. In China the only trees you see are planted it some ridiculously decorative fashion, I would prefer to admire the environment in its natural form. The people in South Korea are also all extremely friendly and very approachable and helpful. I think that their independence from the North is extremely integrated in their culture as they seem to express their individualism and liberalism in a variety of ways, from their taste in fashion, to their music, bilingualism or combined Western and Korean cuisine. Their technology is also much more advanced than China. Despite China’s rapid growth in the last two decades it cannot offer many of South Korea (and much off the rest of the worlds) technological advantages. For example taxis with functioning GPS systems and card-reading machines. In China if the taxi and you both do not know where you’re going then tough luck, you’ll have to keep trying until your find a driver that does or you will have to drive up every street and alley whilst the driver asks locals directions and racks up the fair. In South Korea even if the drivers speak absolutely no English they were resourceful enough to translate requests and then input them into a GPS.

When we first arrived at the airport we decided to take the cheaper option and catch the subway into the central city. When we arrived at our subway stop we ran into a nearby ally way to put on our raincoats as it was pouring and then decided to grab a bite to eat. We found a local Korean restaurant downstairs and feasted on some cooked up sausages on a sizzle plate and a beer before searching for a taxi to take us to our hostel. My impression of South Koreans was nothing but good so far, a man came along and asked us whether he could help us and the people in the airport were honest about the cheapest route to the city.

Although from my travels and my readings about Korean culture I have observed that the Koreans have a custom of avoiding casual relationships they normally put non-Asian foreigners in an “honoured guest” category and generally treat them with a special courtesy. Often their assistance to lost and otherwise helpless foreigners can go far beyond normal expectations. “One conspicuous occasion when Koreans typically treat foreign residents or visitors the same way as other Koreans, however, is when they are all competing for taxis during rush hour and on rainy days” which we experienced one evening trying to holler a taxi after visiting the fish market. Joel had finally found a taxi to stop for us after about 30 minutes trying when these promiscuous looking girls walked right in front of him and jumped in. He says there was nothing he could do, I would have shoved them out of the way had I been close enough. I put the nothing he could do down to him being memorized by their tiny skirts, but anyway that’s a story for another time.

I apologise for my little tangent just now. After lunch we found a taxi and bundled ourselves and all our things into in to it only for the driver to turn around and drive up the street we were originally standing right next to. Our hostel was a mere 50 or so metres away. We had been loitering around for some time pondering what to do and it turns out our room was extremely close!

Once we had dropped all our things off at the hostel we decided to head to the Trick eye museum. The museum offered a ‘love’ section, and ‘ice’ section as well as the trick-eye area. Unfortunately we only had the time to enter the ice museum and trick-eye museum but curious about what the love museum held we vowed to come back. As I predicted the artworks were nothing spectacular but it was fun taking pictures pretending to be different people or things in numerous roles. It would be better as a three or more person activity though as it proved difficult to take photos of both of us together in some of the sections.

Both fortunately and unfortunately for me the street where the trick eye museum was had a huge abundance of alternative clothing for sale, I struggled choosing between Marilyn Monroe sweatshirts and rainbow socks, blingy necklaces and 90’s tops. But I was in heaven. Unlike In China essentially all the shops had my size in everything. Frustratingly though most of them would not let you try anything on which I found kind of ludicrous, however, it did not stop me leaving without a tasselled faux leather jacket, a graffiti print olive green coat, a pinstripe crop top with ‘you’re my favourite’ on the sleeves, a leather jacket design clutch, a crop top that says ’90 – that was then this is now’ in a basketball jersey fabric, a pair of leggings with ‘hate love’ repeatedly scrawled down the seams and two pairs of sunglasses though. I could have easily walked away with more things too if I was not being conscious of the fact it was only our first evening and I had to save at least a little cash.

 

The following day Joel was disgruntled because I woke him up nice and early to go on a tour to the Korean DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). The DMZ is a belt of land established at the end of the Korean War that cuts the Korean Peninsula roughly in half and serves as a buffer zone between North and South Korea. It was created as a part of the ‘Korean Armistice Agreement’ between North Korea, the People’s Republic of China and the United Nations Command forces in 1953.

As we set off on our voyage we learnt an abundance of fascinating information. I am not usually one to go on ‘tours’ however it was the only real means to visit this area as the guards at the DMZ must know at least 24 hours in advance of your arrival. Anyway, the tour guide asked us to glance over at North Korea as we were heading closer. She told us to take notice of the landscape and compare it to that of South Korea. We observed there were no trees, the landscape was completely bare bar a few buildings. She explained that the North Korean government cut down all their trees so they could always observe the doings of their people. The few buildings I just mentioned within our sights she said was a propaganda village. The reason South Korea believes that it is a false township is that apparently at night time there is never any lights and when they peer at the windows through binoculars they find they are glazed over with black paint, they also never see any people residing there.

As our guide went on to explain the day’s itinerary she explained that we would be visiting North Korea’s infiltration tunnels. She told us to observe the charcoal sprayed in the tunnels. Apparently when South Korea discovered the tunnels the North Koreans tried to excuse themselves by claiming they were merely old mines but the charcoal is only smeared onto the walls, the walls themselves are not charcoal. After the mining story was debunked North Korea tried claim that South Korea had in fact tried to infiltrate them but upon observation of the dynamite holes it is clear to see that the dynamite was pointed in a southerly direction.

After the separation of Korea into North and South many people were separated from their families. I met a few people during my stay in South Korea that told me members of their family live in the North but they have been luckily enough on very few occasions to have visited them when the borders have been opened temporarily. According to our guide census suggests 65 percent of South Koreans want unification but are still concerned because North Korea is in such a horrific economic situation so if they reunited South Korea would have to support the ‘Northerners’ financially.

Our guide went on to explain a little more of the history that caused the division of Korea. From 1910-1945 Japan occupied Korea during the Japanese colonial period. Then at the end of the Second World War Japan surrendered to the United Nations so Korea could be independent, however the Soviet Union and the United States both wanted the Korean Peninsula because geographically it was advantageous. Neither countries wanted another war so they agreed to divide the peninsula to North and South. Soviet Union troops occupied the North and US troops occupied the South. Seoul became the capital city of South Korea, and Pyongyang became the capital of North Korea.

Because of different ideologies two different nations were formed in 1948. Kim Il Sung became the first dictator of North Korea and the official name of the country became the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. As aforementioned the people could not choose where they stayed so many families were torn apart. Supported by the Soviet Union Kim Il Sung prepared a war to invade South Korea because he wanted to unite as a communist country. More than 2500 Soviet Union troops prepared tanks, aircrafts, rifles and troops to invade the South but South Korea were not equipped with any of these things so they defended their nation with poorly trained soldiers and no tanks or aircrafts. Summer of 1949 America decided to withdraw its troops from South Korea so only 500 American military advisers remained in South Korea. 1 year after, June 25 1950 North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea, and this is when the Korean War began. With only a distance of 52km between Seoul and North Korea, within four days North Korea captured Seoul. Within three months 3 quarters of the South Korean nation was captured by North Korea. American president Harry S. Truman requested the UN members to assist South Korea and 16 nations decided to dispatch soldiers, 5 nations sent medical supplies and military supplies so totally 21 nations joined the Korean War. The mission was successful so soldiers eventually moved to the Northern side and captured Pyongyang and started heading further and further North. They thought they would have success ending the war but then approximately 200,000 Chinese troops joined North Korea and they were left without hope.

Both sides finally agreed that no one could win the war so in 1953 on July 27th there was a cease fire agreement signed at Panmunjom. The South Korean government were not present as they wanted to finish the war, so the US, UK, Russia, North Korea and China met and agreed and after this the war was over. Technically, however, the Korean War is not over yet because there was never a peace treaty signed so although they stopped fighting they remain at war. Because there was only a thin border between the two nations there needed to be a buffer zone created which as aforementioned is called the ‘DMZ’. The area is 4km wide and is 260km long from the East to the West coast. More than 1 million land mines were airdropped in this area. Now 1/3rd of landmines are cleared but it is estimated to take approximately 500 years to clear the remaining mines. No one enters the DMZ other than a small minority of people that live there and it is controlled by the United Nations.

On another friendlier note, when the relationship between North and South Korea was in good form the president of South Korea visited North Korea and agreed on economic cooperation. As a result, in North Korea there is a huge factory zone and a lot of the factories are South Korean. South Koreans can use cheap labour and North Koreans are given an opportunity to work. It is extremely practical as there are no language barriers. 123 South Korean factories operate in North Korea. This became a symbol of ‘inter-Korean cooperation’.
During the tour we went to a train station right on the border of South Korea. If it becomes possible to pass through North Korea, South Korea can be connected to Europe by train. It opened in 2002. In the future South Koreans hope that the trans-Mongolian railway, Trans-Siberian, and trans-Chinese railway will be connected. A lot of people have questioned why the government with the support of many donors has continued to keep running the train station but it is very important for South Korean people, to them the train station symbolises future peace between the two nations.

Another symbol of unification between the nations is the ‘unification bridge’. This bridge is the only current means to enter North Korea and was built with the money of the former CEO of the Hyundai cooperation who was originally North Korean. He was the first civilian of South Korea to enter North Korea after the war.

As aforementioned, a few people live in the DMZ zone. There is a South Korean village (opened in 1973) located inside the zone. It used to be a US army base. Several times North Koreans killed American soldiers there so they abandoned camp. There was a time after the war when South Korea was very poor and the people were starving so the government located people to this village. They were offered free housing and free land. So a few retired soldiers and their families moved there. Apparently the soil in the area is exceptional for growing produce, another reason the South Korean government tried to persuade people to move to the area. Nowadays 110 families live there with 450 people, they are farmers and cultivate the land. They grow rice, ginseng, and soybean. Their income averages about 100,000 US dollars a year and they hold festivals in the area every year to celebrate harvest. There is also a North Korean village but our tour guide informed us this was also a ‘propaganda’ village. In the 1980’s South Korea set up a 100 metre high flagpole in the DMZ then North Korea responded by building a flagpole taller than theirs (160 metres high) it used to be an official world record. The flag weighs 240 kilogram so it rarely flies.

After viewing North Korea from the South we headed to the third infiltration tunnel. We were warned prior to entry that if we have any health problems such as asthma we should inform our guide. I told her I had asthma but was still determined to do the walk. It was an extremely long way down to the tunnel and ridiculously steep. I imagined the soldiers going down there possibly quite a few times a day and I knew that it would be that much harder on the way back up but I was not going to miss it. So we got to the bottom and walked through to the end and then headed out and back up again. I counted my 300 and something steps all the way back up and out and I was determined not to stop. Whilst in the tunnel I saw the angle of the dynamite holes and I felt the charcoal on the walls. I noticed how low the ceilings were and I am very happy that I made the effort.
It would be very interesting to go to North Korea now and hear what they have to say about the South. Our tour guide primarily spoke of propaganda on the part of North Koreans and her perspectives (understandably) were very bias.

After the DMZ we went to check out Nandaemun market which was close to our hostel, had some Korean street food and then headed out in search of Yongma Land abandoned amusement park. It was a bit foolish of us really as for some reason Joel’s phone was not working and the sim card I had purchased was not working in my phone either, but we caught the metro to Manguu station from the nearest metro line to our hostel as articles I read online advised anyway. I thought it would be nearby but we had to change lines four times increasingly becoming more and more lost and heading further and further into the outer suburbs of Seoul. I knew it was ‘east’ from the Manguu subway station exit but it only occurred to me once we arrived there that I had no clue which way east was so I asked a stranger who pointed straight up the street. We started walking stopping every ‘helpful’ looking person on the way asking if they knew where ‘Yongma land’ was, in typical South Korean fashion everybody tried very hard to help us by means of translators and maps but no one had much luck. Eventually as I strolled past a store and noticed a map on the wall I strolled in to try my luck. The man showed us exactly where it was on the map so memorizing the directions we set off in the taxi. The driver ended up driving us around for approximately an hour. We reached a very dark park on a few occasions and I kept insisting to him that it was most probably there but he was not convinced and we were a little frightened of hopping out of the car in the middle of nowhere thus decided to trust his instinct. He kept asking people but eventually gave up and kicked us out of the car in the middle of nowhere. We walked to a Baskin’ Robbins store and ate some scrumptious ice-cream whilst Joel convinced me to give up and go home but anyone who knows me well knows that I am an extremely persistent person so whilst he was in the toilet I asked some nearby girls if they knew the place, luckily for us they did and even better they offered to take us there! So we left together and started a fairly long trek up a steep street to reach the park we thought may have been the place initially. We had however missed a side entrance which explained why we could not see it. We continued trekking uphill reaching a forest until eventually we found the gate! The park was small but I was ecstatic that we had made it. I asked the girls to call the phone number on the gate and the park owner/security guard/whoever he was came along and charged us some money (we shouted the girls) to switch on the lights! It really was magical. While Joel and the girls played I first looked everywhere taking photographs and leaving no stone unturned, with intense curiosity. I marvelled at everything. I imagined the K-pop stars shooting their music videos there. Joel comparatively seemed a little underwhelmed. I suppose that is what happens when someone like me is so exhilarated and describes a place in all its glory. The park owner snapped what seemed like a million ‘romantic’ pictures of Joel and I together under the fairy lights and I even got to use some of the rides as Joel pushed me.

At approximately 11pm we decided to leave and I convinced Joel that we should go to Noryangjin Fish Market. He was pretty exhausted but I insisted at it was open 24/7. I really wanted to buy some fresh seafood and then have it cooked at one of the local restaurants. We ended up with some fresh baby octopus, a flounder, abalone, and some scallops. The restaurant we found was wonderful. It was a very traditional. We had to take our shoes off at the entrance and put on slippers and share a table with other guests. We were seated on cushions with low tables and ate with our legs crossed beneath us. First we had the scallops and abalone barbecued and then we had the flounder cooked into a spicy soup. The baby octopus much to my horror came out cut up and still squiggling served with a lemon sauce. I was pretty disgusted, even though I had eaten an abundance of crazy things in my life for me the thought of something still alive horrified me the most. Alas, I have some insane obsession with trying new things and not being afraid, I mean I have it tattooed on my arm for goodness sake “turn your fear into faith” so I decided to give the octopus a shot. As I tried to pick it up with my chopsticks its suction cups grasped them. As I put it in my mouth I could feel it squirm but it was actually surprisingly quite delicious and between us we consumed the entire plate.

After a nice sleep in from a late night prior we decided the following day to go relax at the ‘Cat café’ for lunch but after finding the place much to our disappointment there was no food on offer, only a variety coffee. We still enjoyed ourselves and had a drink marvelling at not only the huge variety of species and abundance but their sheer size. Then we headed to a nearby restaurant we had eyed off on the way in for lunch. The lunch was really fantastic, we had homemade burgers, shared a pizza and enjoyed a delicious and fresh goat’s cheese salad. I thought the homemade burgers were ingenious. The Chef’s had cleverly hollowed out the centre of a bun and stuffed the ingredients inside and elegantly presented the hollowed insides alongside on the plate for dipping in sauces. Ideal presentation for a messy eater such as myself.

As we were feeling a little slack we decided to spend the afternoon strolling the grounds of the Palace. It was not initially on my agenda as in my travels I felt like I’ve seen a huge abundance of similar places and wanted my experience in Korea to be ‘different’ however it was still a lovely place to take a stroll. We especially enjoyed the changing of the guards and the abundance of Korean woman dressed in traditional clothing. Whilst we requested photos of them they all seemed to be having their own mini photoshoots. We stayed there until closing time when sirens rang throughout the grounds to notify visitors of closing and then slowly waltzed back to the hostel with a quick stop at the market before going to a ‘Korean Dinner and Show’. I’m a big fan of traditional costume and cultural performances so I thought it essential to see and as a result I am I stoked I decided to go. The evening begun with us being picked up from the hostel by a driver and then we were escorted into a very small restaurant and served 5 or so courses of traditional Korean cuisine. Afterwards we headed to the concert hall. Joel fell asleep during the show from exhaustion but I watched glazy eyes the whole way through. It was the best cultural performance I had seen since the Monkey dance in 2009 in Bali, Indonesia. The lighting was spectacular, the costumes were beautiful, talent outstanding and the dancers were insanely in sync. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

The next day we got up bright and early with intent to hike the city wall. We managed to find one of the ‘gates’ but there was no wall surrounding it. A man gave us a map and directed us towards the walls beginning but with some walking around and stopping at a Starbucks to use the Wi-Fi to check its whereabouts we ended up in another part of Seoul which seemed equally fascinating. We were right next to Seoul’s oldest church as well as one of the smaller palaces. We watched the changing of the guards and then went for a meander through the palace grounds before coming across a show. I thought it was an international martial arts festival I had read about on the internet due to the karate practitioners but realised soon afterwards that it was something else as some people starting jumping around dancing and playing instruments with bells on their heads, anyway I never quite figured out who they were, what they were doing or where they were from. It’s worth mentioning the beautiful street landscape. It’s a line of tall modern buildings but right at the end is the main palace with a spectacular backdrop of a mountain behind. Anyway, it turned out that we had found a parade. There were belly-dancers and hip hop dancers, singers, and giant French puppets, there were charity organisations and petitions and games for all ages. One of the petitions was regarding the ‘Sewol Ferry Disaster’ another was creating awareness for the mistreatment of Falun Gong practitioners.

The sinking of MV Sewol occurred on the morning of 16 April 2014 en route from Incheon to Jeju Island. The Japanese-built South Korean ferry capsized while carrying 476 people, mostly secondary school students from Danwon High School. In all, 304 passengers and crew members died in the disaster. Later investigations revealed that Sewol had been issued warnings regarding its seaworthiness. The South Korean Register of Shipping noted in a stability test report dated 24 January 2014 that Sewol had “become top-heavy and less stable. Throughout the previous year, the regular captain had warned the company about the decrease in stability and passenger satisfaction and attributed it to the removal of the side ramp, but the company responded by threatening to fire him; the last warning and threat was on 9 April 2014, seven days before the incident. The captain had also requested a repair for the malfunctioning steering gear on 1 April 2014, which was not done. Before the last voyage, Sewol was loaded with 2,142 tons of cargo, twice the authorized limit of 1,077 tons, and 761 tons of ballast, less than half of the required 1,695 tons. The company budget for the safety training of the crew was US$2, which was used to buy staff paper certificates.

 

The sinking of Sewol has resulted in widespread social and political reaction within South Korea. Many criticize the actions of the captain and most of the crew of the ferry. More people criticize the ferry operator and the regulators who oversaw its operations. Additional criticism has been directed at the South Korean government and media for its disaster response and attempts to downplay government culpability. On 15 May 2014, the captain and three crew members were charged with murder, while the other 11 members of the crew were indicted for abandoning the ship. An arrest warrant was also issued for the owner of Chonghaejin Marine, which operated Sewol, but he could not be found despite a nationwide manhunt. Prosecutors sought the death penalty for the captain under the charge of homicide and the prosecution told the court that he failed to carry out his duty. Lead prosecutor Park Jae-eok said: “Lee supplied the cause of the sinking of the Sewol…he has the heaviest responsibility for the accident. We ask that the court sentence him to death.” While no formal pleas were made, Lee denied intent to kill. The others had lesser charges, including negligence. The Incheon District Court on Wednesday 5 November sentenced the late ferry owner Yoo Byung-eun’s eldest son Yoo Dae-kyoon to three years in prison for embezzlement and breach of trust.

On 11 November 2014, the Gwangju District Court found Captain Lee Jun-seok guilty of negligence and he was sentenced to 36 years’ imprisonment. The judges said that he was clearly not the only person responsible for the tragedy and they accepted that his negligence did not amount to an intent to kill. The chief engineer of the ferry, identified by his surname Park, was found guilty of murder and jailed for 30 years. Thirteen other crew members were given jail sentences of up to 20 years on charges including abandonment and violating maritime law.

In the cases against officials over the overloading of cargo, Kim Han-sik, Chonghaejin Marine’s chief executive, was found guilty of negligence and received a ten-year prison term. Six other company employees and a Korean Shipping Association official also received prison sentences.

The ‘Sewol Tragedy Victims’ Committee’ calls for the enactment of the ‘Sewol Bill’ which allows thorough and independent investigation into the cause behind the tragedy which took a combined 304 lives from their families. Although they have already obtained 4 million signatures their goal is 10 million. The family’s main questions are ‘Why was not a single person trapped inside the ferry rescued despite having ample time, resources and opportunities’? And why was a disaster like this even allowed to happen?

 

The worst thing about the Sewol Ferry Disaster was that the accident was completely preventable had proper safety measures been in place. But not only that, the South Korean government responded questionably to the disaster. The government used undercover police authorities to obtain access to the families’ social media accounts and place them under illegal surveillance and when the families attempted to hold a peaceful march riot police suppressed them and supporters by setting up barricades and shooting them with high water pressure hoses.

 

As aforesaid the second petition we signed was with regard to persecution of Falun Gong practitioners by Chinese government. This persecution is arguably the greatest human rights disaster of the 21st century due to a number of factors, including the scope of the persecution, the mechanism and method of persecution, the number of persecuted victims, the amount of resources used in the persecution, and the duration of the persecution.

Falun Gong is a Chinese spiritual practice that combines meditation and qigong exercises with a moral philosophy centred on the tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. The practice emphasizes morality and the cultivation of virtue, and identifies as a qigong practice of the Buddhist school, though its teachings also incorporate elements drawn from Taoist traditions. Through moral rectitude and the practice of meditation, practitioners of Falun Gong aspire to better health and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.

Falun Gong was first taught publicly in Northeast China in 1992 by Li Hong zhi and although the practice initially enjoyed considerable support from Chinese officialdom, by the mid- to late-1990s, the Communist Party and public security organizations increasingly viewed Falun Gong as a potential threat due to its size, independence from the state, and spiritual teachings. By 1999, government estimates placed the number of Falun Gong practitioners at 70 million. Tensions culminated in April 1999, when over 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered peacefully near the central government compound in Beijing to request legal recognition and freedom from state interference. This demonstration is widely seen as catalysing the persecution that followed.

On 20 July 1999, the Communist Party leadership initiated a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. It blocked Internet access to websites that mention Falun Gong, and in October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a “heretical organization” that threatened social stability. Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses.

The persecution covered not only the entirety of China but the perpetrator also extended persecution overseas to countries where there are Falun Gong practitioners or Chinese consulates.
The main methods of persecution adopted include extorting confessions with torture, injection of psychotropic substances, forced labour, torment, illegal detention, verbal abuse, torment, forcing one to renounce his belief, forcing one to aid in the conversion of other Falun Gong practitioners, sentence without trial, etc. The methods of persecution adopted beyond China include harassment of overseas Falun Gong practitioners, intimidation, compilation of black lists, destruction of private property etc. The most deplorable among these crimes is the act of forced harvesting and vending of organs from living Falun Gong practitioners – an act ordered by the perpetrator. In 2006 Canadian human right lawyer David Matas and former secretary of State (Asia pacific) David Kilgour undertook an independent investigation into allegations of organ harvesting from living Falun Gong practitioners and confirmed that these allegations are true. In particular, the investigation report described this act as a new form of evil on this planet. The results of this investigation has been incorporated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture into their report and it was forwarded to the Human Rights council, causing an international uproar. The European Parliament and the US House of representatives Foreign Affairs Committee have subsequently passed resolutions condemning the CPCs acts of organ harvesting from living Falun Gong Practitioners in 2013 and 2014. In June 2015, the US House of Representatives once again passed a bipartisan resolution that seeks to put an end to live organ harvesting by the CPC.

Ever since the beginning of the persecution launched by the perpetrator in 20 July 1999 close to one hundred million Chinese Falun Gong practitioners have lost their freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of association. Their reputation and basic human rights have been trampled upon. These victims, together with their relatives who are harmed by implication, number in hundreds of millions by conservative estimates.

According to information released in a press conference the perpetrator abused his authority and expended up to a quarter of the total national resources for use in the persecution. The persecution was launched on the 20th of July 1999 and to this day is sustained without recess.

Jiang Zemin’s (the President of the CPC 1993-2003) crimes committed are namely genocide, torture and the most severe crime within international criminal law ‘crime against humanity’. In domestic law the perpetrator has at the minimum violated provisions from the constitution of the Peoples Republic of China, Chapter 2 on the Fundamental Rights and Duties of Citizens. These provisions are namely, Articles 33 to 41 and article 46. Article 238 on unlawful detention and deprivation of freedom, article 239 on kidnapping, article 244 on forced labour, article 246 on insult and slander, article 247 on extortion of confession, article 248 of abuse by prison and detention centre personnel, Article 251 on illegal deprivation of citizens right to religious beliefs, article 397 of dereliction of duty and many others.

The informer’s petition was for formal investigations into the perpetrators alleged crimes and to hold him Jiang Zemin legally responsible in accordance with the Constitution of PRC, crime law, international criminal law and the relevant international human rights conventions and treaties which the PRC has ratified and entered into force.

I felt so small minded and ignorant when I learned about such atrocities that I never before knew of, atrocities that are occurring right now. A fair time after hearing of these atrocities in South Korea I came across some money in my handbag one day that had some Chinese characters printed on it. I was curious as to what it said so when I arrived at work later that evening I asked my boss whether she could tell me what it was. She started talking about the Falun Gong and was surprised to hear that I knew about them. The note said something along the lines of ‘If you have faith in the Chinese government you will die, if you join their army you will die’. I asked her what she thought about them and her feelings were not good. I explained to her that I had heard the South Korean perspective I would like to hear the Chinese general public opinions. She began telling me some horror stories. First she told me that her Auntie was Falun Gong and she used to play some brainwashing music to her as a kid similar to something that the Hari Krishna might play, secondly she added her Auntie had been pregnant on three occasions and lost the baby every time due to what she said was some bizarre exercise the Falun Gong insisted she did. Next she added that there was a horrible protest in Tiananmen Square involving 5 Falun Gong practitioners. She said that they doused themselves in petrol and set themselves on fire on New Year’s Day 2001. One of the people was a 12 year old girl who was ignited by her Mother. One person died and there were four survivors. I kept prying for more information all the meanwhile informing her that what she was telling me was drastically different to the information I heard in South Korea. When I asked her why they did it she said they committed suicide so they could be with their God. I told her that the Falun gong practitioners that I had spoken to insisted that they were spiritual not religious and their following was more about healthy living and exercises than anything else. I went on to ask her whether she had seen these people on fire, whether there was footage and she said that yes she had seen it. She told me the Falun Gong broke up families and when I asked her why she just said that when certain members of families trusted the Falun Gong the families felt they had to shun them because they could not trust them themselves. She and her boyfriend went onto say that the leader, Li Hong Zhi was being protected in America by the American government. Her boyfriend even went so far as to suggest that the Falun Gong was created by Americans and brought to China to hurt Chinese people. She said that the Falun Gong hate Mao Zedong and they believe the Chinese government to be a cult that controls the Chinese people. When I asked her what the Chinese government thought of the Falun Gong she told me that they think the same way about them, a cult that controls the masses. I was not sure what to think after she told me all these things so I set about asking a few more locals who essentially shared the same views as her before doing my own research.

What I discovered was that the Falun Gong was outright banned in China in 1999 shortly after in what founded in May 1992. As aforementioned, initially the government praised the practice as did locals with tens of millions of people becoming followers but by the mid 1990’s state media began publishing articles attacking the practice labelling it as a feudal superstition. In retaliation to the information spread about them Falun Gong practitioners began staging protests and writing to newspapers to complain. After a Beijing TV talk show host attacked the Falun Gong live on air the group was successful in having the producer responsible for the segment fired. The station even aired a pro Falun Gong film several days later, but their protests were not always so successful. When Falun Gong practitioners protested outside offices of a Tianjin newspaper in 1999 300 riot police arrived to break up the demonstration and 45 people were arrested. It was at this point the group made an ill judged decision. On April the 25th more than 10,000 practitioners gathered near the Zhongnanhai government compound in Beijing to demand an end to official harassment. It was after this protest that Jiang Zemin became enraged and demanded the movement be defeated. On July 20 1999 security forces swooped and detained several thousand Falun Gong practitioners, a few days later the movement became illegal for “advocating superstition, spreading fallacies, hoodwinking people, inciting and creating disturbances and jeopardizing social stability”. The majority of the detained Falun Gong (and at least 15 percent of the total population) were held in Labour camps for the purpose of ‘re- education’. It is in these camps that the aforementioned atrocities such as torture, forced labour, execution, and organ harvesting allegedly occur.

A concerted propaganda campaign was also launched. In the first month of the campaign almost 400 articles were published in state media attacking the Falun Gong. The campaign reached a whole new level when information was released alleging 5 Falun Gong practitioners had set themselves on fire at Tiananmen Square on January the 23rd 2001. This was the protest my boss had informed me about. Apparently the general public had been generally ambivalent towards the Falun Gong prior to this protest. The event struck a chord with the public though and caused great traction in their stance on the movement as was obvious to me when I spoke to local people. All the people I spoke to shared almost identical stories about how there was an absolutely beautiful 12 year old girl. She was a singer they told me but her very own Mother set her on fire after being brainwashed by the Falun Gong that doing so what result in them finding ‘Nirvana’ and joining God in a happy afterlife. A story that of course would tug at anybody’s heart strings.

The Western media raised doubts about the state’s account of the incident. The Falun Gong themselves denied any involvement based on numerous factors, firstly that their teachings explicitly forbid violence or suicide in any form.

The following are two quotes from the Falun Gong Master Li Hongzhi. The first is regarding the main text of Falun Gong, Zhuan Falun published in 1995 and the second is from one of Master Li Hongzhi’s lectures in Sydney, Australia 1996.

“The issue of killing is very sensitive. For practitioners, we have set the strict requirement that they cannot kill lives. Whether it is of the Buddha School, the Tao School, or the Qimen School, regardless of which school or practice it is, as long as it is an upright cultivation practice, it will consider this issue very absolute and prohibit killing–this is for sure. Because the consequence of killing a life is so serious, we must address it in detail. In the original Buddhism, killing mainly referred to taking a human life, which was the most serious act. Later, killing large-sized lives, large domestic animals, or relatively large animals were all considered very serious. Why has the issue of killing been taken so seriously in the community of cultivators? In the past, Buddhism held that lives that were not supposed to die would, if killed, become lonesome spirits and homeless ghosts. Before, rituals were performed to free these people’s souls from misery. Without such services, these souls would suffer hunger and thirst, living in a very bitter situation. This is what Buddhism said in the past.” (Zhuan Falun, “The Issue of Killing”)

 

Question: “The third question is the issue of killing as mentioned in the book. Killing a life is a very big sin. If a person commits suicide, does it count as a sin or not?”

 

Master Li Hong zhi: “It counts as a sin. Now, this human society is no longer good, and all kinds of strange and bizarre things have appeared. They talk about the so-called euthanasia and give injections to let people die. Everyone knows it. Why do they give an injection to let a person die? They think that he is suffering. However, we think that his suffering is eliminating karma. When he is reincarnated in the next life, he will have a light body without karma, and he will have a great fortune awaiting him. While he is amidst the pain and is eliminating karma, he is certainly not having an easy time. If you do not let him eliminate his karma and kill him, isn’t that murder? If he is gone, carrying the karma, in the next life he will have to repay the karma. So, which would you say is right? Committing suicide has another sin. This is because a person’s life is pre-arranged. You have disrupted the sequence of the God’s entire layout. Through the obligations you carry out to society, between people there is this kind of interrelationship. If the person dies, won’t this entire sequence disrupt the god’s arrangement then? If you disrupt it, he will not let you go. Therefore, committing suicide is sinful.” (‘Lecture in Sydney’, 1996)

Several Western journalists and scholars noted inconsistencies in the government’s account of the event. Such include the fact that the only self-immolator who died on the spot in CCTV footage appears to fall from being bludgeoned on the head by a man in a military suit, the self-immolators appear to be wearing several layers of possibly fire-protective clothing and masks and their hair and bottle of gasoline both remain intact despite these both being extremely flammable. Police, who normally are not known to carry fire extinguishers on duty, appeared to have used almost 25 pieces of fire-fighting equipment on hand on the day of the self-immolations. The camera of the CCTV footage zooms in on the scene as it unfolds; surveillance cameras in Tiananmen Square are usually fixed. One of the self-immolators Wang Jindong shouts comments that do not form part of Falun Dong teachings. The hospital treatment of the victims, as recorded by Chinese state media, is inconsistent with proper care of severe burn victims: for instance, patients were not kept in sterile rooms and the 12 year old girl who allegedly underwent a tracheotomy appeared to be able to speak and sing clearly mere days after the surgery.

The World Organization to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong further called attention to portrayals of Wang Jindong on state-run television, claiming that the man who self-immolated on the square was not the same person who appeared in subsequent interviews with CCTV. It pointed to a voice analysis conducted by the Speech Processing Laboratory at National Taiwan University, which concluded that the voices did not match, and also noted that the hairline and facial proportions appeared to be different. These observations were used to advance the theory that the self-immolators were actors. There were further inconsistencies in media reports. In Wang Jindong’s Personal Statement on the January 23rd Self-Immolation Incident published by Xinhua on April 7, 2003 Wang Jindong recalled, that after flicking his lighter and being instantly engulfed in flames he recalls police trying to stop the fire, he said he twice refused them to put out the fires on his body but with the polices success he called out in disappointment “Truth, Compassion and Forbearance is the universal law. It is the law which everyone must follow. My Master is the chief Buddha.” An earlier report by Xinhua published on January 30, 2001 claimed that as the red flames burst out from the man he shouted “The great law of the universe is the law that everyone must experience”. So first we must notice that the first article says that Wang Jindong called out after the flames were put out whilst the second article claims that he stood up and called out whilst engulfed in flames. Secondly we must observe that his statement is quoted completely differently in both articles. Additionally, both articles contradict the CCTV video footage in which no smoke or fire is seen on Wang, and Wang does not call out what he said in his original statement. Further contradictions occur between Wang Jindong’s personal statement and reports from Xinhua. In Wang Jindong’s personal statement he claims that he and Liu Yunfang hung bottles of gasoline around their necks and also secured them under their armpits with sticky tape before putting on woollen jumpers and cotton-padded jackets. After that they took their single-edged blades and lighters and used the blade to cut through the clothes and sliced open the bottle before taking out a lighter, flicking it and immediately being engulfed in flames. However according to the article written by Xinhua on January the 30th a man “continuously poured liquid over his body from a green plastic bottle so the two reports are entirely at odds with each other over this technical issue. Finally a photo was published in the Jin Zhou Daily newspaper that shows the Sprite bottle placed on the ground beside Wang Jindong’s right leg which not only differs from media reports but also differs from what is shown in the CCTV footage where the bottle is sighted between his legs.

It is difficult to arrive at a final judgment regarding the self-immolation with such an abundance of contradicting information. It’s quite possible that desperate people who would do anything for money agreed to partake in the act of self-immolation especially if authorities promised to rescue them before the flames could do harm. Or perhaps the entire event was staged. It seems unlikely it was Falun Gong practitioners due to their adamant anti violence beliefs it could be possible that the act was committed by new or unschooled Falun Gong practitioners who in the post suppression period for whatever reason decided to make the ultimate sacrifice. It could be speculated that they did it to protest the government’s crackdown on the Falun Gong but again it seems unlikely considering the contradicting accounts of that day, the Falun Gongs absolute denial of involvement and the fact that as aforesaid the entire act would be against their beliefs.

 

After processing the new abundance of information we learned at the parade we set out on an expedition to find a skate shop we had passed the day earlier. Joel needed to buy a new pair of shoes. After about 30 minutes walking up and down hills and through alleyways we found it which I think was actually quite impressive considering finding addresses in Korean cities approximates finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. In fact there is no better illustration of the difference in Korean and Western thinking than the naming of streets and the numbering of buildings for addressing purposes, for there the contradictions between the logic and rationality of the west and the “illogic and irrationality” of the East are plainly visible for all to see and experience on a daily basis. Historically in Korea most streets were not named, numbered, or otherwise identified in any way, making it impossible for people to orient themselves or locate buildings or homes by referring to the lanes or streets that they were on or near. Furthermore houses and buildings were not numbered in sequence according to their locations on or near streets. Instead they were numbered on an area basis in the order in which they were built. In other words, there is no such thing as “street addresses”; instead there are “area addresses”. Individual addresses had nothing to do with their street locations. To further complicate the problem of finding places in Seoul and other cities, there was little or no order in the relationship of many lanes and streets, resulting in mazes that were virtually impenetrable by outsiders. This fuzzy system results in Koreans’ (as well as foreigners) navigating in the cities primarily by means of well-known landmarks. After arriving in the vicinity of a desired location, it was then a matter of searching. Still today many streets and most lanes in Korean cities are not named. Generally the only streets that are named are major thoroughfares (and in many cases they were first given names by foreign residents).

Either way, after finally finding the place and Joel ‘umming’ and ‘ahhing’ about whether or not to buy anything we left with some new grip-tape, bearings and no shoes but were pleasantly surprised to come across the Namsangol Hanok village on the foot of Namsan Mountain during our waltz back to the city. The village included houses representing different social classes from the Joseon era which were all relocated there from different parts of Seoul.The attraction is free, so well worth a look. Each house displays various types of furniture and household goods that would have been found in the Joseon Dynasty.

Evening struck and as we strolled back to the hostel we came across the Myeong-dong shopping area and decided to take a look. I bought a few K-pop CDs and we enjoyed some local street food and browsed the shops before we were approached on two sides by awfully silly looking people dressed in dog and cat costumes beckoning us to their prospective dog and cat cafes. We had already been to a cat café, and I have always been a dog person not a cat person. Had I have known prior that a dog café existed I probably never would have opted to go to the cat café in the first place. I took note of their directions and off we went spending some time petting and admiring all the different breeds.

After arriving back at the hostel we established we still had time to go and check out the Sex Museum. It was essentially the same as the trick-eye museum but as Joel suggested it was allocated its own separate area as it was R-rated. I thoroughly enjoyed it there, although I was hoping it would be an actual museum with information on the first sex toys, or displays showcasing different BDSM equipment but it was fun nonetheless and we collected an array of outrageous photographs. We head out for some supper afterwards and were fortunate enough to come across a few Korean buskers, for some time I watched some men presenting incredibly feminine dance moves to female pop songs and laughed along with their large audience before discovering a skate-board welding rap artist nearby and being mesmerized for some time. For dinner I ate for the first time ever the famed chilli cheese fries which although expensive were not at all underrated. Afterwards we walked around for a bit admiring the heavily gratified streetscape and listening to the buskers performances before heading back to the hostel for an ‘early’ night sleep.

The next morning we thought it best to head to the famous area of Seoul ‘Gangnam’. To be honest there was not a lot to see there, and I did not spot any K-pop celebrities (that I am aware of) the only thing that somewhat resembled a Korean version of Hollywood was the stars printed on the ground noting Korean celebrities and the gold sign saying ‘Welcome to Gangnam’ but I was happy to be there either way. We headed to a place called ‘K-pop experience’. I expected that I would be handing out my fair share of money there but much to my surprise and pleasure everything was free for us to use! I put my hand around the waists of ‘G-dragon’ using a simulating TV screen, got to use the most amazing make-up for free including a spray on body foundation which made my skin look incredible, dressed and dazzled myself in insane bling and put on a bright red hair wig before Joel snapped numerous photos of me whilst I pretended to be a famous K-pop star. I do not think Joel was as into it as I was, but hey maybe it’s a more of a ‘girl’ thing.

After spending some time there we went to check out the Gwangjang Market for dinner. The market was renowned for its abundance of local cuisine. After as usual sampling almost everything we sat down to ‘Modum-jeon’ kind of like a Korean bubble and Squeak upon invitation. The dish is prepared by placing colourful savoury pancakes made by pan-frying flour with egg-covered meat, fish and vegetables. It was not the most delicious thing I had eaten but it we enjoyed the opportunity to sit down with a local and have a chat. It turns out the man who invited us owned a restaurant only across from the stallholder where we ate. I marvelled at how he promoted this other women’s business and seemed to hold her in his heart with admirable affection. He told us she was ‘famous’ there and every-body loved her, she was kind hearted and hilarious. She looked at us with intent curiosity and she downed shots with the restaurateurs. I asked the man whether he had any family in North Korea and it was he who told me that when relationships were good between North Korea and South he had the opportunity to visit them on a few occasions, as I have briefly mentioned prior. We asked him where we should head after that and he suggested another nearby market that mostly sold clothing, he informed us it was a block away so we took a walk. Whilst walking we came across a section of the City wall that we had been looking for a few days previously so we took a short hike through some of the sections before descending back down into the city and taking a look at the market. There was not really anything particularly fascinating about the market, each stall mostly sold the same or similar fairly standard items of clothing and accessories. Afterwards we decided to seek out a little bit more excitement and hit the town so I checked out some cheap areas of the city to buy drinks and we headed to a bustling university district nearby to the trick-eye museum and the market stocking an array of alternative clothing that I spent a small fortune on the first night we arrived in Korea. We walked around for some-time sussing out the best bar to go to before finally settling on a dark looking bar with a fair few customers and extremely dim flashing lights. The coolest thing about this bar was that they had an ‘alcohol’ menu. It was possible to buy sets which included for example, what we ended up purchasing a bottle of Jägermeister, four Red-bulls, and a crackers and dip platter and a fruit platter. Although expensive, probably equating to around $100 Australian dollars it was far cheaper than buying each shot individually. Instead of opting for a club afterwards we again meandered the streets and watched the goings on through the windows as well as mingling with a few drunken random locals that crossed our path before heading home for a nights rest for our flight back to Tianjin the next day.

The next day we took another quick look around Nandaemun market before heading to the airport back to Tianjin. I have to say I felt pretty deflated returning to China after having such a ball in South Korea and the sadness continued onwards with me for a month or so after returning but alas, in life there is time for work and there is time for play and after draining all our funds it was our time for work again.

 

That did not stop us for enjoying a few weekends here and there in the time following though.

One of our above-mentioned South African friends regulars Beijing for Church and often stops off for a day in downtown Tianjin for a little luxury in the ‘Number 9 Hot Springs’ hotel so a few weekends after our trip to South Korea we decided to accompany him there. It was a bizarre place, although you can book a room it is not required but your entrance covers 24 hours free meals and a comfy reclining sofa to sleep on. We went for that option. When you hand over the cash you are given some pyjama resembling clothes to throw on for the duration of your stay and a pair of slippers before being escorted to a locker to store your belongings. First we headed into the dining hall for an all you can eat buffet dinner. The selection of food was huge and the restaurant must have sat 500 diners. We then headed to the hot springs to chill out in the pools. After that we got a massage each and Joel tried the cupping massage as well as traditional Chinese reflexology foot massage, both in which he yelped with pain as I expected. Our friend requested him a fine looking lady so I ordered myself a male masseuse just to keep things even. The next day I decided to go further out of my comfort zone than I have yet done before, in terms of body and self-consciousness any-way. Our friend Shayne kept talking about how liberating it was to walk around naked in the men’s section of the hotel so I thought I’d give it a shot in the women’s area. In both the men’s section and women’s section there are separate change rooms, dressing rooms, saunas, hot pools and spa treatment areas. In the women’s area female staff stood by whilst you were changing to assist you unclipping your bra and customers waltzed around freely and proudly flashing the hair on their pubis. In a way I greatly admired the confidence and fearlessness of them. It is very normal behaviour in China. Change-rooms are always like this, hairy shameless woman standing around chatting with each other. It’s really quite a shame that in Australia we are taught to be embarrassed or ashamed of our bodies. Anyway, I went on a slight tangent there but my point was not without purpose. Admittedly when I walked over to the spa area I attempted to get a body scrub and moisturising treatment whilst still in my bathing suit and even said multiple times in Chinese I was too fat before being finally convinced to strip, but hey I still did it! I stripped naked in front of numerous women and allowed my body to be scrubbed and cleaned and prodded poked and pushed in all kinds of directions. I did not feel liberated but I did feel accomplished. It was a big step in the way of self-confidence for me. Anyway, the whole place felt very bizarre and alien. Never in my life have I been to a place comparable before, there is no real sense of day and night as the whole space is mostly shielded from any natural light. When you finally step foot outdoors again it takes some readjusting to bring yourself back to reality.

A few weekends afterwards we decided to go to the Tianjin Aircraft carrier as I had discovered it one lunchbreak when Ryan and I took a different route to go fetch some petrol. It had been recommended by an old colleague of ours and I knew it was nearby to our house but did not previously know the exact means of getting there. We set off on the Sunday on the motorbike. The Tianjin aircraft carrier is called Kiev and was sold to the Binhai Aircraft Park in 1996. It is capable of hold 32 aircrafts in total including 12 Yak-38M fighter aircrafts and 20 Kamov Ka-25 or Kamov Ka-27 helicopters as well as 1,612 crew. The ship served the Soviet and Russian navies and officially entered service in 1977 after the disintegration of the USSR the ship was taken by Russia. Due to a low military budget and worsening ship’s condition, she was retired on 30 June 1993. Although the vast majority of the attraction was vast open space and the entire place was mostly desolate in terms of both employees and visitors I think the place was still well-worth taking a look, even if the entrance fee was a whooping 220RMB per a person, which is about $100 Australian dollars total. As we strolled past the numerous shops on the way in a man asked us if we were interested in purchasing some chocolates, I blurted out to him “we spent all our money on the entrance ticket in here” which was not far from the truth but still a little rude on my behalf considering he was merely doing his job. It never ceases to amaze me how in China you already pay so much money on entry but almost every attraction is at least half shops. It’s like you’re paying money to enter an exclusive shopping area or something. Anyway, after browsing the various aircrafts on display outside we headed to the aircraft carrier itself to scope it out. I have to say it was pretty cool being able to see the inner workings of a naval ship. We could see the torpedos lined up and rearing to go and the inner workings of almost every room in the ship, the laundry, the dining hall, the sauna etc. When we were finished we even got to see a Russian show with ‘real’ Russians doing a few pretty fantastic dance routines.

In other news I made a poor attempt at quitting smoking. I asked the same woman who called me fat at my house’s friend to help me do it. She is not a doctor, nor qualified in acupuncture but she is Chinese and a Chinese medicine enthusiast and considering acupuncture originates in China I thought I would give it a go. When she came over I had about 7 guests at my house excluding her and her friend. As she stuck the needles in my ear Esther started freaking out a little saying she could see blood. I knew it was not normal to see blood in acupuncture so I started to become a little concerned. After the woman placed the needles in my neck I began feeling really uncomfortable. I could hear people talking around me but because of the position I was sitting in I could not see anyone, that combined with the fact that in Australia when my Auntie Sue had done acupuncture for me she had only used two needles in both ears and this woman had already stuck at least 10 into my neck and ears made me become increasingly anxious. I started to feel sick and faint, I am sure it was all in my head but every time she took a needle out I started feeling better. The crazy thing is that she then stuck another needle in my hand between my index finger and thumb and persistently wiggled it about asking me whether I felt sick. I did not feel unwell but the feeling was really bizarre, even though there needle was in my hand I experienced sensations in other parts of my body. I felt no pain but I could swear she was poking that needle so far into my hand that I could feel it on the other side. I did not get another treatment after that, and unfortunately I am still smoking. That same weekend my aforementioned South African roommate Esther gave me green and black African braids which was took an insane 12 or more hours spread out over a few days to accomplish.

The next weekend I was invited the woman’s house on the 16th floor of our building. I swear I am not just referring to her as the woman who called me fat because I’m that obsessed with the whole idea, actually to be honest I just do not know her name despite seeing her almost on a weekly basis. Anyway, she invited me over to teach me how to make dumplings. When I got there I apologised for over-reacting the last time I saw her and I could not believe that she in turn profusely apologised and bowed to me. Now this woman is an elderly woman and in China it is virtually unheard of for an elder to bow to the younger generations so I believed her apology to be extremely genuine. When I got to their house they had already prepared the stuffing for the dumplings so just taught me the numerous correct techniques for folding. It was surprisingly quite simply once you got the hang of it!

The weekend after that was Nikki’s (my good friend and Chinese Teacher) birthday. We went to the renaissance hotel. Everybody looked gorgeous and we enjoyed a luxurious dinner together before heading out to KTV. We had a lot of fun there singing to different tunes and getting ludicrously drunk. Mind you about the only things I can recall about the evening now is pretending I was walking to the altar with Nikki’s birthday roses, sitting on Joel’s lap both legs over him and belting out some song together, talking about Korean boys and Shanghai with Ryan’s beau and then eventuating in the bathroom where I threw up pink before drunkenly stumbling outside and deciding I was too drunk to carry on. As is tradition everywhere in the world I insisted we went to McDonalds but threw up before hand so did not eat, then I begged Joel to escort me to the taxi as I could not walk. Finally I attempted eating a burger in the car before telling Joel to quickly empty one of the McDonalds bags so I could throw up in it. Puking up the burger was interesting. I don’t think the thing ever hit my stomach, it came up in kind of dry clumps, odd feeling. We finally got home and I told Joel he could eat the chips but to save the other burger for me in the morning. Waking up hangover and feeling sorry for myself I asked him where my burger was and he ate it. So poor Joel, also hungover was forced to go on a mission to McDonalds to replace said burger while I laid on the couch in my underwear feeling sorry for myself. As awful as it all sounds I actually had a really fun evening! Next time I’ll eat more and drink less. Ironically the reason I was drinking so much is because I left the house with a chronic headache and after a few wines it disappeared. I kept drinking because I didn’t want to sober up and it to come back. I really can be a fool; I neglected to consider the headache I was bound to experience the next morning.

The day afterwards was also the beginning of a week of snowfall being the first of this winter in Tianjin. I tried to enjoy it but I opted to stay on the couch the majority of the day before eventually heading out and making snow cones with our roommate Esther. It was pretty beautiful but man it was cold!

 

 

We’d finally heard news of Joel’s visa that week too so we booked a holiday to Lijiang and lucky for me work let me have two days off so we were there for a total of four days! When we arrived at the Lijiang airport after a pretty long flight I became breathless. Already, so quickly, only as I had just stepped foot out of the door was I blown away. The airports backdrop of snow covered peaks was astoundingly beautiful. We hopped on a bus to the Lijiang city centre and I was captivated by the scenery the entire way. When we arrived we got a taxi to our hostel (the hostel staff were happy to give the driver directions) and were picked up on the main road nearby by the staff who escorted us uphill to the place. We stayed in the Garden inn. The prices were completely reasonable, the staff where exceptionally kind and helpful and the rooms were incredible for a hostel. In our room we had TV and kettle, gorgeous wood detailing and blue and white porcelain sink and a shared balcony with views to die for. If I ever head back to Lijiang I will most definitely stay there again! Highly recommended.

Once we dropped off our bags we went to explore the Old Town. The old town of Lijiang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A little history on the place, the town has a history going back more than 1,000 years and was once a confluence for trade along the “Old Tea Horse Caravan Trail”. Resultantly, the ancient town of Lijiang used to be called ‘Gongbenzhi’ by the native Naxi people. It means “a market town for carrying goods to trade”. Square Market, is the centre of the Ancient Town as well as the main business plaza of the city. The streets extend out of the Square Market like a spider’s web. Different from most Chinese ancient cities the Ancient Town appeared as an irregular and asymmetrical layout without a city wall. Commercial activities had always been the daily main course in the Ancient town of Lijiang. The streets therefore developed into varied trading areas.

The streets still maintain their ancient style and figures and some traditional businesses are still in operation. People therefore can easily feel how it was to be in the Ancient town when walking down the stone streets. Visitors enjoy walking down the rocky streets with such richly ornamented houses on both sides.

The square market was among the first structures built in the long process of constructing the Old Town. The most extraordinary feature of the Square Market is its sanitation system. Regardless of what year it may be, it is a phenomenal ideal of environmental protection. Whenever the square needs cleaning, a sluice at the West River will be closed in order to make the water level rise over the bank. Once the overflow reaches the square, it washes the garbage to the Central River which then carries it to the lower reaches. There are numerous wide open gutters scattered throughout the town. I narrowly avoided tripping into one one day and wondered how many people have done that already.

 

 

The square opens Omni-directionally to the city. Different from most other ancient Chinese cities with defensive walls, the Square Market connects with all the roads, streets, even country lanes. People can easily come to the market by taking many ways around the town. The square Market is the geographical centre of Dayan (the official name of the Ancient town of Lijiang and surrounding area). It used to be a political and commercial centre of the area that connected Tibet, Sichuan province, Dali and the Jinshajiang region. People came to town from rivers or over mountains. In the roads that approach the Square Market, merchants Caravans and travelers horses were seen during all hours of the day and night.

Unlike other Chinese traditional squares, the Square Market has a more Western style. It’s a multi-functional place of varied activities like trade, ceremonies and for fun and entertainment. Such an architectural design was very rare in ancient China because squares normally were considered as the places for formal ceremonies. As time went by, the Ancient Town of Lijiang developed into a city with Square Market at its centre, encircled by stores and houses extending outwards from it.
The rivers in the Ancient Town mostly come from the Black-Dragon Pool at the foot of Elephant Mountain. The water first spouts among rocks in Elephant Mountain then gathers into a pool named Black-Dragon Pool. A stream flows from the pool to join another creek which comes from Jade Dragon snow Mountain. Naxi people named it the Yuhe River. This river flows into the Ancient town and diverges into three major branches after passing the Yuhe Bridge: the West River, the East river and the central River. The central river is the original waterway while West River and East river are both man-made rivers. The west river was made in the Yuan dynasty and the east river was created in the Qing dynasty. From these three rivers extend hundreds of small creeks that reach every house in town.

The ancient town of Lijiang is a city of rivers and streams and thus it is also a city of bridges. There are all kinds of bridges in Lijiang like slate bridges, arched stone bridges, bridges made of oak and single plank wood bridges. In the old days some bridges were also built as markets of trade in the town and they were called Bridge market. People used to sell particular commodities on particular bridges. For instance, the Yadan Bridge (duck Egg Bridge) is the bridge for selling duck eggs and the Jidou Bridge is for selling chicken and beans and the big stone bridge is for selling eagles and Chinese medicine. The constructions of these old bridges are also varied. Bridges on the Central River are mostly arched stone bridges; they were built normally wide and in great numbers; among them Big-stone bridge, Long Life bridge and South Gate bridge. Most bridges of the East and West Rivers were made of oak.

All the streets in Old town are paved with a type of special stone, called Lijiang breccia, which were collected from the mountains nearby. Having experienced hundreds of years of exposure to treading and wreathing, the surface of the stone became very smooth with colourful stripes. The Naxi people therefore call these stones ‘wuhua shi’ (colourful stones). Another special characteristic of these stone streets is that they don’t get dusty on sunny days or muddy when it rains. Anyone can enjoy a walk on such beautiful and clean streets.
These are the safest streets in the world. All the streets are just for people to walk on so they are not as broad as regular streets.
The Dongba or Naxi hieroglyph was the main thing that drew me to Lijiang and it was developed through the first scriptures of the Dongba religion. Believing in all creatures has spirits the Naxi people created their religion which came to be known as Dongba. It first appeared in Baidi which is located at the foot of the Haba snow mountain near the Jinshajiang River. It had developed from the ancient worship of nature during the united tribe period. In the long history of its development, Dongba religion absorbed some thoughts of the ancient Tibetan and Lamaism beliefs eventually forming its own unique style. Dongba religion advocated respect for nature and ancestors. Despite the absence of uniform organization and temples, Dongba religion offered great benefit to the Naxi people. Their most magnificent religious book, called the Dongba scripture, recorded a multitude of beautiful lessons. One story recounts how Aming Shiluo was to be the first person to expose the Dongba religion to Lijiang. He first arrived at Baisha, and ancient small town near Lijiang which we were fortunate to visit. He opened schools there to teach Dongba religion. He acquired many disciples over time. It was in Baisha that he standardized the Naxi hieroglyph. He wrote the first scriptures of Dongba religion in that pictographic form. Becoming the prevailing religion in Lijiang, Naxi people began to have their unified spiritual mainstay. In future years, Naxi people’s lives became influenced by the stories, rituals and religious ceremonies. The Naxi peoples commitments to the preservation of natural resources originated from Dongba religious belief. As well, they instinctively cared about all creatures’ even trees or little animals because of their belief that all living things are embodiments of gods. This unsophisticated affection was later rewarded as Lijiang became one of the most beautiful homelands of any people.

Naxi people called the Dongba hieroglyph sijiulujiu. It was eventually fixed as a type of written language in the 11th century. The Dongba hieroglyph is the only living pictography in the world. The over 1500 pictographic characters survived the test of time. The Dongba hieroglyph and Dongba scripture together are the two greatest contributions of Dongba culture to the world. The Dongba hieroglyph had begun by the time the Naxi settled in Lijiang. In the seventh century, some single pictographic patterns started to be commonly used among the Naxi people. By the tenth century the founder of Dongba religion dingba shiluo, standardized these patterns and made them an integrated written language system.

An interesting fable about the Naxi pictographs recalls that a long time ago the ancestors of the Naxi went to visit God to learn literature together with the ancestors of other ethnic groups. The Maxi’s ancestors carved what they learned on pieces of wood and stone while the others wrote theirs on leather. On the way home they became very hungry those ancestors could not stand starvation and boiled their leather for food. The Naxis ancestors endured and brought back all the wood and stone carvings that later became the foundation of the Dongba hieroglyph. This explains why the other regional nationalities don’t have their own written languages.

The next day we headed to the nearby Baisha Naxi Village. If you want to witness the authentic life of the Naxi People and appreciate their culture, but are tired of overcrowded Lijiang then Baisha Village is the place to go. The village, at the foot of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, is about 4.9 miles (8km) to the north of Lijiang Old Town. It is much quieter because it is not so commercialized.

 

Baisha Village used to be a Naxi settlement. It was the political, economic and cultural centre of Lijiang prior to the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644). Its construction started during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) and it became prosperous during the Song (960 – 1279) and Yuan (1271 – 1368) Dynasties. From the Ming Dynasty, the governors moved their families to Dayan Town (the current Lijiang Ancient Town) but still built temples in Baisha Village, making this village a religious centre during the early Ming Dynasty. The existing Dabaoji, Liuli and Wenchang Palaces and even the famous Baisha Murals were completed during that period.

Wandering around the village, you can enjoy the slow lifestyle of the Naxi People and their friendly smiling faces; as well as better scenery than that of Lijiang. You can freely enter various courtyards to see the beautiful and man-made tie-dye artwork hanging for sale or drying in the sun.

Heading for this village, the Baisha Murals cannot be missed. These Murals are representative of Lijiang Murals and their creation took about three hundred years, from the early Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). The paintings were finished by Han, Tibetan and Naxi painters as well as painters from other nationalities, so they are not a symbol of Naxi Culture but a fusion of art from different nationalities. The peak of the Lijiang Murals was at end of the Ming Dynasty. Now only 55 pieces of murals are preserved in religious sites around Lijiang Town.

After we had a look around Baisha village we decided to bus onwards to Jade Mountain. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (Yulong Mountain) is the southernmost glacier in the Northern Hemisphere. Consisting of 13 peaks, among which Shanzidou is the highest with an altitude of 5,600 meters (18,360 feet), the mountain stretches a length of 35 kilometres (22 miles) and a width of 20 kilometres (13 miles). Looking from Lijiang Old Town in the south which is 15 kilometres (nine miles) away, the snow-covered and fog-enlaced mountain resembles a jade dragon laying in the clouds, hence the name.

According to the research of geologists, for about 400 million years the area around Jade Dragon Snow Mountain was the ocean and it was during the last 600 thousand years that the different landscapes had come into being because of the uprising of the lithosphere.

At Jade Mountain is a national AAAA scenic area called Jade Water Village. With only a little money in our pocket we were a little hesitant about entering the attraction however with a quick search of online reviews ultimately decided it was worthwhile.

Jade Water Village is one of the major sources of the Lijiang River. What’s more, it is the heritage sacred of Lijiang Dongba culture and heritage base of Baisha fine music. Jade water Village has many landscapes filled with national and local characteristics. There are the Dragon Three Cascading Waterfalls, old trees, magic springs, Dongba wall galleries, the Dongba ancestor temple, Baisha fine music show, Naxi ancient buildings and traditional life display, Dongba traditional ritual activities & a traditional Naxi waterwheel. Jade Water Village also has 30 Naxi performers to show the traditional Naxi songs and dances for tourists.

As always seems to be the case for us in China we were a little disappointed to discover after our arrival in Lijiang and our hostel already being booked that the trek we intended on doing (Tiger Leaping Gorge) was 3 days duration. I really ought to do more research before I set out on such things, anyway we decided to do a 1 day trek which consisted of half of the Upper Gorge trail. The Tiger Leaping Gorge is a place known worldwide for hiking. It takes three days to complete a full hike whether one starts from the Upper Gorge or the Lower gorge.
The Jinshajiang River turns north to Shigu then flows about 40 kilometres to pass between Jade Dragon and the Haba Snow Mountains. The turbulent water passes between the two huge mountains and forms Tiger Leaping Gorge, the longest deepest and narrowest gorge in the world. The water falls 213 meters in this 30 kilometre long gorge and his narrowest portion is only 30 metres wide. People are often in awe at the chaotic nature of the Yanzijiang River in this area. The upstream beginning of Tiger leaping gorge is at 1800 meters above sea level. Jade dragon Snow Mountain on the south bank rises to 5596 meters. The cliffs on this bank are too steep for paths. The Haba snow mountain in 5386 meters in altitude on the north bank. The glaciers on this side make it possible to build a road which travels along the length of the entire gorge. Above this road, there is another path for hiking. Tiger leaping gorge is divided into three parts: Upper gorge, Middle gorge and Lower gorge.

We hiked the upper gorge. Starting from Tiger Leaping Gorge county one will pass a bridge over the Yangtze River. After walking down the narrow road at the foot of Haba Snow Mountain for about 9 kilometres, one will enter the boundary of the Upper Tiger Leaping Gorge. It is the narrowest portion of the whole gorge with a width of only 30 metres. The cliffs on both sides are very high and steep; making the gorge look even narrower. There’s a huge rock 13 meters high that strands right in the narrowing of the river’s channel and the water dashes against the stone and splashes extremely high towards in the air. The sound is so loud that it is like a tiger roaring the huge rock therefore was named the Tiger Leaping stone. But it seems even a tiger would be scared when faced with such a gorge. Although I heard a contradictory story that apparently a tiger leaped from that huge stone to the other side of the gorge and that is how it got its name.

The Gorge was absolutely breathtaking. Never in Australia would one be able to walk along such fragile cliffs edge with such a long fall below and no railing, we were living on the edge quite literally! We walked through villages and waterfalls and herds of wild goats. It really was a spectacular trail I would highly recommend to anyone. After we finished the trail I could not believe I had it in me to then spend some hours wandering the Old Town market but I suppose an initial urge for food and then a full stomach replenishes your energy levels.

We spent our last day at the Black Dragon Pool which is a famous pond in the scenic Jade Spring Park located at the foot of Elephant Hill, a short walk north of the Old Town. It was built in 1737 during the Qing dynasty and offers a spectacular view of the region’s tallest mountain, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, over its white marble bridge.

 

The park features several smaller temples and pavilions including the Moon-Embracing Pavilion, Dragon God Temple and Wufeng Tower. The Moon-Embracing Pavilion was originally built in the late Ming Dynasty however the current structure is a reproduction from 1963 after a fire in 1950. The Dragon God Temple (Longshen Temple) was constructed by local Naxi people in 1737 and is located to the east of the park. It was given the name Dragon God of Jade Spring by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty in the same year. The threefold overlap Five-Phoenix Tower (Wufeng Tower) was built during the Ming Dynasty (1601), and today is located at the north end of the park. The tower was originally situated at the Fuguo Temple, which is 30 kilometres to the west, but was moved to Jade Spring Park in 1979.

After visiting the park we discovered a few street hawkers. We were hungry and poor so decided to eat there. They had many of the same foods on offer in Tianjin but there was also an interesting bread similar to a naan bread which we filled with egg and different pickles and spices that looked funky but tasted brilliant. After finding our home street delicacies incomparable to back in Tianjin we went back for seconds on the new found street food. We sat on the steps of a nearby shop and ate up before heading back to the hostel and packing our bags. After sitting around for a while at the hostel adding pictures to my Facebook I suddenly yelped! I had misjudged the time. It was not 2.30pm that we had to leave the hostel it was 2.30pm that we had to be at the bus stop! If we caught the bus we were probably going to miss our flight so with the little money we had we luckily managed to get to the airport in time.

My observation are that Lijiang, perhaps because of its rustic nature and slow life meeting its colourful culture is such an attractive place to be.

The weekend after returning from Lijiang I decided to have a ‘mock’ Christmas party so Joel and I could celebrate the day together. The evening before I planned to go shopping I was left at home to baby sit and no bank card due to human error and thus had no means of doing the shopping I needed to do so it became Joel’s responsibility to go shopping the next day for our feast, he also had to of course get the Christmas tree. On my menu for entrée I planned to cook dinner rolls, roasted brie pastries and my Mum’s famous chicken noodle soup, main was Garlic, Lemon and Rosemary roasted chicken, jacket potatoes stuffed with cheese, cream cheese and bacon, a layered salad and a potato salad as well as some oranges stuffed with a sweet potato and orange mixture. Desert was a fruit Christmas tree and ice-cream bomb. I invited Ryan around as well as a few colleagues from my old school. I planned on inviting around a few more of Joel’s Chinese friends but could not find their contact details. The food was a hit and everyone remarked that I had outdone myself so that was great. My old colleagues had to leave around 10 before their school closed and so it was left Ryan, Esther Joel and I playing drinking games. We played a game in which every cards number represented a different rule. Numerous times for elongated periods we all had to wear a beer carton box on our heads. Ultimately I wound up throwing up on the floor in the bathroom, honestly not because I drank too much but because I ate too much. I then summoned Joel to clean it up as it was ‘his turn’. Alas, “you did it on purpose” he exclaimed and I was left to clean up my own spew. He has some odd concepts sometimes about the things I do and I always question when he says such things, I mean why I would ever deliberately inflict something dreadful on myself like that purely for the sake of attention, but anyway, all in all the evening was a good one and it was wonderful to indulge in some of my favourite foods.

The next day we went skiing. A few friends had a recommended the place to me in recent weeks and Joel had never been skiing before so we decided to give it a whirl. We got a taxi and showed the driver the map my friend had sent to us and then set off. It was nice to see what was past our town and the town over, even if it was not much. Eventually I noticed a small hill in the distance that we were rapidly approaching, covered in snow. I started laughing hysterically and as did the taxi driver. Too small he exclaimed I laughed and nodded in agreeance. When you’re told you’re going to a ski resort you at least half expect it to be high up in in the mountains somewhere, with hot chocolates and spas and all kind of lovely glorious things but this place, this place was a little bit of a joke if I’ll be honest. It was literally one hill with a ‘beginner’ and ‘intermediate’ course that looked the same and an area to go sledding down the hill on donuts. The surrounding areas had no snow. It was an amusement park, definitely not a resort. Either way we got our ski’s and set out to give it a go. It was my first time skiing since I was 12 years old. When I was 12 I had gone to Mt. Field National Park in Tasmania with my Dad. He never taught me how to stop and I was foolish enough to not ask before heading off. As I reached the bottom of the hill I started getting nearer and nearer to a large pile of rocks so I decided to fall, after that there was a minor snow storm and Dad wanted to ski back to the car so off he went leaving me scared and walking through the ‘blizzard’ (I was too scared to ski so I walked). After about 1.5 hours walking in snow boots I finally got back to the car but Dad was nowhere to be seen. Luckily I spotted the keys on top of the wheel and unlocked the door. The first thing I did was peel of my snow boots and my feet were blistering and black. Snow boots are not designed to be walked in. I started worrying about Dad, I thought because he was skiing he would have arrived before me but I think he took a longer course. Anyway, he returned. To this day I often tell that story and he avidly denies it ever happened. Who knows, perhaps my recollection of events is a little more dramatic than what really happened, I was only 12 after all. Anyway, Joel of course was a total natural and although he had never skied before he was still a lot more confident a lot faster than me and opted to do z turns and go down the intermediate course before I built up the courage. I could not believe he did not fall once!

 

I did not really do anything on Christmas day itself, well actually I did. I did a lot, I was really busy but not in the celebratory sense in the running around like mad sense. I got up early in the morning so I could say goodbye to Joel. I had asked work whether I could have from 11am to 2pm off work so I could see him off at the airport but due to the Christmas concert that day my wishes were not granted, instead I got up early and arrived at work late as I spent some time saying goodbye. I told him I loved him, expressed my sadness and kissed him multiple times before heading down the lift. I believed it would be the last time in a long time that I would see him and as expected I cried but I also vowed that if my day was spent sitting around doing nothing I would be going to join him. So the first few hours of my day I essentially did nothing, I was only sitting on my phone as our grade weren’t to arrive at the kindergarten until 9.30 and we started work at 7.30am but after that things got pretty hectic. I was busy doing the makeup and costumes of all the children in my class and entertaining the parents all the meanwhile trying to call Joel and taxi driver only to find out it never arrived. I then began arguing with the driver in front of my children’s parents which I am sure was inappropriate but I was left little option when 20 minutes later he still had not arrived at our house and there was only limited time to arrive as Joel had to check in at least 2 hours before his flight! Anyway, the driver eventually got there and was even kind enough to give me a call and let me know that Joel has safely arrived. Shortly afterwards my children and I headed downstairs for the big concert, I sat on a seat dedicated for the teachers so I could do the actions and sing and the children could mimic me. I am not sure why but after teaching them ‘Jingle bells’ and ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ for the past two months they decided not to sing and only do the dance. It was a shame but I suppose they were nervous. My parents left at around 12pm and without stopping to ask I raced out the gate myself, hailed a taxi and requested to be taken to the airport as quickly as possible. I called Joel and told him “in the name of love I am coming” before explaining to him that I was switching my phone off as I was scared work would try calling me (although I had told me TA to tell anyone looking for me that she did not know where I was, but maybe they should try calling me).Joel waited for me outside, we smoked a cigarette together and then as I was starving we went in for a bite to eat but after only a few bites into our meal they started calling out final boarding for his flight. I could not believe how quickly time had gone. I had neglected to remember that boarding is normally a good 20 minutes before take-off. He started shovelling food down his mouth as I told him there was no time for that and then we raced to the gate. He kissed me goodbye and I told him to kiss me properly, the last thing he said was “I did” before we blew a few air kisses to each other and then he disappeared out of my sight. It wasn’t hopelessly romantic as I had willed. I imagined running and jumping up on him for a prolonged kiss before he walked through the gate but time did not call for it. Maybe when we meet again. I went back to our lunch and dismally ate a little more before receiving a message from him that they had closed the gate and were not going to allow him to board the plane. I started panicking asking people to help me but they didn’t really offer much assistance (I suppose because they were restaurant staff not airline staff) but shortly afterwards I ended up apologising profusely for my panic as they staff on the boarding side had sorted something out and apparently the plane was going to wait for him, thank god too because if he had have missed that flight he would have missed his next two connecting flights home as well and that would have been catastrophic. After I knew he was safe on the plane I called the same taxi driver back to come and pick me up. I arrived back at work around 2.30pm and although people had been looking for me my TA kept her word and no one realised that I had actually left the premises. Work then gave us an early hour off work and I spent the afternoon talking with Dad before spending the evening ensuring Joel got on his next flight.

As I didn’t really do anything for Christmas I decided on New Year’s Eve that I should head out. Normally every-day I am so exhausted but when it came New Year’s Eve I could not nap before my next job, I was tossing and turning so I suggested to my roommate we hit the town. I head to work first and finished around 8 o’clock. I asked whether my bosses wanted to join me and my roommate asked the people on the 16th floor (ex-student’s of mine) whether they could baby sit her son, they obliged. I got home around 8.30 and aimed to shower and get dressed by 9pm (Australian 12am) so I could call Joel and our mates and have a virtual beer with them. Much to my dismay I called him and called him again and he never answered so we head out. First we went to the Dublin Irish pub and ate some pizza and had a few beers and waited for our friend Shayne and his girlfriend/thing to join us. I met a guy called Chris there from Maple Leaf school (a pretty well-renown school in China) and we got chatting, apparently our music tastes are essentially the same so after arguing with him and consistently attempting to get him to play ‘I’m a Ninja’ by Die Antwoord he eventually gave up the music seat and let me choose the music building up to the New Year’s countdown and after it. The mix had a little Nero, Major Lazer, Diplo, Stanton Warriors, Prodigy, Infected Mushroom, Caspa and Die Antwoord. Esther, Feifei, Shayne, Matty, Krystal and her boyfriend and I all drank some celebratory shots and then headed to a club called Soho that I’d heard a lot about but never been too. They were playing the Bee Gees when we walked in, and don’t get me wrong I love the Bee Gees but I wasn’t feeling it I really wanted to dance, not just ‘dance’ you know! So after about three minutes there we left and headed to another club called Muse. I headed in and was initially disappointed as I found the music was not too good. I started whinging to my friends saying “what is this shit? it’s New Year’s Eve, and I want to dance” and then headed off to the bathroom with Esther. Suddenly the DJs started playing Will Sparks and I was amped. I started banging on the bathroom door telling her to hurry up and let’s get on the dance floor. No one was on the elevated stage they had for dancing so I try to coax her up with me but she wasn’t having a bar of it. ‘Fine’ I said and jumped onto the stage by myself dancing like crazy jumping around shaking every part of my body. I was wearing a short black mini dress with long knee high boots the music was so loud it vibrated through every part of my body, I gazed at the members in the audience, they were all looking at me but I had not a care in the world, my main desire was to try and coax them onto the stage with me. I held my hands above my head in a Hollywood stance and shook my ass just like my belly dancing teacher taught be before switching at the drops to the classical drum and bass dance that Joel is so good at. I did not realise until the next day that the DJ was calling out in Chinese to all the people in the club that a foreign girl was on the stage and I had obviously had a little too much to drink she told my audience I was having so much fun and that everyone should raise their glasses and drink and dance with me. It didn’t take long for people to start joining me on the stage and begin dancing around me, I gave myself a stitch from going so crazy that after a while I stepped down, but every time I stepped down a man’s hand would reach out to me and pull me back up. Once I stood down again my friend informed me she was leaving. She had her son at home and she was already running late, I myself was beginning to feel ill and begged her to only stay half an hour more but she insisted the time had come to leave. Very shortly afterwards Shayne and Feifei told me they were leaving. I wanted to go with them but Feifei had laid down a lot of money for the table and there was still around 10 unopened beers and a cigar smoking in the ashtray so they hinted at me that if I didn’t stay it would be a waste. So it became just me and two Russian brothers who were acquaintances with Shayne. It seemed like only two minutes had passed and then suddenly I saw people and beers bottles flying through a crowds of people and the music stopped. I’m not sure if it really did or everything just went slow motion but before I could blink there was probably 50 different people involved in a hectic brawl, the whole club was on fire. I started edging my way slowing to the door all the meanwhile staring ahead of me, people started evacuating at a rapid pace, the lights were out. A man picked something up and smashed it over another man’s head and then security dressed in all black started carrying people out the door, they were all fighting to be free as they were carried out, but not the last man, the last man didn’t struggle, clearly he had been seriously injured. It was at this point I decided to leave. I followed the trail of blood to the exit and grabbed my friends coat, put it on and went outside. Right outside the entrance to the club was a man, surrounded by people but completely alone his entire face was bright red with blood, his eyes were closed. His once white t-shirt was completely red with blood. He reminded me of a scene in the movie ‘Jesus Christ’ where he was covered from head to toe in blood, that’s what this man looked like, not an ounce of his body was not red. Behind him a man ran off and 40 or so men chased after him, I thought there was going to be a riot. A pool of blood started to gather under the man’s head, no one was beside him. I stared for a moment just like everyone else and then casually waltzed over to check he was breathing. He was breathing so I let him be, just checking on him every so often but then the man started shaking and convulsing and at that moment I knew he was in dire need of help. I quickly took off my jacket and wrapped it around him before in broken Chinese urging people to call someone for help. You would not believe their reactions, it disgusted me. They all started saying to me “you’re a foreigner, you’re a foreigner” as though that actually had anything to do with the situation at hand. I was infuriated, what was wrong with this people, I started screaming at them, “So what if I’m a fucking foreigner? What the fuck does that have to do with the fact that this guy needs help?” eventually a man came along a called an ambulance and offered the stranger another jacket to wear. I sat beside the injured man for around 20 minutes telling him consistently not to sleep, and to look at me knowing that slipping into a coma was the worst thing that could happen to him. As I continuously attempted to look into his eyes his blood dripped all over my hands and arms. Eventually approximately 30 minutes later an ambulance finally arrived, unbelievable considering the hospital was only about 10 minutes’ walk away from the scene of the fight. Two gentlemen started to lift him up to put him on the stretcher but the weight of him was too much. They called for help and I grabbed his other arm, together we laid him down and he was whisked into the back of the van. One of the men started bowing to me repeatedly saying “xiexie” (thank you), “mei shi” (no problem) I replied. He asked for my number but my phone was flat and I didn’t know it off by heart, at that point one of the Russians was standing beside me so I told one of the brothers to give the man his number and they jumped in the back of the van and were off.

After that these Russian guys offered to take me to this other pub, I agreed, anywhere but where we were was fine by me. We ended up walking into this random quiet dodgy corridor to a lift. I said to them “this place seems a little dodgy” and they told me it was a back entrance to wherever it was we were going, so I shrugged my shoulders and followed on. It the middle of a seemingly empty building on whatever floor there was a quaint little dim-lit pub which I got the gist may have been closed as the brother ‘Eugene’ told us to wait outside for him a moment, he soon came outside beers in hand and we walked back to Muse, he quietly stashed the beers in a bush before we head back inside. I could not believe that our beers were still sitting there in tact on the table. I slowly made my way though one of them as a I chuffed on a cigarette and attempted a little small talk with Eugene but unfortunately due to the pumping loud music my meaning wasn’t really get across so I started to feel bored, as did he I think because shortly after being there he suggested we leave, his only concern being the unfinished beers on the table. So I grabbed five and he grabbed five and we walked out with them. He stopped to talk to his brother Roman for what seemed like forever and I began to get the impression that he was avoiding leaving with me, so no skin off my nose I went outside and asked a stranger for a cigarette. As I left security was giving me a scrutinizing look for having all the beer in my hand but I just looked at him and said “I bought these”. Soon enough Eugene was behind me and asked where I had been, I responded “you mean where the fuck have you been? I waited like 5 minutes for you”! Anyway, we grabbed a taxi together (he lives in the same community as me) and said to me “Let’s go back to my place” I replied “and why your place not mine”, apparently he had a wider selection of music than me so it was settled. The whole way back I was trying to find out his salary and whether they had jobs available meanwhile he was telling me how much he loved my “Australianness”. Apparently he had a lot of friends in Canada who were Australian and he really wants to go to the country. Anyway as we stumbled through the door of his place he apologised for it being a ‘bachelors’ pad and a little messy, I felt an abundance of shame as the mess in their place was incomparable to the state of our home at the time. Anyway, it was really nice we kind of just sat there on his couch listening to music, shotting ‘orange infused’ cognac and talking shit for hours before his brother eventually arrived home. At that point Eugene fell asleep and my conversation continued with his brother. Not once did I feel bored talking to them. It wasn’t until around 6.30 in the morning that I left the place and made a walk home wearing only my short sleeved mini dress in the cold. I came across men and women going on their morning walks and wished them a good morning but was only met with stares. I got home, jumped into bed and passed out. I didn’t get out of bed until 4pm in the afternoon. I called my mate Shayne and explained to him my killer hangover and that I felt like I had been hit by a truck (seriously don’t even remember a time suffering such a terrible headache) and being the wonderful friend he is he came over with some Panadol, a pack of chips and a fizzy drink to assist me in my recovery. Bless him.

Anyway, summing up. My observations since the last time I wrote are that It’s definitely true that the longer you stay in a place the greater an understanding you gain.  I was always intrigued by communist societies and their function, mostly because of my families distaste for them due to the treatment they received at the hands of the Russians after World War 2. For a long time I did not notice anything astounding about China other than Chinese people’s eccentric Nationalism. I did not see much more than the red flags strung above every classroom blackboard, or the ritualistic Monday’s flag raising ceremony which every school in China was required to participate in. I did not notice more than the Mao Zedong memorabilia everywhere, I heard little from people other than their disgust in the polluted air and how difficult the economic depression was after Mao Zedong came into power, or that I should not mention the Tiananmen Square massacre in ‘public’ places. I knew that Chinese people think of Taiwan and Tibet as part of China and that the rest of the world generally do not. People discussed their dreams of living somewhere like Australia without so many people, but it wasn’t until I really started investigating things that I realised truly how encaptivated Chinese people are in the propaganda of the Chinese government. The lies scared me so much more than the truth. The first thing I noticed was after the explosion in Tianjin. The government was informing everyone in the media that a gas station had blown up, but interestingly the stories of the local people say it was an explosion at a local port. The local stories matched that of the international media, the only difference is the international media failed to report the intoxicants hovering in the air for days afterwards, the thousands of people suffering from burns to their throats, the locals taping up their windows or the dead fish washed ashore and then sold on the local markets. But it was when I noticed some Chinese writing scrawled onto a bank note and asked my boss about it that I started noticing an even greater divide between Chinese people’s beliefs and the beliefs of the ‘outside’ world than I had initially realised. She told me it was written by the Falun Gong, she told me all about them, about their cult like beliefs and atrocities and even though I had heard things almost opposite from the Falun Gong themselves in South Korea I did not doubt her or her beliefs, I opted to do more research elsewhere, independent research. Unfortunately my research did not result in only information debunking Chinese government propaganda related to the Falun Gong but also a whole tirade of new shocking information. Firstly I learnt that to this day in China there are a total of 69 ‘labour camps’ in which hold a majority ‘Falun Gong’ practitioners. The inmates are forced to wear identical clothing, work as slaves and endure disgusting methods of torture including but not limited to the more traditional ‘body stretching’ or the less traditional method of placing a toothbrush inside a women’s vagina and twisting it. I read and watched numerous live accounts and horror stories. Attempts to send information to the public on bills, and labour camps all sounds scarily similar to the events that occurred at the hands of the German people in world war two. Worse is that I was not even aware of it, and that no one seems to be doing anything about it. When my ears and eyes started truly opening up I started to notice a lot more it terms of smaller less significant things, I noticed for example after losing my wallet one night and seeking CCTV footage that there are numerous rooms in my community alone that a filled with footage covering every square inch of the area where we live and surrounds. The walls really do have ears. I started to notice that even the cigarettes I buy every day are called ‘Zhongnanhai’ which is named after the ‘Zhongnanhai’ government headquarters in Beijing, meaning literally everyday just by buying a packet of smokes I am quoting this ‘mantra’.

[1] Hiebert, Paul G. (1985). Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
[2] Boye Lafayette De Mente (1998) The Korean Mind: Understanding contemporary Korean culture, Tuttle publishing.
[3] http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/436255-54-facts-that-reveal-how-the-self-immolation-on-tiananmen-square-was-actually-staged-for-propaganda-purposes-part-1/
[4]http://www.lonelyplanet.com/south-korea/seoul/sights/arts-culture-literary/namsangol-hanok-village#ixzz3tMdNO3PL

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