Shall One Compare Thee to a Fair Beer, Dear Mother?

No, I shall not, as you are incomparable.  A happy Mother’s Day to my amazing mother Leslie and all you other mothers reading this out there.  I love you to the moon and back and back and back ad. inf. Are you ready for more pictures of plants?  Cus you’re gonna get ’em.

Took a trip to the botanical gardens last weekend when everyone was out of town.  It’s only about 2.5 km from my place, so while it made for a long walk I did the entire trip on foot.   I’ve had people tell me that everything south and east of my university didn’t really exist 20 or so years ago, that the area was pretty much just rural.  According to my advisor, my current street, which is chock full of restaurants and home to a bustling nightmarket, was dirt circa 1997.  Apparently those in Harbin that were on the up and up made very nice money buying up houses here early and reselling them, my advisor included.  He only realized because he used to take long walks and noticed them laying foundation for the buildings.  As a result, he lectures us on the importance of walking every day.  “It’s how you get to know the world,” as he puts it.

As you get further east towards the gardens, Harbin takes on a strange, super suburban feel.  Everything is laid out, shiny, and just overall amazingly residential.  My current neighborhood has a bit of a similar feel, but a it’s connected to Harbin’s main arterial road you feel more connected.  This region looks like it was built in the last 10 years though, and being a couple more blocks removed really does make a difference.  I apologize if I’m not articulating the effect this had on me very well.  To sum it up though, this area just a short distance from me feels miles far removed from my area, and even more removed from historical Harbin.  Very cool that way, standing there you feel like you’re in suburbia at its purest, nothing but residences and restaurants, nothing real for miles around.  I would almost describe it as being isolated in a crowd if that makes sense.  Anyway, here are the pictures.  It was quite overcast that day, but I managed to avoid heavy downpours and will be returning on a sunny day.

I’ve felt that my recent posts haven’t been as educational as they could be.  I apologize again, as one of my main goals with this blog giving y’all some more understanding for China.  Fortunately, this week gave me a perfect opportunity!  The foreign students office at HLJU organized a free trip to the opera house (same one I had been to) to see Yongle.

The opera takes its name from 永乐 (yong luh) which literally means long-lived joy, and was the title of the Yongle emperor, fourth son of the founder of the Ming Dynasty, and is a dramatization of two events from Chinese history that occurred during his reign in the early 1400’s.

The first is the compilation of the Yongle Encyclopedia.  The Yongle emperor wanted to preserve Chinese culture, and so ordered his minister Xie Jin to compile a great book on every subject and book known to the empire at the time.  This was a massive undertaking, and the first edition took 17 months to transcribe.  Although the work has been lost today, it remains an amazing achievement.

The opera’s main plot involved Xie Jin and the court intrigue that resulted in his death as well as the interruption of an engagement between his son and the daughter of another minister.  I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure what it was he did to get executed.  While it wasn’t as unintelligible as normal Chinese opera, there were parts spoken in contemporary (14th century) Chinese that I didn’t quite get.  That point though is one of the most interesting things about it.  Despite being super Chinese in subject matter, it actually appeared to be using the conventions of any traditional Chinese opera.  It was just somewhat novel to see a Chinese opera that was somewhat modern, or at least closer to Western traditions in the medium.

The second plotline, which was much more minor and kind of just there to set the time period I feel, dealt with Zheng He.  Zheng He was born in Yunnan, but taken into the Yongle emperor’s service as a boy when the latter was still a prince.  He was turned into a eunuch (returned that word to my Chinese vocabulary nicely enough) and for that reason was played by a counter-tenor, which was really cool.  Never seen one perform before.

Zheng was eventually made a naval commander, and then in 1405 was given a mission to establish diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.  He was given a fleet of massive ships, like real massive, 120m four-decked monoliths.  Here’s one compared to one of Columbus’ ships.

Now imagine you’re a foreign ruler and a full fleet of those shows up at your port city.  You’re gonna become a vassal sate of China without them even asking.  Zheng’s journeys took him to India, the Middle East, and even East Africa.  They were actually dubbed “treasure journeys” and were aimed at increasing Chinese presence abroad, setting up tributaries etc.  The tributaries didn’t contribute much, and China didn’t establish colonies, but the colonial sentiment was still there, as tributary nations were required to recognize the cultural superiority of the Ming.  Tribute made former luxuries like black pepper and cobalt commonplace in China, and established Chinese cultural and commercial hegemony over the area.

Almost none of this was mentioned in the opera, but it does end with Zheng He riding a massive set boat across the stage, so that was cool.  And probably really fun for the props department.  Then saw Vivaldi performed by an Italian chamber orchestra on Sunday which was a real treat.  

I’m becoming a theater rat this rate, is that bad?  Pretentious?  Or living the good parts of life?  I’ll let you decide dear reader.

Lastly some stuff on my life, went to the cafe one day and Buddy was super super lovey, driving his face up my sleeve in search of cuddles and then bundling up in my bag.  Love that dopey little guy.  I also found a new favorite kebab stand.  They actually do kebabs spicy enough and oily enough to fit my guilty palate. 😀  They also have a pet squirrel, how can you say no to those kebabs with that kind of a mascot? And a cool new experience, I’ve never had my beer praise me in the manner of a Shakespearean sonnet before, more beers should do that.

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