Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, January 16, 2006

Jilin Rime 

Surprise, surprise, Saturday morning dawned with clear air, so the rime was on the trees. Jenny and I walked down to the river, and hiked along the bank for quite a distance. It struck me as I was walking, that a person really ought to get up before sunrise and do this, to put a little red into the scenery...but I don't know. The mystical white is kinda pretty, too.

After hiking along the river, we went to the museum to meet Jenny's classmate, and take a look at the largest meteorite in the world. 1700 kilograms. The original meteorite from which it came, entered the atmosphere as a huge 15 ton piece of rock, and exploded over Jilin, creating a spectacular meteor shower.

Saturday afternoon, we met with an official from what Grace calls the "Chemical Hospital." The Chemical Hospital is owned by Petro China. Jilin has been much in the news lately, because of an explosion at one of the Petro China plants in November, which released a huge slick of Benzine into the Songhua River. The 100 tons of Benzine floated down the river toward Harbin, slowly dissipating, but not fast enough, shutting down the city water supply in Harbin for four days. Then, it was on to Russia, which is not exactly good for foreign relations.

Anyway, I was aware of the plant because of all the news about it, but I had not known how big the company really is in Jilin. I am not even sure how many plants they have in Jilin, but we saw four or five of them. We then toured the "Chemical Hospital" burn ward, as well as the orthopedic section. Somehow, the sight of some broken bones is not nearly as depressing as seeing patients in the burn ward completely bandaged up, staring morosely into space while the time passes ever so slowly.

After the tour, we went to a traditional Manchurian restaurant and tasted some traditional Manchu cuisine. It is really very delicious food. We washed it down with some rich Manchurian wine, for which I was grateful, because I needed something to settle my stomach. The problem is that we have been having lunch at the hospital cafeteria, and then going to a restaurant in the evening. But for some reason, they have hired a gourmet chef for the hospital who can match any chef in any restaurant in Jilin. So lunch in that place is quite a feast. Still, that Manchurian dinner was really something special. After we had finished eating, I started asking Jenny's mom about her own studies. Madame JinShu, as Grace calls her, grew up during the Cultural Revolution. She started talking about her university experience, which consisted of working in a factory and on a farm. She also talked about covering her books with neat paper covers, so that she could turn the four classics of China (Journey to the West, Outlaws of the Marsh, Dream of the Red Mansion, and The Three Kingdoms) into the "Sayings of Chairman Mao." Finally, in 1977, the examination system was restored, and she was able to go to school.

Madame JinShu is part of the "Lost Generation." I meet them in many parts of China. They grew up during a time when studying was considered "counterrevolutionary," and one's university experience was supposed to have a healthy dose of working with the common people. There are quite a number of accounts of this period, but one of the most informative is Jan Wong's book, because it is written from a North America perspective. I also like that book, because Jan Wong writes with a sense of humor, which is sorely needed when examining that dark period. The members of China's "Lost Generation" roughly parallel the American "Baby Boomers" in their generation. There are similarities, but also notable differences, mainly in that the "Baby Boomers" were born during a time of prosperity in America. Children of the "Lost Generation" were definitely not born to privilege. They were born to hardship. Children growing up in a world gone mad. Many of them, of course, were part of that madness, although I have never met a "Lost Generation" child who identifies him or herself as one of the crazy young people who tore the country apart. Perhaps it's all better forgotten. It's hard, though. There are so many sad stories that keep coming back as reminders of that tragedy. The ones who somehow managed to endure became stronger. The ones (like Deng Xiao-ping's son) who could not seem to cope ended up jumping out of windows.

Yesterday, we drove to Changchun, which was the seat of government during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. The emperors palace has been turned into a very well presented museum. It is the site of the "Last Emperor's" reign as the puppet emperor under the Japanese. It's kinda depressing in a way, because it is clear that, while at first he dreamed of being able, under the Japanese, to restore the Qing Dynasty, it slowly became clear to him that he was only a puppet. He was basically a prisoner under house arrest. Interesting that he turned his rage on his wife when he discovered that she had had an affair, and kept her as a prisoner inside the palace. She turned inward and spent her days smoking opium, which, of course, is a downward spiral to Hell. The tour is self-guided, but you can rent a device which contains a sensor that detects where you are, and gives you an audio presentation in English of the specific location. It has a few glitches, but it really is very informative. If you haven't seen the movie, "The Last Emperor," it might be a good idea to watch that before you come.

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