Sunday, July 1, 2007

Weekend Concerto 2: 天安门和京剧


"This is the 4 o'clock early bird economy news! In national conc--" screams the radio before my hand slams a few buttons.

I quickly shower, dress, and meet LeVan (fellow classmate) . We rush to the University's main gates and grab the first taxi we see. "Tiananmen Xi," LeVan says to the driver. I look outside the window. The sun doesn't seem to be up, but I can't be sure. I just hope we're not too late for the flag-raising ceremony.

Twenty minutes later, we are at Tiananmen Square, and already we see thousands of tourists crowded around the flagpole, but they're making way for a sharply dressed brigade, marching 105 beats per minute, 75 cm per step. I sit up in excitement, and get my camera ready.

But the brigade marches away from the pole. A glance up at the pole, and the great Chinese flag laughs at me, the red cloth fluttering in the light breeze and morning shower. I try not to say anything, as LeVan gasps and shakes her head, wondering why she woke up so early. The flag still taunts me, and I can't do anything but stare at it. If it weren't for the guards at its base, the Square would see more red than back during the mass revolt of the 1980s.

The throngs of tourists have retreated to the comfort of their tour buses, feeling satisfied for watching the rare spectacle at the center of the Chinese universe. I stare at the flag, swearing in English.

But of course, being a tourist myself, I feel obligated to take the risen flag.

With nothing else to do, we head for the Forbidden City. The entrance features the smiling face of Mao Ze Dong, and at his portrait's foot are smiling tourists, feeling obligated to take a picture with a picture of a man that launched China into cultural chaos. LeVan asks if I want a pose with the man, but I spare myself.

The Forbidden City, so-called because it was closed off to the public for 500 years, features the living quarters of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The roofs are exquisite, every ornament overdecorated, every dragon sparking gold over the ramparts.

We get as far as the meridian gate, and we are stopped by a ticket booth that will not open until 8:30. It is only 5:30AM. I look up at the buildings. The living spaces are built on large blank red walls. The royal families must have thought walls would stop assassins. I'm not so sure about the walls, but I want my future house to have these palace roofs. The oriental beauty is astounding, the corner ornamental dragons majestic, guarding the dynasties from ancient spirits.

We walk along the outer walls, and find ourselves bordering the palace moat, yet another man-built defense of the long-gone dynasties. Old men cast fishing rods into the green water. I wonder if any fish can survive in such polluted water, but they know better than I do. As we stroll, we pass by elders singing with deep long vocals, swinging their bodies in beat to their music, synchronizing to the commandments of their taijiquan.

The gray sky overlooks the palace, but the palace's fierce colors seem to challenge nature's hues. However, tree and water make the color fight serene, their green soothing the eyes.
(Same day, evening)

Recovering from the early morning trek to Tiananmen takes nine hours of sleep and a cold shower. Tonight, the HBA is going to see Beijing Opera, or Jingju.

The first act is entitled, "The Goddess of Heaven Scatters Flowers." After the overture, featuring Chinese instruments such as the erhu and Chinese flute, a piercing, high-pitched note screams out over the audience. The goddess comes out from stage right, holding that same note. She stops. Now, the small pit orchestra joins her as she wails high-pitched notes that sends shivers down everyone's spines. My ears hurt for the initial few minutes, but after getting accustomed to the strange musical style, I can bear to look at the goddess, twirling the long rainbow silks across the stage. According to my teacher, Beijing Opera traditionally starts with an introduction from the goddess, her flowers scattered throughout different worlds. Our mortal minds can only see the growth of one of her flowers - in this case, the story of a nymph who married a scholar.
The story is of two warring factions - that of the scholar and that of the nymph. The two decide to marry on first sight because the nymph thinks that scholar is smart. Seriously.
But of course, the general of the nymphs is not happy with such a rash decision. He sends out troops with a warrant for arrest, but Chinese nymphs don't go down as easily as the Greek counterparts. She calls up backup, featuring her maids and an incredibly agile turtle (the green-clad man on the right).

The general sends his best marshals against her. One marshal can't stab her down - she merely kicks the spears back to the marshal. (Literally kicks the spear.) So another one joins. Two can't get her down, so three. Then four. Now each of these marshals has two spears. She only has one. But they can't get that nymph down - she's too agile for these pure earthly beings. In the meantime, the turtle fights off the rest of the troops. The maids show up for one fight and run.
The story nearly ends in failure, when the scholar is nearly stabbed by the general, but the nymph saves the scholar in distress, waving her magic amulet. The couple chases the troops away, the nymph waving the magic amulet and the scholar waving his long ponytail. The end.
A bit too Americanized, methinks. A glance over the crowd, and I see more Europeans and Americans than Chinese locals. Perhaps the locals wanted to spare themselves of the goddess's lovely high-pitched eardrum-breaking voice, or perhaps they knew that the Opera was geared for American idiots who are used to Hollywood-style action, expecting nothing less than a good dose of martial arts and a simple plot from Chinese entertainment.
Nevertheless, we really enjoyed the spectacle, for what it was worth.
(I know, my face looks noticeably boney. I've lost considerable weight since I've been in Beijing. Blame the food, not me.)
After the show, we furiously making plans for the night. Some are heading to Latino, a dance-bar club feeling (surprise) Latino music. Some are heading to Houhai, the scene of music and alcohol debauchery lasting into the night. Some are headed to sleep. As for me, I'm getting ready for singing karaoke for the first time. I don't know any Chinese songs, but whatever. It's always the company that I seek...though, it would be nice to sing something I know. Afterwards, my friends and I will go to Vic's, the hottest nightclub in Beijing, to dance the academic stress off.

Oh, it's been two weeks, but life is going so fast. So much change already - I like it. I only fear the consequences on my mind of trying to live a year in nine weeks.

("Weekend Concerto 1: The Great Wall," will be written at a later date.)

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1 Comment:

Mentor said...

not bad, not bad. I'm glad you've been going out and have a social life at clubs, drinking (which you better be doing). I'm also glad to hear your opinions about Mao. He killed more people than Hitler and Stalin combined, you know. And Tiananmen Square must have been interesting, I hear you can literally feel the blood on the tiles of the square. Keep updating Kunwoo!

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