This is my first time in Nanjing. It's a very old city, capital of the Kingdom of Wu back towards 200AD, Ming capital for awhile before the Yongle Emperor moved it to Beijing, scene of the signing of treaties which gave Europe extraterritorial privileges in the concessions, capital of the new Republic of China for a bit before the Japanese army boys slaughtered Nanjing's citizens to make a point. A town of significant sadness, yet a town of significant culture and awareness.
There are trees everywhere, great broad leafy trees shading the sidewalks, shedding gallons of leaves during the windy late-October afternoon. Lakes surround the city, canals connecting them and bisecting neighborhoods, a sudden coolness as you enter their realm. The massive Ming-era walls still live, although in fragments... unlike Beijing or Xi'an these walls follow the city's geography, and curve and twist with the landscape. The Purple Mountain rises to the east, the smaller Red Mountain to the north, the now-broad Yangtze bounding it to the east. It is genteel and refined, the Kyoto to Beijing's Tokyo, yet with a street grid that wraps around the hills, the rivers, the lakes.
Nanjing is known as the city of short dynasties. Although it has been a capital of many Chinese rulers, these dynasties last 20 years, 30 years, sometimes even two or three years. Whenever the focus comes here, it goes away quickly. Nanjing is called the city of coiling dragon and crouching tiger, the dragon being the massive Purple Mountain to the northwest, the tiger being the stone-walled city to the southeast. Its symbol, though, is the lion, wide of mouth (to collect wealth and fortune), wide of rump (to retain same). Its cabbies are angry honkers, yet the streets feel safer than Shanghai or Beijing. People gawk at the westerner with facial hair, a pipe and no tour group, yet it is very, very easy to draw a smile, from all strata of society, if you're willing to try.
I'm still baffled by Nanjing. I am in the geometric center of the city, Xinjiekou, at the intersection of the main north/south street and the main east/west street. I've walked maybe six miles during the day, and got turned around once... no mean feat. Xinjiekou is the commercial hub of the city, yet all I've found are small high-priced stores... an escalator trip through a nearby department store showed clerks mouthing the words to trite muzak, very sad, very empty. I think there's a food court across the next intersection. Earlier today I was down at the old Confucius Temple, thonged and very hopping, lots of street food. But in this section of town I've failed to find even a bowl of spiced chicken, and so am working off sweet pork jerky from a convenience store.
The first day in a new town is such an exhiliration! Checking a map, getting a compass bearing, finding a subway and figuring its process, trying to remember every tall building, to create a mental representation of the city. It usually takes me a day to figure how any printed map corresponds to walking distance... a little overshoot here, an unexpectedly long trudge there. Only the sleek north/south subway line has opened up so far, the east/west line still under construction. The bus lines are only a yuan or two, perhaps I'll chance them tomorrow.
The brewpub I'm in is in the basement of the Jinling Hotel, a famous one, smack in the middle of the city. There are actually brew kettles and storage vats here, so I hope they make the beer here too. The menu tells you what sizes of glasses you may buy (currently I'm on the 500ml mug at 42 RMB), but does not tell you they offer some type of light ale (seemed to pack a kick), a dark beer (surprisingly tasty, and also above 4.5% bacteria poop), or what else they might have. It is depressingly overstaffed, as are many Chinese businesses, and although the kitchen crew is idle I've yet to communicate that I might like some pub food (don't think the peanuts are enough, and the duck necks are probably too much, but perhaps there's something in the middle). The staff makes the formal polite welcomings, and the assistant manager who is practicing her English is particularly friendly, but all will smile if you make small contact and give them face, as another human being.
Next door in the basement is a strange establishment. I suspect it's some type of KTV (Karaoke TV) bar... it is dark and noisy with ultraviolet lights and glow bands, the female staff in gowns and Halloween masks shouting "Huanying guanyin" as the middle-aged males with discretionary income enter. I'll try to learn more as I pass back to the hotel, but I do draw the line at non-serious singing of music.
There are streetside juice bars, as in Taipei, with bubble tea and killer fresh orange juice, about a buck US. I had a skewer of spicy tofu, knifed to resemble menudo, from one of the cleaner street stalls. Down towards the Confucius Temple the food scene reminded me of Taipei, lively and vibrant. There are a few other street scenes here I hope to explore, should the weather permit.
But right now it has turned 9pm on a Saturday night, and the pub band has started playing "I Love You Just The Way You Are"... a little more soulful than the nearby Albertson's supermarket in the Haight-Ashbury perhaps, but far beyond my current limits of tolerance. I need to finish off this half-litre mug of dark beer and get the hell out of here before I start adding musical editorial content of my own. A pity, it could have been less obnoxious.
(Ending on a happier note, last night was my final night on the boat, and after a very stressful day among the tourists on beautiful Yellow Mountain, I smoked a pipe while walking on the empty upper deck of the ship, and the PA system was playing a recording of what music from the Zhou Dynasty might have sounded, over 2000 years ago... bells, and stone gongs, and a small plucked string section, an occasional deltablues-ish guqin or reedy sheng... silent, musical, alone in the middle of the Yangtze, gamelan-like tones reminding me of what we have been. Beautiful.)
I like music that entices, not music that commands. I like people that listen, not people that pontificate.
Update: I wrote the above in the pub and was in my hotel room by 9:30. Laid briefly on the bed, and instead conked hard. I woke up in a haze... the bedside clock (unusual in a Chinese hotel) had arms on the one and seven... the large tenth-story window was grey with a line of twinkling lights across the bottom... briefly I thought I was still on the ship, looking across to the south bank of the Yangtze on a foggy morning, but I wondered why the shoreline lights weren't moving as they should. Persistence of vision.