The method: Five nights in Beijing, an overnight train to Xi'an for two nights, a plane to Chongqing for four nights, five nights on a boat through the Three Gorges and down the Yangtze, then three nights in Nanjing, two nights in Suzhou.The cities:
- In Beijing I was mostly in Xuanwu and Tiantan, and saw only a little bit of Olympic Park, Houtian, and the touristed areas... hard to tell how much changed.
- Xi'an is funky and gutsy, but the traffic and air were difficult. I had a chance to walk a little of it five years ago, and a chance to walk some more of it this trip.
- Chongqing has an impossible city center, very entertaining, although I saw only a little bit of the larger municipality. Fascinating.
- Three Gorges was a new landscape painting, every hundred feet. Huangshan was surprisingly satisfying. The Yangtze itself, wow.
- Nanjing has culture oozing out of every pore, and is in rapid transition to a new version of itself. Easy to spend more time there.
- Suzhou would be great, once the cabbies and pedicabs got a clue.
- Creative destruction: The cities and the country are reinventing themselves. I was particularly shocked by the amount of reconstruction going on in Chongqing and Nanjing. But it's part of a tradition -- most of China's grand buildings have been revamped and changed over time -- stones from old hutongs are being used to build newer versions of traditional structures -- one city's plan is drawn from another's, the same principles are constantly being reinterpreted. The amount of startup businesses is phenomenal, even though their startup skills may be under-experienced. The rate of change far, far exceeds what I see in San Francisco.
- Generation gap: I saw two types of groups which were shellshocked, without emotional affect: tourists, and elders who have had their city and country change out from under them. Apartment complexes don't support the previous social structures. And on this trip I saw more spoiled and overweight sibling-less children than before. Each generation has a different dynamic, a different understanding of China. Very stark.
- Computery stuff: People looking at their hands were about the same as in San Francisco (which has increased dramatically over the past year). But most of the shoulder-surfing I did showed text displays. I'm really impressed by visual design and motion design in China, and think (particularly with the language differences) that this would have great implications for mobile use, once the ecology moves beyond just text. But I was greatly under-impressed by Chinese information design, the thinking of things from the viewpoint of the user, and anticipating their needs.
I use a cane, and enjoy juggling rope. I got the chance to spend four of the five Beijing mornings at Temple Of Heaven Park, and got the chance to observe many players. I didn't find a similar scene in other cities, just little pockets of early-morning physical activity. In the latter section of the trip I had the chance to practice some of the new things I had learned, and have progressed greatly... footwork in particular. I'm sad, though, that I never saw anyone handle an everyday walking cane with grace and intention.
As usual, I dropped a belt notch this trip... I eat some, but not enough to replace the energy I expend walking all day. I did not find a good source for Biang Biang Noodles in Xi'an, nor Bang Bang Noodles or even hotpot in Chongqing. Got to visit the insect foodmart near Wanfujing once, but was turned off by the tourist hustle. Enjoyed the Chinese/Western breakfast buffets at the hotels. Had some spicy skewers in Sichuan, discovered some real good Ma Po Tofu in Nanjing, ate lots of bowls of noodles, drank lots of juices and yogurts and teas, and rediscovered matured rice wine. But for all my interest in different foods, I'm not real good at scoring a princely meal.
Biggest complaints: Hygiene, noise, the inability to anticipate what happens next.
Biggest pleasure: Taking a moment to recognize someone's humanity, smile, and receive a smile in return.