Monday, April 17, 2006

Tropical Iceland

Beijing is interesting because, despite its general widespread apathy of most of its residents for internationalism, learning English, et cetera, and also despite the in general communist suppression of the totally free expression of dissidence, religion and certain other dangerous ideas and art-forms, it remains a relatively remarkably cosmopolitan city. Currently two of my former teammates from UPS rowing are here in Beijing, one working as a resident assistant and an administrative coordinator for International Exchange Studies (a small, low paid position in a large inefficient study abroad corporation), the other teaching English professionally at a night university. Among the educated elite, English is common and European friends or knowledge of international culture can mean status. I had not really expected this, until I went to an opera for which one of my ex-teammates was singing in the chorus. The tickets said Forbidden City concert hall and indeed, the concert hall was within the ancillary park adjacent to the old imperial palace, the symbolic center of the power of imperial china. Naturally, the hall was quite nice. There was an interesting mixture of Chinese and foreigners in formal wear, suits, dresses and such. Not to make us felt left out, there were also a number of students of cultural universities who had heard of the performance or where friends of one of the performers who were slightly more modestly (read slovenly) dressed. The opera was co-sponsored by the Italian embassy, which had flown in several professional singers from a local opera company in Italy, and attracted a wide range of Europhiles.

Being friends of one of the singers, we were also invited to an after-dinner for the singers and ensemble members, which was also interesting. We meet the incredibly drunk and flamingly British conductor, who spent a good portion of the later half of the dinner conducting a mixture of incredibly drunk chorus members and the almost as drunk women friends of the chorus members in a range of songs which are likely to be ruined forever for all present. The dinner was amazing also for the fact that, while costing $12.50 for cast members and the general public, it only cost us students $3.75 and included all you can it sushi, steak, seafood pasta along with a variety of other dishes. In short, economics is quickly making Beijing one of my favorite places to visit. We also met a few people who are quickly becoming the premiere generation of the Chinese version of the Japanese business man – incessantly and drunkenly climbing social ladders.

The next morning I managed – through friends – to locate an ex-pat church in order to go to Easter services. The church itself is rather idiosyncratic which is to be assumed considering our location. It was located in the basement conference room of Tower C of the Raycom Commercial Complex; one of the scores of clusters of modern skyscrapers that dominate Beijing. We were asked to bring a passport which would be checked at the door. “We need a passport to go to church? Where the heck are we, communist China?” …well, yes, actually… oh, well then, here you go. The church was based on the ex-pat community in China, so the services were in English and attracted an awesome diversity of people from a range of churches, including just about any American church you can think of, including Mormon and Mennonite and Quaker, along with a significant amount of people from Malaysia, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. But, just how everything about Asia attracts a sizable amount of people who were not considered “normal” in their home countries, the congregation was streaked with some less than desirable trends that might preclude any more visits to that church in particular. All the same, the tradition that the church did maintain was most comforting on a Easter Sunday away from home.


Anonymous Jen said...

glad to see you had a comforting Easter Sunday away from home.

but stop being away so much!!! you're missed here in Norman...



22 April, 2006 11:57  

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