Time gets away so quickly that I have been struggling to compile my notes. However, I wanted to get something down before I forgot what all my jottings meant! Below is a compilation of my diary notes. Please let me know if I have utterly misrepresented something or (worse) misspelled a name.
People to People Program
Global Archives Management Tour
Beijing and Shanghai
By D. Claudia Thompson
Twenty two American archivists and five guests spent a week visiting our Chinese counterparts in Beijing and Shanghai as part of a People-to-People program. Our delegation was headed by Elizabeth Adkins, former president of the Society of American Archivists.
We landed in Beijing Sunday, October 12, after a long plane trip that took us over North Korea with a stop in Seoul to refuel and a change of planes in Hong Kong, where a few members of our group, who had traveled separately, joined us. We also met our national guide, Hou Liping (Wendy). At the Hotel Kunlun we had our first encounter with 5 star accommodations (huge buffet breakfasts and a private safe in every room) and our first taste of Chinese-style dining (fifteen entrees jostling for space on one lazy susan). I am rooming with Kathy Marquis. Kathy went out in the evening to walk around the hotel and the Liang Ma River. I was grateful just to crawl into bed.
Day 1 (Monday, October 13): We were informed it was a “clear” day, which meant it wasn’t raining. The horizon was badly obscured by smog, however. Our bus took us to the China Archives Press building, where we met with some representatives of the Society of Chinese Archivists. The “China Archives News” bills itself as the only archival newspaper in the world and the Society of Chinese Archivists is the largest archival professional organization in the world.. Still we found a lot of common ground. Chinese archivists are concerned about electronic records management, archival training, and lack of respect and understanding from their employers, all issues we could relate to. In this building I also first encountered the Chinese washroom and “squat” toilet, which requires good knees and strong thighs. We also met Wang Jian (Jenny), a professor at Renmin University. Jenny offered to take us out in the evening, and about ten of us met her for dinner and a walk along Qianmen Street, a restored section of old Beijing. Because this excursion required us to take taxis, I had my first close look at the fearless Chinese pedestrians, who stand between lanes of moving traffic. This practice would be safer if the Chinese motorists stayed in the marked lanes.
Day 2 (Tuesday, October 14): Our morning was spent sightseeing in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City with our local guide, Liu Ping (Olivia). The Forbidden City is a complex of buildings surrounded by a wall. The compound was once the residence of the Chinese emperors and their court. In Tiananmen Square we first encountered the ubiquitous souvenir vendors who besieged us at nearly every public spot. They sold postcards, watches, Mao-themed anything, silk purses, parasols, and a dozen other things. All prices were infinitely negotiable, and some of us paid much more than others for the same merchandise. In the afternoon we visited the Beijing City Archives, where we met the director, vice director, cataloging manager, and reference manager. We discussed digitization and websites and visited their beautiful public reading room. Our dinner was held at the Yayuncun Quanjude Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant, which featured roast duck and grilled scorpions. Lee Stout and I enjoyed four scorpions each!
Day 3 (Wednesday, October 15): In the morning our bus took us a little ways into the country to visit the Great Wall at the Juyongguan Pass. In the parking lot where the numerous buses unloaded their tourists from all over the world, a Chinese family pulled me into their family group to take a picture with them. Contrary to my expectations, walking the wall entailed more climbing of stairs than strolling between battlements. Those of us who had been feeling overfed and under-exercised soon forgot any such complaints! After lunch we toured a cloisonné factory and went shopping at the Da Yi (Friendship) government store. Here, we were told, quality was guaranteed and there would be no need to negotiate. Not true! Many of us found that if we hesitated over a purchase, the price would start to slip. In the afternoon we met with the faculty and students of the School of Information Resource Management at Renmin University. Here we met Jenny again, and here Wendy’s skills as a translator were most severely tested by such archival jargon as “EAD” and discussions of records management vs. archives (a division of concept the Chinese do not share). In the evening a group of us went to a the Liyuan Theatre for a performance of traditional Beijing Opera, which proved to be a great treat involving more comedy and juggling than singing.
Day 4 (Thursday, October 16): This day was spent traveling from Beijing to Shanghai. The flight was short (under two hours). After arrival we went to dinner, followed by a wonderful acrobatic show at the Shanghai Art Theatre, escorted by our new local guide Li Ke (Eric). Later we settled in at Le Royal Meridien Hotel near the People’s Park.
Day 5 (Friday, October 17): In the morning we went to the Shanghai Municipal Archives on the Bund and were given a tour of the stacks and conservation areas of the facility. The Shanghai Municipal Archives serves a population of 22 million and the Beijing archives a population of 18 million, so these municipal archives are comparable to any state archives in the United States. We also toured a large exhibit which used documentary resources to interpret the history of Shanghai for the city’s school children and general public. After lunch we visited the Shanghai Museum and met briefly with one of the curators. After the meeting we wandered the multiple galleries of the museum, which featured four thousand years of Chinese art and artifacts. In the evening Kathy Marquis and I walked along the Nanjing Road pedestrian mall beside the hotel. Street vendors tried to sell us robo-toys that lit up.
Day 6 (Saturday, October 18): With the weekend our professional meetings came to an end. In the morning we went to the Shanghai Jade Buddha Temple. The temple was a complex of buildings, very crowded with both tourists and worshipers. The culmination of many beautiful things was a magnificent Buddha statue of white jade, life size or greater. Our next stop was a silk factory, where we admired the amazing labor put into hand-weaving the silk carpets and hangings and learned how to distinguish the qualities of silk weaving by the number of thread per inch. After lunch we visited the Yu Garden, originally a private estate, and shopped in Shanghai’s Old Town, where we honed our bargaining skills further. After a long day of walking, we were glad to visit the old Astor House Hotel for a traditional Chinese foot massage, which, it turned out, extended to the legs and even the shoulders.
Day 7 (Sunday October 19): After breakfast the bus took us to the Bund. This is the famous business district of colonial Shanghai facing the Huangpu River. The Astor House Hotel was here. On Sunday morning we walked along the pedestrian street on the waterfront, threading our way between street vendors (many selling kites) and Chinese families enjoying the day together. The weather was especially hot and muggy but clear. At about 11 we re-boarded the bus and traveled to the Caoyang residential area community center, where we had tea and admired the facilities for children and retirees. Chinese men retire at 55 and Chinese women retire at 50, we were told. We then split into three groups, each of which lunched in the home of a different family in the area. Like our restaurant lunches, the family lunch consisted of numerous dishes arrayed on a lazy susan. We could not possibly eat all of it. The apartment was small but very modern and comfortable. The couple that lived there was retired. In the afternoon we were free to amuse ourselves, so I sent for a walk in the People’s Park. As I was coming out I met two young people in their twenties who wanted to practice their English with me. The young man introduced himself as Alex and the young woman as Michelle. In English classes, all students are assigned an English name, which they use when they are learning English, so they gave me these, which I could remember. Michelle admired my long hair and asked if I was a dancer (I said no). Alex said they were going to a Kong Fu tea shop to see the tea ceremony. Would I like to come? I agreed to go with them. We walked a few blocks to a tea shop in a mall. As with the foot massage, we were shown to a private room, where a young woman made a number of different sorts of tea for us, explaining how it should be made, how we should hold our cups, and how to drink. Alex sat beside me and translated, occasionally exclaiming about how much I reminded him of his mother (thank you so much, Alex). Because I paid for the ceremony, Michelle presented me with a beautiful set of tea cups that had been offered for sale to us. In the evening the group met for a farewell dinner at A Yat’s restaurant near the Bund. Many of us took the occasion to wear some of our purchases in the silk stores of Shanghai.
Xi’an and Kunming
Day 8 (Monday, October 20): Today most of the group left to return home, but six of us had signed up for the extension tour to Xi’an and Kunming. Our group left the hotel later (about 10 AM). Eric took us to the airport in a van, gave us our tickets, and sent us off. The flight was a little delayed, but we landed in Xi’an about 3 PM and met our new guide, Hu Xin (Kevin), who is a native of Xi’an. We also met Karen Nelson, from a People to People jurisprudence tour, who was joining us for the extension. We visited the Wild Goose Pagoda, where thousands of sacred Buddhist texts are stored. A few of us hunted anxiously through the dusk before we found the Buddha statue that we were told we should rub on the tummy for luck. Dinner was at the Han Tang restaurant. Finally we checked into the Hyatt Regency, where I am rooming with Helen Wong Smith from Hawaii. Xi’an is further inland and higher in altitude than Beijing or Shanghai. Its city walls are largely intact. Our hotel was located only a little distance from one of the gates.
Day 9 (Tuesday, October 21): After breakfast at the hotel we boarded a bus for the Shaanxi History Museum. Although not as varied as the Shanghai Museum, the Shaanxi Museum contained many artifacts from one of the most historic areas of China, including examples of some of the terracotta warriors of Xi Huang-ti, first emperor of a united China. Later in the morning we went to a jade carving factory, where we watched some carvers at work and learned how to gauge the quality of jade. We learned that jade comes in many colors besides green, can only be cut by diamonds, an is most prized for its translucence. We also had an opportunity to shop. Shortly after noon we departed for the site of Xi Huang-ti’s tomb and the museum of the terracotta warriors, which lies some distance outside of the town. On arrival we had lunch before going into Pit #1, where warriors, horses, and chariots can be seen in their original positions. Once more we encountered large crowds of Chinese and other Asian tourists. Pit #2, in another building a short walk away, contained a still active archaeological site where terracotta figures still lie in broken fragments or half dug out of the ground. Pit #3 was very little excavated but included displays of some of the most intact figures found so far. Before leaving we visited the on-site museum. In the evening we attended a performance at the Shaanxi Grand Opera House of music and dance and had dinner at a dim sum restaurant.
Day 10 (Wednesday, October 22): At 8:30 we departed from the hotel in Xi’an Xi’an was significantly cooler than Beijing or Shanghai and was foggy throughout our stay, although we were again lucky to avoid rain. Arrive at Kunming about 1 PM. Although China’s landmass stretches over what would normally be four time zones, Beijing time is legislated throughout the country, so we had lots of daylight ahead of us. Met our new local guide, Hu Jian Hong (Stephen) and checked in at Horizon Hotel. We then re-boarded the bus for a trip a little way outside Kunming to the Golden Temple, a Taoist sanctuary from the 17th century with walls covered by copper rather than gold. Outside the temple we encountered man with a Bactrian camel who allowed tourists to mount and take pictures for 10 yuan. Dianne and Helen and Dee and I all climbed on, one by one, for the short ride on the camel’s back. In this temple, too, active worship was carried on among tourists who were only there to look. One Chinese family stopped us to take a picture of Lee and their little boy together. In the evening we went to a show called “Dynamic Yunnan.” Yunnan is the province where Kunming is located. It is on the border of China in the southwest and is home to many ethnic minorities. Stephen told us that there are fifty-eight ethnic minorities in China, although the dominant Han people make up 96% of China’s total. The show was intended to celebrate the cultures of Yunnan’s minorities and featured singing, dancing, and colorful costumes. It’s subtitle, “A Grand Primitive Song & Dance Medley,” made me wonder how our own ethnic minorities would like being called primitive.
Day 11 (Thursday, October 23): Helen left us today. Since her flight for Hawaii took off in the early afternoon, she could not accompany us on our tour of the Stone Forest. The rest of us departed for the Stone Forest by bus at 8:30 and arrived about 10. The Stone Forest is a natural formation of limestone formed into pillars by submersion on an ancient seabed. Portions of the area have been floored with walkways, and vendors with local handicrafts of the Yunnan peoples compete for the attention of the usual crowds of tourists. Since the area is extensive, our guide hired a golf cart for us. Our driver was a young woman wearing a traditional Yi costume and headdress. There were many such drivers, all wearing the colorful costumes. We walked where the floor was level and drove over some narrow roads to see more and took many pictures. After lunch at a restaurant in the area, we were bused to Sani Village. This was a town in the hills where Han and Yi people both live. We walked through the village, attracting some attention by our strange appearance. Most of the houses were covered in golden corn cobs. We were told it was an indication of a good harvest. We noted that the houses, which were crowded close together, had electricity and televisions, but the farming we had seen in the area was carried on by human and animal power. Nearly every door was protected by colorful paper pictures of heavenly guardians. On the way back we stopped at another silk factory, which specialized in making silk bed comforters. Our last dinner was held at the Horizon Hotel in a revolving restaurant on the top floor.
Day 12 (Friday, October 24): We rose at 6:30. Traffic was bad to the airport. We were delayed by highway closure. No signs had been posted, so vehicles had no warning that the highway was closed until they encountered the construction. Then they were forced to turn around and go back into the oncoming traffic. Incredible chaos. Stephen was quite blunt in condemnation of the local government. He clearly regarded this as a typical example of its incompetence. Nevertheless, we got to the airport on time for our flight to Hong Kong. Laetitia did not accompany us. She stayed behind to tour the area further on her own, so our group was reduced to five. We left Hong Kong at about noon. After a twelve hour flight, we landed in Los Angeles at 11:30 am (local time) the same day. So I had the experience of being in two places at the same time. At LAX our little group broke up to pursue different ways home. I went to the Travel Lodge to spend the night, so I could face the flight to Denver, and the drive to Laramie, somewhat refreshed.