The conclusion to Part 2 of the annoyingly brilliant Anthony Lane’s annoyingly brilliant two-part report of the Beijing Olympics in The New Yorker
A self-immolation took place in the heart of China’s capital city last month, but it has taken weeks for the news to leak out via foreign tourists. Police acted immediately to put out the fire and the man who did it has reportedly recovered.
The incident, which took place on October 21, has gone completely unreported on China’s heavily censored state media and social networks, despite being witnessed by hundreds of onlookers in the middle of day. After The Daily Telegraph published a photo of the man in the UK this week, government officials have finally admitted that the incident took place and that the 42-year-old man “took the extreme action because of discontent over the outcome of a civil litigation in a local court.” Read more.
Took a quick trip to Beijing and the Wall last week. The day I visited the Forbidden City, it rained nonstop, all day. Nonstop.
On the bright side — or grey side, rather — the weather fit the mood cast by the 1,142 Chinese gargoyles perched atop the rooftop corners. (If anyone knows what these are called in Chinese, btw, please enlighten — perfunctory Googling yielded nothing.)
Among the 980 buildings in the Forbidden City are the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the Hall of Imperial Peace, the Hall of Heavenly Peace, the Hall of Union and Peace, the Hall of Earthly Peace, the Hall of Quintessence, the Palace of Cherishing Essence, the Hall of Abstinence (this one hit a little too close to home), the Palace of Assisting the Earth, the Palace of Extending Happiness, the Hall of Medium Harmony, the Hall of Protective Harmony, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, and, most superlatively, the Hall of Ultimate Supremacy.
Some of them, as you can see, are made possible by American Express. And here I’ve been all these years, sticking with Mastercard like a sucker. What has Mastercard ever made possible for me? Just goods & services and monthly statements. No Peace, Tranquility, or Quintessence whatsoever.
Some highlights from the Forbidden City’s Hall of Clocks.
I dig timepieces. In another life — if I were born in 17th-century Switzerland or 18th-century Britain and knew the right people, and if I had steadier hands and artistic talent and any mechanical know-how whatsoever — I would have been a clock-maker.
“Charming” is low down on the list of adjectives most Westerners would use to describe China. Even people who like it here would agree with that.
An exception? City parks. Specifically, the things Chinese people — even more specifically, older Chinese people — do in the city parks. In January, in Harbin, I saw locals ballroom-dancing and playing ping-pong in sub-zero temperatures. Last week, in Temple of Heaven Park, I saw locals doing pretty much everything else: tai chi, singing, fitness-dancing (that’s a thing, right?), ping-pong with shuttlecocks, hacky sack with shuttlecocks, quasi-tennis, tree-lined strolling, and having awesome kooky hair.
The park entrance fee is 10 RMB (~$1.50), but it’s free for the 60-and-up set. When I mentioned this to a few younger locals the next day, they said something to each other in Chinese and then giggled. I asked for a translation. Even if the entrance fee were as high as 2 RMB, they said, old people wouldn’t go.
And yes, in Temple of Heaven Park, there is a Temple of Heaven.