Meeting local people in China

Yesterday was the Dragon Boat Festival in China, one of China's oldest festivals (a.k.a. Duanwu Festival; simplified Chinese, 端午节; traditional Chinese, 端午節).

Nobody really knows how or why it began, but the most common story told is of Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet who committed suicide, a long time ago (circa 278 BCE). I think his despondence had something to do with how the kingdom was being ruled (i.e. not well). He drowned, and after he jumped into the water, the Chinese people tried to save him by throwing their boats in the water. After he died, a tradition of Dragon Boat racing started, inspired by the boats used in an attempt to save the boat. The Chinese also throw rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the water, so that the fish will eat the rice instead of the poet's body.

I figured my day would be spent finding something to do related to the festival, but instead I found myself spending the day with various groups of local Chinese people, all by chance.

Over breakfast, a Chinese translator (translates books from English to Chinese) from Hong Kong, who is living this year in Beijing, noticed my Leica MP camera, and showed me his Leica M3. He invited me to spend the day with his friends, and before he even told me where they were going or why, I said yes. I later learned he also shoots with a Rolleiflex TLR (F2.8 E), similar to my Rolleiflex.

We visited Tsinghua University, and also the nearby Yuanmingyuanthe Ruins (a.k.a. Old Summer Palace, or Gardens of Perfect Brightness).

Tsinghua is one of two major universities in Beijing, the other being Peking University. The campus of Tsinghua is beautiful, full of ponds, stone bridges, and gardens no less impressive than those at Yuanmingyuan, which today are ruins thanks to the British and French burning it to the ground in 1860. All of the ruins that I've seen in Beijing seem to have been burned down by the British and French in 1860. I'm not even sure why they were fighting, but I think it might have had something to do with opium.

On my way home, I visited the Temple of Heaven, which was built during the same time (1406-1420) as the Forbidden City, but farther south. I never even made it to the temple. The grounds themselves are large, a few square kilometers, and it's full of Chinese people exercising, singing karaoke, playing cards and other Chinese games, and also a number of people playing Jiànzi, which is like Chinese hackeysack or footbag, but instead of a bag they use a large, weighted shuttlecock. It's a bit easier to control than a traditional hackeysack, but no less fun.

Some older Chinese people invited me to play, and I spent the next couple of hours playing jianzi with different groups of people, young and old, and all pretty good at controlling the homemade shuttlecocks. It's not easy to endear yourself to older Chinese women, but with jianzi it's possible. I bought five of the jianzi toys (less than one dollar each) and was given a sixth as a gift.

One my way home from the Temple of Heaven, I figured maybe I would try to track down something related to the Dragon Boat Festival, but instead I met a Chinese tattoo artist who was interested in my tattoo. He invited me up into his tattoo studio. He was the first Chinese person I've met who had something to sell, who did not try to sell me anything. I was waiting for him to ask what kind of tattoo I'd like, but instead he gave me five or six posters painted by apprentices, and we talked about some of the places he has visited as a guest artist. He was proud to show me his phone and all of his phone numbers from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Beijing Assassin Tattoo Studio: The owner and artist is on the right; the girl on the left was debating final designs for the tattoo (skull; of course I approved!) she had planned for tonight.

Homemade "barbed wire" in Beijing, seen during my visit to Tsinghua University.

Five friends who invited me to spend the day at Tsinghua University and Yuanmingyuanthe Ruins; left to right: Kathryn, Margaret, Warren (Leica M3 photographer), SD and JZ.

Collie at Beijing Assassin Tattoo Studio.

Some of the Chinese people at the Temple of Heaven who invited me to play jianzi; they also taught me how to use the Chinese diabolo, which was similar but not quite the same as diabolos I've used in America. The jianzi shuttlecock is the toy with the colored feathers; the diabolo is orange toy in the background.

Jianzi footbag/shuttlecock/hackeysack.

Jianzi footbag/shuttlecock/hackeysack: made with circular pieces of plastic, tin or metal, and rubber, tied together with string.



Tsinghua University; Beijing, China.

Tsinghua University, the old library, one of at least two on the campus.

Stone-wall maze at Yuanmingyuan Ruins; yes, I made it to the center (not very difficult).

A small, small, small section of Yuanmingyuan Ruins, which go on for what seems like forever.