Sunday, March 9, 2008

Not Enough Minutes in the Day

You've got to give it to Mao, he doesn't let a little thing like death stand in the way of keeping a busy schedule. After sleeping for only a few hours the other night I woke up bright and early to be at the front of the line to see Mao in all his glory. However, when I got to the Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Mausoleum I was told by a guard, "No Chairman today." Despite a large sign in front of the building displaying his regular office hours (Tuesday-Sunday 8:15 till 12AM (This calls for double parenthesis: On one of the most important monuments in China they have a typing error since the monument closes at noon and not at midnight)) Mao wasn't available. I just shrugged it off as another unexplainable thing in China. I can't fault Mao though. He's got the Olympics coming up, an emerging economy, a billion plus people to feed, etc. How he ever has office hours I just don't know. Man, I just want to pinch his cheeks!

The rest of the day I went around the city taking photos. Right before I left the USA I replaced my Prius with a Canon Rebel XTi. I made the promise to myself that along my trip I wouldn't buy any souvenirs but would just take tons of amazing pictures and put them into a coffee book for myself upon returning to the states. In my last week in America I began to practice with the camera with tutorial help by my buddy Sam (Vanderbilt '00, USC '05, On The Lot '07). Sam has an amazing photographic eye and taught me the basics of some advanced techniques-blurring moving objects, long shutter speeds at night, etc. Well Sam's tips are starting to pay off because I've got about forty shots that I absolutely love.

The funny thing about taking photographs in China is that people will approach you and try and look into your viewfinder to see what you're taking pictures of. Countless times I've stepped aside so people can check out what I'm about to shoot. I also have no doubt that a few of those times I may have been approached by undercover policemen since I've been setting up my tripod in some highly guarded places and gotten looks from more than one soldier.

A few funny things that happened on my photo day trip:

1. I was approached by multiple Asian tourists who asked to take pictures with me. I was in the Forbidden City and people would rather photograph me then some ancient chair sat in by the Emperor. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've still got it!

2. At lunchtime my meal was interrupted by loud laughing next to me. I turned to look and saw an old man and his son pointing at me and mocking how I was using my chopsticks. I've been using chopsticks for at least a decade and never had a problem and was doing quite fine eating my Peking duck and dumplings. However, the guys were making faces and gestures as if I was using a fork upside down.

3. I started to think that I managed to escape all scam artists in town when "My English name is Richard" came up to me and invited me to some quiet place to have tea and look at art. It is the exact scam written about in Lonely Planet and told to me by other tourists. Basically they bring you into a back room and threaten you unless you pay them a bunch of money. So Richard's English name was appropriate--he was a dick.

4. I went to the YongHeGong Lama Temple and started snapping away photos. There was a Tibetan Prayer wheel that people were approaching and spinning. I thought it could make for a really cool action photo with the wheel blurring and the people's arms moving too. So I set up my tripod and began to take pictures. After a minute this old man approached me and asked me to take his picture. I took a few shots for him and then showed him the images in my LCD screen. He started to say something to me very frantically and I had no idea what he wanted. I gestured that if he wrote down his address I'd send him the photos. He then grabbed my camera and started pulling at the image. A woman came over who spoke decent English and translated--the man wanted the photo from my camera. He was literally trying to pull the image out of my Canon. After about fifteen minutes of explanation the woman said I should email her the pictures and she would send them to the man and his wife. I took a bunch more photos for the man and he thanked me vigorously. He bowed to me about thirty times which felt very odd considering I was standing feet from a gigantic Buddha.

5. One of the Tibetan monks was wearing a Rolex.

6. After letting my stomach recover for days by managing not to have any spicy food, I bought what looked like a spring roll/burrito from an outdoor food stand. I bit into the food and within seconds felt my mouth start to tingle. This didn't stop me from having another bite...and another. Before I knew it I was dripping wet and felt like someone had just shoved a blow torch into my mouth. I quickly scurried through a large crowd to find some help. The help came in the form of two golden arches as I frantically purchased and stuffed a McDonald's ice cream into my furnace/mouth. The yogurt swirl was temporary relief and got me through the worst of it but for about two hours after my lips were burning hot.

Off to Shanghai!!!