Blessed to be a witness

<= previous | back to index | next =>

Thursday, March 10th

Too cozy by half

We have been lulled into apathy by Sim's Cozy Guesthouse. It's just brilliant. Way too easy just to sit out in the garden by the pond, reading or watching the fish, or eating the delicious, though rather quirky, western food. We have both picked also up nasty colds, presumably from all the gobbing that goes on, which makes us even more disinclined to do anything. But the advice is that when we get to Lhasa, at 3,600 metres elevation, we should do next to nothing for the first three or four days to avoid exacerbating altitude sickness, so I'm sort of justifying it by saying we're sort of getting into practice.

We've met some nice people, and have made some half-hearted attempts to see stuff. The Buddhist temple next to the guesthouse is a bit like every other temple we've been to so far. In fact, I was getting a bit 'templed out', but then we visited the Green Ram Temple, one of the few remaining Taoist ones left (Taoists suffered really badly during the Cultural Revolution), which, despite the same symbology that's found in every temple I've seen so far, including the Great Mosque, is a little different. The story goes that Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism - who may or may not have intended his philosophy to become a religion; also he may or may not even have existed - arranged to meet a friend. When the friend arrived, all he found was a shepherd boy with two goats, and concluded that this was, in fact, Lao Tsu. Er... OK then.

Thus a temple grew up on the site of this amazing occurrence (I do wonder if anyone ever suggested to the friend that perhaps old Lao was off having a cuppa and this was in fact just a shepherd boy). There are the usual turtles and dragons and pagodas, but the atmosphere was very different, with the monks and nuns larking around, and various zodiacal and i-ching symbols around. Very pleasant anyway to be in such a peaceful spot, with its gardens and birds singing, and to be out of the bustle of Chengdu for a while.

I am liking Chengdu somewhat less than I expected, whereas I liked Xi'an a little more than I expected. The air pollution here is appalling, and most of the time when we can see the sun, it's a dim orange disk through all the smog. The race towards modernisation is breakneck, and the traditional wooden houses of Chengdu are being demolished all around us, robbing the city of its character. I'm sure it's western arrogance that makes me think this is A Bad Thing, and that the locals are delighted to have all the high-rise and shopping centres going up around them, but I just hope they don't regret it in twenty years' time.

The drive for modernity is also showing a little in the propaganda that emanates from the government-controlled newspapers. I've actually seen articles in the English-language papers that suggest a little internal dissent, or that the government isn't totally in control all the time. For example, there's a drought in Hainan island that has been wrecking the crops for the past three years, and the papers admit it - along with the incredible things the wonderful government is doing to help the grateful Hainanese. Another article had the Communist Youth League criticising the People's Consumer Board for publishing a wine quality rating pamphlet, because it might encourage young people to drink. It's not much, and such debate might be just for show, but it's a far cry from the "everything's fine, move along please, nothing for you to see here" mentality that existed even a decade ago. And weirdly, I was walking down the street past one of the newspapers that the government routinely pastes up on the wall to allow the poor to read the propaganda too, to be confronted by a photograph of Peter Mandelson. Not the kind of thing one expects - or wants - to see in south-west China.

<= previous | back to index | next =>

To comment on this, or just to say hello, mail me at