Red Flag, Yellow Star, Hanoi

Red Flag, Yellow Star, Hanoi

The building in the background is the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long, part of the imperial structures that served as the capital of Dai Viet from the 11th to the 18th century. The building, very much in a Chinese style, is in the center of Hanoi. The boys in their bright tee shirts with a yellow star against a red background – the Vietnamese national flag – were part of a coed group of 20ish kids, I presume a university class on an outing. All of the boys were wearing the red tees. I rather liked the contrast: young people wearing the symbol of modern, socialist Vietnam against a traditional background representing the country’s imperial past.

 

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Guozijian, Beijing

Guozijian, Beijing
The old imperial college (guozijian / 国子监) and Beijing’s Confucius temple are along this gorgeous tree-lined street. The site of occasional horn-honking traffic jams, the street is nonetheless reasonably peaceful most of the time. I had peace, quiet, and a truly beautiful, blue-sky Beijing day for my visit. The banner – almost impossible to translate into anything but stilted English – says something like “the sacred locale of the national academy, bringing virtue to the entire world”.

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Street Talk, Beijing

Street Talk, Beijing

Gulou East Avenue runs east from the old Drum Tower (Gulou) and Clock Tower (Zhonglou) towards Dongzhimen. It is a main street, but still a two lane two way thoroughfare in a city of massive wide boulevards. Not surprisingly, it is slow going for vehicle traffic most of the time. Because this is one of the few areas of the city that still looks even remotely like “old” Beijing, it is a big draw for tourists, especially of the domestic variety. I suspect this has made local officials reluctant to widen the street. The fact that the PLA owns much of the land on the north side of the street has, no doubt, contributed to the difficulties of doing anything to widen the street. I am certainly not unhappy about this. Gulou East Avenue remains a two lane road and the neighborhood has been spared the wrecker’s ball in the name of “progress”.

Most of the buildings along the street are relatively new but designed to look old. They are supposed to give the street the flavor of the old city, though I have been told that many of the designs are not authentic old Beijing styles. Be that as it may, I love this part of Beijing. The street is tree-lined and shady and, most importantly, it is on a human scale. Unlike much of Beijing with its massive architectural monuments to modernity that China’s urban planners are so enamored of. People can sit on stoops and while away the time with gossip. And that is definitely authentic old Beijing!

 

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Beef Noodle Soup, Wuhan, China

Beef Noodle Soup, Wuhan, China

Wuhan is a city of some 10 million people in central China along the Yangzi River. I was more than a little surprised to discover that Wuhan noodle shops and food stands, of which there must be thousands and thousands, serve noodles and other items in paper containers. Disposable paper containers! And disposable wooden chopsticks! I was informed that the shops save money because they do not have to pay people to wash dishes. How nice. You could not ask for a better example of how Chinese and lots of other people deal with the (apparent) trade offs between sustainability and immediate gains. Money appears to win every time. I suppose it could be worse; the containers could be made of white styrofoam.

The beef noodle soup in the picture was quite tasty, but – go ahead and call me old fashioned – it would have been tastier served in a proper bowl. You are hearing from an old fogy who hates drinking coffee out of paper cups, though he has caved in to the inevitable and does so. But I absolutely will not drink the coffee through the little hole in the plastic cover on the paper cup. Not a chance! I take the cover off. There is a limit to how low I will stoop to accommodate the “modern” world. Under the best of circumstances, the aesthetics of food does not play much of a role in a down market Chinese noodle shop. But really, disposable container, disposable eating utensils, disposable napkin… At what point do we arrive at disposable food, disposable eating?

 

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