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Re: [BKARTS] Beijing, China

I travel to China frequently and if you can avoid Beijing this year, I would do. The Olympics won't happen until August, but prices have already been jacked up and the madness has begun. Shanghai is a much lovelier city with just as many (or more) interesting museums. I suggest you start with the Lonely Planet Guide to China or their city guide to Beijing. Lonely Planet publishes the best guides to China. Rough guides are a close second. There is regular news about the art scene in China in issues of _Art in America_ so I'd check your library for that as well.

If you must go, I suggest you see the Summer Palace in the northern part of the city which is where the emperor went to get away from the heat of the Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square in summer. There are no trees in Tiananment or inside the Forbidden City because they didn't want any potential assassins to have a place to hide. I also recommend that you visit the Great Wall north of the city. The Wall at Badaling is very touristy, less so at Mutianyu. The Great Wall is so magnificient that even the tourist trap stuff doesn't diminish its glory. Be prepared to do some huffing and puffing because the Wall is suprisingly steep up on top. The views are unparalleled.

In Beijing, there was a street, Liulichang, that was lined with little shops selling art paper, brushes, seals, etc. when I was last there. I heard that the authorities were going to "improve" this street which, if they did, probably means it's been ruined.

If you are in Shanghai, though, there's a great street in downtown, Fuzhou Lu, which is parallel to the famous Nanjing Lu shopping district and which runs between People's Park and the Bund. Fuzhou Lu has great shops on both sides of the street with papers, brushes, inks, carving tools, etc.

Never accept the first price ever. Always say "tai gui le" which means "too expensive." Write down on a paper how much you are willing to pay in the market for an item. Your price should be 1/3 of the asking price. Decide in advance how much you are willing to pay. They will come back with offer that will be too high. Walk away. They will follow and eventually you will get to something is about half of what they originally ask.

Never trade dollars for Chinese yuan in a location other than an authorized place such as bank. It is illegal to convert money like this, and even though people don't follow the law always, it's a good idea, in my opinion, to follow the law when it China. You never know when some guy with a crew cut, square jaw and uniform may decide to enforce the law and make an example of you.

Watch out for counterfeit currency. Change 100 yuan bills into five and 10 yuan bills and pay with those. If you pay a taxi driver, for example, with a 100 yuan bill or higher, you could very well be given counterfeit bills - 20s and 50s in exchange.

The Chinese have this notion that all westerners are fabulously weathy. They think it right and proper, seeing as how they view themselves all dirt poor and all of us as Bill Gates- rich, to jack up prices and to "beg" for handouts. The beggers are in business and children are run in gangs like in Dickens "Oliver." I only give money to people who have something to sell or a service to perform and I give a reasonable amount. I give money to street musicians and to the little old ladies who sell maps and other items. Otherwise I feel like I am damaging the dignity of that Chinese person and I am being an Ugly American flashing money around.

If you are starting to get a picture here, you are correct. The Chinese have embraced capitalism with a vengence. It is unregulated capitalism - minimal consumer protection and environmental protection enforcement. It's sort of like the U.S. in the late 19th, early 20th centuries in the era of the robber barons. They will figure it out eventually and reign in all those capitalists which still call themselves communists.

For readers of this list, if you are interested in teaching English in China for 2, 3 or 4 weeks in summer and see the "real" China, contact me. I'll be there again this summer but not in Beijing. My destination is Nanjing, the most beautiful city in China.

C. Shane

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