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The View from China Part One

by Anne Thompson
July 31, 2012 6:26 AM
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Apple Store, Beijing.

Nora's college pal Missy stayed at the much cheaper Hump Hostel downtown; while I wouldn't have wanted to share a room with eight travelers, her solo room was perfectly acceptable.

It was unsettling to see many little dogs running around the streets ungroomed and untended, with neither collars nor owners; they are fed scraps by stores and restaurants. At the Kunming market, dogs were for sale as pets (I think), while at the big produce market in more rural Xingping, cooked dog was for sale; Nora admitted to trying it once and not liking the taste.

Piracy Alert: Kunming.

Piracy is rampant of course, as all the video stores were stocked with the latest DVDs, including entire seasons of TV and cable shows not yet for sale in America. With Facebook and Twitter blocked in China, not only to block the content but so that the Chinese will use internal versions instead, Nora has an outside URL--if I wanted to post on Twitter during the China trip, I had to email things for her to post for me. Chinese Television was like going back to the days of variety shows like Lawrence Welk, Hootenanny and Carol Burnett, with sweet pop songs and broad comedy bits making fun of farmers. It was strange to watch the news and recognize that it was utterly untrustworthy--and yet, how "accurate" is Fox News?

James Cameron on China Harper's Bazaar

The best meal we ate the entire time was in Beijing, thanks to producer Terence Chang, who took us out to a fancy Peking Duck restaurant, Duck De Chine. The duck melted in your mouth, especially if you took the skin and dipped it in sugar. Decadence. With hindsight, while Nora's Beijing choice, Hotel Kapok, was a well-designed and reasonable hotel near the Forbidden City, we wound up spending most of our time closer to the Sunlitun Bar Street area, home to many stores and restaurants, Beijing's one Apple store, the super-modern Opposite House with its art gallery lobby and CAA's Beijing office, run by Jonah Greenberg, who met us for drinks at Saddle, a popular Mexican restaurant.


Between Kunming and Beijing we enjoyed a vacation interlude in Yangshuo, home to the stunning karst limestone peaks that inspired the 20 Yuen note as well as Miyazaki's "Castle in the Sky" and Cameron's "Avatar." That's also where China auteur Zhang Yimou's post-Olympic visual stunner "Impressions" unfolds over the water, with ghostly lit mountains behind. The best tableau of the night involved hundreds of bamboo rafts and boatmen and streaming red ribbons. For more details on the trip, see my Facebook photos.

Stay tuned for Part Two, in which I probe the relationship between China and Hollywood.

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  • rgm | August 2, 2012 12:29 PMReply

    Fascinating trip. Looking forward to Part Two

  • GHG | August 2, 2012 12:18 AMReply

    I stayed at the Yunda Hotel in Kunming as a tourist more than a decade ago - it sounds like it hasn't changed, a great place to catch your breath. Kunming is a wonderful city, and Yangshuo is as spectacular as you say. Don't know if you tried long-distance Chinese train travel, which is also a remarkable experience. An extraordinary country in so many ways.

  • Anne Thompson | August 1, 2012 8:47 PMReply

    Yangshuo is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been; I had forgotten that "The Painted Veil" filmed there. I may not have adequately expressed how much I loved China and its people. There is enormous exploding power there, and while the government is far from democratic--au contraire--it is patriarchal, even functional, in a fascinating way. More in Part Two.

  • jingmei | August 1, 2012 11:31 AMReply

    Very modern et traditionally mixed in big cities, except the air pollution is a big problem. And many locals treat foreigners as if they are the pets from the zoo. Some places are especially beautiful for shooting films. Some people such as Edward Norton or Jeremy Renner have been there to have a look at least.

  • David Gritten | August 1, 2012 2:53 AMReply

    It sounds intriguing, Anne. Your photo of the karst limestone peaks in Yangshuo reminds me that this was also the setting for a gorgeous sequence in The Painted Veil (2006), so beautifully shot by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh.

  • Deena Jones' wig | July 31, 2012 1:41 PMReply

    Lovely pictures Ms. Thompson. Thanks for sharing. I have to Asia multiple times but a visit to China has always eluded my itinerary. I have to rectify this mishap asap!!

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