there's a reason why blog updates have been spotty since i left shanghai. i can get wifi here at my shenyang's relatives' place just fine, with the exception of my upstairs bedroom, where the layers of concrete walls are enough to dampen the signal to nothing. so i'm hoping to write at night (china time) then post in the morning (where it's night time in the US).
originally i wanted to visit the chinese-korean outpost town of yanji in northern jilin province. and when i say korea i mean northern korea. but my relatives advised against it, said it wasn't safe, and that i didn't have enough time. little did they know that i enjoy doing dangerous things when i travel. besides, i didn't think it was dangerous at all, but it would require 2 days of my time here in shenyang, leaving just thursday to visit my ancestral family tomb in benxi and see my cousin's mother. so yanji will have to wait until my next visit to the northeast. maybe i could also work in a trip to heilongjiang province (the most northern point of china) and cross into the border of russia, with forest so remote there are still tigers.
so i decided today to go to beiling instead. the plan was to get dropped off at the nearest subway station (a 39 minute walk otherwise) where it was a simple ride north to the beiling park stop. my cousin's wife wanted to drive me there, but it was too far, better to get there by metro. she also didn't think it'd be safe and made my nephew go with me, stuffing cash into our hands the night before.
my cousin's wife cooked up another elaborate breakfast, more evening meal than morning meal. i'm not used to eating so much in the morning, especially not a plate of freshwater fish as the main entree. her cooking is also very salty, but i said nothing in order to be polite, realizing this wasn't helping my blood pressure.
after dinner (i mean breakfast) we went to the bank to open up an account so my company could have a place to deposit my salary. what happened next was kafkaesque. first we missed our number because my cousin's wife was arguing to see if we could get a better spot in line. then we rushed one of the tellers before the next number could be called. there was problem with the form because i didn't fill it out myself, mainly that my name isn't in my handwriting (not sure why it matters, since i'd sign the form later). we filled out a second form but they wouldn't accept it because i used traditional chinese characters to write my name instead of simplified characters. the third form finally passed the stringent criteria, but it still took a while for the clerk to figure out how to open a china checking account with a taiwan-china entry visa. finally i got a card; not a visa or mastercard, but some chinese credit agency i'd never seen before except here in china.
my cousin's wife dropped off my nephew and me at the olympics stadium station. the place got its name from the stadium that was constructed for the 2008 olympics. underground, the ceiling is decorated with neon olympics rings. we took the train to beiling (RMB$3 for the ride). shenyang subway is very similar to the shanghai subway, which in turn is similar to the taiwan subways. shenyang only recently got their metro (just a few years ago), so there's currently only 2 lines crisscrossing the city north-south and east-west. however, in a few more years more lines will be constructed, for as many as 10. the subway is a great place to people watch, and the people of dongbei are pretty fascinating. maybe it's because of manchu blood, but a typical person from dongbei is taller than the average chinese, and they have very anglo-saxon noses (not the stereotypical flat chinese nose).
we picked a good day to go to beiling because it wasn't rainy (and beiling is mostly outdoors) but that also meant we'd get bombarded from the summer sun, this season particularly hot globally. the sky was also blue, a rarity even in a less polluted place like shenyang. my nephew went to pay admission and came back with 4 different tickets at a cost of RMB$95 (US$16) for each set.
walking across vast stretches of flat plaza space was like an endurance challenge. we learned to walk in the shade. we started on the eastern side near tree-lined man-made lakes. we saw what was to be numerous magpies. my nephew said they were an auspicious sign in chinese symbology, unlike crows, which bring bad luck. watercrafts in the shapes of birds were available to rent. elsewhere, children were playing in floating water balloons. it seems a little gimmicky, designed to further earn tourist dollars.
we wandered onto the main north-south drag, attracted by the large warrior statue of hong taiji, the second emperor of the qing dynasty (although some say the first, since his father nurhaci was awarded the title of first emperor posthumously). (later we'd see an imperial painting of hong taiji, who seemed to look less heroic in the portrait, more like a pudgy mandarin with sleepy eyes). from there we walked north to the site of the mausoleum.
once we passed the initial gates, we entered a long pathway flanked by various stone carvings of animals, both real and mythical. it's hard to tell whether something is authentic or reproduction. the stonework on these beasts seemed a little too new, the material possibly cement instead of some precious stone. historical preservation seems like a recent innovation in china, after milleniums of warfare and sacking and looting and civil strife. despite the place being a top attraction in shenyang, it's not very well maintained, with grass growing on the old roofs.