Dispatches from Abroad: Beijing Bebop

The seminar storm has wound down – in the last 11 days, I’ve given 12 talks at 10 universities and research institutes in three major cities spanning nearly 2000 km It’s a new personal record for me that, despite the daily adrenaline rushes, I’d rather not repeat anytime soon.

flag_of_the_peoples_republic_of_china-svgSince the beginning of this week, I’ve been based at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Research Center for Eco-Environmental Research (RCEES) in northwest Beijing, conveniently down the road from the Chinese National Science Foundation offices and more-or-less around the corner from Peking University. The skies have been clear, the taxi rides uneventful as I’ve shuttled to and from seminars at the Institute for Tibetan Plateau Research [2], Beijing Normal University [1], Minzu University [1], Peking University [2], RCEES [2], the food plentiful and interesting, and the friends and colleagues wonderful. And today, October 1, is China’s National Day, celebrating the founding of the People’s Republic of China on this day in 1949.

At RCEES, my host is Professor Lu Yonglong, co-director of the center. He has an active group of graduate students and post-docs, all of whom, together with Professor Lu, adjourn for 2 hours of badminton every Tuesday and Friday afternoon. It’s a great way to exercise, and the courts are filled with people and whizzing shuttlecocks (click on any of the images to view larger versions in a short slide show).

And of course afterwards, the lab group regroups at a nearby restaurant to replenish the lost calories. So far we’ve gone to restaurants specializing in dishes from Xi’an and Xinjiang, the latter of which is heavy on various cuts of lamb, sheep, and mutton.

Sheep hooves are not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach

For National Day, Professor Lu, Assistant Professor Wang Pei, and I thought we’d visit somewhere unlikely to be too crowded.1 Our choice was the Badachu Park (八大处), with its eight Buddhist temples and nunneries, as well as walking paths through protected forests. Of course, being a holiday, it was far from uncrowded (it took us only about 15 minutes to get near to the park, but then over an hour to drive the last 1 km to a parking space), but I guess it was less of a press than Tienanmen Square would have been.

The entrance path to Badachu Park

Although Buddhism has been central to the lives of the Chinese people for nearly 2000 years (which I wrote about when I visited Dunhuang a couple of weeks back), I am continually amazed at how much the government has invested in restoring temples and monasteries, given the historical antipathy between Communist regimes and religions. Of course the opiate of the masses (or at least the incense) keeps the majority happily and mentally stoned, brings tourists’ renminbi into the state coffers, maintains overall social stability, and leaves the running of the state to the Party (click on any of the images below to see a slide show of larger versions).


1Apparently, Beijing residents flee the capital crush for the week’s holiday while people from throughout the rest of China travel to Beijing for the various spectacles. Although more than 600 million people are expected to be traveling this weekend, variously by plane, train, and car (the highways are toll-free for the holiday week), the net change in Beijing’s population for the week is nearly zero.


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