Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 02, 2007


What were you doing at age eleven?

Religion in China

Here is an interesting article on religion in China.


I hate to gloat to you poor people in the cold back home, but I just took a walk in suburban Phoenix. It is near seventy degrees and sunny. I got here yesterday, flying out of Grand Forks at five in the morning. The sun is starting to wake me up! In the cold weather, I feel as if I am swimming in a vat of molasses.

I landed in Tucson, but that didn't work out; there is a gem and mineral show there which is absolutely huge, and hotel rates double, sometimes triple. So, I toodled up to Phoenix and got a nice weekly hotel room on the edge of a plowed field. By that, I mean that the plowed field is ten steps from my door. For some reason, I find that really reassuring.

Phoenix has more green grass than Tucson. I haven't explored at all yet, so I don't know anything else about the city except for that it is gigantic.

I will be working on writing, and for that purpose it was good to find there is both a Barnes and Noble and a Borders just five minutes away. I like to go there with my laptop, sit in the cafe, and write.

January 31, 2007

Back to Shanghai

Here is the view from the top of this, the world's fourth tallest building.

From the top of the Jinmao Tower, one looks back across the river to old Shanghai. Where the towers are going up was only ten years ago an abandoned shipyard with a few old neighborhoods interspersed. Now it is some of the hottest real estate in the world.

What happened in the meantime? Well, aging Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping came through Shanghai in about 1992. Although he was out of office, he still held authority, as Chinese leaders tend to do unless they are completely disgraced. When Deng came through, he gave Shanghai permission to start developing. And develop they did.

Deng Xioaping's visit marked a new era for Shanghai. Before that point, the rulers in Beijing were very hesitant to let Shanghai build anything which might cause Shanghai to be the better city. There is a great competition between the two.

In the 1980s, in fact, so little building was allowed in Shanghai by the authorities in Beijing that housing was extremely scarce. Three generations would share a tiny apartment. Married couples were lucky to get their own apartment a decade after marrying. They 1980s are remembered as tough times in Shanghai.

Another factor in the rulers allowing Shanghai to cut loose: There is now a greater rivalry in China than that which exists between Beijing and Shanghai; it is a competition between the old People's Republic and the new addition, economic dynamo Hong Kong. It seems the leaders in Beijing are willing to let Shanghai pass them by if it assures them that the greatest city in China will be within the boundaries of the old People's Republic.

Chinese media

More on the beating death of a Chinese reporter, and the problems it has exposed.

Tiananmen Square

Perhaps this picture gives some idea of the size of the famous public square, the largest of its sort in the world. It has held over 1 million people for large rallies organized by the Communist Party years ago.

The above image is famous. News organizations from around the world said that this lone student courageously faced down the tanks on Tiananmen Square, and that legend has stuck. However, nobody knows whether this man was a student. In fact, with his bag, he looks more like a shopper. And the picture was not taken on Tiananmen Square, but on a main boulevard perhaps one-third of a mile away from the square. The photo was taken from the Beijing Hotel, from which you cannot really see the square.

January 30, 2007

Suzhou bridge

Suzhou is a city of canals and bridges. When Marco Polo came through, he estimated there were 1,600. That was probably an exaggeration.

So, when we walked through this park, lined with mature cedar, and found this bridge, it might have seemed right to assume it is a surviving relic of the past.

Nope. Three years ago, a shoddy apartment building stood on this spot. There were no cedar, and there was no bridge.

Mysterious Light

Here is the Mysterious Light Pagoda in Suzhou, China. It is 1,000 years old. That is to say, something has been on that site for 1,000 years. Because it is made of wood, one suspects it has been rebuilt several times.

The name of the pagoda is the result of the sometimes subtle Chinese aesthetic: Indeed, as the sun set in the Suzhou haze, the quality of the light was that of a late summer evening after a thunderstorm has passed. Golden, rich, surreal.

I say the Chinese aesthetic is sometimes subtle. The gardens of Suzhou are subtle. But the streets of Shanghai are anything but subtle! If you like neon, don't waste your time on Times Square--get to Shanghai. I understand that Hong Kong is much the same.

Even the overpasses in Shanghai are lit with neon. It provides a very unmysterious light.

January 29, 2007


If you like early color photographs of rural America, this site might keep you busy for a while. This is a great sample.

Falun Gong

The above picture, taken by Lance on Tiananmen Square, is more interesting than it looks at first blush.

I am talking about the fire extinguisher at the soldier's feet.

Of course, we couldn't ask the soldier what it was for, but we could speculate.

More than any other movement, the Chinese government fears Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a sort of mix between meditation and Scientology, as far as I can tell, and its popularity has swept China.

In 1999, the Chinese government banned Falun Gong. In 2001, five protesters, said to be from the sect, burned themselves on Tiananmen Square to protest persecution by the Chinese government.

However, the circumstances of the self-immolation, which the protesters survived, remain murky. Falun Gong leaders said the burning was a hoax by the Chinese government designed to discredit the sect. In fact, the policemen on the square that day were seen carrying fire extinguishers before the burnings occurred.

The People's Daily, the official organ of the Chinese Communist Party, immediately used the event to discredit the sect, noting that the Communist Party was picking up the tab for the poor misguided souls who were led to burn themselves by the "dangerous sect."

So now, five years later, many of the soldiers guarding Tiananmen Square have fire extinguishers at their feet despite the lack of anything flammable within hundreds of yards.

January 28, 2007


Attorney General and apologist for torture (as well as the suspension of habeus corpus) Alberto Gonzalez is causing frowns, even amongst solid Republicans. John Dean, Nixon's boy wonder lawyer, later a witness in the Watergate probe and now rehabilitated as a commentator, finds Gonzalez' exchanges with Republican Senator Arlen Specter to be a bit much. I watched some of the exchange, and Dean's account is about right.

Suzhou, cont.

Another of the windows at the famous Master-of-Nets garden in Suzhou. The spare geometric patterns are, to the Western eye, so strikingly modern, yet they were designed hundreds of years ago. Also, here is a famous pagoda. The roof edges are turned up to demonstrate that the roof is meant to be decorative, not practical.