Culture Article #17: For the Joy of Sharing

A Peep Into China – Episode 2

By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 96, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi


Introduction by Venkat
In this episode, Mr. Sivasubramanian gives account of the trip to various places of prominence and heritage in China, covering the Pearl factory, Temple of Heaven, Forbidden city, Summer palace among other sights. The travel tour is captivating in detail and warm in spirit, garnished by the excellent flow of his writing!

A Peep Into China – Episode 2

The Pearl Factory And Other Places


In northern China, they rear oysters in sea water which yield one pearl each and in the southern part, oysters in fresh water lake, which yield several pearls each. The sea water pearl is qualitatively superior and, naturally, more expensive. Pearls are characterized by their translucence and luster and by a delicate play of surface color called orient. The more perfect its shape (spherical or drop like) and the deeper its luster, the greater its value. Fresh water pearling in China is known from before 1000 BC. We were happy that our tour included a visit to a Pearl Factory. They showed us how pearls are taken out from oysters by opening up a live oyster to show the pearls inside. They were white in color. They just wash them and separate the good and quality pearls from the rest. Then they took us around their showroom where there was a large collection of pearls in jewelry. The salesgirls were adept at selling and managed to sell some pearls to us too.

In the afternoon, we visited Nanjing Road, akin to the Ginza area in Tokyo, where several leading shops had their establishments. It was very crowded. We went to one or two shops just to have a feel of the place. In the evening, we were taken to an acrobatic show. It was a circus show and I should say the most enjoyable one. The Chinese claim this is the greatest show on earth and we were inclined to endorse their view. There was a man who stood upside down on top of several stools with just two legs of the stool touching the floor below. It requires tremendous concentration. And then 5 motor cyclists rode inside a big globe. I have seen one motor cyclist doing this but 5 were too much. It required a high degree of precision in movement. Even a small mistake by one would lead to a crash.

Later, we went up the TV tower, one of the tall structures with two decks for viewing and a tall antenna over it, just like the CNN tower in Toronto. We had a grand view of the city from the second deck. In the night, we dined in the ‘Indian Kitchen’, one of several establishments all over China. This was managed by a South Indian who was happy to receive us and offered us good vegetarian meals. (I should emphasize here that without such restaurants, we would have had to face a big problem in a country where vegetarian food is unknown.)



Beijing


Next morning, we left for Beijing, northwest of Shanghai, also on the east coast, a 2-hour flight away. Here also, we were received by a Chinese girl at the airport, but she was no match to Angela! (The vans as well as the guides, both in Shanghai and Beijing, were exclusively for us, a group of half a dozen,) We passed through a huge ornamental gate into the city of Beijing. Nina (that was the name of the guide) said that there were similar such gates at other entry points. The guide took us straight to the Temple of Heaven, an important landmark in Beijing. In this country, where people do not believe in God, they believe in nature, as the Japanese do. The Temple of Heaven is the largest group of structures dedicated to pay homage to Heaven and prayers for good harvest. The northern part of the temple is semi-circular, symbolizing heaven, and the southern part is square, symbolizing the earth. The northern part is at a slightly higher plane showing that heaven is high and earth is low and the design reflects the ancient Chinese thought that the heaven is round and the earth is square. To reach the main structures, one has to traverse long corridors where we saw several people lounging on either side playing cards and chess-like games and a group singing and dancing. My wife joined the group. She was the main attraction in these places, as she looked different from others with sari and bindi.

The hotels in both Shanghai and Beijing were good, fully air-conditioned and with TVs and other facilities. We went to the ‘Indian Kitchen’, very close to the hotel, managed by yet another South Indian, Sathish by name, for dinner. He was very cordial and said he was very happy to see a Tamil group with whom he could converse freely in Tamil. He said that there were several branches of Indian kitchen all over China, managed by Mr. Antony, actually a Chettiar, who had settled down in China three decades back. Nina asked us why we don’t like Chinese food and prefer Indian food. We assured her that we do like Chinese food and that there are several establishments in India which serve Chinese vegetarian food, like chow mein. But in China, vegetarian food is unknown and we had no alternative except to seek an Indian restaurant for vegetarian food. Also, we dispelled her notion that all Indians are vegetarians. The majority of the Indian population actually takes non-vegetarian food.


Tiananmen Square, 1988. Source: https://simple.wikipedia.org/



Next morning, we visited the famous Tiananmen Square. You know it is the largest Square in the whole wide world covering 100 acres. It is located in the centre of the city. At the centre of the square is a monument for the Peoples’ heroes. To the north is a big gate, the gateway to the then Imperial (now Forbidden) City. In the north is a huge museum hall devoted to Chinese history, before and after the Revolution. In the south is the Mao Tse Dung Memorial hall in which the leader’s body lies in state. In the west is the great hall of the people, a site for the meetings of the peoples’ Congress. You know that the Square became notorious when in 1988, students raised democratic slogans and were repressed, with hundreds dying in the process.

At the northern end is the Forbidden City, so called because entry into the city was forbidden to the common folks till the Revolution in 1912. It was the Imperial Palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties, now known as the Palace museum. Located at the heart of the present day Beijing City, it is an important landmark, being the site of the Chinese power for over five centuries. The orientation of the Forbidden City follows the Chinese principle of the north/south line. All palaces inside the city face south to honor the Sun. There were a number of animal statues, one with the body of a lion and others, heads of different animals such as lion, deer, etc.

It is said that the ancient Chinese worshipped animals as deities. In fact even now, the twelve calendar months are represented by animals such as rat, monkey, tiger, snake, etc. And just as in India, they attribute special qualities for persons born in different animal months. Standing 125 feet high, the imposing Meridian Gate is the entrance to the southern side of the City. Its auxiliary wings are stretched like the forepaws of a lion, or sphinx. In the palace hall is the throne of the kings and behind it is a huge courtyard. We had to walk through several bridges over a river to see one palace after the other and reach the northern end, where we noticed a moat around the palaces.

Next, we were taken to the Summer Palace, a few kilometers away from the Forbidden City. The palace is situated in a large garden, and the palace halls were one behind the other, similar to those in the Forbidden City. It was situated along a large lake. There was a long corridor, more than half a kilometer long, along which we walked to catch a boat to return to the base.

To be continued…

By C.I. Sivasubramanian
Aged 96, Retired Director, Ministry of Commerce, New Delhi


Mr. Sivasubramanian hails from Coimbatore. He has been living in Delhi throughout life. He was employed with the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and retired as Director in 1986.

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