Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Sobering Reality

At the tail end of the Spring Festival holidays, I had dinner with a colleague and her husband and his friend.

They took me to the Wahaha Hotel in Dongsi, a place opened up by the bottled water company.

It's located in Dongsi, the old part of Beijing.

They explained to me that in the old days, the social class of the city was determined by where you lived.

Those in the west were intellectuals, and those in the east were rich; people in the south were poor, and those in the north like where I live now were considered servants.

They explained that a long time ago, the graveyards of the rich were located in the north and they hired these servants who lived there to tend to them.

She joked that we were these servants since we live in Wang Jing.

When we got to the hotel restaurant, it looked very posh inside. The lobby entrance was flanked a pair of giant glass lotus flowers and lots of marble everywhere.

We were seated in a grand-looking restaurant, with quasi individual dining areas separated by a divider with a giant hole in the middle that could be a doorway.

While the menu ranged from simple dishes to abalone and sea cucumber, my friends ordered a lot of food for four people.

As we ate they had a grand time making jokes, deploring the fact that we had to return to work the next day, and talked about the husband's friend's trip to Japan.

My colleague talked very openly about her interest in Tibet. She had been there once in the 1990s and loved it. I asked her to explain why, but she said she couldn't quite put her finger on the reason.

But she did like nature and the Tibetan mastiffs. She's an animal lover.

She told me that a friend who works for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is a Tibet expert and he did a happiness survey of China. He found that the overwhelming majority of people in Tibet are happy even though they don't have much money.

And that impressed her about Tibetans, how they could just be happy with their station in life. "They aren't concerned about making money or trying buying a house. They are very spiritual and Chinese people lack religion," she said.

At dinner she joked that her dream was to go live in Tibet and have some Tibetan mastiffs.

In the end we had ordered too much food and while she did take some in a doggie bag, she didn't take all of it, leaving much of it wasted.

When they drove me home, we passed by the Poly Group building, a giant glass structure on the corner of Dongsishitiao. It's diagonally across from the Poly Theatre, where many well-known musicians perform.

She pointed to the building and said, "You know this theatre? It's funded with money made from arms."

I was shocked and pressed her to explain, thinking of the wonderful concerts I had attended there, including Lang Lang.

"When the foreign media accuse China of selling arms to places like Sudan, it's not the government that does it, but the people related to officials," she said.

"Everyone knows that," she continued. "They are the ones with the connections, getting the weapons and shipping them. They make lots of money from it and fund things like concerts and art exhibitions. But there is nothing we can do because they are related to officials."

Now I have mixed feelings about attending future concerts here. On the one hand it feels dirty knowing where the money allegedly came from to fly in top acts or to fund the China Symphony Orchestra, but at the same time, the mainstream arts and culture scene would not thrive without this money.

The dirty politics of art was bound to come up eventually...

1 comment:

ks said...

from ancient times deep in history there are vast examples of inequality. we just have to accept this cruel fact. otherwise you have to boycott everywhere you go.