This morning, we went out to the area of the tomb of the first Qin emperor, who buried thousands of terra cotta soldiers along with him. It's a sight that the people of Xian call the eighth wonder of the world:
While it is quite impressive, I still feel that the Great Wall is a class above. That said, the terra cotta warriors that are visible are only a fraction of what was actually buried, and this doesn't actually include what was buried with the emperor in his mausoleum, so perhaps I shouldn't judge so harshly.
It really reminded me of some Native American museums I've been to in California... Also, since the back half of the grounds were made up of rebuilt huts, it seemed very artificial to me. Enough so that I feel that the artificial pose of me coming out of the hut in the above photo seems appropriate.
Today was our last day in Beijing, and since the second half of the day was a trip to Xian (and all the fun that getting delayed at the airport entails), this entry will be a little short.
The morning was a trip to the Hutong neighborhood of Beijing. It is so named because "hutong" means narrow street, and all of the streets in this neighborhood are quite narrow. Apparently, back when they were standardized (which is still mostly, but not entirely true), a hutong was 9m wide, a street was 18m wide, and an avenue was 36m wide.
This felt exceedingly touristy to me, especially since we were a caravan of tourists in rickshaws, but it was still a pleasant ride. After that we had 45 minutes to wander one of the main hutongs. It's interesting to me that there were hutongs that were more important than others, but this is the one with all the shops and bars:
It appears that my worries about having continued internet access were thus far unfounded; there's an ethernet plug in this hotel room as well. (There's also quite a bit of noise from both out the window and the next room over, so we'll see how well I sleep tonight.)
Today we started with a quick trip to the Astronomical Observatory of Beijing, which is no longer an operational observatory but was operational for hundreds of years and has some very old astronomical instruments. It was basically a bunch of old iron astronomical instruments perched atop an old section of city wall with a nice garden around it.
Zhu Di was the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, and the first to build his tomb in a valley just outside of Beijing which has a total of 13 imperial tombs. The main building at the tomb is basically a copy of the building at the Forbidden City, except for the fact that since it didn't burn down, it's still got the original Nanma wood pillars.
We had a choice of two paths to take. As our guide put it, we could either take the path to the right (the "hard" path), or the path to the left (the "harder" path.) From the bottom, they looked pretty equivalent to me, but that just goes to show how deceiving appearances can be: we ascended about twice as far going along that path as we would have had we chosen the less difficult path. It was a bit of a workout, which made the acupressure massage I had this evening a welcome event. (At $20 for an hour, it seemed more than worthwhile.)
The view from the Great Wall was incredible, and photographs probably can't do it justice, but these pictures should give a taste.
After dinner, we went to a Kung Fu show: no photography allowed, so no pictures of the performance, which was quite entertaining. On the way we passed the Olympic Village and the Bird's Nest stadium that was built for the Olympics last summer:
I would've appreciated getting a closer look at it (I could say that about a lot of the architecture here) but we were running a little late to dinner as it was.
Tomorrow we fly to Xian after spending the morning in Beijing. I can make no promises about Internet access, but I'll do my best...
I arrived in Beijing yesterday, as part of a Harvey Mudd College alumni trip to see the solar eclipse that's coming up on July 21.
It's a very organized tour, which of course means that the days are very jam-packed with sightseeing, and because it's an astronomy tour, the nights are full of lectures. Last night we were waiting for the rest of the tour group to arrive (most of the people from Mudd got stuck in Mongolia for four hours, so I was glad I got an earlier flight) and I went with a couple of other people to see a Chinese acrobatic show. Well worth going to, but unfortunately I didn't think to take my camera (apparently photography was allowed, even though I didn't expect that.)
This was where the emperors and their concubines and servants lived for the last couple of dynasties. This picture is from the front section, where officials came and visited (the back section has some courtyard houses where the concubines lived, and some nice gardens.)
This palace was built by one of the emperors for his mother's 60th birthday, and is where the imperial family spent the summers. My advice is to separate from your tour group and explore some of the pathways up the hills... While it's a bit rocky and rough, there are some nice secluded buildings up there, and you get to avoid the crowds and get some nice peace and quiet. And you not only get a view of the buildings that isn't inundated with people, you also get to look at them from a different angle.
I wish I had seen this sign at the protests I went to yesterday. After a day full of protests, I'm ready to be home... I'm waiting at SFO for my flight to board, so it's happening soon.
I'm hoping to post some pictures soon.
I know they really didn't mean it as a birthday present to just me, but I'll take credit anyways:
I'm in Iowa. I don't think I'd ever want to live here, as I'm a bit too much enamored of the city... But I see why people like it here. The Senate Majority Leader is one of my new heroes:
The latest battle in the campaign for LGBT equality: fresh from their victory at the ballot box, supporters of Proposition 8 have filed suit to keep their contributions to the campaign secret. They assert that opponents of Prop 8 have threatened financial contributors to the campaign after their names were revealed, and that protecting those contributors who haven't yet been revealed outweighs the state's interest in having transparency in elections.
I'm sure that one of the big examples of the threats and harassment that supporters of Proposition 8 is the case of Marjorie Christoffersen. She donated $100 to the Proposition 8 campaign, and after this was revealed, the business she managed was targeted for a boycott. I'll admit that this seems like an extreme reaction to Marjorie's relatively small contribution, but she also sat on the board of directors of the restaurant, which was owned by her mother. To top it off, it's a restaurant that had a disproportionate number of gay customers, many of whom had no idea that the woman serving them drinks and food was also supporting the elimination of their rights.
The ironic thing here is that the Yes on 8 supporters were singing a very different tune before the election, when people directly involved with the campaign sent letters to local business that had donated to the campaign against proposition 8, threatening to publicize that they are "in opposition to traditional marriage." The only possible goal they could have had in mind was pushing people to boycott those businesses who gave financial resources to oppose them. And where did they get the list of businesses to send letters? From the disclosures of one of the PACs opposing Proposition 8.
The fact that supporters of Prop 8 have flip flopped on this particular issue, combined with the fact that they have a history of lying in their campaign advertisements makes me want to take any of their proposed examples of harassment with a bit of a grain of salt. Especially when, in the aftermath of their victory at the ballot box, they do things like prevent vocal opponents of Proposition 8 from getting a job after they resigned over their opposition: a Catholic Priest who was forced to resign over his opposition to Prop 8 was recently prevented from getting a new job by some Catholic officials.
All three of these examples of reprisals against political contributors might be considered extreme, but I don't think the state has a legitimate and compelling interest in preventing them until they rise to the level of actually being illegal. And as far as I understand it, there's nothing illegal with boycotting a business because its employees or owners are homophobes. There's nothing illegal with boycotting a business because its employees or owners aren't homophobes. And engaging in political speech has a long history of causing problems with finding gainful employment (although in the last case I wonder if it might actually be based on some illegal discrimination: if I recall correctly, he revealed not only that he was against Prop 8 but also that he was gay. And it actually is illegal in at least some parts of California to refuse employment based on sexual orientation.)
I might prefer my political contributions to be private, but in a modern world where political conversation happens via commercials arguing in sound bites on the airwaves, adding transparency so that people actually engage in real conversations about politics will improve our political environment. More has happened in terms of getting people involved in the political process because of arguments about who supported or opposed proposition 8, whether or not it's appropriate for big churches or businesses to get involved on one side or another, and the protests that have happened since the election.
The election of Barack Obama to the presidency represents a huge changing of the guard in US politics. But I think the big thing that happened in California was a bit deeper than that: there's a growing movement of people who are starting to understand that they need to be engaged in the political process in order for it to work for them.
This is going to be a short post, since I'm off to breakfast in a few minutes, but a quick update for those who are interested in my progress in England.
Aside from the fact that my left shoe decided to start bruising my foot four days into the trip (we've been doing an awful lot of walking) I feel that I've done a pretty good job packing. This did require plenty of wet weather clothes, some of which I had bought just before leaving. I'm glad that has worked out so far, although today looks like it will be a test of things: not only will we be tramping around in the mud, but the forecast calls for rain.
At some point when I've got a bit more time, I expect to have a more extensive writeup, hopefully with pictures. I've managed to take about 500 pictures so far (although given that some portion of them are of people on the trip, and others are of large blurs because I'm trying to use the flash as little as possible, and the fact that I'm about as amateur as they come when it comes to photography, the vast majority of the photos are not fit for public consumption.)
(Thanks to my friend Rob for prodding me to make this post. And let this be a lesson to any other readers I have: I sometimes respond to e-mails by actually posting something. Yes, I'm actually trying to blame y'all for the fact that I don't post enough.)
It seems that my current life is mainly revolving around being a gay rights activist (I never thought I'd say that about myself...) Last night, Screening Liberally had a screening of the movie Freeheld to discuss marriage equality, followed by a panel discussion (which included me, for my experience with the No On Proposition 8 campaign out in California.)
Yesterday also happens to be the day that Lambda Legal presented a case in Iowa for marriage equality, although the discussion centered a lot more on what happened in California and what was happening in New York. It's actually the first time since the election that the audience wasn't focused on finding someone to blame for what happened in California, but was more interested in what was currently happening.
Today, New Jersey's Civil Union Review Commission released their final report on the consequences of New Jersey's Civil Union Law. I haven't read through the whole report yet, but it basically strongly urges the state legislature to enact marriage equality, because civil unions aren't the same as marriage.
That's an interesting point, that's worth repeating and expanding on: civil unions, even in a state that defines them as being as equivalent as possible, still aren't the same thing as marriage. When partners are accompanying their spouses to the hospital, they are forced to explain their legal relationships rather than be their for their loved ones. Businesses don't offer benefits to civil union partners that they do to married couples (and can get away with this, because federal law gives them an out which can only be fixed by calling these relationships marriages.) And the situation causes psychological harm to gay youth, who are many times more likely to commit suicide, because they're getting the message that they don't deserve the same fundamental rights that their straight peers get.
That last part is particularly galling to me. When I realized I was gay (I was in denial for a long time) was one of the most depressing times of my life. And while I never felt that killing myself was a reasonable answer, I can see why people feel that way.
And that scares me.
So later last night, out with my out-of-town friends, when I was having a long in-depth conversation with a board member of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and was lamenting the fact that people in my generation are complacent because they don't know the history of the gay rights movement, he interrupted to say that at least gay youth weren't committing suicide any more. It bugs me that he seemed to think that this was a problem of the past, when it's something that still is an issue. Admittedly, he gave a good retort, asking if I supported the Trevor Project, which deals directly with these issues.