Friday, July 10, 2009

12 Days in China: A Reporter’s Perspective

By Devin Beliveau
Staff Columnist

(Editor’s note: Weekly Sentinel Columnist Devin Beliveau recently traveled to China. This article is the first in a series that detail his thoughts and impressions about the world’s most populous country.)
On the complete opposite side of the globe lies the most populous nation in the world, the 1.3 billion strong People’s Republic of China. Often dubbed as the world’s next superpower, China in 2009 is a country that clings to its cultural traditions while also cautiously reaching out to the global economy. For 12 days I was lucky enough to travel around China, the largest country in Asia. This article is the first of 3 articles that will document a snapshot of my observations and experiences in this huge, complicated and rapidly changing communist country, beginning in the capital of Beijing.
Before passengers can even take off their seatbelts following the 13-hour flight from Newark, New Jersey to Beijing, several government officials in white hazardous-material suits board the plane to take the temperature of everyone on board. An airport quarantine area awaits any passenger with symptoms of the H1N1 flu (Swine Flu).
The first thing one notices once off the plane is the heat. In July in Beijing the temperature rarely drops below 90 degrees. The Chinese women make a concerted effort to stay out of the sun. Since the traditional Chinese ideal of beauty is a porcelain-white skin color, most women carry an umbrella while walking down the street to shade themselves from the intense summer sun. The preferred method for men to beat the heat is to pull up one’s shirt to the belly button area and walk around bare-bellied.
There are far fewer bicycles lining the streets of Beijing than one might expect. This is due to the recent expansions of the Beijing subway system in the ramp-up to the 2008 Summer Olympic games. The capital’s subway is now a clean, modern and efficient system that covers the whole city. It even has direct rides to the airport, and the average price equates to only 30 American cents.
Another big difference was the widespread conversion from the public “squat” toilets to the western sitting toilets. Spitting in public, once a national Chinese pastime, had all but disappeared from the Beijing streets thanks to the government’s pre-Olympics anti-public-spitting campaign. Another big change is simply the overall cleanliness of the city, a development designed to better impress the thousands of international visitors that poured in for the 2008 summer games. It is a much cleaner city than one would expect for a city of over 15 million people.
Air pollution remains a problem in Beijing. Because of the polluted air, the current H1N1 flu pandemic, and the recent history of airborne sicknesses such as SARS, it is very common to see people wearing facemasks to protect themselves as they go about their day. The water situation is not any better. It is common knowledge that people should not drink straight from the tap.
English is everywhere in Beijing. Business signs, road signs, subway signs and consumer products all usually include English along with Chinese, thereby making Beijing an American-friendly city. English-speaking travelers will be pleasantly surprised at the ease with which one can navigate through Beijing’s numerous streets, subways and historic tourist attractions.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has run China’s government since 1949. The CCP has implemented policies that would certainly surprise most American visitors. On international television channels such as CNN, it is commonplace for TVs to suddenly go black. This is the government simply censoring a story it does not deem appropriate for Chinese viewers. Indeed, the CCP employs 30,000 censors to monitor television and the internet.
Last week on the news a man was arrested for signing a pro-democracy petition. As there is no right to free speech, especially when challenging the government, this also is not an uncommon occurrence. The only English newspaper usually available is the China Daily, and since the government prints it, it is difficult to believe that it is always unbiased accurate reporting.
Beijing appears to be in flux. On one hand visitors see the age-old Chinese traditions, culture and history throughout the city. And on the other hand visitors see the arrival of global businesses en masse, the impressive Olympic upgrades, and almost all signs in English. And while the government has certainly loosened its grip on controlling the economy in recent years, it remains omnipresent in the daily lives of Chinese citizens. Whatever direction it’s heading in, Beijing is certainly an intriguing place to visit.
(Next week will feature a story on China’s turbulent history, and then a personal narrative of the reporter’s 12-day family trip throughout northeast China.)
Photo caption: Staff Columnist Devin Beliveau on the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu. (Courtesy photo)

1600s French and Indian Encampment
to be Presented at Counting House Museum

A living history presentation of a Native American and French encampment will be held on Saturday, July 18, at the town’s riverfront museum and park.
Sponsored by the Old Berwick Historical Society, owner of the Counting House Museum, the program is free to all ages and runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Presentations will be held rain or shine at the museum and at nearby Counting House Park along the Salmon Falls River, a spot known for generations as Quamphegan Landing.
Interpreters Ken Hamilton, Jamie Foote, John Santos and Garret MacAdams will show visitors examples of equipment, clothing and Native and French culture typical of the period around 1690.
In the late 1600s, during a conflict known as King William’s War, French and Native war parties attacked English settlers in the area of today’s South Berwick, then known as Quamphegan. Among the homes believed destroyed in such a raid was that of Thomas Holmes, whose mill stood at Quamphegan falls near the site of the history presentation, and Humphrey Chadbourne, who operated a sawmill near today’s Leigh’s Mill Pond. Archaeological artifacts from the Chadbourne homestead are displayed at the Counting House Museum.
“We will interpret a military flying camp as well as the Native fur trade, fishing and hunting culture of the ‘half Indianized’ French and ‘half Frenchified’ Indians,” Hamilton explained.
He said today’s South Berwick and Rollinsford, N.H., on both sides of the Salmon Falls, were once a Wabanaki or “East/Dawn Land” center for seasonal habitation, fishing, and canoe travel. English colonization and settlement forever altered the traditional access and use of this important area.
“European wars between the English and French then gave the displaced descendants of the original Native families the opportunity to ally with the French and retaliate against the loss of this important part of their original homeland and its resources (critical during fish runs, canoe routes and portages, etc.), and avenge grievances against the vulnerable, remote English settlements and habitations,” Hamilton said.
As a natural water/canoe highway system, the area’s connecting rivers, lakes and bays made Quamphegan both a natural/automatic target and “pit stop” for French invasions and raiding parties, especially when the rivers froze. French raiders were accompanied by “local” Native guides.
Raids on our area in March 1690 and on Haverhill in August 1708 were led by a Frenchman named Hertel de Rouville. Retreating French and Native raiders from the Haverhill attack set up a rear guard counter ambush on pursuing militia at the Salmon Falls bridge.
More information on living history events and all the society’s programs is available by calling (207) 384-0000, writing, or logging on to
Photo caption: The living history presentation of a Native American and French encampment will display equipment, clothing and Native and French culture typical of the period around 1690. (Courtesy photo)