Saturday, 26 July 2008

The torment of bears... no-one could bear it!

This morning I was fortunate enough to get a tour of the Moon Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu. The moon bears are Asiatic black bears with a distinctive golden crescent on their chests. But now comes the terrible part: Thousands of them are kept in tiny little cages, barely larger than the bear him/herself, in bear farms to extract their bile with rusting catherers implanted in their gallbladders or open and infected holes injected in their abdomens for the bile to weep. Subjected to absolute torture for all their lives for the sake of "medicine" -- the bile is used in traditional Chinese medicine, but it could easily be replaced by herbs.

The moon bear rescue centre was established in the late 1990s. It's funded by AnimalsAsia, and the rescue centre in Sichuan has so far rescued over 200 bears from the farms. Bear farming is incredibly still legal in China, hence getting the bears out of them and getting the farms to close requires great negotiation skills. The licenses of the closed farms are passed to AnimalsAsia and the policy doesn't allow any new licenses issued in China. The bears are brought to the centre together with their cages and other equipment so the farmers wouldn't just immediately replace them with other bears. Then they go through massive surgery to med the damage inflicted in the extraction techniques. The gall bladders are often removed as they are damaged beyond repair. Afterwards the bears recover, in cages but considerably bigger ones, as they need time to adjust and also mustn't scratch their wounds. Unfortunately for a large number of bears help comes too late, approximately 15% of rescued bears do not survive.

After recovery they are rehabilitated in the bear sanctuary, where the bears usually for the first time in years get to walk and play and interact with other bears. It's truly delightful to see how they have recovered from their terrible pasts and seem to be enjoying their lives lying in the sun or playing in the water.

Another sanctuary has recently been opened in Vietnam. Please donate whatever you can afford to support this important work. Donations can be made online through AnimalsAsia.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The biggest tomb in the world

The second day in Xi'an I joined a tour ran by the hostel visiting the main sights in the area for 245 yuan, which is not an awful lot more than the sum of the entrance fees. And unlike many Chinese tours they didn't make us spend dreadfully long times in tourist shops.

We visited a village from 6,000 years ago, and their house-building techniques and burial rites were explained by the guides. That was pretty interesting, certainly more so than the terracotta factory, although they did explain how the warriors were made this did seem like one of those "sell crap to tourists" stops. Then there was a place where they showed an interesting movie of Qin Shihuangdi, the "first emperor" of China, and his tomb and terracotta army.

For lunch I had two peaches, going strong with the fruitarian diet. It's not only cheap and easy, but also really good for travelling as you easily avoid any lies about fake meats or hidden chicken broths. The only downside is that I can't review vegetarian restaurants for you now. But here's the list of Xi'an vegetarian restaurants anyway. The only thing I've noticed with the fruit diet is that now I really have to eat at least twice a day while I commonly only had one meal a day with the regular vegan eating. But that's ok, closer to the norms of society anyway. I'm more convinced than ever that people just eat too much. And eating only fruits feels so much more natural than all the processed crap. I think I shall keep avoiding processed foods even though I probably won't stay fruitarian too long. Probably also no more root vegetables, but I think beans and mushrooms will lure me out of fruitarianism pretty soon.

After lunch we went to the main place, the actual terracotta army. It's mighty impressive, thousands of life-size statues of warriors built 2000 years ago. The place is simply huge. Absolute madness, for the sheer sake of the vanity of one idiot they buried alive over 10,000 workmen who built the tomb, as well as the 6,000 of his concubines who hadn't borne children. One of his sons then killed all his siblings to get to rule, but was fortunately overtaken almost immediately in a peasant uprising.

Third day, and back in the city of Xi'an they have several interesting things, including the Muslim quarters. The way to notice you're in the Muslim quarter is that occasionally (but extremely rarely actually) you see some writings in Arabic of Uighur or whatever it is on the Chinese-looking buildings, there are some (very few) women with head scarfs and a few men with the caps. But more noticeably, there's meat everywhere! The street sides are filled with baskets of raw meat, sellers have stands full of raw and prepared meat all over, and the stink is terrible. But eventually I found some fruits there too! It was also very crowded with the narrow alleys, making a Finn almost run to the nearest park despite the heat.

Xi'an is one of the few Chinese cities that still has the city walls, mostly reconstructed later but nonetheless. One interesting thing about these walls is that they're sloping... I noticed the same thing in Pingyao earlier, don't really know why they did them that way, the slope ought to make climbing easier. Anyhow, surrounding the wall there is nowadays a small park, which is quite fun. And as usual in China, parks have these exercise grounds for the elderly, or anyone really but they're especially used by the elderly.

So, having found the pull-up bar I had to make my birthday test. Long long time ago, when I was about 5 years old, my father told me one has to be able to do as many pull-ups as his age in years. When I approached 15 that felt too easy and I decided one has to go to straight arms in the pull-ups, even though that wasn't what my dad showed me when I was 5. So every year on my birthday I verify that I can still do it. Now I went a day early since I don't know if I'll run into a pull-up bar tomorrow, and since it was easy I also verified the next decade while I was at it. Things should run smoothly if I don't get any fatter or in worse shape.

But quite importantly I've noticed I must pay more attention to working. These past few days I haven't done much work to speak of, so I have to consider them days off. Fortunately I had a couple of those coming, but I really must change that and prove that this travelling+working thing really can work!

Next up, Chengdu, which lies a 16-hour train ride away.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008


Unfortunately the last few weeks in Beijing were too busy for blogs, and unfortunately I haven't been taking many photos either to enable writing later on. Well, what went on was the longest series of farewells in history. (In my history, that is, I'm sure you can find someone being farewelled for 34 years, 5 months and 6 days if you check the Guinness book of records.) So this is dedicated to the amazing vegan community in Beijing, their great hospitality and amazing cooking and baking skills! Thank you all, you're so lovely! :-)

Oh, I do have a few photos, some of Laura's creations:

So, stuffed enough to decide to turn fruitarian, I finally left Beijing. Unfortunately donating all my material possessions didn't come through in quite that level, I have a closet-full of stuff in the office, including all these books. These are pretty much all dictionaries and course books of the languages I want to learn, so how could I give them up? In any case, after more than 3 years it was high time to say goodbye to the smoggy city, funnily enough right at the time when it's due to become non-smoggy for a couple of weeks due to the stupid Olympics that everyone hates. Well, maybe not everyone hates them, but it's hard not to having lived in Beijing recently.

Right now I'm writing this in Xi'an, the ancient capital famous for the terracotta warriors, but I'll only go see them tomorrow and the drum and bell towers didn't seem too extraordinary. Maybe I'm just tired of China right now, they are pretty nice. So I'll just post pictures rather than judgements without any basis. Or at least one picture of a huge drum. They used to beat the drums at night and the bells during the day, so people who were too lazy to wear their digital watches or look at the sun could tell the passage of time.

I also saw this interesting cross-walk. Yes, it is a circle, or a roundabout if you will, over the streets. I kind of like it. Nice green colour too. And I must mention the housing thing too! I booked a hostel room online, but arriving in the hostel they said the room isn't ready. So I took a long walk. Coming back in the afternoon they told me they would have to put me in a hotel instead because the previous folks didn't leave. So I got a nice standard hotel room instead for the price of the hostel. Lucky me, eh?

There also seems to be many more beggars in Xi'an than Beijing. It may be partly that they've been moved out of Beijing for the thing that "everyone" hates, but even a few years ago I don't think they were that many. Well, everyone, help and love each other!

Friday, 4 July 2008

June in China

Right, so I didn't write anything during the whole month of June. I was working mostly, but there have been other things, let me just wrap things up quickly and put up some pictures. This was a month spent completely in China. The first thing I would note when getting off the plane was the smog of course, it hangs over the city of Beijing almost constantly. Very depressing.

There was a brief escape from that though as I took a trip to Chengde with some friends for a weekend. Chengde is a city about 250 km away from Beijing, built largely as an imperial recreation place. There's a large amount of temples, especially of the Lama Buddhist style, and an imperial palace and large grounds with all sorts of "beauty spots", mainly pavilions or houses in great scenery, built during the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911). There's a couple of interesting-looking rocks too, and nice hiking in the mountains. I don't think there are any vegetarian restaurants, but you can get veggies from the regular restaurants as usual in China.

You get to Chengde from Beijing by various buses or a train. The buses leave from Sihui long distance bus station, or there might be buses from elsewhere too but at least from there. The ticket price is from Y50 up. The slow and crowded train that runs once a day during the night is only Y20.

In Beijing it's been a working and exercising mainly, and of course vegan club meetings. There have been a couple of team building events from work, going hiking to waterfalls and boating around. Some pics from those then:

Oh, and also a new vegan restaurant has now been opened in town, the Vegan Hut, but I'll write a proper review of that later. Finally, I have talked to the bosses and have got my distance work idea approved, so I shall be leaving Beijing soon. First, though, I'll be spending a couple of weeks in Shaanxi countryside, then returning to Beijing briefly although I won't have an apartment here anymore, and then off somewhere else. Haven't decided where to yet. Exciting, isn't it? :-)