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Chinese Idols, Past and Present

Finally a day off! We have been super busy traveling, meeting people, and working. Today we had the opportunity to see some famous sights in Nanjing. Nanjing was the capital of China until 1949 when, following World War II, Beijing became the new capital. Today the Dean of the Nanjing University School of the Environment, Professor Bi, set us up with a driver and two enthusiastic and funny students, Lei Yue and Li Sisi, acted as our guides. The five of us, along with Craig from AECOM, visited the Zhongshan Mountain National Park (Purple Mountain), enjoyed our new favorite meal – hot pot – for lunch, and then checked out the Presidential Palace. While we didn’t understand everything we saw, we had a great time and even learned a little about Chinese history (disclaimer: any Chinese history recounted below is based on roughly-translated English on signs and what we picked up from our non-official guide-friends and, accordingly, may not be 100% accurate).

The morning got off to an 8am start, which was very early for the two that stayed up until 4:30am local time only to watch the U.S. be knocked out of the World Cup in overtime. We had our new favorite “breakfast burritos” from a street cart on the way to Craig’s hotel where we met the driver and our new friend and guide Li Sisi. The breakfast burrito is a scrambled egg, wrapped up in a tortilla with veggies, spices, and a “churro”. We Californians tend to equate everything to Mexican food.

Purple Mountain is an area that is about 20 square kilometers (big!) and has over 200 sites to see. We visited the mausoleum of Sun Yat-Sen, the “Father of the Nation”. Sun was a political leader who helped to overthrow Imperialistic China, creating the Republic of China in 1912. We climbed 392 stairs (representing the 392 million people living in China in 1912) for some fantastic but smoggy views. Allison and Justin were the subject of many Chinese pictures and Allison was even invited to stay at a woman’s house in a different city. Turns out, curly hair and red hair and beards are not the norm in China.

Another highlight was the Linggu Temple and Pagoda area. Built in 1929 as a memorial to soldiers killed in the War of Northern Expedition, The 9 story pagoda was amazing and the view from the top was worth the hundreds of spiraled stairs.

We took a break from the 90 degree heat to enjoy a hot pot lunch with our friends. Just as we cooled down from the outside heat, we started sweating again from the VERY spicy oil and sauces. After lunch, we walked around the corner to the Presidential Palace where we spent the rest of the afternoon taking in the buildings, gardens, water and rock features, and continued to enjoy celebrity status.

The presidential palace housed top officials from the Ming and Qing Dynasties during the Imperialistic period in China. After the revolution led by Sun Yat-Sen, he lived there as the Provisional President and the Imperialists moved to Taiwan. Google it if you’re interested in details. Then send us a summary so we know what we saw. We had a great time exploring to beautiful grounds and groups of buildings, constructed during different periods. We amused the Chinese tourists with our witty comments and hysterical poses. There are not many Westerners around Nanjing (we have seen about 6 others so far) so The Five was the subject of many looks, pictures, and awe. Allison was included in the most family pictures and Justin got a Fonzie-esque thumbs up for his red beard. Check out the pictures below.

For dinner, Lei Yue (our awesome guide, friend, protector, and Allison’s current roommate) took us out for her favorite meal of dumplings. She started psyching us up for it as we finished our enormous lunch and even went and checked out a restaurant and retrieved Craig from his hotel to make sure we all enjoyed it as much as she did. We left for the dumpling restaurant, by way of the Central Business District and stopped to see what kind of outdoors concert had been making loud noise all afternoon. By the sounds of it, it wasn’t a very good band playing. We stopped to watch what turned out to be a China Idol tryout and thought it would be fun to try out some American music. Lei Yue went to see if they had any English songs and quickly returned to tell us that they could in fact get any song because China doesn’t have copyright laws. We asked if they had the classic karaoke song Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. Not only did they have it, but they told us we were up next! Allison, Gavin, and Michael were handed microphones and directed to the stage. Lei Yue came along as the translator while Aaron, Justin, and Craig stood by with cameras at the ready. They apologized for what turned out to be a blessing—there wasn’t a music-only edition and the lyrics would also be played. The trio did Journey the justice they deserve. The Chinese audience watched in (awed?) silence.

Unfortunately, the three-member panel was unable to give the group a score due to a lack of experience in judging American songs. One judge called Michael handsome before sending us back into the audience. As the trio approached the spectators, a lane cleared for the soon-to-be superstars. The performance may have been broadcast on TV, but the top 10 contestants won’t be chosen until the end of October.

We all celebrated over delicious dumplings, Craig took a cab back to his hotel, and the rest of us finished off the night with ice cream treats and dominoes, teaching Lei Yue how to play. Tomorrow we get back to work at 9am. After a brush with fame, it may be difficult to return to the daily grind of planning climate change mitigation.