The Sounds of Heaven

In a small corner of one of China's most famous Taoist temples, Meng Zhi Lin tunes up his gu qin, a seven-stringed Chinese instrument.

“The tone is very low, so I’ll close the window,” Meng says through our interpreter.

The gu qin is not so much a musical instrument but a tool through which you practice and know the knowledge of heaven, he explains.

Ten years ago Meng Zhi Lin turned his back on modern life and sought isolation in the mountains, abandoning everything except his gu qin.

An Old Comrade Confronts Change

Strolling our hutong the other day I spied a twentysomething person wearing an iridescent pink T-shirt with the English word “ME” shouting out in silver spangles on the back. This old comrade was reminded again that things have changed since my last visit. That was back in the Orwellian year of 1984, and, take it from me, my fellow correspondents, Beijing was a city not of the flashy ME but of a big, gray collective WE.

Beijing in Photos: Week One


The best of our shots from the first week here in Beijing. Click through to watch the slideshow.


The Unluckiest Lucky Number

Symbolizing prosperity, eight is the luckiest number in Chinese numerology. Bank accounts, addresses, and license plates with healthy doses of eights fetch top dollar. The Beijing Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on 8/8/2008 at 8:00 p.m.

That many eights may have been too much of a good thing, one of our translators remarked the other day. The opening ceremonies' supposedly auspicious date has been preceded by a tragic run of hard luck.

“This isn’t China”

“Howdy y’all,” our waiter exclaimed as he walked up to our table at Tim’s Barbeque.

His thinly veiled Chinese accent was the only thing that set him apart from the Texas-bred waiters I’d had in Austin just a week earlier, and the walls were decked out in familiar Americana. I ordered a quesadilla, and from the middle of Silk Street in downtown Beijing, I was momentarily transported back home.