Sunday, May 18, 2014

Digging to China

So. China.
The view from my window.

I spent about five days this past week in Beijing on a press tour for the release of Guild Wars 2 in China. It was very much a flying tour - in late one day, followed by two days of promotion, with a day of playing tourist and leaving at ohgodearly the final day.

I fear I cannot go all Anthony Bourdain here, musing on the nature of an entire nation from a mere few hours spent within its borders. For most of the trip, I was in "The Bubble" - that safe, secure, mostly-English-speaking territory that caters to the international traveler. The hotel (the Shangri-La) was of the luxury class, and I and my comrades spent the first day and a half there doing interviews with the the Chinese web press. When we traveled, it was with drivers and translator/guides.  Language in the interviews was a challenge, but we were fortunate to have an excellent translator and a lot of patience.

The evening of the first day of interviews, we were feted with a traditional Beijing (Peking) Duck feast at two huge tables groaning heavy with small plates of jellyfish, tofu, veggies, seasoned pork, a tasty meatball soup and of course the duck itself, served with a variety of condiments including what was very probably pop rocks. "You eat like a Chinese", said my translator, meaning it as a complement that I was omnivorous and leaped at the opportunity to try things. But even I could not manage the dessert, a cold green bean soup that had the consistency of baby food (I remain convinced was a prank put on the menu to freak the Westerners and see how many had had too much of the excellent local beer).

Me and a friend
The evening of the second day was the big celebration party for GW2 launching in china, which was hosted by the our distributor, Kong Zhong. The setting was in an "art zone" , a former industrial district, on a huge stage placed between a decommissioned gas works and what I swear was a industrial ceramic kiln. The celebration was impressive - speeches from Mike "MO" O'Brien and the head of Kong Zhong, along with numerous other luminaries. Songs, including Jike Juan Yi, known also as "Summer:, winner of the Chinese version of the Voice, doing a version of Ree's song, "Fear Not This Night". And then there was interpretive dance. And drone cameras. It all culminated in the unveiling of a 30-foot-tall stature of Rytlock, which will be installed in the art zone for the next year. We were treated as rock stars there, introduced to the crowd, with front row seats, and a good time was had by all. I have some shots of the entire event, but a better collection can be found here. Max is a young man from the US who was visiting Beijing to see family, and wandered down to see if he could get in. We got him a ticket and he in turn took some great shots.

Forbidden City, with crowds
After two strong days of promotion, we did get an off day to play tourist. The Forbidden City was vast and impressive and crowded with tour groups. It literally swallowed huge hordes of people, who became noticeable only when they bunched around to take pictures of the throne of the former emperor. It was a vast complex that broke the brain with its size and scope.

The Summer Palace, oddly, was its reverse. Also a home of the Emperors, it was more pastoral and tree-covered, hugging the shores of a great man-made lake, the material so removed to create a great man-made mountain called the Hill of Longevity (probably by someone who never had to climb it). We ended up on the back flank of said hill and found a beautiful garden (Garden of Harmonious Interests, I believe), which was stellar in its calm beauty. As opposed to the crowds of the Forbidden City, the portions of the Summer Palace were uncrowded, with people playing cards, playing instruments, doing caligraphy, and one group of middle-aged folk singing old political/military songs from their iPads. It was very pleasant, though my comrades were afraid I would give up the ghost trying to climb the ironically-named Hill of Longevity.
Garden of Harmonious Instincts

In general, it was a great trip. I had been warned of pollution numerous times, but it rained the day we arrived and winds shifted, and by the end of my time there I could see the surrounding hills without problems. Traffic was thick but nothing that a native of LA would be impressed by, and most of the drivers had that psychic ability to navigate through crowded lanes. The early summer foliage, high-rises, office buildings, industrial parts, and wide variety of neighborhoods reminded me of Chicago more than anything else. Only when in the heart of the city, driving past Tienanmen Square and the Communist Party headquarters, did I get the strong feeling of being in another country entirely.

But yes, it has left me more than a little exhausted, and I hope to recover well enough to get back to work tomorrow.

More later,

[Update:] Here's the entire GW2  presentation, in a mix of Chinese and English! And a news report in which I get translated!