SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 17, October 2016 - Page 102

Beijing also preserves part of its Imperial period like The Great Wall of China, The Forbidden City (off-limits to the public for 500 years, when the dynasties of Emperors Ming and Qing were established), The Temple of Heaven, and The Summer Palace. It is said that Tiananmen Square is the symbolic center of the Chinese universe, where Mao in his megalomaniac delirium wanted to project communism’s greatness.

Traveling through China has been one of my most enriching experiences at a personal and cultural level. What it represents is beyond its culture, civilization, spirituality and wisdom, and one feels compelled to adapt to their customs and make them your own. It is a place without time which encourages you to get lost, guided by your feelings and the heart

When I was younger, I was fortunate enough to travel and live in Indonesia. I watched and tried to understand how their farmers live, to participate in their daily rituals like ignoring Sundays or holidays, as well as their systematic religious cults and their family reunions, like the typical Javanese wedding in which I was present but will tell you about another time. All of these have nurtured me as a gathering of life experiences that are engraved as postcards in my soul.

I traveled to China with my husband Alejandro while I was six months pregnant. I often remember those endless hours waiting at an airport, and it’s at those moments that fragments of French anthropologist Marc Ague’s texts come to mind. Describing the concept of Non-Places, he says: “It is a waiting place for transit passengers where people engage in short dialogue and often all that binds two individuals is an exchange of glances. A Non- Place can be an airport, a waiting room at a hospital, an ATM, any means of transport or the comments box of a blog.”

A Non-Place frees the person of their everyday determinations and allows anonymity by simply assuming the role of a passenger, a client, or a tourist. A Non-place is marked by the shortness of time spent there and because we are always coming or leaving. The common denominator of a Non-Place are the signs which urge people to “move fast”. The modern problem is that there are increasingly more Non- Places and we spend more time in them than in Yes-Places.

As we arrived in China, strange things began to happen; unusual things like the ones we experienced in Yangshuo, at the Li River World Heritage. We toured the picturesque village in a rented motorcycle without maps or GPS. The village is crossed by a river with its snowy mountains and rocky hills which seem to reach for the sky and get lost in the clouds. In the river, the locals’ sailboats filled with rubber passed by; it is a captivating place!

And the journey continued: we bought a flight ticket at an airline where the attendants communicated in Chinese only; not a word of English. They gave us a glass of water to soften the almost 8 degrees below zero temperature in January. And there we were, trying to understand the language without any luck, and with a map pointing to Beijing. We just had to trust the Chinese man who sold us the tickets and took us to an ATM to withdraw money.

We went back to the Hostel in the middle of the mountains, where we could see the terrace rice fields and the river. We walked around with groceries we had purchased at a supermarket, guided only by our intuition and common sense of what could be dinner. The next day we woke up doubtful of what to expect at the airport of Guilin. We had fried rice for breakfast with black beans, a synthetic slice of bread, and a strange looking orange jam. The car that took us to the airport was already waiting. We didn’t have a ticket or any receipt, but we approached the airline counter we believed had sold us the plane tickets and showed them our passports. And there we were, with the ticket counter employee who gave us our tickets and “Gangnam Style” playing in the background. We just had to feel confident that everything would be alright.

We landed in Beijing and took a cab to the hotel in the middle of town. The streets were very noisy and surrounded by all sorts of unimaginable means of transport. The air was completely polluted by smog; it made no sense to open the windows to get fresh air. Thousands of people were walking in a rush wearing facemasks, everyone in his or her own world. The subway was equally crowded. But nobody pushed, everyone entered and it was difficult to understand how everything worked so perfectly, especially given that no one lifted their gaze from their mobile phones. They were very kind and smiled all the time, though I still don’t know why....

The only thing you know in this kind of journey is that you never know where they are taking you, how it continues, or how it ends. Surrealism is what seduced me about Asia; you are immersed in the experience of living it, enjoying it, and learning from it.

Beijing has great food markets where you can find everything you’d expect and more. The market starts at Wangfujing Snack Street located in the Hutong west of the main street. The main street itself is full of restaurants and stalls which offer a variety of street-style food. After dark, it becomes an exotic nightlife destination within the city. The lights themselves are a spectacle in the market area.

Further north and perpendicular to Wangfujing is Donghuamen street. The modern Donghuamen area originated in 1984 as a night market next to the Forbidden City in the heart of the tourist area. It’s known for its relatively high prices, which attract diners and native visitors who cannot resist walking around astonished, admiring its unique stalls of exotic snacks. While there are many restless globetrotters in the area, only the most adventurous will dare taste some of the food. Menus range from snake meat, silkworms, scorpion, caterpillars, beetles, and tarantulas, etc. All are fried, grilled, sautéed, or confit and then given on a stick ready to eat.

Although we were having fun in such a hectic environment, we had to be careful not to get run over by motorcycles or other carts full of boxes on the street. People were eating and trying to convince themselves to taste the food as a kind of challenge, including Alejandro, who ate a shish kebab of scorpions. I couldn’t sleep that night, imagining scorpions were coming out of his mouth or that they were going to hurt his stomach.

Fortunately, there were also stalls with meat shish kebabs, corn, vegetables, soy, spring rolls, poultry, dumplings, and fruits. We saw at least 100 types of special snacks and traditional delicacies in Donghuamen, combining culinary culture and tourism from around Asia.

Separate from my written story, in my photographic work I have always been interested in self-reference as a search of our own limitations, and the idea of the foreigner and rootlessness. I hope, as a passionate photographer and restless traveler, that I’ve done justice to the journey as part of my adventure. Thank you.

Bio: Guadalupe Plaza Petersen was born in Salta, Argentina in 1979 where she now lives and works as a photographer and visual artist. She lived in Italy, where she specialized in Contemporary Art and was awarded a scholarship by the Embassy of Indonesia. She specialized in photography at University of ISI SOLO Surukarta, Java, Indonesia. Her productions are developed around a series in which she works with assemblies of her own ideas and photographs taken of trips around the world. She worked as a supervisor of Libraries and Archives at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Salta. She participated in several individual and collective exhibitions in Argentina, Italy and Indonesia.

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