Saturday, September 11, 2004

From Beijing I flew to Shanghai and got a non-stop flight to San Francisco, where I popped on a non-stop flight to Pittsburgh. From Pittsburgh I took a bus to Somerset, Pennsylvania, where I rented a car and proceeded to Shanksville, a small village of perhaps a thousand people which prior to September 11, 2001 was known for absolutely nothing except perhaps its uniformly mediocre basketball teams. All that changed on 9/11, 2001, when Flight 93 and was hijacked and crashed into the countryside just a couple of miles from Shanksville. I was intent on visiting the site on September 11, the third anniversary of the terrorist attack and the crash here.

The whole way from Shanksville to the crash site I passed a nearly steady stream of big bikes, many in the hog category. Apparently the whole terrorist thing and the threat to the homeland has resonated deeply with the “don’t tread on me” biker crowd, who have turned the area into a veritable pilgrimage site. At the entrance to the site itself was an even greater collection of hogs:

The crash site is located in open fields which had previously been strip mined and then backfilled. Reportedly the National Park Service has plans to build a permanent monument here, but in the meantime there are several temporary monuments created by people who have shown up at the site.

Memorial created by visitors to the site

Five thousand people a week visit the site normally and there were perhaps a thousand present when I showed up at about two in the afternoon on September 11. Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendall and former PA governor and current Director of Home Land Security Tom Ridge were supposed to arrive for a ceremony at four, at which time bigger crowds were expected. As it turned out, only Ed Rendall actually showed up.

Monument to the passengers on Flight 93, who brought the plane down before it could reach its real target.

While I was there a flag was unfurled by a group of visitors, each of whom then said where they were from and why they had come here today. There were people from all over Pennsylvania, plus West Virginia, Minnesota, New York, Georgia, and undoubtedly numerous other states. One woman from Minnesota said she had gone to the World Trade Center Site on the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, the Pentagon on the second anniversary in 2003, and now had gone here for the third anniversary.

Unfurling the Flag

Friday, September 10, 2004

From Ulaan Baatar I blew into Beijing. I called my friend Rahila, who I had met several years earlier in Urumqi, in Xinjiang Province of Western China and who now works at an embassy in Beijing, and made arrangements to meet for dinner. She suggested a Uighur restaurant near the San Li Tun embassy district in northeast Beijing. Uighurs are a minority group within China, but there are more than 10 million of them in Xinjiang province. Rahila herself is a Uighur. They speak a form of Turkish (my friend Sevgi, from Istanbul, who has traveled in Xinjiang, said she had no trouble understanding the people there) and many, like Rahila, also speak Chinese. The restaurant, just across the street from the future site of the new American embassy in Beijing (construction has just started), is very nice with tables of thick varnished planks and Uighur carpets on the walls. The waitresses are Chinese, but they wear Uighurs costumes of altas silk blouses and embroidered caps. Rahila says that although the place is owned by Uighurs, young Uighur women do not like to work as waitresses. The food has been adapted to Chinese tastes; the lagmen, a favorite Uighur noodle dish, is highly spiced with red peppers, an addition not usually found in Xinjiang itself. Also the vegetable dish we ordered was very highly seasoned, too much for Rahila's tastes. We also had shish kabobs and noodle soup. Rahila ordered the soup for herself and got a huge serving bowl with enough soup for six or eight people, a common occurrence in Beijing. Rahila is a Moslem and never drinks alcohol, so we had sweet Chinese yogurt with our meal – it’s drinkable, just a little thicker than regular milk, and goes great with the hot food – and milk tea after dinner while we watched the floor show. This consisted of Uighur musicians on guitars and other spring instruments and a variety of dancers, including some eye-popping Uighur belly dancers. Of course anyone with a belly can belly dance but not everyone can belly dance with a stack of six tea saucers balanced on their heads, like some of the Uighur dancers.


Thursday, September 09, 2004

In an earlier post from Wurzburg, Germany, I noted that Chinese are rapidly becoming the world’s most ubiquitous tourists. This can only increase with further relaxation of travel restrictions on Chinese tourists traveling abroad starting September 1. Chinese are now the fourth most numerous tourists in France, and French officials are predicting that within two years they will be number one. And they like to spend money, an average of 247 Euros a day, second only to the Japanese and ahead of skinflint Americans and British. French hotels are starting to add Chinese Language TV stations and Chinese breakfasts in addition to the time honored Continental offerings.
From Berlin (Germany) I winged eastward to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, via Moscow. In Mongolia my first stop was the new Buddhist temple being constructed at Terelj, about 30 miles north of the capital. Since I was there last the 108 stone steps leading to the terrace of the temple have been completed.

Looking down over the 108 town steps leading to the new temple near Terelj

Saturday, September 04, 2004

From Lithuania I nipped into Berlin, Germany, I had hoped to catch the Sunday flight to Ulaan Baatar, but it was full and I had to wait for the Tuesday flight. This gave me a very long weekend in Berlin. I bought a three day pass for Berlin’s huge network of city trains and subways and wandered around the city’s various far-flung neighborhoods. I started each morning, however, at Potsdamerplatz, in what was old East Berlin but which is fast becoming the new center of the city. Great coffee shops, which open at six on the morning, and good internet cafes.

Of course just east of Potsdamerplatz is the Kulturforum, a collection of various museums and concert halls. I mosied into the Gemaldegalerie, a musuem packed with Old Masters paintings. I especially wanted to see the paintings by Botticelli. These have been reproduced to often its hard to believe you are actually looking at the originals, especially since the paint is so crisp and clear they look like they were painted just yesterday instead of five hundred years ago.

One of Botticelli's famous ladies

Of course, several works by Caravaggio are also found here:

A Caravaggio Boy Toy

Walking from Potsdamerplatz to the Brandenburg Gate I went by the site of the old Furhrerbunker, the underground shelter where Adolf Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945. Supposedly his body was doused with gasoline and burned here, although of course that remains a highly contentious subject. Now a memorial to Jews who died in the Holocaust is being built on the site of the old Furhrerbunker, a development which would surely make Hitler spin in his grave, if only he had a grave in which to spin.

Jewish Memorial on the site of the Furhrerbunker

Just past the Brandenburg Gate (whose official reopening I, along with Bill Clinton - we stayed in different hotels - had attended two years ago) is the Reichstag. A holiday atmosphere now prevails at this historic venue, with many people picnicing on the huge lawn just in front of the building. Lots of Japanese. They too got caught up in the events that transpired here back in the 1930s . . .

The Reichstag, once again the home of the German Parliament, just as it was in Hitler's day.

Then back down Unter den Linden, past the Adlon Hotel, now infamous as the hotel from which Michael Jackson dangled one of his danglings.

Adlon Hotel with its now infamous balconies, sans dangling