Are We Any Better Than Animals?

Trip Start Aug 21, 2009
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Trip End Sep 09, 2009


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Where I stayed
Sunflower Hostel

Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Friday, September 4, 2009

The last three days have been spent in Nanjing, China's eighth largest city with a population of 6.8 million. Despite being a bulging metropolis, it had a small town feel and a laid back populace, a nice change after the insanity of Shanghai. It honestly felt like a different country, with people failing to shove me at every opportunity and at times actually stepping aside to let me pass on the sidewalk. The city is gorgeous, surrounded by lush mountains and with the Qinhuai River running through its heart. Unfortunately it has the same smog problem that seems to envelop this entire country. It is a rare day when you can see the sky.

My time here was spent exploring the markets and backstreets, as well as a morning devoted to climbing the Purple Mountain, which could better be described as a hill. If I can climb it in 35 minutes it isn't a mountain as far as I am concerned. At the top sits an ancient observatory, complete with devices used to measure the sun's shadow that are over 2000 years old. Using this information they were able to calculate when the summer and winter solstices would occur, as well as pinpoint the number of days in a year, 365.25. One of the amazing things about China is just how ancient their history is. They began writing over 3500 years ago and some had begun growing millet and leaving behind a nomadic lifestyle over 9000 years ago. As a westerner it is hard to get my head around numbers like that.

There was one encounter I had which once again made me respect the hospitality and openness of the Chinese. On my bus ride to the mountain I asked a man sitting next to me if he spoke any English. When he replied, “A little”, I asked him if he could point out the stop where I needed to exit. He looked at my map and told me no problem. After some time had passed he informed that my stop was next, and I of course thanked him for his help. He got up at the same stop, and once out of the bus he told me he would walk me to the start of the trek. I assured him it was not necessary, but he insisted. So he walked ten minutes out of his way to show me to the trailhead, at which point I wondered if he was even planning on exiting the bus at this stop. I asked him and he said, “No, but there will be another bus.” I was shocked. He got off the bus just to help a complete stranger not to get lost. His kindness will not be forgotten.

The markets of Nanjing were worth visiting on their own accord. I found the pet stalls particularly interesting, and depressing. They shove so many animals into such small enclosures that I couldn't help but feel intense sympathy for them. They have everything: chipmunks, mice, crocodiles, snakes, birds, and so many types of turtles it would make your head spin, albeit slowly. One stall actually had an alligator snapping turtle, which could have literally snapped off your hand.

The food market was the best I have ever seen and it was right across the street from our hostel. They have at least 40 stalls set up, each one selling a different foodstuff. I was able to sample some interesting dishes, like grilled octopus on a stick and deep fried soft shell crab. And at 5-10 yuan per dish (7 yuan = $1) it wasn't exactly breaking the bank. Timi was appalled that I ate duck head and tongue, but I see no problem with eating something that is both edible and tasty. I think people often times get an idea in their head that just because something isn't traditionally a part of their culture's menu that it must be gross. Well, others may do as they like, but I'm not limiting my palate to hot dogs and pizza when there is so much else out there. 

The final day in Nanjing was spent touring the war memorial which serves to remind us of the horrible atrocities that took place here. Be forewarned that some of what I am going to write about in the following paragraphs is tremendously graphic. I considered not including this section, but it was a part of my travels, and frankly, I feel that it is important that people know what occurred here. We are all familiar with the fate of the Jews in Germany under the Nazi regime, but there is sadly little awareness in the U.S. as to what transpired in Nanjing.

On December 9, 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army captured Nanjing, then known as Nanking. Over the course of the next six weeks hundreds of thousands of civilians were murdered and between 20,000-80,000 women were raped and mutilated. They raped infants and the elderly. They bayoneted their genitals. They drove nails into people's skulls and buried them alive. Sons were forced to rape mothers and fathers their daughters.

There is substantial evidence to support the reality of these atrocities. Tens of thousands of bodies have been recovered, with signs of the mutilation etched into their bones. There is photographic evidence. There are video recordings. And perhaps most telling are the journals kept by the foreigners who were living in Nanjing at the time, whose brave writings detailed the atrocities during the onslaught.

Despite this evidence, there are many Japanese who fail to recognize the extent of what occurred. This is part of the reason why the Japanese are so despised here. Never have I met a race who so loathes another culture, as the Chinese do the Japanese. They are still routinely referred to as the Japanese Devils. With China's economy growing exponentially combined with Japan's failure to extricate itself from their decades long recession, I feel that it is only a matter of time before revenge is enacted. We live in interesting times.

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Any prints you buy will help further my traveling and volunteer work, not to mention they make a nice and extremely reasonable gift. Not to mention they're good!
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