Friday, September 18, 2009

Day 1 in beijing

5:30 AM, Chinese time (5:30 PM EST)

You use the card to turn on the lights.


We had a night without lights, which would have been great on many other nights. However, I went to bed at 4 PM, and it's a lot to ask of me to sleep 15 hours straight. Even if I was up for 24 hours straight. It turned out we have a portable reading lamp with us, which is tiny! But! It allowed me to take a shower and wash the travel grime and smog off me. I'm feeling pretty good now. Breakfast is in 1/2 hour. Dum de dum.

Earlier, while I was waiting for the breakfast buffet to be served, I went down to the front desk to tell the receptionist that our lights don't work. She didn't tell me we need to use the card. She sent the housekeeper to tell us we need to use the card.

I'm making tea while I wait. I didn't drink nearly enough tea yesterday. Usually, when I'm at home, I have an ongoing cup of tea. When it gets low, I add more hot water, and when it gets weak, I add another teabag. Yesterday there was too much rushing in the airport, and I did get some tea on the plane, but it was only a little cupful twice during the flight. Which is better than none. But I need some now.

Mmmm, properly boiled tea. A wonderful thing. I'm partial to Irish, but Chinese tea is good too. Actually this is Ceylon. Go figure.

6:18 PM. At 6:00 AM the buffet finally opened up. It was tai hao le. Pretty incredible, even. There were Eastern and Western selections, and we mostly went for the Eastern. Dim sum, rice dishes, sushi and smoked fish, interesting fruits; we had to remind ourselves the we didn't have to eat one of everying, since we'll have this breakfast twice more.

The tour guide had the day off today - our official tour time starts tomorrow. Today we were free, so we took an unguided foot tour northward, through some of the last remaining hutongs. These are single-story homes arranged in little squares with narrow entrances and courtyards, with tiled roofs and storefronts facing the streets. We passed some businesses in modern buildings arranged in the hutong style, but much newer, before we got to the real things.

We climbed the drum tower and the bell tower, our first paid tourist attractions. From above, you can see the ancient tiled roofs, some of them not so tiled anymore. Some have grass growing on them. Some have watermelons. Some have pigeon cotes, mother-in-law apartments, and/or solar panel units. I wonder how well those work in this smog!

Afterwards we walked southeast along a long lake with paddleboats and cute stone bridges. Very picturesque! We did our first souvenir shopping. I won't tell you what we got - some of the items are birthday presents.

This was all very very early, and as we were walking, many of the stores were still opening up. We puttered around until almost noon, looking for the perfect restaurant for lunch. But then I began to worry that if we waited too long, other people would also want lunch, and they would smoke near us. So we ducked into a little place with hardly any signs.

The menu had a few pictures but no English, and the waitress only knew a few words, but more than we knew Chinese. So we pointed and nodded a lot and patched together a spicy dish with chicken and bok sprouts and mutton on a stick. It was delicious. We remarked how unfortunate it was that Westerners come to China and are afraid of the food. Sure, there's a chance that you'll get something unpleasant, but when you win, you win!

Unfortunately two of the other early lunch eaters were smokers. So much for beating the cigarette haze.

More shopping as we headed home. We're starting to learn to shop with the few words we know. We haven't been bargaining; everything is so cheap, and we're so shy about messing up, that it doesn't hurt a bit to pay double what they charge the locals. It's not like we're buying tons of stuff. We don't have the room for it in our suitcases. As in the US, we are a hard sell. We say, "Bu yao, bu yao" without a problem.

One rickshaw driver was harassing us as we stopped to people-watch on a rock along the lakeshore. He asked us several times if we wanted a tour. We said, "Bu yao" and shook our heads several times. then later, he came back again to ask! We laughed.

Headed homeward, we walked through a very narrow park where crews were landscaping like mad. Some stores in that area were in the process of shutting down for the holiday already. They had been closed when we passed them on our way out of the hotel - we may never get to check them out! I've heard the shopping is also good in Guangzhou, though. It's not too late.

Back at the hotel, Rick sorted photos and I napped for.. four hours. Meh. Now we've switched. He's sound asleep and I'm blogging. I think I'm starting to get hungry now, and we don't want to eat at the hotel. Almost time for a new culinary adventure. I think I want dumplings this time.

Here are some pictures of our day:

Some funky orange phones

The picturesque street through the hutong neighborhood, lined with shops.

Me standing next to one of the drums in the drum tower.

A great view of the hutong roofs from atop the drum tower. Note the smog.

Our totally authentic and wholly delicious lunch.

A tote bag in a shop window with some broken English.

1 comment:

  1. So glad that you are trying some of the local cuisine. I didn't find any food that I didn't like. I didn't eat anything off the streets though, I might not have liked that. Can't wait till you get your little guy.