Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jul 26 - Beijing

It is Saturday, our first full day in Beijing. We got to bed finally at 11 PM. Carol had trouble sleeping at all. Mike slept pretty well until 3 AM and then both of us were up and could barely sleep thereafter. At 6 AM we were down for breakfast, a 60 item buffet running the gamut from Allbran, Carol's choice, to something called bacon, very much like Canadian bacon, with fried rice, congee, several steamed vegetables, a full salad bar, 4 kinds of juices, fresh fruit, etc.

At 7 we were off to find an internet cafe. The guidebook showed one on Dazhalan Jie, on the third floor. This was consistent with the advice we had been given the night before, when we had unsuccessfully looked around. So we set out for that address, walking through several hutongs. At 7 in the morning, you see the men getting out of bed. There are some who are living in a space no bigger than 2 m by 1 m, with not much more space than is necessary for a bed. They have no running water, no toilet, no kitchen facilities, and no private living space, other than for their bed. We wonder how much one pays for such a room. Of course, on each block there is a public toilet, and some of the landlords (or landladies) provide such amenities, but certainly not all. However, pomegranite trees with fruit just turning red, and lovingly tended trellised squash and melon plants are found along with small patches of flowers.

The hutong slowly turned into a street with hotels and hostels, and more touristy accommodations, and English language signs. We passed an international phone calling store, where you can make your phone calls, presumably anywhere in China. We asked and determined that they also had internet service, at 10 RMB per hour. We thought this might be high, or a special price for us, and so we pressed on toward the address in the guidebooks. We finally got there and found the street under frantic reconstruction for the Olympics, with many of the buildings being rehabbed, being turned perhaps into a modern Williamsburg tourist road. Anyway, nobody knew of any internet anywhere there, so we walked back to the first place, wher Carol noticed that there was a printed sign for 10 RMB per hour.

We took 1 hour and 5 minutes to post our last two entries, and offered 11 RMB, but they refused the extra money(!)

So off to the Temple of Heaven, through as many hutongs as we could find. Carol mad a stop in a public toilet where the "compost" was very rank and squatting took lots of time to find your balance. She finally understood the meaning of the blessing "She-lo asani isha."

We passed one door where the tenant had posted a handwritten note: "To the tourist. Do not believe what your guide tells you about the hutongs. You do not know how we live." We also saw snails on the walls and a crawling turtle.

A little bit on, Carol had another yogurt drink, and we learned that the name was "suan niu," sour milk.

A little further down the street, we passed the "Passion Sex Shop" and "Instinct Sex Toys". The former advertised "Medicine for penis diseases - Medicine for ladys no passion - Quality is more important than sale - Make you sex time long and long." The latter advertised "Sextoys Healthfoods Idealivesthing Adultthing" "" There were a great variety of plastic items and dolls of various sizes within. Carol thought that the stores should have been named "Orifice Depot."

Not a half block further on we saw a lot where all the buildings had been razed with two large tents, and guys walking around - a squatter camp.

On to the Temple of Heaven. After passing some Olympic garden arrangements, another hutong, we arrived at the street that borders the temple to the north. About every 100 feet there were groups of people with Olympic aid shirts standing around gossiping, ready to help any passing tourist who needed help (there were plenty of locals, but they needed no help.) Carol saw the only jogger of our entire stay in Beijing, an older man trotting along slowly. Finally at the Temple gate, we paid the 35 RMB to enter and see all of the buildings within.

This is a series of buildings close to 600 years old, set up to honor the emperor of the day, with all the buildings for animal sacrifices, for good harvest for the coming year, and plenty of places to make those sacrifices for all of the appropriate deities. The park is at least 1.5 km from end to end, and takes forever to walk all of the way through.

It is Saturday morning, and in Beijing on Saturday morning in any park, people are out to celebrate, so we have shape note singers, following a leader who is calling out the next tone with her hand signals. There were also Chinese opera soloists, attracting appreciative crowds, and many kinds of physical activities. We saw Chinese couple dancing, wooden sword tai chi classes, precision paddle ball exhibitions, and two harmonica orchestras backing up singers and dance soloists. Multiple generation families, young couples, and just regular folks enjoying picnics and the outdoors in a historic setting.

We finally finished seeing all of the buildings somewhat after 12, thirsty and tired, and headed off to lunch. A bus ride on the second 826 bus (the first was too crowded to even think of getting on) took us a couple of miles to the Quanjude DuckRestaurant at Hepingmen which has been serving duck since 1852. This is quite the fancy place, but not just for tourists and visiting dignitaries. A properly white toqued chef carefully removed the crisp skin of our duck and sliced up the duck right there in the room. We ordered one whole duck, perhaps a bit much for just two people, but we had fun rolling up the succulent morsels with plum sauce and scallion slices in the thin pancakes. Total cost of 1 duck, 1 large bottle of beer, and 10% service was 270 RMB. Maybe we could gotten have a cheaper duck, but we wouldn't been handed a numbered certificate of authentication or seen the photos of Chou Enlai, Castro, Nixon, etc.

To be continued.

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