Dear friends and family,
Hello from Beijing! So far, we've been in Beijing for 20 hours. Madeleine, Kim and I all arrived last night (Monday Jan 5) on the same flight at 9:00 PM local time (8:00 AM EST). We checked into our hotel, had a nightcap (bottle of Glenmorangie hastily purchased at the LA airport), were in bed by 11:30 PM, and slept like logs.
Our first challenge was breakfast. We went to the hotel restaurant, found that the manager spoke no English, and tried to explain in our halting Mandarin that we wanted breakfast. He appeared alarmed, and said something we didn't understand. Eventually it dawned on us that he thought we wanted an American breakfast, with toast, scrambled eggs, and so on. He seemed relieved when we managed to explain that we wanted a Chinese breakfast. He directed us to the buffet, and breakfast turned out to be delicious. Rice soup (congee), salty green vegetables, ham, boiled eggs, various steamed buns and fried thingies, and some squishy livery stuff on toothpicks with pink sauce (which was terrible - if you go to China, don't eat that).
We spent the day visiting Tiananmen Square, a small part of the Forbidden Palace, and walked for hours around various shopping streets and alleyways. Beijing is very, very big. Some of the sidewalks are like airplane landing strips. The air is polluted - but it seems manageable. We'll see how we feel after a couple of weeks.
The local residents seem relatively friendly. We were approached by dozens of people who were concerned that we might not have enough postcards, maps, kites, or booklets full of Mao quotations. I admit I was tempted by the Mao quotations, but I resisted.
Also, several people in the forbidden palace wanted to have their pictures taken with us (we were the only non-Chinese for miles around). The first time we agreed. But we hastily changed our policy after a second group asked us immediately afterward, and a lineup appeared to be forming.
Food has been delicious and cheap. We shared a big plate of very tasty dumplings for 14 yuan (about $2.50 Canadian). For our first dinner we had fish and seafood - selecting from live animals by pointing to various tanks (some of which contained very strange creatures including one that I'm pretty sure is genetically related to a Mobius strip), and hoping that the waiter would choose reasonable preparations. He did - the scallops were especially good.
We also bought a bottle of Chinese red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon) made by the Yeli company in Changchun (the home town of a good friend of ours in Ottawa). China is not renowned for it's red wine, but we were curious. In the next installment we'll let you know how it tasted.
Chinglish example of the day:
When we arrived at Chinese border control, the overhead lighting and displays were all blank. I counted roughly 20 workers sitting on top, mostly sitting idle. A nearby sign read "Please make allowance for the inconvenience to you due to working on now!"
I think we're going to like it here.
Signing off for now,
- Joe (and Kim)
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