Not the Beijing
Outside of the Forbidden City.
Charming waterway in a small park.
October 3, 2006
Oh, how I am thoroughly loving Beijing!
Last night my Trans-Mongolian crew went to our first dinner in Beijing…but our last dinner together. I can’t believe that my three
weeks with all of these people is over.
I instantly took a liking to this city as we were walking to dinner. We were on a large street that was beautifully adorned with red-lit
lanterns hanging overhead. The restaurant that Trish picked out for us to go to could not have been better. Our first ‘Chinese’ meal!
Yay! It is amazing how different Chinese food is out here versus at home. I still can not believe how fresh and appealing-to-the-eye
everything was. We ordered all sorts of excellent vegetarian dishes that each had a unique and lovely taste. But these dishes were
secondary to the most popular dish of this city – the Peking duck. I always have associated duck with being extremely fatty. These
ducks must have been on a great exercise regimen in their day because they were all extremely lean. The meat was carved
underneath a thin layer of crisp skin. We had thin pancakes and a choice of different sauces and different garnishes to wrap into our
little creations. And the great offerings of this restaurant wouldn’t end there. There was a wine list! Sam and I decided to share a
bottle of Argentinian Shiraz in lieu of beer. Ohhh…it was so nice to have some vino. Prior to this, the last glass of wine I had drunk
was on my last night in New Delhi at my hotel…just over three weeks ago. I way was overdue. And because of this, the wine seemed
to hit my brain more quickly than it normally would. After three glasses, I even became friends with my fellow countrywomen who
were sitting at the table next to ours.
From here we ended up on Sanlitun Bar Street. Can you guess what this street consists of? This was where most of us would <sniff
sniff> part ways. After a beer, my head started to do some spinning and I knew that it was best to go home with the first crew of
people that were departing. Now all I remember is that my last words last night to Catherine were “I’m going to be sick…”
That now brings me to this morning when I woke up at an ungodly hour (before 7am) and could not get back to sleep. I had a
horrible headache and was attempting to sleep it off (with no avail).
It is now 8am. Why did I not drink any water last night? Why is my Excedrin Migraine (aka ‘my hangover miracle drug’) not
working? I think I am going to jump in the shower and start my day. It beats sitting here frustrated because I can’t get back to
I realized while I was on the metro that I forgot my map of Beijing. Doh! My brain obviously still has some recovering to do. I came
up with a way to figure out which metro stop to get off at. It is a little game I call ‘Find the white people on this thing and follow
them’. This is what I did and I must say that my game proved to be a success. This took me to the Oriental Plaza Mall where the
first thing I sign I saw consisted of the nine green letters that I have missed so much…Starbuck’s! This is where I am right now.
The hope is that this vanilla latte will kill all of the lingering effects from last night.
After my latte this morning, I perked up (I actually like that little pun so I am not going to pardon it). I was heading out to the
Forbidden City when a couple Chinese girls approached me. This was when I had my Beijing breaking-the-bank moment (see:
Chinese Tea Ceremony).
After tea in the hutong, I went to the Forbidden City. This was huge. So many different things to see here. I paid for an audio-guide
which I totally regret as it was more irritating than helpful. I wanted to go at my own pace yet the chick on my audio-guide kept
talking and talking about things I was nowhere near. And there was no button to shut her up. She was nothing but a distraction and
I didn’t learn or retain one piece of information from her. A waste of forty yuan.
Annoying audio guide aside, the buildings here were beautiful and colorful. Towards the back was the Imperial Garden which was a
lovely place to sit back and watch all of the people.
Leaving the Forbidden City was no easy task. I guess they figure ‘Why make it easy and have people leave the same way they came
in?’ I ended up actually being thankful for the detour as I got to see Chinese men playing some sort of Chinese game on what looked
like a checkerboard. There were also buildings and their reflections alongside a canal. I ended up at a narrow park that ran parallel
with the main street. This would be where I randomly ran into Catherine, my former roommate as of this morning. I caught her up
on my day…mainly needing to unleash my tea story. As we were chatting, I noticed a girl sitting close to me. I then noticed that she
was smiling as someone was about to take her picture. I knew exactly what was going on. I asked her if she wanted us to be in a
picture (in our common language: charades) and she got excited and kept nodding yes. We posed with her. A minute later, we got
approached by another man. He wanted us to pose with his daughter in front of a statue that we were sitting near. As we got ready
to take our positions, about ten other family members joined into the picture. This happened a couple more times. We were instant
celebrities! I was shocked about this only because being a Westerner in this city nowadays is like a dime a dozen. There just seems
to be some many of ‘us’ out here. But then I remembered that it is a holiday week so it is a very good chance that many people in
Beijing are visiting from smaller cities in China that don’t see too many tourists.
A little bit later I headed back to the Oriental Plaza Mall. As I was strolling around, I got approached by two more Chinese girls –
Susan and Lisa. They were studying English (these were their names that were given to them by their English teacher) and were
also art students. They asked if I wanted to see some Chinese art at their studio that was very close by. I decided as there was no
harm as I didn’t have anywhere I needed to be and they seemed keen on practicing their English.
We got to the studio and they showed me several pictures. In the middle, I realized I was the target of a sales pitch. I sat through it
knowing I wasn’t going to buy anything. When they were done, they asked if I wanted to purchase one that would go towards their
scholarship. I told them I would love to but I really was not looking to do any shopping. They started out quoting prices for certain
pictures. I kept saying I wasn’t interested in buying. Prices were still being quoted. Prices were then being lowered. Yada, yada,
yada…I bought a small one for fifty yuan that says ‘Love’ in Chinese. Heck, for all I know it says ‘Dumb American’ as that is how I
felt when I left.
After officially obtaining my ‘sucker status’ in this city, I headed to the night market to check out the after-dark street food scene of
Beijing. It was very…um…unique. There were skewers with bugs that were still alive and moving on them. There were skewers
with big cockroaches. And there were skewers with insects that were beyond my recognition. I take great pride in saying that I
have no idea how any of these things taste as I was not even coming with a foot of these things.
There were also souvenirs being sold in the market. I saw pictures similar to the one I had just purchased. I was stupid and decided
to ask the price. The first price the guy gave me (which is always negotiable at these places) was five yuan. I was now sure that the
lettering on mine doesn’t say ‘Love’ like they told me it does and probably actually says ‘Dumb American’.
When I got back to the hotel, I stopped by Catherine’s room to bid a final farewell. We told each other about the rest of our days. It
was then that I learned that the ‘art students’ that I met in the mall are known to lure tourists into the galleries to get them to buy
stuff. Catherine had read about this on a Lonely Planet forum. It was time for me to brand a big ‘S’ onto my forehead for ‘sucker’.
After hanging out a bit longer, it was time to actually say good-bye. It was great being roomies with her for the past three weeks. I
hope in the future our paths will cross. It’s a pretty small world so I actually have no doubt that they will.
One of the main streets.