A Day Joined Already In Progress

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

At my first job out of college I had this fantastically eccentric boss who would occasionally approach me and say, "MB, I think this day started without me, it's already in progress. Should we pretend it's 10AM and catch up?" She also didn't use a computer and wore the same purple suit from Lord & Taylor every day, but I took that little pearl with me and feel it's appropriate for our last full day in Beijing.

We slept way beyond the dreaded automatic voice urging us that "this was our wake up call." After a day of wet feet on the Great Wall my blister covered feet felt like mere stumps. Finally by 10:00AM, we had an itinerary , a duck (more on this later) and my feet were covered in carefully applied band aids and moleskin patches. Off to a local bakery discovered the evening before to grab a quick pastry before the onslaught of "looky looky" and "you want umbrella" would begin.

Our first stop was Mao's Memorial Hall which with only a valid ID and infinite patience, you too can see the formaldehyde drenched body of this interesting character (I waited until after we left China to write and post this entry). The line was long, winding back and forth like a poorly executed ride at Disneyworld although both places have freaky attractions. It's A Small World anyone? I digress. Our first stop before entering the line craziness was to drop off our backpack at the "lockers" aka a tiny hot room with various ticket windows, lots of screaming Chinese tourists, and impatient workers demanding to know how many cameras I had in my bag and then charging me double the normal rate because I had a camera in my backpack. The woman then wrote the number 12 on a scrap of paper and said "you pick up bag by this time." Yikes, it was already 11:00.

We ran back to get our place in the "line" which isn't really a line because Chinese people don't stand in line. They stand in bunches that creep forward slowly. Skipping is permissible if you're wiley enough to do so and feel free to jostle, step on heels, and touching whitey is heartily encouraged. We would occasionally hear the Mao viewing rules in English during our wait time. "Please remove all hats and sunglasses, no monkeying around, scantily dressed women will not be admitted."

As we waited the rain began and we watched the clock tick down, 11:15, 11:30. We figured that our bag would simply be burned or given away at the dreaded 12:00. Would we make it? I was wearing a white t-shirt which in the rain was now becoming see-through. Would I be too scantily clad for Mao? After numerous security checks and scans we finally approached the stairs and began to notice many people around us with single white flowers. Upon entry, we saw a huge statue of Mao with a large garden of white flowers in front of the statue. We watched as little girls seemed to be the chosen ones to bow three times before the statue, placing their flowers in pre-determined holes. What was once a raucous chattering crowd fell silent in a heart beat.

The next room contained what we had all been waiting for. It was 11:45 and luckily, everyone only gets about five seconds with Mao as guards were there to quickly push you out the door. Not much to say here, Mao in a coffin. Not worth the wait or hassle, but certainly as shifty and creepy as we expected it to be. We exited onto a gift shop...a gift shop...

We ran through the crowds, down an underground passageway and to the locker area just as they were closing the gate. Joe slid through, grabbed my wrist and pulled me through. We were literally one of the last two people to receive their bags. We were then running late again for our lunch reservation at one of China's famous peking duck houses.

The rain was really coming down by now and we managed to hail a cab who seemed to understand where we were headed. We could afford no mistakes here as Joe and I could both picture another table receiving our reserved duck which had taken hours of painstaking preparation. That was our frickin' air filled perfectly spiced duck. After a brief miscommunication with our driver we finally arrived at the north end of Behai Park and found the duck restaurant with surprising ease.

I love the ambiance of the typical Chinese restaurant. Many generations of family gathered at ten and twelve tops smoking, kids running with toy guns shooting at the only whiteys in the joint, everyone spinning the lazy susan waiting for their next chopstick morsel. This place was no different. Our duck was spectacular, the lotus pancakes handmade and we even had a helpful waitress show us the proper way to make the duck pancakes instead of my usual duck taco methodology.

After lunch it was time for the real sight-seeing of the day at Behai Garden. The gardens were beautiful but not as peaceful as Yu Yuan. There were lots of people and more touristy things to see, like a handmade cave, a jade bowl, and a huge gorgeous statue of Buddha carved out of a single piece of white jade. The real highlight was Joe honoring my request for three minutes of silence. He is just so full of information sometimes and loves telling us what's coming up next on the map that sometimes it's hard to appreciate the quiet of certain places. I did only get three minutes as he was bursting at the seams and motioning for me to pose for pictures using a charade-like style but he managed to make it the full three minutes. Nice work hubby.

The gardens were lovely and after Joe took full advantage of the photo scan feature of our camera, we were ready to move on to a hu tong, a traditional Chinese alleyway full of residences, shops, etc. We were both really looking forward to seeing a bit of true Chinese day to day. As soon as we started getting approached for hu tong tours from rick shaw pullers and started to see the shops with the commonplace "antiques" and panda dolls we knew we had come to the wrong Disneyland hu tong, the one the government wants you to see.

The Disney hu tong was really beautiful and we managed to get a little bit turned around resulting in us experiencing what we had wanted to in the first place, people surprised to see us going about their daily lives. There aren't a lot of pictures from the real hu tong as we felt it would be invasive.

We were exhausted after another big day of sights and headed back to our hotel to clean up and get ready for dinner with Bev! Bev is a fantastic classmate of Joe's from Columbia who is doing her job search in Beijing. Both of us had a list of questions a mile long about our China experience and she was happy to oblige. As much as Joe and I love each other, the following things were amazing:

-hearing someone's voice besides each others'

-having someone at a restaurant to speak Mandarin to the staff!

-Bev, just Bev. In the middle of interview madness, she met us at an area of town where a lot of ex pats hang out. She took us to a really traditional handmade noodle restaurant that served absolutely delicious bowls of noodle soups. We were then off to an awesome dessert place near to Workers Stadium with towers of shaved ice covered in condensed milk and tapioca balls, mango puddings, and exotic juices. It was delicious and so much fun to hang out with Bev. She told us about a lot of other cool areas that we hadn't visited and made us realize that a trip back to Beijing should definitely be in our future. We only scratched the service of what this awesome city has to offer.

It was a long day so Bev directed our cab driver and we were soon back at home base.

Tomorrow: packing it up in Beijing, she she China!
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