Monday, November 18, 2013
Trip to Beijing — Overview
We just got back from Beijing after three wonderful days of vacation with Ma Lei and her folks. I had so much fun watching them! They were like kids, especially Ma Lei's mother. Everywhere we went, she kept saying "Take my picture! Take my picture!" It was as though she couldn't quite believe she was in these famous places, so she wanted a photo as proof. (This is very common among Chinese tourists: foreigners think the Chinese care more about getting a picture of themselves someplace than they do about actually BEING in that place.)
The trip to Beijing was, as far as I know, their first time inside an airport, let alone actually flying. Heck, Ma Lei thinks it was their first time fastening a seat belt. (I had to do Mother's for her on the way to Beijing, because she didn't know how.)
On the way to Beijing it was dark, so they couldn't see much out the windows, but coming into Dalian this morning they had a crystal-clear view. I was reminded of how exciting and strange it was, seeing things from the sky the first few times I flew.
We went to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and we even stood in line to go see the body of Chairman Mao. (More on that later, of course.) We went to Olympic Park for a bit of more recent Chinese history, and for the first time I sprung for a ticket to go inside one of the venues, the Water Cube. (It was supposed to cost 30 rmb a head, a little less than $5, but we got had by a scalper — again, more later!) We saw the beautiful lake district of north-central Beijing, as well as the fascinating ancient hutong (twisty alleyway) where we were staying.
We did not get to go see the Great Wall, because both days when we could have gone, the wind was too gusty for the cable car up to the top. Ma Lei's mom has a bum leg, so climbing up the stairs is out of the question for her. In fact, she got so tired with all the walking that, every night before she went to bed she said "tomorrow you can go, and I will stay in the hotel." But then, every morning when we were getting ready to go, she couldn't resist.
We ate Beijing-style noodles, which are "meh." Okay, if you like a lot of white-colored starch with a little meat and a hint of green veggies thrown in along the side. We had donkey-meat soup, twice. (It sounds awful to the American ear, but actually it's out-of-this-world good!)
And on our last night, we went to a fancy Peking Duck restaurant that was surely the most expensive meal Ma Lei's parents have ever had. (It came to almost $15 a head, which is really enormously expensive by Chinese standards. And by way of comparison, all taxes are included in the ticket price, and you don't tip — so $15 a head means $15 a head.) The food was phenomenal, and the atmosphere was beautiful.
Last night, I finally got to get a little bit of what *I* love about Beijing: the internationalism of the place.
Ma Lei's parents wanted to buy some packaged Peking Duck to give to some friends and family-members, but the three of them were too exhausted to make the trip down to the district where it's easiest to find it. (They sell it shrink-wrapped in plastic bags, which I find rather gross. Duck-in-a-bag.)
I volunteered to make the trip, partly because I was the only one with any energy left, and partly because it was an excuse to go down to Wangfujing, where there are a couple of mediocre foreign bookstores. Mediocre, indeed, but I quickly spent more than a hundred bucks. Plus found four or five good scholarly books that were over fifty bucks apiece, so rather than buy them in the store perhaps I can find them used on the 'net.
On my way back to our hotel, I stopped at a pub for a good cocktail (very hard to find in Dalian), then I went to one restaurant for a Thai spring roll and another, Spanish-run restaurant for some magnificent hummus and an absinthe cocktail. After all that, I still got home by 10:00.
I'm going to be working overtime for the next ten days to make up for four days away, but I will post more details when I can.