October 31, 2006

Week One - Beijing

To see all 200 Beijing photos in a slideshow, press HERE.

First Day in Beijing

Art Students?
Restaurants, People and Shops
In the Park
And by the Church
The Forbidden City
Singing Guards
Bill and Mao
Mile Long Line to See Mao's Body
The Forbidden City
Singing Guards

The week before our take off for Beijing, we visited Dain and Marleta - our son and his partner - in Santa Monica. We also finished our preparation for this six-month journey to Asia. On our first day in Santa Monica, we went to the Chinese embassy to get a visa. They do not accept visa requests by mail. I also was trying to get Best Buy to finish the repairs of my Viao laptop and get it shipped to me in LA. This was to no avail, and a great irritation that they could not get a simple repair completed in four weeks. We tried to order a new laptop on-line and despite promises to the contrary, they could not ship overnight. So we ended up buying a cheap over the counter laptop to use.

The best part of LA, even better than the wonderful weather, was our visit with the Dain and Marleta. And of that time the best was on the weekend, when they were both at home. Saturday we had breakfast at Uncle Bill's in Manhattan Beach. On Sunday we went to a fantastic beach restaurant in Malibu. It was full of color, off the Pacific Coast Highway, set next to an old mobile home park - where Dain joked that the lots must cost a million dollars each.

Tuesday and Wednesday - 24 and 25 of October:
NW 1 left a bit after one in the afternoon on Wednesday. The eleven our flight to Narita, Japan, seemed like it took forever. We landed at 4:30 and waited two hours before our flight to Beijing departed. Four hours later we landed in Beijing. We took cab to near the center of the city to a hotel we had decided to stay at. Of course, the taxi driver spoke no English. We were lucky that we had printed the name and address of the hotel in Chinese prior to departure, because without it the cab driver would not have had a clue as to our destination.

Evening Meal

Beijing is like most large cities, it is not very exotic. The streets are laid out in grids. They are full of pedestrians, bicycles, and cars. The cars are just like those that you see in most of the world, i.e. 1.6 to 2.4 liter motors in Hyundais and Hondas and Audis and BMWs and VWs. They have 4 rings of freeways that are always heavy with traffic. The buildings are mostly brick and low, but with plenty of taller buildings dispersed throughout the city. The big differences are the language and signs. Luckily there is a Romanized version of Chinese that is on all the street signs, so at least we can find our way around on foot. If I had to compare it to any other city I would say it is a lot like Mexico City. There are 13 million souls that live in Beijing, a similar number to Mexico City's 15 million. Finally, it has been cold and overcast every day so far. How cold? The lows have been in the 40's and the highs about 60 (5 to 16c). Our activities follow.

Thursday - 26 October:
Met three art students: Weliu (Willer), John, and Feeling. They were showing their art in a little downtown gallery. They get the use of the gallery three days each month. They all spoke pretty good English, which is a rarity in Beijing. After seeing their lovely pieces, we took them to lunch at a nearby restaurant that usually only the Chinese eat at. We ate pork short ribs, Kung Pao chicken, a fish stew, fried tofu with a sauce, rice and soup. Some of the dishes we loved and others were good, but the tofu did not set well with either of us. The feast was not very expensive costing less than $20 for all five of us. During lunch we talked and talked and talked about our lives and our families. We tried to learn as much as we could about these three young students. After lunch John and Feeling went back to the gallery but Weliu continued with us to Tian'anmen Square and the Forbidden City. Later we discovered that these students may not really be students, and the art that they were selling was not likely theirs and if theirs, then copies of other artists' works. The Rough Guide describes the gentle scam, which gets the unsuspecting tourist to overpay for local art. We saw nearly identical paintings at other "student" art center. Still they were fun to talk to, and we do not regret a moment of our time with them.
In the evening we went to the Beijing opera style show. That means there were acrobats and dancing and kung fu dancing. It lasted about an hour, which is typical. We enjoyed the performance.

Friday - 27 October:
We went to the Summer Palace. It is a beautiful area around a lake, where the Emperors and Empresses of China took their leave in the summers. We spent the entire day there enjoying the sights. We saw three performances there of dancing, music, and acrobats. We were so exhausted by the climbing and walking that we went to bed very early that night.

At the Gate to the Summer Palace
In the Palace of Virtue and Harmony
Click to See Them Dance
Classical Musician
Kunming Lake
Monks Quarters
Little Visitors
The Marble Boat of the Last Empress

Pool Above the Weir

Saturday - 28 October 2006:
It was a glorious clear, warm day for a change. We went to the Temple of Heaven, which is just a kilometer south of Tiananmen Square. It was an ancient temple used to celebrate the harvest and to praise heaven. It was a beautiful spot to visit. Just as wonderful is the park that surrounds the temple. There thousands of local meet to sing and dance and practice and play traditional instruments, or just to play a game of cards or dominos and to talk. The socialness and friendliness of the Chinese is simply wonderful.
It was afternoon, so we headed toward a restaurant well known for its Peking Duck. Along the way, we wondered into a vegetable market and then wandered through some narrow winding alleys before finally happening upon the Liquan Roast Duck restaurant, which seemed hidden in the labyrinth of little Beijing alleys. The duck was excellent. We ate in the traditional manner where you put a bit of sauce and cucumber and onion in a rice wrapper (think Chinese tortilla). You roll it all up; and is it delicious. We made our way to Tiananmen Square from there. Along the way we spoke with a Chinese lady with an eight-year old. Both spoke English and had the English names of Regina and Tom. Many Chinese take English names when they begin to study English. I guess, since I am trying to learn a bit of Chinese that I will have to take a Chinese name. I already noticed that the name of "art student" Weliu sounds a lot like William. So, Weliu must be my Chinese name. We walked again in the parkway just of Dongchang'an. It is such a beautiful walkway. At the end a saw a school of coy in a pool formed by a beautiful weir. They we hiked up an incredible pedestrian mall called Wangfujing Dajie. Thousands of people filled the mall that was lined with all kinds of shops and stores. We picked up some events info and grabbed a cab back to our hotel.

Temple of Heaven
And the People in Its Park
Exercise and Dancing
Playing and Singing
And Knitting Slippers
Click to Hear Them Play
Liquan Roast Duck
Carving the Duck
Eating the Duck
Wangfujing Dajie
Our Hotel Courtyard

Sunday - 29 October:
Sunday was another glorious day with full sun and temperatures hitting 70. I thought of Sunday as a slow day as we mainly walked around. We looked for a wireless hotspot and we think we found one at a McDonalds. We walked on Wanfujing Avenue and explored a side alley with dozens of restaurants and souvenir shops. We sat in a lovely park and worked our Sudoku puzzles. We wanted to visit the national museum, but their standing exposition was closed for sometime. We walked to the Beijing train station to get information about schedules and fares to Xi'an. We stopped at a nearby youth hostel for information on a trip to the Great Wall and we got a bonus with info on Xi'an. So we booked our trip to the Great Wall. In the evening we went to a jazz club, the Starlight Lounge to hear Toku. He is a Japanese singer and horn player. His style is that of the Rat Packers. Betty was reminded of Dean Martin. The songs were all in English and the musicianship was first rate.

To the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall of China

Table for the Dead Emperor
The Great Wall
Glenn and Anna Maria
Our Chinese Friends

We rose very early for the journey to the great wall. A full day of activities lay before us. Unfortunately it was a cool, overcast day once again. A couple, Glenn and Anna Marie, from England joined our tour. We had only paid $15 each for the tour and felt it a bargain. Later we questioned this conclusion. It was all the stops at the "let me relieve you of your money" tourist places that the tour company got paid to deliver us to that took the sparkle from the trip. First we went to the jade "factory" and later to the fresh water pearl "factory." The prices were all insanely high. We visit the Ming tombs, but only saw one of many tomb sights. Lunch was ok. After lunch we finally made it to the Great Wall. My only complaint would be that this section has been completly restored, read not of ancient birth. Still it gave you a good sense of the original. We only had two hours here. Four would have been much better. I think that another section, a more remote section, would be better to visit. Anyway, we climbed to nearly the highest point of the Great Wall of China. After visiting the wall, we had one more stop - a tea house. We had a nice show of the different types of Chinese tea, then a sales pitch - again at very high prices (five ounces for $15). They dropped us at the train station and we got those tickets to Xi'an.

One more time, I have to restate how wonderful the people are here. For example, we met many Chinese - young and old - on our climb at the Great Wall. They are friendly and kind. There are many bad stories about China, but for the most part they are patently false. The water is safe to drink in Beijing. The streets are clean. And the Chinese like westerners. We think that this is a place that everyone should visit. We only hope that the remainder of our visit here will be as pleasant as Beijing. Another bright spot mor me is their love of Jazz. I can hear it everywhere. No RAP, no HipHop, just lot of real, straight-ahead jazz.
They will host the Olympics in less than two years. They are just not prepared. They do not have a clue about what it will mean to have millions of westerners here all a once. Try to find a laundry. Try to get a taxi driver to bring you anywhere with the Romanized alphabet name of and address. Almost no one speaks English, let alone some other western language. It will be a great experience for them, a great learning experience. I hope that they are prepared for the hard lessons.

Our next report will come from Xi'an.

The Great Wall of China

Posted by bill at October 31, 2006 06:54 PM

What a another great adventure you and Betty are one. I am happy to hear you got there safe. Take care both of you. Adios!

Posted by: Margie Sanroman at October 31, 2006 09:05 AM

I never realized how much Bill and Mao look alike?



Posted by: Adam at October 31, 2006 11:02 AM

It was and is so much fun to look at the pictures of China, and remember my trip there in "94". I too found the people wonderful and they love to dance. Have you been dancing yet? I look forward to more pictures. Esther.

Posted by: Esther Goodwill at October 31, 2006 11:46 AM

Stay safe and healthy! Very informative. I bet out of Beijing things are very different, not necessarily bad though. Like comparing Washington DC, to Chicago, to Des Moines, to Los Angeles here--all very different.

Posted by: Greg at November 1, 2006 04:48 AM

very nice trip!
congratulations from Argentina.

Posted by: SANDRA at November 1, 2006 01:34 PM

While you are there try to imagine a murder mustery for me to write. As always, I thoroughly enjoy reading your journal and looking through your memorable photos. Carry on!

Posted by: Mickie Turk at November 1, 2006 10:33 PM

I might get a book that I stumbled upon on the 'Net, called "The Monk From Brooklyn: An American at the Shaolin Temple." It is supposed to be a hilarious, true read about an American student who got sent to the wrong Chinese school in Henan Province. It might be a good primer for you -- sample is at http://www.jadedragon.com/archives/martarts/monk1228.html


Posted by: Greg at November 6, 2006 08:37 PM

Reading your journal is thoroughly entertaining. Keep sending them and be safe!!

Marty c

Posted by: marty christensen at November 13, 2006 07:23 PM