#12 China, November 8, 2002

Dear Everybody,

More sight seeing in Beijing. Between sights on Saturday, we were seated at a table with a young Canadian man in a casual restaurant for lunch. We three chatted for two hours, which was possibly more interesting than our sights, the Lama Temple, and Prince Gong’s house and garden in the Hutongs, which Were interesting. We’re not finding any foreigners (Chinese or otherwise) that are very pleased with our president, George W. Bush. All the ones we’ve talked to (maybe about five people) are fearful of Bush’s declaration that the US will invade Iraq.

Sunday morning we bused, metroed and taxied to the Dirt Market (Panjiayean) that was huge and Full of stuff to buy. We bought quite a bit—I know, dragging it home will be a chore—but we couldn’t resist. We followed this with lunch at ‘The Courtyard,’ a sumptuous restaurant situated right on the moat of the Forbidden City, overlooking its beautiful buildings. I’ll bet the emperors didn’t eat this well.

We’re still noticing how nice and helpful people are to us. On three different occasions when getting on a crowded bus, the ticket taker made some young people give up their seats so that we could sit down. Some of these female ticket takers are very care taking. If I show them the characters for where we’re going, they let me know when it‘s time to get off. Once one even helped me off.

And we certainly don’t feel any ‘anti-Americanism.’ When a Chinese asks where we’re from and we say, “America,’” they often say something equivalent to “Wow!,” or give a thumbs up sign. Except for two scams that we experienced (one taxi driver and one tour bus girl) everyone has been very helpful. Sometimes if we’re looking lost, someone will approach and say in English, “May I be of help?” That has happened about eight times. Of course it gives them a chance to practice their English, too.

Sunday evening we went to see Peking Opera at an old, quaint, wooden theater, which was first built in Ming times but rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty. It was small and intimate. We were seated at tables on which were placed tea and snacks. There was live ‘music’—largely percussion—which was pretty raucous at times. The performers were good—some wonderful acrobatics—and the whole thing was really fun. It was quite different from a full-scale opera production that I once saw in Taiwan, which had a cast of dozens and lasted for four hours.

On the way home (metro, then bus) I got confused and didn’t know which of the four directions at the metro intersection to get the bus. So we took a taxi and although he nodded emphatically when I showed him the characters for our hotel name, he got hopelessly lost. When I saw a sign to the Temple of Heaven, I knew that was the opposite direction and told him to do a U turn and go back the other way. Jan finally saw a building that she recognized and guided us back to our hotel.

We’ve really enjoyed taking local buses and the metro. The metro is usually really easy (except for Sunday night) as the stations are all marked on my Lonely Planet Guidebook map. The signage within the metro is in English, too, as well as Chinese.

If we haven’t been on a certain street before, the buses are a little trickier. What we usually do is take any bus going our way. If/when they turn off, we get off, walk back to our street and try another. Usually we’ve been able to guess which ones to take, but occasionally we don’t and have to backtrack. It’s a little bit the ‘lurch and jerk’ method, but has worked pretty well. It’s a little harder at night, but we’ve made that work too, except for Sunday night.

The traffic in all these Chinese cities is really aggressive. Cars honk and barrel right through pedestrians that are in a crosswalk and have green walk signs. We can hardly watch when we’re on buses that sandwich bicycles between them, nearly crushing them. When crossing streets we always link arms and try to latch on to some locals, going when they go. Because red or green, crosswalk or not, cars, bicycles and motorcycles always claim the right of way, sometimes coming from the wrong direction.

Monday we went to the Beijing Zoo to see the pandas. We didn’t look at any of the other animals as we read that the conditions are pretty abysmal. The four pandas that we saw were in a fairly nice setting. They sure are cute.

From there we went to the Summer Palace, the lake/woods retreat that the emperors used to get away from the summer heat in Beijing. While it was sunny, it was pretty cool and breezy so the lake wasn’t as inviting this time of year. We enjoyed the gardens, buildings, bridges, and all, and managed the bus/metro trip without getting confused this time!

The next day we visited the Friendship Store so Jan could look for reproductions of the tiny shoes that Chinese women wore with bound feet. We had tried several souvenir shops but they didn’t have them. The Friendship Store had exactly one pair; gold which is the Empress’s color. They were beautifully embroidered and while they do remind one of the agonies of that old custom, these are beautiful.

From there we took a metro, three buses and a taxi to go to the Ming Tombs AGAIN! to see the ‘Spirit Way.’ Since the tour that we took several days ago didn’t take us to see the most important part of them (in my opinion) we vowed to do it on our own.

Getting there was the most challenging time we had yet encountered. At one bus stop we had about nine people (only four were actively discussing) helping us. They couldn’t figure out how we could get to Changping, the city near the Tombs. One man could speak English and said he thought we should take a car. I said, “You mean a taxi? It’s 40 km—too far to take a taxi!” Finally we went to another bus stop, and then two others before we finally got our bus (#845) to Changping. However, when we got on and said, “Changping?” everybody said ‘no’ and then said ‘yes’ and made incomprehensible gestures. It turned out that this was the right bus (#845) but not all of them went that far. So at some point they put us off at a bus stop. When we said, “Changping?” to the people waiting there, they nodded ‘yes’ and pointed to another bus (#845) that was just arriving.

We did eventually get to the Ming Tombs entrance and the Spirit Way, which was really worth the effort. After a couple of gates, we walked down a lovely path where there were 12 pairs of stone life size animals, and then six pairs of double-life-size persons. The setting with weeping willows and apple orchards was lovely.

Getting back was also a challenge but we managed! That night we celebrated seeing the Spirit Way (last time we consoled ourselves because we DIDN’T see it) with dinner at the Hong Kong Food City. (Either way, we get good food and wine!)

Jan and I both thought Beijing was fabulous! It’s very much a CAPITAL city, very clean, many beautiful buildings—both old and new—and rich with history. We were kind of glad to have it as the capstone for our trip.

Wednesday, Jan left for the airport to go home to CA and I left for the train station, after really enjoying our 3 ½ weeks together. I had a 30-hour train trip (hard sleeper) to Guilin and a stay overnight as the train didn’t arrive until 9:30 PM. On the train there were two lovely young Chinese women (PhD students) with which to visit. They had attended a conference in Beijing on artificial intelligence. They said that the conference was ALL conducted in English.

I suggested to them that maybe by the time they were my age, English might be the dominant language in China and Chinese would be in danger of disappearing. They didn’t think so. We also discussed the ‘one-child policy.’ They each had one brother, and didn’t think it was good for children not to have siblings.

The train ride was long but after the two young women got off, a group of Chinese took quite an interest in me. (No English) They were playing cards and later I showed them some Solitaire games, which they enjoyed.

I stayed overnight in Guilin and then bused on to Yangshuo this morning where I am now. I’ll have a week here in this spectacularly scenic place. The karst is right in the town—I’m eager to see more, but this day is an R and R day. It started with a good cleanup of me, and then laundry. Next was leisurely email. I’m staying in a youth hostel, in a bunk bed. There are two connected rooms, each with four bunk beds and a bathroom with a WESTERN toilet. Ah, luxury! I met two of my roommates—young German men.

The weather here is perfect—no jacket needed—and I shall now go and have a look at the town, and then have lunch.


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