Saturday, April 27, 2002

If you like this journal.....

You will LOVE my pictures!

Click HERE to go see them, and stay tuned for more postings....(Hey, it takes a while to load em up ya know).

-Jeeem-
Well, there you have it....my travel journal is complete!

For those of you who have not been following along, please begin at the bottom and read up. Unfortunately, I could not seem to load all of this on at once so I had to piecemeal it onto here, the beginning at the bottom. I hope you like it and if you do, please don't hesitate to e-mail me. Don't forget that my regular online journal, "Jim's Quiet Musings...." is an on-going project and I hope you will check it out from time to time. Also, I'm up to bat for the fifth chapter of the, "Naked Novel" a collaborative novel in progress. You will find the .gif link for Naked Novel to the left and a link to Jim's Quiet Musings above.

Thanks again,
Jeeem
Jeeem’s Travel notes

April 3, 2002 - Wednesday

Today is the day. Two weeks and two days in China and I’m finally leaving for home. I’ve got to admit I will miss it here. Back to my work-for-a-living, frozen burrito-in-the-microwave, Jolt soda lifestyle. As with my trip to the Philippines last year, I know that it will take some time for this trip to soak in fully. I have walked the Great Wall of China. I have survived, alone, and had a good time in a country that isn’t exactly English friendly. I had a good time. Now time to focus on getting out of here.

I shower and am careful not to make a mess of things. I dress and begin packing my remaining items in my bags. Once packed I pile my baggage outside my room and return to my hotel room, taking one more last glance to remember it. I peer outside and notice the poor, young guard standing his usual, diligent watch, fighting back sleep. I scan the room and it’s décor, committing all to memory. This has been my home for quite a while.

Upon exiting, the porters smile to me but none offer to carry my bags. That’s okay as I am full of energy today. Once at the side entrance to the hotel, I find my energy has abandoned me. I struggle up to the lobby desk and proceed to finalize my bill.

I was not prepared to get any money in return, but the desk clerk hands me about 400 RMB, which is way cool. Looks like lunch is on him! I check my bags with the luggage porter and take my slip, tucking it away and heading for the Western Restaurant upstairs. Once out on the third floor, the maitre d'hôtel escorts me into the restaurant and with a wave of his hand, offers the buffet to me. The layout is huge. The layout is spectacular. The food looks delicious. The food is Chinese. I’m sick of Chinese. I sit and order a massive hamburger.

I tried something different (which is easy to do in Beijing) today. I ordered Haw juice. I have never heard of this fruit before. The container depicts one of the fruits on the label and it looks like a plum, only red and with yellow spot seeds like a strawberry. The juice looks like tomato juice but the taste is sweet. It is thick, cold and very, very refreshing.

Once done with my meal I pay my bill and catch the elevator to the lobby. I hit the bathroom and try not to antagonize the bathroom attendant by folding my drying towel. He smiles and nods, bowing slightly and I tip him big as I have a wad of cash that I wasn’t planning on. Then I sat out for my usual stroll down Chegongzhuang.

The day is an awesome one, with only a few floating seed puffs. A few minutes into my stroll I see a rare sight of a man walking two dogs. Both are Pekingese….go figure. This reminds me that the only two breed of dogs I saw while here (live ones that is) were Pekingese and a Doberman. Regarding cats, I saw Persians mostly and one alley cat that zipped around a corner when I approached. The rest had been skinned and were hanging on meat hooks at the local market.

Crossing the major Dajie, I make sure to commit this task to memory. I am experienced in maneuvering large, busy roads such as this in Los Angeles, Seattle, Philadelphia, Dallas, Manila, Mexico City and the like, but I must admit that it is daunting to say the least. I’m better at it now than I was fourteen days ago, but I am still a greenhorn. This is a dangerous road, anyway you look at it. The crossing guards who wear the yellow florescent vests with the reflective white stripes and wave their flags are powerless if an errant taxicab pulls in front of a pedestrian.

I manage my way across once again and forge ahead, passing the refrigerated air conditioning place, a throng of Chinese updating their bicycle licenses, a print shop, the bakery, the market, the Cowboy restaurant, the dangerous Point-and-eat where I had my horrific experience with the tentacle dish and finally I arrive at the Kodak shop.

They have seen me coming and have my photos ready. The shop is empty when I enter. I no sooner have my photos in my hand when three people enter. I push past them smiling and catch the frustrated eye of the proprietress who simply shrugs. I nod as if to say, “Goodbye. It’s okay, you did your best. Thank you for your service.” I hope she got all that in the nod I gave her. Pretty expressive nod, huh?

I stop at the market and through experience, I know just what to do. I slide the door back on the cooler and take out my two teas. After paying and saying goodbye, I stroll to my favorite sitting spot. It is cool here, shaded by large trees and a popular gathering spot for the elders. They are out today in full force and a couple of them nod to me and smile their wrinkled, expressive smile. Their faces have such character in them, years of experience and living of life. I can’t help but wonder what they have seen in their years here. Some still wear the old style blue work uniforms with the rounded collar and the hats of Chairman Mao’s period.

I sip my tea and watch the bicycles stream by. Beijing is a calm city. Quiet except for the frequent honks of a taxi horn. Serene and at peace or so it seems. I spend a good amount of time here today, my plane not due to leave for several hours. I sip my tea and watch the men move their chess pieces, the women walk with hands clasped behind them, occasionally bending off a twig on a flowering almond or stopping to chat with the bicycle repairman who has chosen this spot to open up his shop cart today.

I could live here. I know I could. Funny how somebody like me who is a talker, can learn to simply exist from day to day in silent pantomime with others, getting my point across without using words. I have learned how much can be communicated in just a smile or a nod.

On my way again, I pace myself, in no hurry to return to the hotel. I am soaking it up because in a few hours I will be flying at 50,000 feet above Russia and over the northern Pacific and into Canada. Weird when you think about it. Flying against time. I’m a day ahead of the others back home and I’m gonna be catching up with them real soon.

I reach the hotel and hail down a taxi with a sign on his window advertising ¥ 1.50, meaning he probably has air conditioning. I motion for him to meet me in the driveway of the hotel and I enter, present my luggage receipt and the porter helps me deliver my bags into the taxi.

I’m off. We are driving down Chegongzhuang and heading for the north-eastern corner of the city where we will take the turnpike north to Capitol Airport. The driver motions for me to roll up my window. He’s got air-conditioning, good. We pass an accident involving a taxi and a mini-bus. The driver looks in his rear-view at me, smiling and says something in Mandarin. I chuckle along with him and take a guess that he is telling me not to worry as he is a good driver. After another ten minutes of driving, I am wondering if this is true or not.

Eventually, we arrive at Capitol Airport and I’m out of the taxi, grabbing a luggage cart and paying him, tipping him generously. He manages, “Taank yo velly maach.” I’m impressed. He’s been watching the education channel on STV-5.

The airport international section is crowded with people and a bit intimidating at first. I have learned a trick that seems to work for me though. Rather than sit in one place and gawk at things, I move. I go from one end of the terminal to the other, checking things out. When I’ve got a feel, I figure out what to do next.

Capitol airport is user friendly, not like others I’ve been to that are confusing as hell. Things are in English and well marked. I go to the airport fee office and pay the, “Airport Improvement Fee” ……yeah, right. Taking care to keep everything I will need close, I stow my receipt with my passport. Then I scope where I will need to go to claim in customs. Having gotten my bearings, I settle into a nice spot, park my luggage cart and begin reading ‘Tis by Frank McCourt.

Now there is a contrast. An American-Indian / Mexican mix (with a hint of Scottish in him), sitting in an airport in China, reading a book about an Irish family. Go figure. This is a good book though.

It’s time. I maneuver customs easily and eventually I’m at my terminal, eating a candy bar, drinking warm tea and reading while waiting to board our 767 jet (with software for Vancouver via Microsoft ….no doubt). The rest I won’t bother with cause it is really not worth placing here on this journal. Flights are flights. Sixteen hours in a friggin’ plane, no matter how you slice it up, sucks.

One funny thing during the flight into Vancouver though, was when a Chinese lady who looked a little green-about-the-gills, entered the cabin bathroom and stayed in there for better than an hour and a half. It was so funny to see the commotion it caused and the flight attendants were having a bird because economy was starting to use the business class bathrooms. Hey! When ya gotta go, ya gotta go!

Flight attendants knocked and one even tried speaking Mandarin through the door, but she wouldn’t come out. Finally, about an hour and a half later, she walked out as if nothing was out of the ordinary and flushed when people began clapping. I thought I’d lose it laughing.

When I descended via the escalator into the baggage section at Logan, I caught a glimpse of Wanda. We both smiled and it was so good to see a familiar face. We were both dog tired and full of stories, but I have to say I couldn’t seem to get enough of hearing English. I later arrived home at close to 3:00 a.m. in the morning, pulling into my driveway and my headlights hitting a sign in the snowbank saying, “WELCOME HOME JIM! - From Louie the Caretaker. It’s good to be home.

In retrospect, this trip was good for me on several levels. I am proud of myself that I could travel that far, alone, and do fine. I learned a lot about myself on this trip and once again strengthened my love for Asia. Unpacking was like going back in time. I brought back more momento’s than I had figured on. It will still take some time before it fully soaks in what I have just accomplished. Hopefully it will occur before my trip next year to Thailand. Hope you have enjoyed this and if you have, please e-mail me at:

jannh09@earthlink.net

Thanks,
Jeeem
Jeeem’s Travel notes

April 2, 2002 - Tuesday

Up around 7:30 a.m. and typing early today. Gotta get going, turn in my laundry and take my film to be developed. It’s a warm, hazy day outside today. I take my familiar stroll down Chegongzhuang to the Kodak store where I turn in my film and pay my fee. Returning to the hotel, I decide to stop at one of the local markets and pick up something cool to drink. I settle upon two bottles of tea, one green tea and the other is regular tea flavored with lime. They are so cold they have ice in them still.

I stop short of my destination to sit with the elders for a bit and read my paper. They accept me now, my face and presence familiar. The old men are in their small, tight group chatting away. Some are playing Chinese chess and one man is demonstrating his finesse with Ben-Wa balls, rotating three fairly large ones in one hand, the muffled gong making music as they rotate in his hand. The old women are fussing over a recent purchase of Chinese vegetables and admiring another younger woman’s small child in a stroller.

I sip my tea and read my paper, occasionally looking up at passers by. Some stare, most just glance and then carry on with their business of getting where they are going. I look up at one point and catch the eye of a rather attractive young Chinese woman dressed conservatively with her hair pulled back in a bun. She looks at me longer than I am used to and smiles. I return the smile and return to my paper. It surprised me that she chanced a smile so I turn to look again, only to see her turn and look my way again. She smiles, having caught me looking at her and I smile and blush having been caught and again I turn back to my paper. About three minutes later I practically jump out of my skin as I hear, “Excuse me sir!” Looking up, I see it is her, looking down at me, smiling and with her hands clasped in a humble gesture.

“Yes?” I manage.

“Would you mind if I sit with you and practice my English?” she says.

“No. Not at all,” I say, a bit shocked.

We go through the usual formalities and I learn her name is Yu, short for Wang Yu. She has only been in Beijing for six months having returned to China after two years in Turkey with her husband and her daughter. She tells me she spent two months in Paris before flying to Beijing to live. Her husband works now in Beijing and she does not work presently, having only responsibilities with their business in a legal sense. She misses speaking English and tells me she worries about losing her English speaking abilities while in Beijing.

"I take two English classes every week," she says.

"Good, you are very disciplined." I offer.

"My grammar is very bad though!" she says, bowing her head in a gesture of shame.

"Ha! Don't worry about that. Most Americans do not use proper grammar anyway," I mention and go on to tell her about slang terms and phrases, territorial accents and the like.

"Really?" she says, telling me she has never been to the U.S. but wants to visit.

"Yes. The ones with the most perfect grammar often are the foreigners who have learned English the proper way."

I then do a couple of accents for her. Boston's favored, "Paaaaak ya caaw faa a qwaaata," and New York's, "Let's goe haave sum cuoowfee."

Wang Lu giggles at these funny impressions and thinks I am kidding her. "No, REALLY! They talk like that!" I exclaim, then lapse into my best Southern Texas accent, which brings on more giggles. I do the northern Maine accent, Jamaica, black Harlem, Southern California and others, bringing on more giggles and awe.

Yu is from a north-eastern province of China originally and is primarily in Beijing for the business and to be near her mother who lives only a few city blocks from where we are sitting. We discuss world politics and she tells me she favors Al Gore rather than George Bush. I wish, as often, that I was a little more well versed in politics to be able to hold a bit more conversation but politics have always bored me to tears. I tell her this and she nods, saying she does not particularly care for politics herself. She then asks me what my feelings were about the September 11th disaster and it brings back both memories and thoughts that this incident, which occurred so close to home, was heard around the world. I try to tell her my feelings, using the words numb, shock, sadness.......

We discuss the topic of foreigners working in Beijing and she tells me a world of information about how easy it is for foreigners to get a job in Beijing if they possess a degree of any kind. So, it seems I could get a job of sorts at the Beijing Foreign Languages University just north of my hotel, simply by going there, applying, showing proof of my degree and applying for an extended visa, which they handle for you. It seems tempting and exciting until I remember how homesick I have become.

Yu tells me that the University will not only pay me but will also provide me with free room and board for my period of residence. She is surprised that I don’t know of this information and tells me the English speaking Universities are always advertising for English speaking teachers. It seems you do not have to have a teaching degree, only the ability to speak English well and be willing to teach.

We talk for about two whole hours before her cell phone rings and she tells me she has to go to lunch. Lunch begins here in Beijing at around 11:00 a.m. rather than noontime. So, we exchange addresses and phone numbers and say our goodbyes. What a pleasant experience and a nice way to end my visit here. This time I make a mental note NOT to check on her posterior view as I leave. Jeeez.......

Upon my return to the hotel I head for the gift counter and begin talking a deal with the sales people on a silk scroll I’ve had my eye on, a stamp collection and some calligraphy. We close the deal at what I feel is a fair price and I feel satisfied with my deal. I am just concerned about how the hell I’m going to get all this stuff into my bags. The scroll is large and I waste a good ten minutes dickering with the staff about shipping my purchases to the U.S.A. If they had seemed a little more confident about shipping the purchases then I might have gone for it but their reluctance and hesitancy keep me from making the decision.

I return to my hotel room with my purchases and begin my packing. Surprisingly, I manage to get everything into the bags. I worry a bit though as the scroll proves to be a bit too big for my largest bag so I decide that I will tie it to the bag and hope for the best.

In the evening, my laundry having arrived, I pack away all but what I need and dress casually for my evening out at King Roast Duck Restaurant.

The restaurant is all but twenty feet away from my building so not a big deal. When I arrive, I am fairly surprised that nobody speaks English but find that at least the menu is in English. Once seated I feign from ordering the tea as the Longjing tea is more expensive than my roast duck. I settle on coke. The duck is good and I am silently thankful that I bothered to read about Chinese etiquette before heading for China, in regards to eating some of these meals or I would have been totally lost. There is a group of particular rituals involved with eating Peking Duck and if you don't know them, you are gonna be lost cause nobody is going to show you as they don't speak English.
Jeeem’s Travel notes

April 1, 2002 - Monday

Okay, the true countdown begins. My little legs are sore and I move pretty slow in the morning now. I’m not used to all this exercise I am getting. I’ve got to keep the walking up once I get home, no matter what else I do, as I really do feel pretty good once I get going and have downed several hundred milligrams of Aspirin.

Once up, showered, dressed and out, I stop by the hotel to finalize some business and take my valuables out of the security safe. I purchased a table seat at the Lu Yuan theatre for the Beijing Opera tonight and dickered with the tour booking lady for a bit as she wanted to arrange a taxi ride for me and I wanted to take the subway and walk. Eventually she had a table reserved for me and I had convinced her that I would arrange my own transportation. Almost as an afterthought, she picked up the phone and after a brief onslaught of Mandarin, got off the phone and informed me she had arranged a very good seat at a dinner table for me and gave me a card bearing the name of a contact I was to see once at the theatre. I figured she did this knowing I was leaving soon and over the fact I had given her a considerable amount of business during my stay.

I returned to the hotel room after a bit and spent my time writing, organizing and making plans for my departure. I called Air Canada and confirmed my flight out of Beijing bound for Vancouver. They want ¥ 90 to board the plane. What a rip-off.

I leave early, giving myself plenty of time to get to the subway and walk to the theatre. The day is warm and there are still some fluffy floater seeds drifting about. I stopped at the local market to purchase a small jar of instant coffee as I am about to run out. Gotta have what ya gotta have ya know. My English speaking lady is not here today. I wanted to tell her that the dog was good.

I arrive at the subway to find it packed with people. I suddenly notice that Chinese are quieter than Americans and only a low-level buzz can be heard. A line awaits me at the booking window. After I am ticketed, I board the train and stand the whole time, subject to prying eyes that avert once mine meets theirs. I exit the south east exit of the Hepingmen station and pause to get my bearings. I easily found the road I wanted and began walking. The walk was a long one with only two pauses to again get my bearings and press on. I pass several of the popular "barbeque" restaurants along the way that have a little hibachi on the table with an exhaust fan hanging above the table. I wonder if something like this would fly where I come from. Maybe in the winter. I pass a row of music shops and Chinese grouped together, strumming guitars and perusing over sheet music. Eventually I found the Qianmen Hotel and entered at the Youngan Street entrance.

The lobby was packed with foreigners. I had to slowly negotiate the lobby just to reach the bathroom. In the bathroom was the ever-present bathroom attendant who turns on the sink water for you, hands you a towel and polishes your shoes if you have polishable ones. There were times when I actually wished I had polishable shoes just to have the experience of having them polished. I finish washing my hands and the attendant hands me a drying towel with a pair of tongs. I dry my hands and he motions for me to drop it on the dirty tray. I end up folding it in half and he actually scolds me as if to tell me not to bother with it. I only tip him 5 jiao because he scolded me.

Eventually I found the theatre ticket office and approached. I showed the lady my card and seeing the contacts name on the card, she made a phone call. The gentleman who I was to meet arrived and escorted me to a long, rectangular room where the actors and actresses were applying their makeup. I was shocked at the thought I had some sort of preferential treatment as I was the only foreigner in the place. I asked if I could snap some pictures and when I got the okay, I began getting some candid photos of this rare treat. The actors appeared upbeat and some smiled towards me as I snapped away. Just as soon as the thought was sinking in that I was privy to a unique opportunity, a group of tourists arrived. Too much to hope for I guess....I'm such a dreamer.

I took a few more pictures of the actors and then seated myself inside the theatre. Eventually the gentleman who guided me to the makeup room showed up and escorted me to the tables closer to the stage, filled with treats, cakes, cookies and tea. I wasn’t there long until four others were seated at my table. All were England. Simon and Paul were very obviously brothers. Their girlfriends were Retch and Christy.

"Retch?" I said, embarrassingly.

"Yes" she answered.

"Oh," I remarked and couldn't help but wonder if she knew what that meant in the U.S.

I wouldn’t be calling her by her name much, lest I crack up laughing.

All of them were from Manchester, England and Paul & "Retch" had been living in Hong Kong for the last two years. We chatted about life in Hong Kong and Paul said, "It is a city that never sleeps." He mentioned that they all had decided to come to China to take a break from the fast life of Hong Kong. I could not help but envy them and began to fantasize what it must be like to have that freedom.

"Hummm. Let's see, I'll sell my house and truck, get a small apartment or live with a friend for a while, saving up for my trip....." holy kamolie, my mind could go there WAY too easy. Nice to fantasize about. It was a pleasure to chat with Paul and Simon and to hear that they were bothered by the staring Chinese phenomenon. So, it wasn't just me.

"In England you'd get into a fight over such a thing [staring]" Paul said.

"Ha. Yeah, I see the publicity about your enthusiasm over soccer games," I replied, which brought on a good laugh.

"Hooligans!" Paul said.

The show was great. I took several pictures and can only hope they turn out. The costumes were beautiful and cannot be described unless you have pictures to show. Two large screens on either side of the stage flashed English interpretations of what was going on. I exited the theatre to a throng of foreigners who were all on tours and boarding buses in the parking lot. I negotiated the parking lot and headed north for the Hepingmen station. Once I arrived at the Chegongzhuang station, I took the south west exit and walked to the Big Burger that I had been dying to try. The counter girl was rude, young and obviously tired. I battled with her for a bit in English in hopes I would get what I asked for. I did, but not without crappy looks and grunts. They were closing soon and most probably would have preferred to have not had another late night customer. Oh well, deal with it.

I arrived back at the hotel after a quick market stop around 10:50 p.m. and promptly ate my burgers and collapsed in bed. I awoke around 2:00 a.m. to find the power off, having to take a late night pee in the dark.
Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 31st, 2002 - Sunday

Lazy morning. I slept in for quite a while before getting up and rummaging around. Looking out the window I found today there was another surprise in store for me. Big, white, fluffy dandelion like seed puffs floating everywhere. It was a nice, sunny (albeit smoggy) day and snowing seed puffs (heavily) everywhere. Got up and going around eleven this morning and took off in the direction of the zoo. Walked to the corner of Sanlihe road and turned right, heading north. A couple of times, not being careful, I snorted one of those seed puffs up my nose. Yuck.

Once at Xizhimenwai street, I took the walk-under to the opposite side, managing to avoid the hawkers selling anything from hot buttered corn to pineapple on a stick. On most major roads, you have both walk-over bridges and walk-under tunnels in order to cross the streets. Both offer a temporary store front for eager salesmen and women to sell their wares. It took me at least a week and a half to discover the walk-unders. I decided to find the main entrance to the zoo this time, so I set out to my right, heading east, against a heavy throng people. This is a very, very busy street. One of the major arteries in the inner city loop. I eventually saw what I thought MIGHT be the entrance to the zoo but could not tell as everything….literally everything….(surprise!), was in Chinese. So, not feeling like risking a possible mistake and paying entrance to a park or a national exhibit, I turned around and headed back for my more familiar entrance off the beaten path. Once there, I paid the fee of ¥ ten and waltzed on through the gate.

The zoo was packed. Chinese everywhere with your occasional sprinkle of German, Italian, American, French and God knows what. Some were speaking some pretty weird stuff I had never heard but guessed at Dutch. Once again the Panda’s were not out. Must be mating or something. Possibly dead, once you get a load of the conditions here. Made me wish I could supervise the clean-up and rebuilding. Why am I here? I couldn't help but think. Easy, because it is close, within walking distance to my hotel and I'm running out of things to do in Beijing.

Made my way towards the Aquarium and stopped by the lion cages. The Siberian tiger was the most impressive, especially in size. This beast was massive. His head alone was bigger than the trunk of my body and he was probably ten feet long stretched out. It was wondrous looking at such a large creature. The lion and black panther were dwarfed by him.

Once I arrived at the Aquarium, I found what I had suspected all along….you have to pay an entrance fee. The fee is ridiculous too, in my opinion, ¥ 100, which should be included in the zoo entrance fee if you ask me. Funny, I can't help but think that if I had come here the first day or so of my trip, I would never have complained about the fee, but now that I'm low on cash, I'm bitching about it. So anyway, I snapped a couple pictures here and there and exited in the same direction that I came. I stopped on the bridge crossing the river in the park and watched as speed boats and a ferry took folks for rides. Eyeing a small concession stand, my stomach reminded me of it's presence. I bought a sausage on a stick that was rather yummy. I can say that I have NOT skimped when it has come to food here. I am reminded of a purchase I made last night while at the local market:

The market near Wennig Road is open late. The deli items in the back have been put away, a few items wrapped in typical grocery store cellophane and placed on display. A small package containing small hunks of pinkish colored meat, rolled in sesame seeds and skewered on a toothpick, caught my eye. I picked the package up and along with my cold teas, arrived at the check out counter. The woman at the counter is one of several people I know in this district who speak English. There is a handful of them and I know EXACTLY where all of them are to be found.

"What is this?" I ask, pushing the cellophane wrapped package towards her.

"Marinated dog" she replies, rather matter-of-factly.

"Okay. I'll take it" I say, envisioning poodle on a stick.

Most will probably revolt at this, but dog is good. Call me bad. Make the sign of the cross. Call the SPCA. Avert your eyes. Disown me. Take away my birthday. Sorry, dog is GOOD. I freakin' like it. I ate Bowser while in the Philippines and I'm eating Fluffy now. Deal with it. I have to note that the sesame chunks tasted a lot like mexican tamale. Ummmm. Good.

I stopped to gawk at the Emu’s and Ostrich for a while before finally heading out the way I had come. Nothing more to see here and I was beginning to get hungry. I walked out the gate and headed to the walk-over, past Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC was busy today, selling those tiny little chicken legs and breasts. As I remember, they were a tad over-cooked too. Oh well. Not today.

Once on the other side of the road I began my walk east to Sanlihe Lu. Passing by Food Street, I wondered where the Fried Scorpion was kept. There was no way to find out short of stopping in every place so I decided to just peek into one of the holes-in-the-wall. Peek is all I had to do. In the window, behind the counter of one of these "restaurants" I saw a three-tiered plate server with bugs on it. Yes, bugs. Meal worms, roaches, and God only knows what else. Some were moving. No, this was not a meal that had been sitting out too long and had been invaded by bugs.....this WAS the meal. This was probably the place I had been looking for. Call me weak, but I decided against it and pressed on. Just thinking of it gave me the shivers. I draw the line at household pets.

Using the walk-under at Sanlihe Lu, I crossed and went down Xizhimenwinan to my left, heading east, and slowed my pace so as to catch the market vendors and warehouse workers at their best. This is a busy street, not in traffic but in commerce. I pass a huge enclosed market that looks interesting but I am trying to hold onto the few yuan I have.

Once at McDonalds, at the corner of Xizhemenwinan and Zhanlanguan, I make a right, heading south towards my more familiar Chegongzhuang road. Lots of people are out and about today. I pass a Chinese man and woman in full dress uniform, obviously officers, and notice their polished stars and crisp, clean pressed uniforms. They are leisurely walking and laughing, unaware that they stand out like a sore thumb. I have never really noticed any real attention or respect shown to individuals in uniform here. I think this might be from the lack of shock value as LOTS of people wear uniforms here. The Chinese seem to be uniform happy.

Once back at the hotel, I duck into the side street to visit my favorite hole-in-the-wall. The people recognize me here now and I know the routine. Tea first, then menu. I'm getting to like the tea here. Perhaps it is only in my head but I'd swear this stuff gives me a nice lift. I point towards the menu items, fried rice with pork, braised mutton with onions (my personal favorite) and fried vegetables. I then whip out my notebook with the Chinese characters emblazoned on it, “To take out.” The waitress gives a knowing nod, takes the menu and begins pointing at the selected items again, to ensure correctness. I nod and she bows, silently moving away. The cook grabs the order slip and disappears into the back of the restaurant.

I motion to the waitress for a coke. She goes into the cooler and brings me back a liter size container of coke. This brings laughter as a rather tall Chinese guy, probably her brother, pokes fun at her as if to say, “He wants a small can, not a gallon container!” She giggles, makes an apologetic nod, takes the container back and brings back a reasonably sized one. Everyone in the restaurant gets a laugh from this.

This time my order is quick. I wave the waitress off, telling her I want to finish my tea. Again there are giggles and I can see she is flustered having never served an American before. She is cute. Her hair is the typical straight, black style, tied back with a scrunchy tie. She wears the green uniform unique to this restaurant, replete with silver embossed swirls and twists intermingled with red embossed swirls. Her smile is broad and her almond shaped eyes have the squint of a Mongolian heritage. Her cheeks are the huge, puffy ones I am so used to by now. She is perhaps seventeen or eighteen years old.

Once I'm ready to leave, I order two of the liter sized cokes as a gesture to her. She simply smiles and then begins fretting with the bill. She requires help of her sister, the cash register lady, who appears annoyed with her. I reflect that our lives are so alike in so many ways, just different cultural nuances and ways of dealing with the, “Same old shit just a different day.” I nod my appreciation and say, “Thank you.” I am answered by several Chinese, “Taaan you. Yoo walcum,” as I leave through the plastic strips hanging in the open doorway.

Friday, April 26, 2002

Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 30th, 2002 - Saturday

I manage to drift off to sleep after a short period of time only to awaken at around 2 a.m. I get up, rummage around for a bit and then return to bed, awakening at 9:00 a.m. My bones are stiff. I push myself to get going, (God I hope nobody is getting the idea I'm out of shape!) as today I want to venture to the Hard Rock Café. Showered and dressed, I head out, taking a nice leisurely stroll to the subway station (of which I have a love affair going on).

Out on busy Chegongzhuang, the gawking begins. I swear some days are worse than others. I can’t help wonder what, in particular, they are looking at. I’m not dressed that weirdly. No different than the other Chinese people. I have noticed many stare at my shoes. If they only knew that they were from freakin’ Wal-Mart. I just can’t help wonder what they are thinking, but knowing my head, I normally think the worst. What's funny is most of the men I have seen (except for the elders) wear black. The dress of the day seems to be black slacks, black belt with the navy silver buckle and black pull-over shirt, usually with a black sport coat. Nice dressers but all in black. The women are the most colorful. Some look just like China dolls....literally.

The day is a beautiful one. It is beginning to get warm but there is not even a hint of humidity here. A steady breeze is coming out of the West. It feels good and keeps me cool. I study the handiwork of the Chinese workmen who have planted plugs of grass yesterday. Each sprig is planted evenly spaced from the other. I noticed yesterday how the workers squat and today I'm noticing that many Chinese squat that way. I even pass a few men squatting and having a smoke. This makes me think of the water closets in China. They don't have sit-down toilets like we do, except in fancy hotels and very elegant restaurants. Most are the typical porcelain ones, but no more than an oblong hole in the floor with a flush knob. So, you have to squat. Maybe that's where it comes from.

Strolling down Chegongzhuang, I pass the tea house and the open market looking for recognition from those who have served me in the past but see that everyone is busy. Many people are outdoors today, enjoying the good weather. I'm on a coffee buzz and a bit jumpy this morning.

As I approach the subway station, it is more difficult to negotiate walking in the direction I am going. The streets, sidewalks and paths are choked with people. It seems everyone is heading in the opposite direction today. I have to stop a couple of times for people pulling their bicycles out in front of me or individuals walking in front of me and then slowing down. I’m beginning to get impatient and have to do that “self-talk” thing to keep from doing or saying something stupid. In reflection, this place is so different from America. Aside from the obvious, there appears to be a "pace" here. These people don't get aggravated much and you don't see the wicked middle finger or the anger that is so present back home. They flow. I don't. A good lesson for me.

Crossing the busy street to the subway station proves difficult. I am almost bumped by a taxi. I have to take a deep breath to gain my composure. Perhaps I’ve had too much coffee today as I am wicked irritated. A woman almost hits me with her bicycle. I smile a fake smile. (Deep breath Anderson).

Once in the subway I am okay (My solace). I follow the throngs of people but I know my way as I have traveled this way many times before. I pay my ¥ 3 with coins at the booking agent and walk to the ticket counter like I am an old pro. I have learned to pause on the stairs to check my notebook to see what direction I need to go in. Today it is towards Xizhimenwai, over the top of the loop line and off at Dongzhimen. The trip is quick and once in the Donzhimen station, I take my time to peruse my map and try and figure out which exit to take.

The exits are listed as: North-east, North-west, South-east, and South-west in the bigger stations, and only two exits are present in the smaller ones. If you are semi good at reading a map, you are probably okay. I thought I’d be fine except this station was not only huge and confusing but there was construction going on when I finally exited, which made it even more confusing.

The closer I came to the exit out into daylight, the more hawkers I saw, selling their wares. Two older Chinese women held open folders presenting some sort of paperwork covered with organized Chinese characters. At least three or four of the hawkers sold hot buttered corn. It looked delicious. Another seller had a box of baby rabbits. Another had puppies.

The exit was crammed to a standstill with hawkers, people exiting and people entering. It was a mad house but I appeared the only one becoming irritated. Finally, upon exit, I wasted no time in hailing a taxi. When one stopped, I pulled out my notebook and pointed to both the Chinese characters naming the Great Wall Sheraton and the Hard Rock Café. The driver said something like, "Umph. Chi ten sia tong?"

"Yep," I said, figuring what-the-hell.

Once the taxi driver took off and had been driving for a bit, I got my bearings. I realized quickly by checking my map that I had made a good choice to take a taxi versus walk, as Dongzhimen Wai was a long, long street. Finally we reached Dongsanhuan road and made a left, heading in the direction of the Hard Rock Café. Within a short time, I saw the familiar "Hard Rock Cafe" characters and world globe. The driver passed the cafe and dropped me off in front of the Sheraton, probably thinking I stayed there. So that was what Chi ten sia tong meant. I paid him the ¥ eleven that I owed him and hopped out.

I then took the short walk to the Hard Rock, seeing the familiar, "No Nuclear Weapons Allowed" and entered, feeling somewhat at home. I paused to take in my surroundings and was greeted by a waitress and taken to a booth in the non-smoking section. The place was beautiful and very Hard Rockish. My booth is next to Keith Moon of the Who and Charlie Daniels. The Grateful Dead stuff is up front behind the stage and across from the guitar shaped bar. The ceiling mural is awesome. It is dome shaped and depicts the Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix and others I don’t recognize. Behind me is Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, The Pretenders, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, Alice Cooper, James Taylor and Kiss. I ordered the hickory smoked burger with fries and a coke float. Ummmmm, good. Some things never change.

A waitress passed me and I heard giggles. I looked up and she was leading an entourage past my table, pointing to my tattoo. This seemed the interest of the day and the thought crossed my mind to get a tattoo while in China.....something I never followed up on. Maybe another time. I don't think this will be my last visit here.

I bought three tee-shirts, a stuffed Hard Rock panda bear, a backpack and a Hard Rock pin. Several hundred Yuan later, I'm leaving and catching a taxi back to the subway station. They were fresh out of shot glasses so I'll have to come up with something else for Amy. Once back to the station, I find it even more difficult to negotiate my way back into the subway station which has gotten even crazier than when I recently left. I make it and am holding onto my purchases with a tight fist.

Once at the booking agent I present my coins in a crowded, elbow room only mob of Chinese, only to be rejected and have my coins pushed back at me. I know she is just being a turd so I smile and say to her, "My, but you look miserable today!" knowing full well she has no idea what I am saying to her. She looks miserable and is obviously exercising her God given right to treat the customer the way she feels. I know darn well that it is okay to use coins as other booking agents have taken the legal tender. I push five Yuan her way and she pushes two Yuan back at me along with a ticket. I turn around to wall-to-wall Chinese and it takes me nearly three minutes to maneuver the twelve feet to the ticket agent. It's times like these that I realize that this city, a little bit smaller than my home state of New Hampshire, has twelve million people in it.

I push myself through the throng, abating the temptation to begin shoving just a bit. The ticket lady takes my ticket and I head towards the Yonghegong station. The train isn’t in yet, so I decide to make a stop at the refreshment stand. Point & Choose is the selection method here. You learn to get so good at sign language here: “Up, over, no the next one (waving to the left) no, the other way (waving to the right) yes! That one!” I pick a green tea flavored with lime. They have bottled green tea and bottled regular tea here. Green tea is in…. a green bottle. Regular tea is in a red bottle. Pretty simple huh? Energy drinks are big here too. Red Bull is one. I never tried one as they are more expensive and very small. One thing I might say about the subway is you need to understand that the English spoken word for the Chinese station name, sounds NOTHING like it looks when announced in the subway car. You need to watch where you are going and read the signs on the supporting columns as you come into a station in order to know where you are. Don’t rely on pronunciation or you will never figure it out.

Once back at Chegongzhuang station (sounding something like: "shagazua"), I exit out of my favored south east exit. This puts me right on Fuchengmen where I head south and hang a left on Chegongzhuang. I once goofed up and walked right past Chegongzhuang, heading God-knows-where down Fuchengmen, a fairly busy through way and bearing south. After a couple of blocks I realized my surroundings were not familiar so I just hailed a cab back to my hotel. I carry a small, business card provided by the hotel that bears the Chinese characters telling the driver where to go. Very simple....enter taxi, flash card, sit back, pay driver. Oh, the "sit back" part? Sit back in terror as the driver puts you through moves Mario Andretti would never attempt. Just like Manila, the drivers on the roads here are absolutely crazy, driving like madmen and women, but sorta like an organized chaos.

Walking back to the hotel today I could not resist stopping for more DVD’s at the pirate shop. The girl proprietress is friendly here and today we were both singing Oyé-como-va to a CD that was playing. I asked her if she spoke Spanish and she just bowed her head and giggled. Asian women giggle a lot. I kinda like it though.

Bearing on, pirated DVD’s in hand, I set out for the hotel. When I passed the Chinese Dumpling Restaurant, I decided to take the “U” drive back through the hutong again and see what was cooking down Wenxin street. Suddenly I heard a crash to my right and looked up just in time to see a taxi cab slam into a black Mercedez. Cool! I stood there and memorized the license number of the taxi while watching him slowly creep away, all the time watching me, as I stood and witnessed the whole thing.

Right next to me was a beggar woman who smelled to high heaven and was very dirty. She kept getting right up into my face begging and I couldn’t seem to get far enough away from her. Some of the beggars will follow you to the ends of the earth if you pay them any attention. So, I put on my best avoidance air and eventually she left.

I walked up to the front of the restaurant and asked a Chinese gentleman if he spoke English. He mumbled something and looked over his shoulder at a group of people coming out the door. A burst of Mandarin exploded and one woman said, “May I help you? I speak English.” I told her of the accident and the license number of the taxi (B-D5782) who hit the Mercedez. She told me I should probably take the number of the Mercedez too (E-73013), if I was going to think about reporting the accident.

“Think about it?” I inquired.

“Well yes, I think it would be only waste of time and lot of confusion for you part as nothing will be done about it,” she said, leaving out consonants.

“Nothing?” I asked.

“No. Nothing ever done with something so small.”

She was right. It was small. A major scratch was all and that was only on the rubber part of the bumper. I decided to let it go.

The lady was nice and ended up telling me she was home to visit for two months and lived in Canada now, working for a large corporation of which I had never heard. She seemed surprised that I had never heard of it and once again repeated the name.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I am not familiar with the company.” She seemed befuttled that I had never heard of this obviously HUGE company. Oh well. We exchanged pleasantries and parted company. She was nice and it was nice to speak English with somebody rather than live in a world of mime all day.

Once back near the hotel, I picked up a few supplies at one of the smaller local markets I had been frequenting. Here, a Chinese woman who is very friendly and has a small and very rambunctious child, lives and works with her husband. He is not as friendly and knows very little English. The woman has several raised, white patches on her face that almost look like electrodes or something. They are not attached to wires and are kinda like bicycle patches or something and about the size of a quarter. Weird. Some days she is wearing only three or four of them. Today she has nearly eight on her face.
Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 29th, 2002 - Friday

Didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. Good lord am I tired. Okay, okay...it's a GOOD tired...Okay? Jeez.... Had my coffee and made a mental note to pick up some milk for my coffee. Yes, I said "coffee." I can't believe I didn't think of getting instant before and tolerated that soap tea for so long. Sometimes I'm about as thick as a brick. I eventually got dressed and headed out to the Western Restaurant in the main hotel for breakfast. Once seated I ordered a western breakfast complete with two eggs sunny side up, sausage, buttered toast, jam and hashbrowns. My coffee arrived and I sipped it while noticing a Caucasian couple walking in. I’ve learned quickly that you can never assume whites are American as there are so many different cultures here.

The waitress seated them next to me, which didn't surprise me. It seems the Chinese assume Americans want to be seated near one another. I politely nodded in their direction but the two of them appeared to not want to be bothered.

My order came and I enjoyed a leisurely meal. After breakfast I visited my safe deposit box and went to the business center to access the internet. I was prepared this time as I had previously placed a document on disk and used the cut and paste feature to save time. Probably saved me a good ¥ 50 or so.

Now I’m back in my hotel room relaxing and watching some television flick in Mandarin. It’s an American flick so I can pretty much figure out what they are saying. I’ve got a notice here, which had been slid under my door, that maintenance will be in my room from 1 to 3 p.m. to do some repairing. Good reason to head out, so I’ll take off around 12:30 p.m. and do my shopping along with some more sight seeing. God, you ought to see some of the crazy commercials on T.V. here. Really weird. Too bad I can't understand them as I'll bet they are funny. Pretty much caught up as far as my journaling goes so I will have a good record of where I’ve been and what I’ve done.

Headed out to get some chow and do some much needed shopping. I couldn’t believe it, it was raining. Not just misting, but coming down in sheets. I remember my tour guide for the Forbidden City tour telling me that rain in China was like liquid gold. It is coveted as it only rains about three or four times a year here.

I took a dash to the main hotel lobby through the side entrance. My favorite doorman wasn’t there but in his place was one who was equally gracious. They know, “Good morning. Thank you. You’re welcome,” and that’s about it but their smiles tell their sincerity. My favorite doorman is rather tall in his little dark blue uniform and brimless cap, his face is still in the teenage breakout stage (Chinese youth have a tendency towards acne) and his smile is one for the history books.

I entered in search of an umbrella. At the store I was greeted with the meek smile of a sales girl who had waited on me before and who knows a speck of English. And I do mean "speck." I asked her if they carried umbrellas. After saying it slower....UM-BRE-LLLA and louder, mixed with some pantomime (I'll be an assest at a party playing charades now) I finally got my point across. She guided me to the stand where the silk ties are and pointed to two racks of compact umbrellas. We tried one and I picked out one that was somewhat of a manly shade, rather than the flowery ones (I’m such a guy). I was shocked at the price of the small compact ones, ¥ 280 but quickly found that the one I was looking at was only ¥ 38, so I purchased it.

Once outside, it appeared I had made a good purchase as practically every Chinese I saw had an umbrella. Funny when you think that they only receive rain about three or four times a year. The sales girl had mentioned though, that they use them to protect themselves from the sun. I took a leisurely stroll up Chegongzhuang to a small restaurant that I had been scoping out. It looked interesting and fairly clean so I entered. I was met with smiles and the usual Mandarin chatter and quickly guided to a table. I took the time to settle myself, put my backpack aside, shake out my umbrella and take off my windbreaker.

A waitress was right by my side chattering Mandarin to me and I simply looked at her and said, “I only speak English. Do you have a menu in English?”

More Mandarin chatter.

”Do you have a menu in English?”

More Mandarin chatter.

“I do not speak Chinese. Do you have anyone who speaks English?”

More Mandarin chatter followed by the waitress pointing to a small placard on the table and specifically pointing to two menu items in Chinese characters, located at the top of the list and the third menu item which was no doubt the,“special.”

This, it turned out, was a “Point and Eat” of the worst kind as nobody within visible range had anything on their plates. Feeling frustrated, I simply nodded at the woman indicating I would try the items she had recommended. This was going to be interesting. The waitress disappeared after nodding her approval and smiling at my obviously good choice and returned shortly thereafter with a small bowl three quarters full of a dingy brown pudding looking substance with chopped scallions off to the side and some pink stuff, floating on top of the mixture, in a rather interesting design.

I contemplated how I was going to eat this when my memory saved me and I suddenly realized that this was a dipping sauce. Thank God, as I would have been the laughing stock if I had begun eating this stuff with my chopsticks alone. So, I stirred the scallions into the sauce and looked up briefly to see literally every pudgy Chinese face staring out at me.

No more than five minutes later I was served with a heaping platter of the most disgusting looking stuff I think I have ever seen. It looked somewhat like a cross between limp starfish and octopus tentacles. That would be my best guess. With every eye upon me as usual, I picked up a tentacle, dipped it in the sauce and woofed it down. I repeated this action two or three times in close succession and then settled down to read my China Daily newspaper.

Satisfied that I knew what I was doing, had a working knowledge of chopsticks and was not going to vomit, the Chinese faces turned away. I was a part. I was okay. About midway through the meal I was beginning to tire of this concoction and wished I had hit the Big Burger Mart like I had initially planned. Just about that time, my waitress reappeared and plopped down a small serving dish piled high with what looked like wheat biscuits in an oily sauce. Luckily, a few minutes earlier, I had observed a Chinese gentleman at a nearby table, struggling with his serving of these biscuit things, using some pretty tricky chopstick techniques. So, chopsticks in hand, I went about the task.

I was good at this. It actually wasn’t difficult once you positioned the biscuit correctly. I bit off a piece and chewed. It was surprisingly good but the texture was not unlike the dog meat I had tried a few days earlier at a local hole-in-the-wall. Six biscuits total. I was beginning to get full. I managed to eat all six biscuits and down two cokes in the span of about thirty minutes or so then I relaxed and allowed this noxious mixture I had eaten to settle in my belly. I could already feel my stomach begin to revolt.

After about fifteen minutes or so I gathered my things and got up to pay my bill. A grand total of ¥ 38, not bad for this little point-n-eat. At least I was full. I made a mental note not try any more point-and-eat restaurants. They are NOT for the faint of heart that's for sure.

I pressed on to the Kodak store and although it took me at least five visits here to pick up on this, I finally noticed that although the place is totally empty when I arrive, it fills with Chinese within minutes after my arrival. This place doesn’t have the room for over three people, let alone six. I got frustrated standing in this small space, crammed in with six staring Chinese, my stomach growling as if to say, "You'd better find a water closet....and fast!" and left prior to even completing my sale. I think the proprietor picked up on my aggravation as he shooed the others out after I left. They were only there to gawk at the American. It made me wonder how long it had been since a foreigner had wandered into this part of the district.

Using the cross-over, I made my way to my favorite market to purchase my goods. Everywhere I looked, Chinese workmen wearing orange florescent vests were working planting grass plugs to beautify the grassy lawns. Everywhere trees were budding and there are bright blossoms of white (magnolia), pink (apple and peach), and yellow (forsythia). Things are beginning to look very pretty around here.

I finally arrive at the market and upon entering, I am followed around the store by two of the stock boys. This attention is wearing on me. I just want to turn around and tell them to shoo! I hurry and grab my purchases and go to the checkout counter. I am prepared with a handled grocery bag and my money. Next door I purchase cigarettes. The cheaper “Lesser Panda” brand this time. Then next door to the tea shop to purchase some Longjing tea by the gram. I had read that Longjing green tea is one of the most popular brands in China and the one most Chinese purchase. So, when in China……

My purchases in my bag, I set out again for home. It is well after three o’clock in the afternoon now so safe to return to my hotel room after the necessary repairs have been completed. The rain has stopped and the day is moist and cool which is nice walking weather. Several Chinese gentlemen play cards under the cross-over, quickly throwing cards down on a fold-up table and chattering in Mandarin. This proves to be one of more common interests during my stay as I find that I am often stopping to watch these old gentlemen play Chinese Chess (Xiang Qi) and their usual card games. None of these games make any sense to me, even after watching an educational program one morning on Xiang Qi, but it is fun just to watch the old men's expressions and their quick, subtle passes of money from hand to hand, often with grimaces as they give up their hard earned cash.

For some reason that I never seemed to figure out, the elders never stared at me. They seem so serene and happy when I pass them every day, gambling, chatting, playing chess or just standing and admiring the foliage and the sights. At times I would catch one of the old men or women going through Tai Chi moves that would place me in a hospital. They usually do it in the morning, on barren side streets or in alcoves made private by a group of bushes. They make it look easy.

I reach the hotel quicker than I would have thought, almost disappointed in having to end my stroll so quickly but once I slow my pace down I realize how badly I have to pee. Once in my hotel room, I relax and put in a movie. My first disappointment in these pirated DVD’s is finding ones that skip and peter out on me. Oh well, what do you want for a buck fifty? My stomach is asking me what the hell I have done today.
STAY POSTED!

Six more days to cover on my trip, through the following Wednesday when I fly out of China.

Don't miss a beat as more excitement is yet to come!

-Jeeem-
Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 28th, 2002 - Thursday

I began my day today with a tour to Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Memorial Hall, The Temple of Supreme Harmony, The Temple of Heaven, and the Imperial Palace. Had an interesting breakfast at one of the hotels on our route to pick up passengers and then finally boarded the tour bus for a short jaunt to Tiananmen. We took a walking tour of the back route which was interesting and showed us the moat surrounding the Forbidden City.

I was approached by a young lady on the tour named Christine who spoke English (there were only four of us on the tour, two from Toronto), saying she needed to brush up on her needed to brush up on her Mandarin. We chatted briefly and I determined she is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and works managing her own retail clothing store. I told her about my good friend Anne Charmaine whom I correspond with all the time and expressed my desire to visit the country one day soon. All us English speaking persons stuck together for the most part today. Christine laughed and told me her sister spent a month in Beijing and had told her to get ready to walk, walk, walk. Man was she right.

The tour was great. I took loads of pictures and bought all sorts of souvenirs but not much to say about it as the majority of the tour was just gazing at the enormous and highly decorative structures devoted to housing China's great emperors. God only knows where I am going to put all of this shit that I purchased. Christine was a big help in explaining some of the Mandarin spoken along our journey. It seemed strange that all those clucks and chatters meant all she was telling us. Lunch was awesome with the old lazy Susan thingy filled with delights for all to sample. I’m getting pretty damn good at chopsticks if I don't mind saying so myself.

We stopped at a place specializing in cultured pearls which proved to be yet another ploy to pry money from the depths of our pockets. We were herded into a large room and gathered around a large floor aquarium complete with swimming Poi and some big old clams scattered about. We were lectured to by a gorgeous Chinese woman in very stylish, if not provocative attire who picked up one of the slimy, brown clams and challenged us to "guess" how many pearls were inside. I guessed ten and the numbers kept going up as others in the group took a guess. The count was well into the twenties and we were all rewarded with a pink pearl souvenier with which to remember our visit here. I was pretty damn bored with it all and the items were too pricey to interest me. I caught a glimpse of Christine, surrounded by sales ladies and having pearl cream applied to her hand. Eventually I slipped out and sat with some of the men on the stoop outside, waiting for the group to finish their purchases.

Eventually Christine waltzed out with a bag dangling from her hand. I asked, "How much did they soak you for?"

"About four hundred RMB"

"So now your youth will be restored?"

To which Christine held out both hands to me and asked, "Which one looks younger?"

"This one!" I said, pointing to her right hand.

"That's right!" she exclaimed, looking surprised.

"I saw the sales girls applying the cream," I said matter-of-factly.

Then Christine did a very Asian female thing, she whacked me on the back with her package. Asian women love to whack guys.

Finally we left the tourist trap, my token pearl nestled in my pocket, and on to an authentic tea house to sample some pretty nasty tasting teas and learn the ceremonial way to drink tea yet again. While walking through a throng of hawkers selling their wares, I pointed to a guy barbequeing some sweet potatoes, knowing full well that this is a treat Asians love. I was right, as Christine squealed with delight and dragged me over to the barbeque grill, handing me her bags as she dug for her yuan. Sweet potato in hand, she whispered to me, "What am I going to do with this?" knowing we were about to go sit inside the formal surroundings of a tea house.

"Eat it," I said, only to get whacked again.

I couldn't help giggle as Christine began a rather unique sculpture in the ashtray near our seat, piling it high with sweet potato skin. I had to later get her a napkin from my backpack as she sat with sticky fingers splayed out, seemingly not knowing what to do with them either.

Christine and I made tentative plans to meet tomorrow night at the Hard Rock Café to dance, have some food, chat, and buy some tee-shirts if she manages to recover from her Great Wall tour tomorrow. She is flying out Saturday morning. I was dropped off at my hotel first and just barely had time to shower, dress and head out to my calligraphy class on the northeastern corner of the city. Today I learned that I suck at calligraphy. The instructor there, who spoke no English, had a long ponytail and fit the part of a moody artist. He would loom over me and shake his head, grasping my hand a little too tightly and guiding it to create something that it couldn't possibly create on it's own. I was limited to "dots and lines" for this first (and last) class. I met some pretty nice people in the class, all foreigners from Russia, Canada and France. The woman from Russia wanted to know if I was there for the Mozart compilation and conference.

"Uh....no, I don't think so."

"Oh!" she said, rather dignified and indignant all at once.

Upon leaving, a couple from the class offered to give me a ride to my hotel, but I insisted on riding the subway. I think I have a China Subway addiction going on here. Pity I couldn’t attend the other calligraphy classes. Oh well, another time perhaps.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 27th, 2002 - Wednesday

Spent virtually the whole day indoors, vegging out and taking it easy. My body just gave up! It screamed at me this morning and told me it needed a rest. I spent the day snoozing, watching some of my pirated DVD movies and just generally kicking back. Felt a little guilty but generally needed it and had a good time doing it. Found out that Chinese do not understand the meaning of, “Do Not Disturb.”
Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 26th, 2002 - Tuesday

I began my day today making phone calls to the Culture Club listed in the Beijing This Month magazine. I reached a rather pleasant lady who was a great help and she scheduled me for a calligraphy class on Thursday evening at 8:00 p.m. The class is already in full swing but she said they would love to have me if even for one night. The class is from eight to ten in the evening. I found that the Culture Club is a non-profit organization that helps tourists and arranges tours and activities for people who are visiting Beijing.

After making my calls I took a jaunt over to the main lobby of my hotel to mail postcards and letters and to have a bit to eat. I scheduled a hutong tour of old Beijing by rickshaw, for two o'clock in the afternoon and decided to make a quick run of the subway system and find out where the Culture Club calligraphy class would be meeting. I’m getting to like the subway system. The subway wasn’t as busy at 9:00 a.m. as it is later in the afternoon. I rode the loop line on the northern route to Dongsishitiao and walked right into a busy intersection and the heart of Poly Plaza. It took me a bit of wandering to find East Gate Plaza but it wasn’t difficult and I'm getting good at finding people who speak English and can tell me which way to go.

Finding East Gate Plaza, I located the side entrance to the stores and shops and there, just like the lady said, was Baskin and Robbins thirty-one flavors and the Library Bar. Next to the Library Bar was the Culture Club, a door painted with a beautiful mural. I had found it.

Watching the clock, I had a breakfast sandwich at Baskin and Robbins to the delight and playful giggles of the two women behind the counter. I also ordered a black cherry cordial shake, which washed everything down very well, thank you. After eating, it was pressing past noontime and I knew I had better return to the hotel for the rickshaw hutong tour so I scooted out and was in the subway in no time, now that I knew where I was going.

I arrived at Chegongzhuang station by 12:45 with plenty of time to spare as my tour didn’t really get started until 1:30 p.m., so I took yet another leisurely stroll down Chegongzhuang, arriving at the hotel with time to spare. My legs have never really fully recovered since the Great Wall walk, but they are seeming to tolerate this walking thing a little better.

I picked up my Chinese stamps at the hotel lobby shop where I had ordered them, noting the carving had come out very nicely. The girl at the counter was very pleased to show them to me. I packed them away, having already paid for them and made a quick, last minute dash to my hotel room to wash up before the tour started.

Once back at the lobby, I met the lady who booked me on the tour and she escorted me to a taxi, giving the driver instructions in Mandarin, where to take me for the rickshaw tour. We were in traffic for maybe forty minutes when suddenly a rather pretty, young Chinese lady stuck her face in my window and said, “Jeeem?” I almost laughed, thinking how appropriate my nickname had become.

The tour guide’s name was Belinda, which did not seem to fit her. This was her English name of course, her real name in Chinese pronounced, "He Lu." Belinda was all of about four foot ten inches, if that, and had the cute, pudgy cheeks typical of a Chinese lady. She was all of twenty-one and was all too anxious to tell me of her University degree and her English studies. Like many English speaking Chinese people, Belinda chews her words, making even some of the more common words difficult to understand. It took me a little while before I could understand her and she must have sensed this as she kept saying, “Do you understand me?” for the first fifteen minutes or so.

The first part of the tour was a walking tour. You walk A LOT on these tours but it is well worth it to get to see everything up close and personal. We toured yet another garden and palace reserved for some emperor, of some-such-dynasty and I was getting the feeling that these guys were really bored, very spoiled and well spread out throughout the city.

All the while we walked, Belinda explained what we were looking at and where we were. As far as tour guides went, she was by far the best as she was easy on the eye, adorably cute and never hurried me. The funny thing about Belinda was her constant use of the word "auspicious," sometimes peppering whole sentences with it.

"The emperor sat in this auspicious building, taken care of by servants who auspiciously catered to his every need, which proved to be very auspicious, indeed." Belinda would drone.

It was everything I could do not to laugh at her, poor little gal. If she hadn't been so cute, I probably wouldn't have shown so much restraint.

Next was the cordial visit to a Chinese host family from the hutong district. This proved interesting. It felt odd entering this family's home and I was a little at a loss of what to say. Belinda was no real help here as she did not seem to pick up on my nervousness and sat quietly, even though she knew full well the family did not speak English. Eventually everything worked out for the best and the awkwardness wore off as we shared tea and smiled a lot at one another. The grandmother showed me her photos of other people from around the world who had visited. Her daughter was an attractive lady and seemed friendly but again, knew no English. She kept staring at me and smiling a lot, which became a bit uncomfortable after a while. We managed what conversation is possible when such a language barrier exists, which is more than one would think. Eventually, I guided them all outside to take a photo, promising them I would send them a copy.

Finally we boarded the rickshaw for a ride through the narrow streets of the hutong district while Belinda and I chatted away. I’m sure she should have been telling me all sorts of tales about the hutongs along with some ancient Chinese history, but I think she was pooped out and we both just seemed to want to chatter up some small talk.
When the rickshaw stopped, we got off and headed to the Bell Tower. I thought I had already been to the bell tower and found that this was only a bigger one. In ancient times, the Chinese not having watches or clocks, kept time every two hours by the ringing of either the drum tower or bell towers scattered throughout the different city districts. The bell was huge and we reached it by way of…. You guessed it, LOTS OF STEPS.

After purchasing a couple of souveniers, we headed down to a tea house and enjoyed a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. After learning the proper proceedure for serving tea and sampling some pretty interesting teas, I dickered with the proprieter of the shop, name of Rene (Ren Wei Teng), as to whether or not I was going to purchase a tea set for two hundred and eighty dollars. I figured it was well worth the price, with shipping, as the set I was looking at was of very, very high quality mohoghany with mother of pearl inlay and a beautiful blue ware tea set. But, I put her off and ended up telling her I would think about it. This disappointed Rene to no end as she wanted to make a sale right then and there. So, she gave me both her work number and her cell phone number in case I changed my mind.

The one thing that stuck in my mind that day was the proper way to drink the tea, in three sips....

1) The first sip meaning, "Happiness."
2) The second meaning, "Longevity."
3) The third meaning, "Have a bright future."

My favorite teas that day were Jasmine tea (very fragrant) and Longjing tea (the most popular of the Chinese, which seemed pretty uplifting).

This ended the tour and we took a leisurely taxi ride back, dropping off Belinda at her residence while the taxi circled Behai Lake. It was a perfect way to end the day. Once back at my hotel, I took a quick jaunt over to my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant to order some take out before heading back. I sat reading the paper and once my food came out, I paid my bill and was delighted to see all the smiling faces telling me they were happy to see me return. I retired early as once again, my tiredness was seeming to catch up with me.
Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 25th, 2002 - Monday

Decided to take the plunge today and explore the Beijing subway system. After a leisurely morning lounging in my hotel room and later the main hotel lobby, I ventured out. The stroll to the Chegongzhuang subway station took about a half hour or so, with some pauses to watch locals selling their wares on the street. I have found many little shops and markets along the way that I use as a matter of preference now and would never have found them unless I was on foot. Most are like stores within stores and the passerby wouldn’t normally find them easily.

The subway proved easy to negotiate. Much like Boston’s Wellington Station without the graffiti, much cleaner and complete with beautiful murals. The cost is ¥ 3, or around 35 cents. You can travel all day on the loop line if you like with no problems whatsoever. I got off at the Quánamen stop, which is literally “on” Tiananmen square. I strolled around Tiananmen for a bit soaking up the immensity of the largest square in the world, took some pictures and eventually left as it was hot, hazy and crowded as hell.

Once back on the subway, I decided to try transferring to the red line or line-one as it is called. This route runs parallel to Tiananmen square from West to East. I managed it fine but soon discovered that I was traveling at the height of noontime rush hour. What a trip. You could stop walking and still get where you were going by just riding the wave of Chinese.

I stopped on the line-one level and took a breather, got my bearings and purchased a cold tea. They bottle green tea here and it is good and refreshing. I’ve also tried strawberry juice, orange juice and other bottled favorites here. What’s weird is their weirdly flavored ice creams. You can get potato flavored ice cream, garlic flavored ice cream and other weird flavors. So far, I’ve only tried a couple and stay away from the vegetable flavored ones.

Once on the subway, I rode it to the end just to see what would happen. Once at the end of the line at Sihui, it was pretty barren. I attempted to speak to the guard on duty to ask how to get back and found this was no help whatsoever due to the forever-present language barrier, so I walked upstairs and over to the other side to reach the return train, only to end up getting scolded by a female Chinese soldier who appeared pretty irate. Oh well, it works wonders acting dumb and humble as she just snorted and let me go on my way. I still can’t understand what the hell I did wrong, but who cares.

Once back, I took the red line to Fuchengmennan Dajie and transferred to the blue loop line, heading north to my stop at Chegongzhuang. I’m getting pretty freakin’ good at this. Called it a day once back and just grabbed a bite and settled in for dinner and a movie.
Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 24th, 2002 - Sunday

Played it low key today and took a stroll down to pick up my photos. I can still feel the burning in my stomach and intestines from the fireball I ate last night. The photos of the Great Wall came out pretty good. There's one that I may enlarge and frame.

Headed back to the hotel and once in my room, crashed for a bit as I guess things are catching up with me. Got up around 11:30 a.m. and headed for my favorite little hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Ordered fried (assorted) rice, fried eggplant and shredded pork in hot sauce (I just never give up). They brought enough food to my table to feed three people, but that was my intent so I could dine “in” tonight. I could eat for two days on what they gave me and it only cost me ¥ 30 or about $3.50 U.S. and that included a coke. I made a mental note to have one of the people in the hotel lobby write "To Go" or "For Take Out" on the back of my little notebook in Chinese characters, so I can save having them bring everything out to the table on plate and have to go through the waving arms and sign language to get things placed in "doggie bags"...... 'Doggie bags' is probably not a term you would use loosely around here, for obvious reasons.

So, I’m back in the hotel room and kicking back this weekend. On my agenda for next week is Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden city, the Hard Rock Café, some markets, a bookstore, lots of pictures and the like. I decided against taking the train to either Xian or Mongolia as its just too damn expensive and takes way too long. There is plenty to keep me busy here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

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Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 23rd, 2002 - Saturday

Used most of my morning getting my legs to work again. Boy am I sore. This tea situation in the morning sucks. Every day, at least twice a day, the housekeeping staff drop off a large, chrome thermos of hot water and four tea bags of SCEN TED TEA.....you think I'm joking? The packages say just that....SCEN TED TEA. I'll prove it by scanning one of them and later posting the .jpg on my website to prove it! The stuff smells like soap and tastes like something reminicent of an Ivory bar. Yuck.

I ventured out to the main hotel and played around on the internet for a while to the tune of ¥ 119. Damn thing is expensive.

Restaurants here don’t even think about opening until around 11:00 a.m., so I killed some time until 10:45 a.m. Venturing out, I didn’t have to go far, only heading down Chegongzhuang until just past the hotel to a small dingy hutong. Turning north and entering the hutong, I began to get a good feel that this one was alive in the form of authentic Beijing style.

I stopped at a small hole-in-the-wall, point & eat restaurant that was just setting up for lunch. God only knows what the name of this place was because......you guessed it.....everything was in Chinese! I was seated at a table near the front counter and given a menu that luckily had a section in English. So, "point & eat" was not going to be the score today. The proprietor handed a handful of papers to the busboy to give to me, explaining the different types / styles of cooking from various provinces. It was in English. I caught his eye and bowed humbly in approval. He smiled and nodded.

I eventually settled on jiao zhá yángrou, better known in English as, “Braised Mutton with Onions.” It took a while to prepare so I sipped the “ever-present” tea and patiently waited, taking in my strange surroundings. There is so much to see and take in, even in China’s everyday, mundane life…. plastic strips hang in every entry way, allowing to open the doors but leave the sand and dust (or rather most of it) out. Workers are constantly cleaning wherever you go. Mopping, polishing, wiping . . . . constantly. Appearances are relatively clean and orderly except in some of the smaller grocery stores and the odd shops not meant for foreigners.

A small toddler waddles into the doorway adorned in traditional Chinese dress of bright colored silks and high-neck collar wearing a cute hat. The Mandarin “chatter” begins. A child always brings smiles no matter where you are in the world.

Strange bottles of varying sizes, from a quart to well over gallon size, line shelves and are filled with brown to dark brown fluid and strange looking contents. Some have spoons, ladles or tongs in them, obviously to serve the noxious looking mixtures. Refrigerated coolers are filled with wines, beers, orange juice, teas and the ever-present Coca-Cola cans, sans English and bearing Chinese characters.

My dish arrives and it looks delicious. No bowl of rice accompanies it, which surprises me. An old pro now, I break into the chopstick container, snap them apart and dig in. Chinese eyes are on me for a bit, curiosity obviously killing them and I pass the test. Eyes avert as there is nothing to see here, just an American enjoying his meal. The mutton dish is as good as it looks. I finish my meal and resist the temptation to purchase a Coca-Cola, sticking to my tea. The tea is good enough and comes complete with the floating bits of tea leaf. I reflect on the book I am currently reading, 'Tis by Frank McCourt, where Angela McCourt complains to Frank's wife Alberta (Mike) about tea bags in America, touting that a decent cup of tea is made from loose tea. This is the first time in my life I've drank tea in this fashion.

I get up, pull on my wind breaker and settle my bill, which comes to a mere ¥ 28, which is about $2.25 U.S. Not bad. I love eating at these places. The food is good and cheap. I’ll visit here again. Other menu items on the list were: Ox stomach trimmings, Fried eggplant, eel with sauce, beef tongue in peanut satay and even more exotic delights too numerous to list here.

After leaving I continued up the hutong and began peering into stores and getting to know my surroundings until the feel began to change. The neighborhood turned out to be a bit unfriendly as I pressed on. My pace quickened as I passed a bicycle cart laden with Bok Choy, fruits and yams, noticing the peering eyes of the local folk had narrowed, telling me clearly I was not welcome.

The hutong was shaped in a “U” leading back to Chegongzhuang Lu, the main road. Finally, I was back into my environment of sorts. I can't help but wonder how many places like this exist in this city. I'm sure there are worse. Just as in America, there are places you just should not be. Trouble is, I've always seemed to have a propensity for finding them.

I strolled east, heading for a Kodak Photo shop I had spotted yesterday. I’ve learned to utilize my time while in a taxi or a bus to spot good landmarks and things I want to visit in the future. On the way, I strolled into an open market and got to see some really weird stuff. I ignored the stares and focused on the wonders of things Americans were not meant to see. Skinless dog, rabbit, something that looked like a pig and other macabre items were hanging on hooks, ready to be sectioned and cut. Small, crystalline packets containing dried nuggats that looked too much like insects. Insects, alive, in containers, wriggling upon one another, enough to give Steven King the willies. Next stop, a tiny bakery where I watched flour tortillas being made. These were just like back home in El Paso, albeit a bit thicker and larger, but basically the same right down to the smell when cooking, which is delicious. I made a mental note to return here.

At the photo shop I was met with giggles when I tried to negotiate a sale in English. It’s surprising how much you can get done through nods, pointing, waving and generally flailing the hands. At times I felt so stupid when I would catch myself speaking my native English, but louder and slower, somehow thinking that I could get my point across that way. Somehow, we determined that my photo order will be ready Sunday afternoon. Things don’t close around here on the weekends, it actually gets busier.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped at the bakery for a closer inspection. While looking around I discovered my favorite glazed pastry thingies. So, after exclaiming out loud in glee, I ordered two of these heavily glazed things. I suffered a nano-second of guilt for doing so, but quickly rationalized my NEED for them. Then, on to the market where I picked up a large coke…..okay, so call me weak.

Once back, I lounged and watched a DVD called, “Rounders,” that Alison had loaned me. That was a treat. I then patiently waited for Zhang Ye (my friend whom I'd met online on 'Virtualtourist.com') to call for our exotic dinner this evening. Around 8:00 p.m. I called his home, wondering where he was and figuring he had been detained. I wanted to know so I could head out somewhere else if he was not coming. His wife told me he had been trying to contact me and told me to call his cell phone, which I did.

Seems he had been waiting in the main lobby of my hotel as the hotel could not find my room number and Zhang Ye had lost it. Already dressed, I went to meet him. I was pleased to find him dressed casually, as this had worried me a bit. His driver was out looking for me, so we had a little time to chat up some small talk while waiting. Once the driver arrived we left the hotel lobby and hopped into the car. I had never met anybody who had their own driver before...this was kinda neat. We then drove out to one spot that was reputed to be a real hotspot in dining, only to find it had been torn down. So much for the hotspot. My tourbook said that you should always call first as places often come down as fast as they go up in Beijing.

We then headed down Chegongzhuang to a food district awash in Neon. Chinese love neon lights. It’s pretty too and really gives you an excited feeling to see globs of red, blue, green, yellow and orange blinking and non-blinking Chinese characters and strange dragon symbols. Chinese love dragons too.

We were met at the roadside by both the “ever-present” green uniformed soldier and a doorman decked out in very fancy attire. This was obviously a five-star restaurant. The doorman wore a long, red jacket that went to his ankles, adorned with swirly white embossed designs. His matching hat was the traditional brimless “pot” style and he wore white gloves. This was freakin’ cool!

As soon as we exited the car, the complimentary burst of Mandarin began. You have to experience this to know what it is like. It is kinda like somebody throws a switch on inside of you, causing you to immediately feel left out. Maybe it’s just me. I began to feel like I had just been totally separated and was very isolated. One minute I was speaking English, which was a real treat after days on end of sign language and the like....and the next minute WHAM! You are reminded that you are in a very foreign country. Perhaps it's me as it brought back my days living in El Paso, when I'd be surrounded by Spanish and not knowing a lick of it then.

Zhang Ye and I were escorted into the restaurant while the driver (God only knows what his name was) parked the car. The restaurant was brightly lit and almost gawdy with bright colors, baubles, lanterns, pictures and even a patio area with a garden that was complete with a running stream, water wheel, bonsai trees, a bridge and a pagoda. Very fancy. The “waiting” area had a large mahogany table (very low to the ground) about eight inches thick and complete with wooden, barrel shaped stools. The centerpiece on the table was real, an exotic flower arrangement that would have shocked an American florist. Very, very fancy.

This restaurant is a “hot pot” restaurant. The tables are marble with decorative inlays of local “rose stone” kinda like a pink jade of sorts. In the middle of the table is a rectangular hole about a foot and a half wide by maybe ten inches, with a set of burners in it. The “pot” is brought to your table and is separated into two “compartments” each about eight inches deep and filled with a liquid broth “base” and some varied ingredients, some recognizable, some not. One side is mild and one side is “hot.” The pot is called a “love bird” pot and naturally there is a story to this. One that I am not prepared to tell here as I’m already tired of typing.

The “HOT” side is WAY out of my league. It contained Thai-like peppers that flavored the base that also includes a selection of other small Chinese peppers. While the pot is heating, a woman brings out your raw, uncooked selections from the menu. We went ultimate exotic and selected the following:

1. Duck tongue
2. Eel
3. Pig intestines
4. Ox stomach

The waitress also brings out thin, raw slices of pork and beef, bok choy, Chinese lettuce and dipping sauce.

There are two basic types of dipping sauce. One is an oil, probably soy or sesame oil, to which you add some chopped garlic. The other is a brown, dingy looking sauce that is primarily made from sesame but is a tad salty. To this sauce you add chopped green onions. This whole shebang happens rather quickly and appears rather ceremonial and I guarantee you this.....if you do not know what to do, which to stir, dipping sauce from dessert, what-to-place-where and the like, you would be lost. You can't ask because nobody knows English. I'm serious! Anyway, all the while you are busily preparing everything for your meal, you wipe your fingers on a moist, rolled towel in a shallow dish. Rice is totally optional and not considered a staple in this type of eating style, which is unique to only certain Chinese and Mongolian provinces.

The oil dipping sauce is mainly used for the “hot” side of the hotpot. It is said the oil counteracts the strong hot pepper and prevents your stomach lining from it’s heat. (At first I scoffed at this. Later, I thanked GOD for it) The brown, dingy looking sauce is for the milder side.

The technique is relatively simple…You pick up a raw piece of material and “dip” it into the now boiling hot pot, allowing it to cook (which does not take long) before removing it, dipping it into the proper sauce and finally eating it. I began with the rolls of raw pork, using the mild side. Not too bad but no big cigar either. I progressed to the pig intestines (very bland) and the eel (better, but not too exciting) the duck tongue was also bland, tough and difficult to strip off the cartilage without using my fingers.

The “hot” side of the hotpot was freakin’ scary hot. This stuff is NOTHING like Mexican hot peppers. Not even in the same league! It was also nothing like anything I had ever tried before. My tongue quite literally went weird on me, beginning to tingle first then it just went numb. It’s a whole different story when it hits your esophagus and stomach. I felt a warm, tingly glow followed by a dull ache in my tummy. I tried this side ONLY ONCE and then backed off. That stuff was DANGEROUSLY hot. God only knows what it feels like upon exit. Ha! (Sorry for the bathroom humor Wanda....Couldn’t resist that).

The driver seemed disappointed that I did not eat any more from the HOT side and, despite my protests, kept piling stuff on my little dish. I just avoided it, but eventually a little of the “juice” got on my regular stuff and even then my tongue began to tingle and go numb. I flashed him a “look” once, developing quite the resentment for him and trying to communicate my frustration but he either ignored it or did not understand.

I need to mention what the food looks like when it is brought out…It’s so damn pretty that you don’t want to disturb it. The raw beef and pork is bright pink & white, cut paper thin, rolled, stacked and decorated with potato rosettes, vegetables in the shape of animals and thin slivers of carrots, beans etc. Everything looks like it took ages to create. Very beautiful and very, very impressive.

Turns out Zhang Ye is the Deputy General Director of the China Securities Regulatory Commission. I have no friggin’ idea what that is, but it sure sounded impressive. His driver didn’t speak a lick of English whatsoever but joined us for dinner and spent most of his time lighting our cigarettes, serving us and motioning for the waitress to ensure our tea glasses were full. What a trip.

We ate and talked until the wee hours when it finally looked as if they were closing. A table full of Chinese guys in business suits, next to us, got pretty rowdy as they got increasingly intoxicated. Funny to watch. We also had entertainment in the form of female dancers in some pretty interesting outfits….heh, heh,……Chinese comedians and singers. It was all pretty cool, but I can’t say the “exotic” food was all that great. No fried scorpion here, so I’ll have to try it elsewhere. All-in-all it was a very enjoyable night and a very pleasant and friendly way to end the evening. When Zhang Ye's driver pulled up next to my building, we exchanged addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, vowing to stay in close touch.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Jeeem’s Travel notes

March 22nd, 2002 - Friday

I'm in my hotel room dressed and waiting for my driver to the Great Wall of China. The tour guide called me this morning and told me the driver would be up to my room shortly. I’m excited about this as I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Great Wall of China. The bus driver arrives and we leave together. I’m the only one on the bus. Hey! Private tour!

Not likely.

We stop at the Song He Hotel in the Xicheng District and the driver yanks out his cell phone that's playing a familiar classic tune I can't place. He begins chattering away on it and eventually gets up and hands the phone to me.

“Me? I have a call? No way!”

He persists, pushing the tiny phone into my hands and I put the phone to my ear. I

It's the tour guide, Dino.

“Hallow! It is time to teke mawning break. Get out of bus and follow driver. He teke you to nice resaurant for mawning break," says Dino, tour guide extraordinaire.

"Okay," I say.

Well, the tour bus driver didn't "teke” me anywhere. He just pointed across a very congested street to a small hole-in-the-wall, replete with Crazy Chinese Characters painted on the glass window pane in front.

“Okay,” I say, gathering my courage.

I tell myself, “You can do this.”

The traffic is the easy part, as I am well versed in managing busy streets in at least five major cities, two of which are third-world, while jaywalking,

So, once there, I walk into this place and naturally, every head turns towards me. A guy in a uniform (Chinese love uniforms) points me to a table and I sit. I try to look like I know what I’m doing and naturally that doesn’t work, so I get up to the centrally located table up front, filled with various foods, and I begin to do what I have now adopted as, “Point & Eat.”

First, I pick a twisted, glazed pastry looking item by pointing to it. The woman places it on a small dish. Next, an interesting looking pancake. The woman places this on a plate. Then, after a pause where I must have looked undecided, she points to a HUGE pot on the stove behind her and nods the universal language of, “This is good, you ought to try it.” So, I edge up closer to the stove and peer inside.

It looks like heated milk. I nod acknowledgement, figuring she knows something I don’t. She dishes up a bowl of it and points to a pot full of what looks like sugar. I shake my head figuring this milk stuff has gotta be okay by itself…besides, I’m a tough guy.

Balancing the bowl and getting it to my table proves to be a major, daunting task but I make it and manage to not embarrass myself. Settled in, I take a test sip of this milk stuff.

Back to the table up front, I go, balancing my bowl.

Took three scoops of sugar, thank you.

Back to the table, dodging school kids, mothers, elderly Chinese folk and suited business men.

I never spill a drop. Good man.

The pancake was okay but needed something. The milk stuff was…. Well, …. Okay. Probably some sort of soy milk. The glazed pastry was not only chewy and delicious but sticky, heavy and very filling. Yum! The whole shebang cost me ¥ 2. Wow. About a quarter.

Back on the bus, people have boarded and the young Chinese gentleman to my left is having a fight with his girlfriend/wife. She is pissed and he is trying to make a joke out of it. She isn't backing down and he’s obviously embarrassed, as her voice just keeps getting louder and louder (Mandarin can be VERY expressive) and he keeps looking over his shoulder at me, knowing full well that I know the universal and international sign of female pissedom. I grin a knowing grin and he rolls his eyes at me.

Once we start rolling, our tour guide Dino, begins describing the various neighborhoods we are driving through and the various sights along the way in Mandarin, English and Arabic. Very interesting. I can hardly understand his English. Chinese people chew their words and their English pronunciation is usually less than to be desired.

We pass by two huge structures to the north and south of our road, called the Drum Tower to our south and the Bell Tower to our north. I can’t understand the explanation of these structures so I just gawk at them, admiring their beautiful architecture. Both structures are huge.

After a jaunt through some narrow hutongs (side streets) in the old Beijing district, we enter the main thoroughway. I snap some pictures here and there through the bus window. The trip takes maybe thirty minutes and we are already in the mountains. The mountains look familiar like back home in Texas as they are treeless with low shrubs and rough terrain of rock and gravel.

It doesn’t take long for us to begin seeing remnants of the Great Wall as it comes within feet of our road and then eventually crosses the road in a bridgelike structure. It's difficult to express my feelings, the first time I get a glimpse of this massive structure. The guide tells us the name of this section crossing the road and says they are currently working on this area of the wall and will be eventually opening it to tourists. We press on to Badaling.

Badaling is very commercialized but it's still impressive. We enter the square and the whole thing is lined with open air shops selling bric-á-brac and cheap art. Once we get off the bus, the hawkers descend upon us like flies, which is very, very annoying. This reminds me a lot of the Philippines except Filipino hawkers seem to know when to stop. The hawkers follow you if you look their way or pay them any mind, so I pretend I don’t see them which seems ridiculous.

We enter a large, square fortress looking structure guarded by at least five soldiers and are told that the longer, more difficult part of the wall is to the left and not for the faint of heart. The easier and shorter part is to the right. I take the left.

Once entering this fortress-like structure, I slow and try to let it soak in what I am actually doing. So much is coursing through my brain. I'm actually on the Great Wall of China. I know it will take a while to soak in so I forge on.....and on, and on......and UP.

Holy mother of God this is tough. Why did I have to go left? While walking up a particularly difficult section, I discover another “universal and international” symbol that is common and knows no cultural barriers.... It is called, "PAIN & FATIGUE." The facial expressions are enough to keep you laughing. Women and men alike, young and old, they all look like they are suffering. They all stop to BREATHE and allow their legs a brief rest from the punishment. Somewhere along the way of the toughest part of this section that goes straight up, I hear an American voice behind me. A young girl asks me where I am from. She is from Danbury, Connecticut and ends up sticking to me like glue for the rest of the trip. The only benefit of this, it seems, is to have her take a photo of me on the wall. She proves to be a bossy, royal pain in the ass. Figures. I come well over nine thousand miles to meet an American woman who bosses me around. Not pleasant at all.

We pressed on, both of us winded but determined to make it to the end of the walk. We make it, snap a few pictures and my prayers are answered as she runs in to another friend of hers from her hotel who speaks English. I manage to slip away and lose her.

On my way down I pause several times to allow the experience of this massive structure to soak in. It is pleasant to just look at it and to absorb where I am on the face of the earth. I gaze through an opening in the wall towards outer Mongolia and the rough terrain leading into the Gobi desert. Very beautiful. Several times on the way down I stop and reflect like this, knowing full well that I may never return here so making a point to commit this to memory. About three quarters of the way down a olive uniformed guard takes an interest in my camera. I show it to him and he smiles, amused. I try and take his picture and he protests, smiling yet dodging his head and making the impression on me that he is not joking and really does not want his picture taken. I snap a picture of an elderly Chinese gentleman with a receding hairline, pausing to smoke a cigarette, instead.

Further down the wall I stop to have my picture taken and pick up a souvenir of my walk. Already my legs are feeling the punishment I have put them through. The whole jaunt takes an hour and fifteen minutes. Once back, we wait for stragglers. It turns out the two people holding up our tour are (quite naturally) the Connecticut woman and her pal. The girl from Connecticut is not on our tour bus but decides to join us, after a brief argument with Dino....oh great. I sit silently by myself in one of the upper most seats and read my China Daily.

Once on the road, we head to the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine for a short tour. After a short walk down corridors lined with various shelves sporting some rather noxious looking herbs and such, we are whisked into a lecture room, served tea and sit through several demonstrations of Traditional Chinese medicine, which to me seems embarrassingly ridiculous but slightly entertaining. Eventually several "Doctors" come into the room and begin selecting participants in the audience. They sit next to you, place three fingers on your wrist and diagnose your ailments. I prove to have high blood pressure, a fatty liver and kidney stones. The doc prescribes me several "medicines" pointed out on a handout we are given, at the phenomenal cost of well over 1800 RMB. I just laugh and wave him off. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to take a look at my pot belly and figure my diagnosis out. The kidney stone thing must have been a lucky guess, my last bout with this rather painful ailment being just after I arrived home from the Philippines last June.

With us on our tour is a father and son team from Israel. After our "diagnosis" tour the father is outside, exclaiming expletives loudly, totally livid at the goings on in the lecture room. "That is not ethical! How can they do that to a tour group? They are taking advantage of people! This act ought to be stopped!" He is causing quite the scene but eventually calms down after Dino talks to him. I eventually approach him and (trying not to get him going again) express my agreement with his feelings. Turns out he is a physician....go figure.

I end up hanging around the Israeli couple and they prove to be a very friendly, funny and upbeat father and son team. The father is in Beijing for the second time in his life, lecturing on enuresis (bedwetting), as he is a urologist. He appears surprised that I know what enuresis is and I tell him I am a registered nurse and was involved in the medical field for twenty-two years. This bonds us to a degree. They speak English very well and he spits and spurts about the Chinese Traditional Medicine scene for another fifteen minutes or so. The funny part is when the Connecticut woman and her English speaking Chinese sidekick come out of the building laden down with bags full of expensive medicine, probably sugar pills, and the Israel physician takes it upon himself to inform them that they have just been taken for a massive amount of money and are foolish for buying into this obvious scam. I agree with him, which only makes the situation worse. Heh, heh.....I can be such a prick sometimes.

Next stop is our lunch stop. After a brief introduction on how to how to utilize the proper serving bowls and what to do so as not to embarrass yourself, we are served an enormous amount of food in the traditional way the Chinese like to eat, with an enormous lazy susan on the table, filled with the various delights. The fighting couple, a very polite and humble young Chinese fellow, and the father and son Israeli team are all at my table and we end up having a blast. I’m an old pro at using chopsticks but the two from Israel need instruction. It is entertaining to say the least as the other Chinese people and myself all try and teach them. We draw attention as the loudest table at the restaurant, laughing loudly and generally having the time of our lives. Dino, our tour guide, looks over at us with curiousity written all over his face. I'm glad I'm here and it feels so good to have such a grand time, even with people who cannot even speak my language. I reflect that even though there are five people at our table who do not know how to speak English and three that do, we manage to communicate just fine and have a great time to boot.

I chow down something serious. I have no idea what I’m eating, but it is good and I am starving. One item looks very much like General Gao’s chicken. Everything is here – soups, two types of rice, vegetables, main dishes, fish, pork, chicken, beef and lord knows what else. I pig out big time. There are these little limp celery looking vegetables that are sauted in some clear-yet-milky sauce, on a plate and I am in love with them. God these are good! They are difficult to pick up with chopsticks so I end up scooping them up and into my mouth, eventually clearing the plate. Nobody seems to care that I ate the whole plate. These things are so good that I don't care whether they do care or not.

Once I’m done I head to the W.C. It pays to go to the toilet whenever you can, especially in restaurants, as you don’t know when you’ll see one again and if you do, you can’t imagine the condition of some of them. If you gotta do more than pee, you had better have thought ahead to bring your own toilet paper because there isn’t any to be found.....ever.

Back on the bus, I am beginning to feel the pain in my legs. That wall walk was brutal. I’m not used to that kind of exercise in such a short period. We drive for about another fifteen minutes and eventually pull into the Ming Dynasty Emperor’s Tombs. This proves to be a bit of a let down except for some of the architecture. The Emperor’s, it turns out, were a cruel, selfish, lazy bunch that did some pretty weird stuff when they were bored. One thing that got my attention was a glass enclosed garment called the 100 children robe. It was a robe that certain Emperor’s got to wear once they had fathered a hundred children. So there’s the reason to China’s overpopulation.

The father from Israel asked me to take a picture of he and his son and it took a frustrating couple of minutes to figure out the weird camera they had. The father noticed the piles of money in front of some of these tombs and thrones and caused a bit of a scene on our tour when he became infuriated at these gobs of money thrown into some of the tomb sites (I'm liking this guy more and more) and states to our tour guide Dino, “Why do the Chinese people worship these cruel monsters? Why do they give their hard earned money to dead monsters who would have them beheaded just because they were bored?” This proves to fluster the sure footed Dino, who simply shakes his head and states, “They only do it for good luck.”

One thing that got my attention was the fact that once one of these bastards died, the Chinese people would take his concubine or “mistress” and bury her ALIVE with him. Holy smokes.

One last stop at the Friendship Store before out trip home. Before the Chinese government abolished the Foreign Exchange Certificate (FEC) system in 1995, foreign visitors to China had to use FEC for the purchase of anything important. The Friendship Store was then the major shopping venue for visitors; Chinese citizens were not even allowed inside. Everything is here, pottery, calligraphy, arts and crafts, jade, porcelain, cloisonné, lacquerware, silk, linen, paintings, carpets and kites. The prices are fixed and cannot be bargained down. Rumor has it that the store is a bit pricey and better prices can be had at shops along the various hutongs in Old Beijing.

I made a couple of simple buys here, a silk screened paddle fan and some cloisonné chopsticks. Cloisonné is an attractive, colorful enamel finish applied to many types of decorative ware such as lamps, vases, tables, tea cups and the like. It is produced by welding flattened wire on to a copper backing to form an outline. Enamel of different colors is then used to fill the outlined spaces with a range of rich shades. The Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) was the heyday of cloisonné ware, but it remains popular today, and much modern work is based on traditional designs.

Upon arrival home, I paid a taxi to drive me to McDonalds. A bit wasteful, but I didn’t feel like walking another step more than I had to today. After eating and watching a TV program I could not understand, I hit the sack at 7:20 p.m.