Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Beijing Redux

We just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Beijing. As I write that sentence I feel silly for using such a cliche but I honestly can’t think of a better way to explain it. The last time we went, we took an eleven hour train ride overnight, stayed three nights, and took the same long train home. This time, we flew out of Hohhot—a scant hour flight—to Beijing, stayed only two nights, and flew back home late Sunday night. I guess it was sort of a “jetsetters” weekend, without all the obligatory socializing, lights, glamour, the kind of things you see in magazines. Anyway, we knew in planning this weekend that we wouldn’t get another shot at Beijing, as time is suddenly starting to compress at an alarmingly fast rate. [In fact, today marks our 106th day in China—the exact halfway point before we come home. In 106 days we’ll be taking that same flight from Hohhot to Beijing and we’ll continue on to home. It’s hard to believe.]

Before I start up with pictures and the whole story of our weekend, I have to officially set the record straight about something that has been haunting us since we arrived in China. I think that when we touched down in Beijing on August 1 we landed on probably the worst possible day ever at the airport. Days of rain had created massive delays and cancellations, the airport was packed with tired, harassed, and confused passengers and probably just as many airport employees in the same condition, and we were in a trebly horrible situation: 1) we had just flown for eleven hours and had lost an entire day as far as the calendar was concerned—we were dead tired, in other words; 2) we couldn’t speak a word of Chinese—not that we’re so fluent now, either; 3) we didn’t have boarding passes for our flight to Hohhot from Beijing. In retrospect, I see that there is no way the experience could have been anything other than terribly scary, trying, and generally traumatic for all of us. With this in mind, I have to publicly admit that the Beijing Capital airport is a wonderful place, a lot of people actually do speak English, and for as many people who flow through there, it operates in a remarkably smooth fashion. We are very glad that we ended up flying—we got there and back quickly and we quashed our residual fears of flying in China. Good thing, as we are flying to Xi’an and Shanghai in January.

We stayed at the same ridiculously expensive hotel as before, since the kids seem to think there is nowhere better to stay and frankly, Dave and I are a little attached to those Frenchie breakfasts and evening snacks. The kids swam everyday, I lounged in an armchair on the 17th floor, overlooking Wangfujing Ave. and the Forbidden City, and we ran ourselves crazy visiting every last thing we wanted to see: the Lama Temple, San Li Tun (the hipster youngster stay-out-late-at-night neighborhood near all the embassies), the Summer Palace, Starbucks, and once again the foreign language bookstore. We lamely splurged on western food everywhere we went with the exception of the most incredible baozi in the world, just across the street from the Lama Temple, drank coffee, rode bikes, and did rock climbing. All in all, it was a very satisfactory visit and we are content with our Beijing experiences.

Yes, Harry Potter is a big deal here, too. Samuel came away from the Beijing Foreign Language Bookstore with another Tintin collection, Grace got a book of pony stories, and I got Bleak House by Dickens (it should last quite a while, right?). And what did Dave get? A gigantic coffee mug from Starbucks across the street.

This is the baozi restaurant near the Lama Temple. Baozi are steamed buns filled with vegetables, eggs, or meat--and sometimes all three together.

Inside the Lama Temple complex. You can't burn incense inside any of the rooms where the buddhas are, so people light their incense from huge tubs of fire and make their offerings outside. As you can see, even in the temple, cell phones are popular.

In one of the alleyways at the Lama Temple.

One of the many gift shops at the Lama Temple. Commerce and consumption are alive and well even at the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside Tibet.

The key broke off in the lock on one of our rented bikes--many people came to our rescue but ultimately it was the lady in blue on the right who took us and the bike to a nearby hutong where the bike repair guy cut the lock off and put a brand new one on for us. Everyone was really nice and I even had a "conversation" with the lady in my pathetic Chinese.

On the corner of San Li Tun. No, we didn't do any of the cosmopolitan hanging out that this neighborhood is known for, but we did check it out--the construction going on in this area of town is just phenomenal.

This is the view from the 17th floor of the Novotel Hotel. Just beyond the cranes in the background you can see the low red roofs of the Forbidden City.

At the Summer Palace, in front of Kunming Lake. The Empress Dowager Cixi built up and renovated what was traditional a summer retreat for the emperors.

This is taken behind the big building you can see in the background of the picture just above. There are rocks and tunnels everywhere--the kids climbed and jumped and explored and pretty much didn't want to leave.

The kids are now in back (and on top of more rocks) of the Tower of Buddha Fragrance, the big building in the first picture of the Summer Palace. The whole complex is gigantic and surrounds Kunming Lake. There are buildings for contemplating nature and long covered walkways for strolling around in the shade.

The marble boat that Empress Cixi built using funds that were earmarked for building up the Chinese navy in the late 19th century.

A boat trip across Kunming Lake.

1 comment:

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