Tuesday, November 13, 2007

In China, 11/11 is More Complicated Than a Rorschach Test or: That Day I Walked a Lot

This past Sunday was a momentous occasion for three reasons that I can think of at the moment.

1. I Circumambulated the 2nd Ring Road.

Beijing is made up of a grid system (pretty much) overlaid by a series of concentric circles. The road surrounding the forbidden city is the first ring road. I live on the 3rd ring road. Deng deng. Anyhow, I wanted to understand the city better - I've been to a lot of places, but I'm wasn't quite so sure how it all fit together - so I decided to walk the ring. The first ring road is clearly for wimps, and the third would have taken me two days, but the second seemed just right. Four legs of 8 kilometers, plus a 5ish kilometer detour through the hutongs (where Steven Spielberg has recently bought a home) and a two hour break for lunch at American food mecca Steak and Eggs = an 8am to 6:30pm journey of awesomeness.

I brought along a couple of laoshis, including the history professor, so things were definitely a lot more interesting. They clearly had all sorts of tidbits to throw in. We started at Xizhimen and in true Buddhist fashion proceeded north so we would head in a clockwise direction. That meant that the hutongs were up first. At the first lake we were confronted with this sight:

No, those are not dead bodies in the bags. A couple of questions later, it turns out that this is a Buddhist group who buys fish from restaurants (where they're often swimming happily in their aquariums on full display 'till someone orders some dinner) and then free them into the lakes. I love the idea, but I do worry that those sorts of breeds may not be best fit for these lakes. After slipping through Houhai, we ended up at this gorgeous neighborhood where the aformentioned star (as well as some other big names, including Clinton - the Chinese LOVE him) own homes. This neighborhood was so cute that I'll be returning for lunch/the afternoon tomorrow. We also broke into an old hutong converted into a psychiatric hospital and poked around for about 15 minutes before being kicked out.

We hit the lama temple and cut a corner in order to check out a Buddhist nunnery. We weren't able to stay and poke around though, since a living buddha was about to start a lecture and the place was absolutely buzzing with the devout and with women in grey robes and shaved heads.

A quick southward jaunt through Western Chaoyang and past all the olympic monuments ended at the Russian district (always a throw off - all the signs are Russian, no Chinese in sight) and a glorious lunch. The head chef/manager of Steak and Eggs was the former head chef/manager of all the restaurants in Howard Johnsons of Canada. So this guy knows his North American fare, and pancakes, pie and rootbeer have never been more welcome than after a 25 kilometer journey.

For the last leg of our trip we traveled through the area that held host to the Boxer Rebellion. It was a completely different place. I could have sworn I wasn't in Beijing. The streets were quiet, tree lined, rich looking. It was nuts. The Catholic cathedral is here (Boxers, right?) and it's gorgeous. I'll have to try and make it for a mass before I leave Beijing (SO MUCH TO DO BEFORE I LEAVE!) We also walked past Wen Jiaobao's house. The place was immense, and beautiful and in that spectacular neighborhood, as is only appropriate, the man is a baller.

Just steps from Wen's place was Tiananmen. I NEVER would have guessed we would be coming up on it if my map hadn't told me so, because that neighborhood was just so incredibly different from anything else I've ever experienced in Beijing.

After Tiananmen there wasn't much new. I went back through the market area and calligraphy street that I visited earlier this semester, and there's not too much to say about Xierhuanlu. So, back to the list, shall we?


If you read my China Rage entry, you may recall a little note on paidui day. Paidui means "to line up." Paidui day is officially recognized on the 11th of every month, because the two one's in the number eleven look like two people standing up. On this day you're supposed to line up in an orderly fashion to board the bus, subway, etc etc. This clearly does not happen, because A. it's China, B. it's one cause of my China Rage, and C. most Chinese haven't even heard of paidui day, despite the little government official in the red sash who shows up on the 11th to regulate it.

Unfortunately, because I was trekking, I was unable to use the subway on Sunday, and try as I might I never walked by a bus line that was a line and not a violent mob. So I decided (much to my chagrin) to ask my fudao laoshi about it. The conversation went like this:

Me: Shangge zhuo mou shi yi ge jie ma? (Was last weekend a holiday?)
Fudao: DUI! Ni shi hen congming! (YES! You're so smart!)
Me: Qian sui! Shi le da paidui jie, dui bu dui? (HORAY! It was big line up day, right?)
Fudao: Ni shuo shenme? (I have no idea what you're talking about).

Leads to a hopeless explination in which I explain paidui day, and then explain my assumption that II/II would be a big paidui day, since there are 4 people in line. This, in turn, leads to list item #3

3. National Singles Day!

So it actually was a holiday here on Sunday, just not paidui day (apparently, although I'm still convinced it was, just my fudao didn't know). It was national singles day, which follows the same logic as paidui, II/II looks like a bunch of single people standing around with no significant others. You celebrate this day in three ways that I have learned:
1. Eating popsicles and other foods that look like the #1 (get your minds out of the gutter - this is entirely innocent).
2. Going out to dinner with your other single friends to revel in your singleness.
3. Going to singles parties to attempt to find another single to fall in love with in order to end your singleness. (I agree, 2 and 3 contradict, but don't you really want a popcicle now?

I think that's all for now. Hope everyone is doing well!


P.S. Today I used the post office successfully. That = cause for celebration. I think I'll go eat a popcicle.

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