Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Beijing Redux Con Familia

Last week I had my first experience at the Hongqiao Airport. Far superior to Pudong! It's just as shiny, but has so many more food options! If I could count the number of times I've almost starved to death while hanging out at Pudong... (actually, I can - about three. Since I'm a huge cheapskate and almost always take the train or overnight bus. Actually, on that point, perhaps only the Pudong International terminal is dismal).

Anyway, the subway station still smelled new, and the whole experience was bright and shiny. Even the internet was better than Pudong. The only sad part was that I kept getting redirected from the economy class check in to the first class check in where I would be time after time rejected as I'm clearly not a first class passenger. Tedious. Do I look like I have a gold card with my keens and frame pack?

I was on my way to Beijing to meet the family. Mom, Dad and Clayton have finally made the trek to China after numerous passive-aggressive comments about my friends' parents coming over the past few years. The first day we didn't do much beyond eat noodles and then the jet lagged ones passed out while I read for a thousand years. On Thursday we first went to see wax/dead Mao. First Beijing thing that's changed: I forgot a lot of stuff. Second BJ difference: my accent is so understated and Shanghaiesque now. Third BJ difference: so much security! It was crazy. Before, anyone and their sidewalk-pooping child could just wander into Tiananmen whenever they wanted. Now we had to shove our way through a culture-shock inducing mass to be patted down and metal detected. Odd.

Welcome to China, culture-shocked family!:

On to Mao, who has no interest in seeing your handbags, cellphones and other superfluous capitalist items. He is, however, interested in you not leaving your wallet behind. After designating someone to guard your personal belongings, you go through MORE metal detectors! How many death threats does this dead guy get? Then you are given the opportunity to buy 3 kuai flowers which you drop off approximately 45 seconds later in front of a statue. Not even the dead guy. I'm 99% sure these flowers are simply returned to the shop another 45 seconds later to restart the cycle. Such is the life-cycle of mayflies and Mao flowers.

Then, of course, the main event. Mao. Is he real or wax? Will the guards smile? What will happen if I stop moving? Why is he covered in a hammer and sickle and not a Chinese flag? And the most important question of them all: which capitalist communist tsotchke should I buy at the gift shop to commemorate the event?

Next up, the Forbidden City, despite gale force winds (which, while unpleasant, did blow the smog away). Less scaffolding, more red paint than last time.

Got into a chatty jokester of a cab and took my family to the Chinese delicacy that is Hutong Pizza for lunch. Place is the same deliciousness. I impressed myself, and my cabby, by remembering how to get there. My talents are never-ending. Just down the hutong though is the lamentably empty space where Jaime's bar used to be. A moment of silence was had.

After lunch we went to the Kung Fu Show. Pretty shocking that there aren't any competing kung fu performances. It was good, although a it cheesy at times and could have easily done without the ballet bits. But, it's really hard to make kung fu not exciting. It made me miss Xiao Xie who was, (for the record), way more awesome at the majority of the tricks. Especially leopard impressions and random backflips. I was also excited to see the stuff he had taught me featured several times throughout the performance.

Friday morning we woke up nice and early for some Great Wall action. I let my dad be laowai and convince me to book a private car, but forced myself to speak Chinese with the driver the whole 2 hours to Jinshanling to prove I wasn't as laowai as he. We did the Jinshanling to Simatai hike. Still strenuous, but much better weather than last time. Of course the views are to die for. The zipline was way hao wanr again and I manned up and took a video this time. It was disappointing not to spend the night this time around.

Me on the wall. Family pics all on dad's camera:

Wall being awesome:

Pretty sure this wasn't there last time:

Clayton Ziplining:

We had lunch near Simatai. Since it was good Friday, I ordered fish for Ma and Pa. To their credit, they handled the presentation very well, and uncomplainingly picked around bones, eyes, scales etc. However, i do wish I had a photo of the perfectly wonderful toilet my parents resolutely declared to be the "worst bathroom in all of China." Excuse you, but the Flaming Staircase of Death takes that award, although I can't fathom how it didn't make it into that blog post. It was that awful I guess.

We took a short detour to the Olympic stadium on the way back, which was exciting for my pre-Olympic Beijing self.

On Saturday we slept in a but and then went to the hutongs south of Tiananmen for shopping and lunch. Mom needed silk, clearly. Switzerland has doubtless ruined my parent's perception of a good deal. Then we took the subway up to the drum tower. Parents needed coffee. Luckily the drum tower neighborhood is super posh and full of fancy places capable of getting him an espresso. After momentarily considering taking them to Bed, we went to Desserts Cafe because they have that adorable rooftop seating with bell/drum tower and coal hill views.

View from Desserts Cafe:

We probably shouldn't have stopped for coffee because we got to the tower 5 minutes before closing, not enough time to get a ticket and tour. However, like I said, it's a posh neighborhood. We walked down Gulou Dajie to Nanluo Guxiang hutong and window shopped. At one point we found a schoolyard that had forgotten to lock the gates, and Clayton and I played basketball until we got kicked out (Guard: "You two are white. And CLEARLY not students her). I took the fam to Plastered and made sure Clayton got an Obamao shirt.

Next we caught a cab to Beiwai because I wanted to have dinner at The Golden Peacock. We walked though East campus a bit, although not West (too bad!). I was pleased to see that Minzu Daxue Lu remained much the same. My favorite yogurt place was gone, but the dumpling house was still there, and the zhou place. I got nervous about Golden Peacock (I had heard sad rumours!) but it still stands! Tacky signs, long waits and all. 2 hours of potato balls, pinapple rice, deep fried bananas, Dai Jia rice wine, and gads of other deliciousness later, we headed for the hotel.

Nom nom:

I spent the remainder of the evening making awkward friends with old dudes and bar managers via phone trying to find a place for dad to watch MSU in the final four at 6 AM Easter morning. Future note college ball people: Irish Volunteers was a success.

Sunday we went to the Temple of Heaven. Beijing has a 15.5 million population. On this holiday weekend, at least 10 million of them were in the Temple of Heaven. But who should I run into? Hanna and Barbara! Madness! I didn't even know they were in Beijing. Much better pollution conditions than last time I went. Tiantan with a blue backdrop!

Sunday we also went to Wangfujing for tacky tourist shopping, Beijing duck, and scorpions and seahorses on a stick. Because that's what you do in Beijing with tourists.

We took the train Sunday night from Beijing to Shanghai. My first time in 1st class! and my parents' first time sleeping on a train. Minimal culture shock for them, massive luxuriating for me. Soft sleeper is still not worth twice the price of hard sleeper, but I was impressed by the temperature control, individual tvs, and complimentary slippers! Good job, train D313.

Posts about our Shanghai adventures are upcoming.

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