Thursday, April 9, 2009

Summer in Beijing

It hit me over Wisconsin. The suburbs of Milwaukee subsided into brown fields tinged with snow and scrolling under the gleaming white wing of the plane was the coastline of Lake Michigan.
I have gone 51 miles.
There are six-and-a-half thousand more to go.
Breaking up a trip like that is an exercise in entertainment rationing. Anything that is even remotely interesting has to be spread out. Anything. Podcast? Spread it out. The mini-pretzels that came with lunch? Eat one every twelve minutes so you can make the whole package last, let's! You can make a package of mini pretzels last for over an hour. That's 500 miles.
But Beijing came sooner that I imagined once we left the pack ice of the Bearing Strait and came in over the snowy mountains of Eastern Siberia.
The clouds even parted at precisely the right moment for me to catch the iconic looping lines of the Great Wall.
We were met by Eric, our tour guide for tomorrow. Tracey found him amid the sea of men and women holding little signs saying things like "Welcome Dr Andersen" and "Lotus Tours." Eric's English is perfect and he told us how to recognize counterfeit bills in China. The trick is that you can't. He agreed. "Just look out," he said enthusiastically from the front seat of the cab.
But Tracey and I were on our own, tonight. Dinner was, I think, on Tracey's mind. Eric had recommended a place with a blue walrus in front. He did some hand motions but it seemed like you just went right and then right again.
We kept walking and walking down a beautiful avenue with a park running down the middle. We consulted the map several times. And we kept walking.
We never found the restaurant but we did stumble across the flag changing ceremony in front of Mao's portrait near the gates to the Forbidden City. There were throngs of people; young, old, tourists, families with small and exhausted children wailing on their laps. We waited patiently in this crowd for a while both getting hungrier all the time. Then we tried waiting impatiently and that seemed to do the trick as several files of soldiers appeared, white-gloved, and arms swinging and goose stepping with moderate enthusiasm toward a flagpole flying the flag of the People's Republic.
Well, that was pretty much that, we figured, because the flag came down, the traffic roared to life on the wide road, and everyone started heading home.
Time to eat.
We found a nice place and threw ourselves at the mercy of the one waitress who could speak English. She gave us the house special which basically translated to 'good-smelling bowl of spicy fish' served in what appeared to be one of Lucy's old dog bowls. It was nothing short of delicious albeit bony. It would have served a family of seven.
Had a nice beer, too.
Off to bed.

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