November 16, 2013: We got to Beijing late Thursday afternoon, and it started with a bang! Right out of the gate, my sister had a throw-down with the taxi driver. He saw a couple of American women and saw opportunity. My sister saw a taxi driver who was trying to take advantage. He lost. But not before we threatened to get out on the exit, and had the airport authorities over for a visit. My sister, pointing at his meter saying, “Meter! Meter! We’ll get out if you don’t charge according to the meter!” He responded by yelling at me in Chinese, showing me his cell phone, and pointing at my suitcase, which was sitting on the seat next to him. (He wouldn’t talk to my sis.) Dude. No matter how loud you yell at me in Chinese, I’m still not gonna understand a word you’re saying. Exhilarating way to start this leg of the journey. All I can say is my sister is bad ass.
We were in the lobby getting ready to check in when my sister got a call from her good friend in Beijing. Her water had just broken (a month early), and her husband was still in the states. We met another friend of hers, and they went to the hospital and acted as last-minute, surrogate coaches. I stayed at the hotel, ordered room service, and watched the whole first season of Breaking Bad. I think I had the more relaxing evening.
Friday was a lot less contentious, but very eventful. We had a guide that drove us to the Temple of Heaven, which was really interesting. It is in the middle of a park, and there were hundreds of Chinese folks that gather for a variety of activities. The Chinese are very communal, and they congregate at the park to sing patriotic songs (loyalty to the communist party), take dance lessons, play cards, dominos, and exercise. The Temple itself was beautiful, and is constructed without nails or glue. Everything has meaning … the number of steps, the tablet in the center, everything. We went from there to a jade factory, then on to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Our guide, Patrick, was fascinating to talk to, and we named our driver, Mr. Yan, “Mario”. He was a maniac. Susan preferred to avert her eyes, but my tendency for carsickness had me watching the road the whole way. You truly take your life in your own (driver’s) hands on those winding, mountain roads. Near miss after near miss, yet I’m here in Seoul to tell the tale. And the Great Wall is … epic. How this was accomplished, at the time it was accomplished, defies explanation.
We headed back to the Olympic Village, saw the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, then headed off for an authentic Chinese banquet. My sister, who had traveled extensively to Beijing, is changing jobs, so it was a farewell in her honor. It was absolutely fascinating, and extraordinarily meaningful. So much ritual and ceremony. And, boy, can those Chinese drink! There is toast after toast of this alcohol called baijieu. (52% alcohol content … yikes!) And it’s considered rude to pass on a toast. From there, it was on to another favorite Chinese pastime … karaoke. You get a room of your own, where you dance and sing with your own group. With all of the toasting, I’m afraid I sang. This is not my gift. I did, however, perfect my patented Jackie Chan dance move. At the end of the night, I told a woman in our group that she had a beautiful voice. She said to me, in her heavily-accented English, “and you have a beautiful dance.” This was one of the most glorious moments of my life. I was born lacking the rhythm gene, so even if she was only being gracious, I know this was likely the one and only time I will hear these words.
Yesterday, the winds blew in and cleared the polluted skies. (Beijing is not conducive to asthma.) The weather gods were smiling on us the whole trip … we had one rain squall in Bangkok that lasted about an hour. Other than that, we were under beautiful skies, warm air, and tolerable humidity. We visited the new baby, shopped at the Silk Street Market, had dinner, and now … homeward bound!
I am so grateful to live in the United States. In China, if you are wealthy, you can enter a lottery to win the right to buy a car. You can drive every other day, depending on your license plate number. You must fill out paperwork to request permission to move to another city. People wear masks in the city because of the quality of the air. We, on the other hand, have western toilets. And Charmin …