Since we were unable to visit Tiana'man Square yesterday due to the beginning of the Asian-European Summit starting here in Beijing, we drove by it this morning on the way to the airport. We had only about 40 minutes to walk along the side of the square, basically for a photo op. Here I am with Chariman Mao hanging over my head, well on the wall of the building in the background to the right of me:
As I reflect on my time in Beijing as I depart these things come to mind:
- I never saw the crowding that I expected to, as almost everyone I talked to before coming who had been to China talked about. I expected always to see people walking shoulder-to-shoulder in the streets, but this was never the case. The only places that were what I'd even call crowded, were the toursist spots, which is no different than in the States. Perhaps it'll be different in Guilin or Shanghai.
- And that made me wonder about when people say things sometimes just to let you know they've been to a place, which then made me wonder about what I would say when and if I wanted to make the point, "Oh, I've been to China," in the future. Though, I really try not to do that, it's quite difficult to resist especially if it sounds like the other person is just mentioning their anecdote to let you know they've been somewhere. It's a good exercise, however, in not making their story be about you.
- Pedestrians absolutely do not have the right-of-way in Beijing, and that may be in all of China. And it might be rooted in possible arrogance of those who have cars. Car drivers have to pay up to $5,000 (a one-time charge) to get a license plate in Beijing. This can be almost 50% of the price of the car!
- I was struck not by the number of cyclists in the city, and not even by the number of three-wheeled cycles, but by the variation in payload on these tricycles. I saw them hauling: jugs of water, pile-upon-pile of multipack toilet paper rolls, tools, street-cleaning tools, and even people. Here's a couple of shots of some:
- The providing of condoms in the bathrooms of a 5-star hotel room is an interesting juxtaposition. They're festive boxes, I'll give them that. Perhaps this is related to the limit on births in the country. That and other interesting cultural things in the room:
- The day before yesterday, I asked our local guide about whether there was a gay bar nearby, and I was surprised by several things in his response: (1) He didn't bat an eyelash about the question. (2) He thought that the Coco Banana (gotta love that name) near our hotel was gay, or at least a bi place, so called a friend of his to make sure. The friend said that it wasn't, but that there was a gay bar right across the street from it called Destination. (3) That our guide didn't give any indication that it might be unsafe or that I should be careful going there, and (4) That the bar was only about two blocks from our 5-star hotel. Gay bars are notoriously in bad parts of towns and cities.
- A blurb in a Beijing paper said, "The presidential race may be close in America, but in China, Barack Obama enjoys a significant lead over John McCain75% to 25%."
As we approached the airport Shawn collected our passports to do a group check-in for us. I asked him if the toilets on the plane were going to be "Chinese-style" or "Western-style."
While we were waiting for Shawn to check us in, I asked Linda if the foot massage thing had ever been settled, and she said as far as she knew it was still on and it was going to be easy to bow out without a problem.
At the gate, we had only about a 20-minute wait, and I sat on the floor in front of a plug and plugged in my laptop while I used it. My adapter wouldn't fit in the socket, but the plug on my regular power cord did, so I used that. After about 10 minutes, my battery had gone from 95% down to 89% and I noticed that the power indicator was green, not yellow, which means that it's running off the battery.
Our flight was fairly uneventful. I sat between Sherry and Paulaobviously it's my trip for middle seats. We had a spurt of conversation about Sarah Palin and her inanity, though it was mostly between Paula and Sherry.
We had a nice enough meal on the three-hour flightat least you still get meals on intra-China flights. A small, hot tray container held rice and some beef and vegetables. I think it was beef any way. The container was accompanied by a box, which contained a roll, a most delightful mixture of some vegetables and ham, and some dried cherries, which tasted more like raisins, for dessert.
I picked the ham out of the ham and vegetable medley and put it on my roll for a little ham sandwich. I was jonesing for some mayonnaise, but it didn't happen.
The three hours just flew by. Badabump. Bump. We're here through Halloween, folks.
It was quite warm in the airport, and after receiving our bags, we received tags to put on our big bags, which were carried directly to our rooms from the bus.
All of our rooms were in the same area, and there were about four of us in the hallway sticking our keys in the door only to find them not activated. Linda got on a house phone in the hallway, and as she connected, I flipped the key upside down and tried and it worked. As did all of them. We Americans are so set in our ways. Gotta think outside the (locked) box, sometimes.
As soon as I got in the room, I saw a card that said that there was free wireless Internet in the lobby area, and free wireless in the rooms "for our Club Level members." I immediately took my Starwood Gold Card down to the lobby, and after being an obviously appreciated customer, I was offered a nice, decorative tin of tea, and promptly moved to a room up on the Club Level.
The first thing I did was connect to the Internet, and wade through about 150 e-mails, looking for anything important. We only had about an hour before having to be in the lobby for dinner, and I spent the entirety of that time online. I wrote Robert a quick e-mail telling him how much I've missed him, and that I'd be on AIM in a couple of hours after returning from the restaurant.
Dinner was, let me see, oh yeah, Chinese food. A plethora of dishes, all served family style from a huge lazy Susan. Beer for drinks. The highlight of this meal for me was the fried bananas, which were a first for these lunches and dinners we've been having, and which I love.
We had the most delightful 10- to 15-minute walk back to the hotel. This city is just beautiful, so luch and green, full of natural wonder, and open. It's a nice break after the big city of Beijing, and from which Shanghai will be more of the same.
I stopped in a shop and found a bottle that I earmarked for my collection. I was thinkiing I would rather get it in Shanghai, but will at least wait until tomorrow night, our last night here, to buy it here if I do. Debbie Davy bought one. It was 280 Yuan, which is about $45 with the 6.2 to 1 exchange rate.
We passed some people doing exercise by the river, complete with a leader up front with one of those microphones on her head like tour guides use.
Back at the hotel, I was the Internet whore that I am at home and spent nearly four hours online. I had the most wonderful instant message conversation with Robert, and shared a couple of pictures with him, one of which he forwarded on to his mother, who loved it so much she made it her computer wallpaper. I told Robert that that touched me, and that touched him. Bless our messes.
I uploaded the pictures that I want posted to my blog to my personal web space, and then sent an e-mail to Kevin Myers attaching text files of my blog entries for the first four days of my trip, asking him if he'd be kind enough to post them on LiveJournal for me, since I can't access it.
I got to bed at somewhere around 1:00 or 1:30.