Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake
jaylake

[travel] A bit more on Beijing day 1, the day to come

Yesterday we got ourselves organized, changed money, and met up with our guide at 9 am. Off to Tiananmen Square, a very long stroll through the Forbidden City, a Peking duck lunch, then a long afternoon at the Temple of Heaven, follow by a visit to a major market.

Tiananmen was crowded, but not necessarily by Chinese standards. Ditto the Forbidden City. I've visited all these locations before, but they were new to the_child, and it was fun to see them through her eyes. She and our guide are getting along famously, and are using their Chinese names with each other. We also had our pictures taken a lot with other people, other people's babies, and so forth, for good luck.

It was very windy at the Forbidden City, to the point where when I tried some shots with the long lens, the wind was tugging the camera out of true. They seem to have come out okay, though. Having a lot of problems uploading to Flickr from the hotel here, so photo essays may have to wait for my return to the American shore.

The Peking duck was at a local restaurant specializing in duck. We were the only tourists there, everybody else was local. That's usually a good sign. Like most Chinese buildings, it was underairconditioned to American sensibilities. The meal was good, though they used a bing sauce instead of the hoisin sauce to which I am accustomed. We had about six side dishes as well as duck soup.

That afternoon, the Temple of Heaven was interesting in some different ways. The Forbidden City is essentially a giant, luxurious hutong — those closed villages which used to be all over Beijing and are still present in some numbers. The Temple of Heaven is unmistakeably a ritual space, architecture aggressively dominated by ritual intent.

Interestingly, the most Chinese place we went (in a modern rather than historical sense of Chinese-ness) was the park around the temple. People there were playing instruments, singing classical Chinese music, dancing, playing cards, hackysack, and generally living their lives in public with a great and boisterous enthusiasm. That was more fun than anything, in the sense of plugging in to what people were genuinely doing with themselves.

Leaving the Temple of Heaven, we went to a major indoor market. Talk about your hard-sell. Massively overstimulating. By then we are all pretty tired from jet lag and walking some miles over marble and concrete. Fascinating, though. I picked up a few presents for people. Tried to buy some pearls for calendula_witch, but the pearl selling section was quite overwhelming and I went into vapor lock. I'll have to take another shot at that later in the trip.

After that we came back to the hotel, and promptly hooked up with AC to go to dinner at a Chinese "home cooking" restaurant. Mom and Dad were tired, so they didn't come, but the rest of went. We were seated in a private room upstairs, with a menu which was four inches wide and two feet long and unfolded like a fan. It would have been twelve or fifteen feet if we'd unfolded it complete. A combination of Beijing and Szechuan cuisine, and many dishes were sampled — sesame peanuts, green beans with pork, chicken with cashews, fried spare ribs, steamed lily flowers and celery, and more. Chinese food in China is so unlike Chinese food in the United States. A truism, but accurate.

I was thinking as I wandered through the back halls of the restaurant about how much of a foreign place is in the textures, both figurative and literal. The walls aren't finished the same way, the light switches look odd to me, the streets are paved and painted differently, the air doesn't smell the same, the food is different, the snatches of conversation overheard on the street are incomprehensible. This is obvious enough, and I grew up this way, so it's not mystery to me. Still, every time I immerse myself in this sort of experience I am reminded all over again.

As for the day to come, we're off to the Great Wall shortly. We're scheduled for the Summer Palace after, but we may ask for some down time instead, to do shopping and just relax. Tomorrow is things cultural, including an art exhibit, kite flying in a park, and an acrobatics show, then tomorrow night we take an overnight train from Beijing to Xi'an.

Photos when I can, and more updates as they unfold. A reminder: I can't respond to LJ comments from behind the Great Firewall of China, so while I see them in emailed updates, I can't reply til I get back to the United States.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: calendula, child, china, family, personal, travel
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