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A Meeting in Beijing

From Danba, we were headed to Chengdu, the provincial capital. We had been there over a year ago and were eager to spend a night or two in one of the city's awesome and inexpensive hostels. We had been in China less than three weeks, and had already spent over 100 hours in trains and buses (mostly buses). We still had most of the country to cross and we had three days to do it, that's when my (Emilie's) father was landing in Beijing. After a ten hour bus ride from Danba to Chengdu we hopped in a taxi to the train station, hoping to book tickets for the 26 hour train ride to the capital. I got into the line, so confident that I still had my phrasebook tucked into away in my bag, I knew how to say the only three words I needed: Beijing, tomorrow and after tomorrow. I also understood the Chinese "meiyou" which means "don't have", the ticket lady repeated it lots of times for me. We had prepared ourselves for the ride in hard seats or worse even, standing. We couldn't let my dad loose on Beijing without us. As we held up the line, the ticket lady furiously typed away at her computer, trying the various train numbers, until she found us two upper bunks on the two night, 33-hour train, leaving that night around midnight. So much for our rest in Chengdu, but hooray for saving the price of two night's accommodation in Beijing.

A year ago, a 33 hour train ride would have seemed nightmarish, but Chinese trains have become one of Yann's favourite sleeping venues and I have also grown to find them cozy and relaxing. Yann spend alot of the ride talking with an English- speaking, extremely likeable bunk mate, an engineer living in Beijing. Although open-minded, we had to wince when he made statements such as "No Han Chinese is racist" and the "Uyghurs kill innocent Han women and children" (Uyghurs are the natives of Xinjiang Province and are mostly Muslims, a violent separatist uprising in the 90's (three buses blown up in Urumqi) was successfully quashed by the government with thousands of suspected terrorists/separatists executed or disappearing). I hid from controversy behind my pair of earphones, but Yann seemed to do a good job of challenging his beliefs.

We had two days in Beijing before my dad was arriving. We tracked down a great Chinese hotel with a triple room for under 20$, we were staying at a popular but crowded hostel nearby, in a thirteen bed dorm room for almost the same price. The hotel had all the features we were looking for in a welcome room; tacky decor, dirty shared bathrooms, loud mostly male Chinese patrons, rooms smelling of stale cigarette smoke... Unfortunately, the morning we attempted to check-in, they would only sell us the expensive deluxe suite, so we moved down the street to the slightly more expensive, recently opened youth hostel, set in a lovely old courtyard home, ten minutes away from Tianan'men Square. My dad's plane arrived on time, actually early but by the time he collected his (impressively small) backpack and we caught the shuttle bus back to central Beijing, it was already dinner time. Feeling that my dad might be tired, we though we would make it easy and have dinner nearby at a small restaurant, where Yann and I had been eating most of our meals since our arrival in Beijing. Apparently, our opinion as to what constitutes a great restaurant has been slighly skewed from months on the road. As we ploughed through the gongbao chicken and Chinese cabbage my dad sat perplexed, barely touching his white rice. The grimy surrounding and oil soaked food remained imperceptible to us as I proudly proclaimed that we had bargained the price of the chicken down to 8 yuan (1$). Thank god for the bottle of wine from the duty free shop.

Breakfast was more successful; the pork dumplings were more palatable and my dad even ordered a second tray, although he preferred dipping them in soya sauce than the Northern traditional vinegar.

Yann and I had been unable to secure earlier train tickets wo we had to fill one and a half days in Beijing before we set off. We decided that we would hit the Great Wall if the skies were clear. The Great Wall is known to be a little bit of a tourist zoo, we chose to go to the second busiest section of the wall near Beijing. We visited on a Monday, the sky was blue and the wall was nearly empty. We were actually able to get photos of the wall without a single person on it. My dad had managed to bring clear skies and get rid of the tourists at the Great Wall, two things we thought to be pretty much impossible.
We filled our second day in Beijing with a visit to the Temple of Heaven, one of the city's most well-known landmarks. We weren't so lucky with the crowds this time, the place was overflowing with tourists. The temple is lovely, but frankly it doesn't quite measure up to the neon-lit topiary version on Tianan'men Square. Yann and my dad's favourite feature of the temple was the old cypress tree with a boob-resembling knot in it. "Here on our right we have the UNESCO Heritage sight, symbol of Beijing, largest imperial worshiping altar in the world"..."but look at that tree! It has boobs!".

2 comments:

Jean said...

Allright Em. I actually used vinegar for three days before "discovering" soya sauce

mom said...

That would be the first time in his life that your father willingly tasted vinegar.