Ni hao! We arrived in Beijing on Thursday, September 6 after a pretty grueling 24 hours of travel via San Francisco and Tokyo (thanks Sue and Randy!) and found a small, comfortable hotel in a very un-touristy part of Central Beijing.
We've really enjoyed Beijing: the weather has been warm but not uncomfortably so, the people friendly despite the language barrier, and the sights very interesting. It's a huge city of 13 million people. The streets are very wide, sometimes 8 lanes across, and I can guarantee that if you have never been to China, you have never seen this many bicycles -- 10 million in Beijing alone. We've seen the Forbidden City, home to China's emporers, Tiananmen square (eerie -- lots of and lots of people and police but NOTHING going on!!), Mao's tomb (full of much "Mao-morabilia"), the Great Wall of China (who knew it was built on mountain ridges??? No place for an agoraphobe!!) the Ming tombs, a Chinese acrobatic show and a couple of markets. Bargaining is de rigueur for everything but it is pretty good-natured.
Adrian and Robin are learning the fine art of negotiation and their cuteness seems to work for them. We are surprised at how novel we are; the boys are fussed over constantly and we are always the most interesting thing that has happened that day at whatever restaurant we choose to eat at! Dan has done an outstanding job of learning both spoken Mandarin and the written characters and has been able to negotiate extremely well on our behalf.
We're staying in a small hotel located on a small road off a major street in Central Beijing. Even though it is licensed to accept foreign guests (we can't stay in just any hotel, it has to be licensed for us), we seem to be very interesting and unusual to them. The street we are staying on is like a Chinese version of 10th Avenue, Vancouver -- across from the hotel is the steamed bun and fresh noodle shop. Beside them is the butcher, complete with several full sides of pork hanging on display. Then there are several full vegetable stands with long beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and every other kind of fresh veggie you can think of. Further down are the fruit-sellers with peaches, apples, grapes, apple-pears and rock-hard kiwis the size of a baseball. There are restaurants, everything from braziers cooking skewers on the side of the road to full-scale restaurants complete with karaoke. There's the local version of "Safeway" which carries pretty much everything else in about the space of one real Safeway aisle. And to top if all off, there is a small coal briquet making factory down the street which takes some kind of powdered coal stuff and molds it into briquets that look like hockey pucks on steroids. The traffic isn't quite as orderly as 10th Avenue as regular bicycles jockey for space with full-sized cars, and every kind of bicycle-variant you can imagine -- bicyles with a mini-truck bed behind, bicycles with carts, bicycles with a side-car, bicycles with a backward facing seat, bicycles with a canopy on top --- you name it, they make it. Pedestrians need to be alert and on their toes as bikes don't stop for people and cars don't stop for bikes. Having said that, traffic is pretty good and people more or less obey traffic lights, etc......more or less.
We'll be in Beijing for a few more days and then will head south to Shandong province to climb Tai Shan, a holy Buddhist mountain and visit Qufu, home of Confucious. I'm sure we'll have a few pithy things to say after that!
Thanks for the emails we have gotten so far......we miss you all but we're having a pretty good time so far!
Bye for now
Faye, Dan, Adrian and Robin