Sunday, July 19, 2009

Day Two - BadaBing BadaLing

After American breakfast we take a 2 hour bus ride to the great wall. Am struck by how huge the wall is, much bigger and steeper than I imagined. Managed to climb to the top and can see for miles. The air quality is also much better outside the city and we see blue, clear skys. The wall is incredibly crowded, but mostly with Chinese tourists. It's interesting to not see many foreign tourists, and again our crew is a bit of an attraction with the locals.

At the gift shop we share celebratory beers and buy souvenirs as we wait for the group to reform. The bathrooms are entirely squat toilets and are not well maintained. Due to limited plumbing throughout China, paper is generally not flushed and is instead kept in baskets near the toilets. It stinks.

The great wall is technically still in Beijing and runs east to west across almost the entire country, beginning in inner Mongolia, which is not the same as Mongolia, the country – it is just a Chinese subset. The wall was built more than 2000 years ago, stretched 3000 miles (8800 kilometers) and is protected by the government. In certain satellite images it can be seen from space. The Chinese map is compared to a rooster. There have been 3 main capital cities in China – Xi'an about 2000 years, Beijing about 1000 years and Shanghai the last 200 years. Quote: Don't build your happiness on the suffering of others.

On the bus, Simon gives us some Beijing and China facts. Cantonese and Mandarin are written the same way but spoken differently and sometimes cannot be understood - interesting to have two languages under one country. Cantonese is mostly spoken in the south. East Beijing is considered the central business district, with modern high rise buildings. South Beijing is the modern development zone, where all the manufacturing facilities are. West is the financial district and North is the sports and education center including more than 100 colleges, universities and high schools, as well as the Olympic park.

At lunch we taste Chinese liquor for the first time – very strong, smelling like rubbing alcohol and served in little tiny cups. There is more forced shopping here, mostly for enamel pots that we are demonstrated. The process is quite time consuming, with little metal strips being hand applied before the enamel and the firing process.

On our way back to town we stop at the Olympic Park for a 20 minute walk around. The birds nest is truly an amazing piece of architecture and I'm glad we got the opportunity to see it. The Watercube looked like it was made of jello and I wish we had more time to go in. The crew is now lagging and we are getting goofy and cranky. We are taken to a tea house for a demo and more forced shopping – getting really irritated with the constant sales pitches. The tea was lovely.

Afterwards we take a rickshaw ride around Hu Yung and see the interior of a traditional quadrangle home. The home consists of four building centered around a common square – very neat design, would love to have one if it didn't rain so much in PDX! The home owner is very nice and talks with us a bit about life in the quad house. We learn that they do not have a bathroom, instead they use a public toilet / shower facility nearby. There is some running water for dishes, etc. The bars we pass on the rickshaw have sofas used as outdoor seating and we see hookah pipes – seems to be a very hip place to hang out. There is also a manmade lake with paddle boat rentals that seems picturesque. People are doing Tai Chi in the park.

At dinner we have some very interesting dishes, including a fish that is nearly black in color. After dinner we have a small amount of free time to explore near the Wafujing “BBQ Street.” There are rows of carts filled with all sorts of bizarre BBQ foods, such as snake, worms, sea horse, starfish, shark, dog, and a lot of penis and testicles. I try the snake – it's chewy like calamari and a little salty but not bad.

No comments: