(Ah, the weather in Urumqi upon arrival... the cool, the dry, the weather heaven to me! And this morning in Beijing, 90% green humidity, the fog so thick the taxi driver said the planes wouldn't fly! Llittle did he know! From Beijing to Urumqi was like travelling between hell and heaven!)
But the last two days in Beijing, however, packed with interesting experiences! I'm amazed at my life sometimes, the things that happened to me... somewhere between the smell of a gardenia, and the sight of a billowing cloud.
On Tuesday, when Stephanie and David were departing Beijing, David took Tom and I to lunch as 'repayment.' A nice gesture, as we paid his way back to Shanghai. And this wasn't any old place, but the most famous restaurant for 'roasted Beijing duck,' in all of Beijing! It's right off the shopping/walking street... Next door to a McDonald's!
Note! Advertising prevades every space in China! It's worse here than anywhere I've ever lived (note, Mao! Your effect had just the reverse!)! The 'McDonald's' name on the rubber slippers in my room at the 'Inner Mongolia' Hotel. Where will names appear next? They're already painting women's bodies with advertising!
The 'Amazing Roasted Beijing Duck Restaurant'... I wish I could think of the Chinese name... I have it in three Chinese characters (on two porcelan docks I bought as presents for Indy and Miss Hu in K-Town!). But, in Pinyin or English, I'll have to get for you! You'll want to go when you attend the Beijing Olympics (now only 730 days left until the Opening Ceremonies...).
This 'duck place' one of those Chinese 'eating palaces' I call them, with Mao and Henry Kissinger's photograph in the lobby. A veritable 'institution!' where every tourist comes to sample the famous duck before departing.
'Duck before deparing!' 'Mind your head!' it says in the subway!
In the restaurant we were ushered to the 4th floor by a pretty young Chinese woman whose red dress slit up to catch my attention! Later we found out why--why the 4th floor! We saw 'many 'lowie ' in the newly decorated dining room (very nicely done)!
David ordered the famous duck of course, and some other dishes. However, I wanted only 'chao mi fan' (fried rice). Not to be daunted the waiter said it would take some time to prepare, as not offered on the menu.
In contrast, the duck was quickly rolled up on a cart and carved by a smiling and properly dressed 'duck chef.' He offered a sample like a sommlier poured a glass of wine, this to test! I didn't!
Note: I used to love duck more than chicken, as it has a richer taste! But, now, I'm as strict as I can be with my macrobiotic diet (mostly rice).
I did enjoy the spinach, a staple vegetable easily gotten, as practically every Chinese restaurant offers such.
When my 'chao mi fan,' finally arrived it was but a tiny bowl, as if to say... No duck, no rice! But, with the spinach, and spiced tea it was enough for me. I'm always happy to under eat! The tea out of the famous long-spout tea pots popular in tourist restaurants in China.
When I asked about what I thought was 'tofu,' several quick warnings darted in my direction. 'No, no! not tofu! but meat!' Would you believe camel meat!
I was totally unprepared for such! What is camel meat doing in a famous duck restaurant? Camel meat, and why would David order? It brought back our trip to the Taklimakan Desert with Rucha, where we saw many camels, some domesticated, some wild! I quickly flashed on where was this 'camel' meat was from...?
David and Tom sampled it, but weren't impressed. David compared it to dried beef, but couldn't think of the name. 'Jerky,' I supplied. He quickly remembered.
David went to college in Oklahoma, some small school where they 'were very kind to him.' This must be where 'he got religion,' because he has used the word 'believer! ' This must be where he sampled 'jerky.' 'All believers eat jerky!' should be the bumper sticker!
The 'tab' for three people (without beer) 340RMB / $40 U.S. That's steep for China! The following day's lunch (Tom and I), near 'Inner Mongolia') was cost but 20RMB). Later we discovered found out why the tab was such at the 'duck restaurant'... The Chinese are very clever at charging 'lowei' (foreigners) more! Ask for to eat on the 3rd floor when you go there, lower in price!
When I wanted to buy my porcelan ducks (the chopstick holders as part of every place setting), our pretty slit-up-to-the-thigh red dress guided us up and down floors. Seems the two little ducks I wanted couldn't be found as not normally sold. But, our excursion paid off, as one was found in a case on one floor, and another in another case on another floor. This to the tune of 50RMB / $6 U.S., which probably has cost them .10 cents each! But, a gift is a gift, and I knew the girls in K-town would apprecate!
I took a photograph of David and Tom, with Mao and Henry, and we were off.
I had it in mind to acquire some IRS forms from the U.S. Embassy. But, upon calling, and actually getting a western-speaking human being, I found out that they hadn't been sent this year, and why didn't I download them from the site? So, yet another way, the U.S. Government is lining their pockets (another service they're not providing).
Governments, the scourge of modernity!
I had another task in mind while we were in the Beijing Hotel... Now, I forget what...? Of course, getting out of 'Dodge,' formost in my mind.
So, I steered the boys to Tianemmen Square, as David had never been. It wasn't but a short (maybe 1KM) walk along a very wide boulevard (the same one on TV in 1989, when the Chinese man stopped the tank--I'll never forget the pictures on TV). This wide boulevard splits the Square on the north ('bay'), the 'Forbidden City, ' and the expanse to the south ('nan') at the end of which is Mao's Tomb.
We walked along with millions of other tourists no doubt on vacation! I knew the throng had to be such as I remembered it was a Tuesday, not the weekend. When you don't have a 'regular job' you forget about these kinds of things. Also, in China... There are crowds everywhere and most of the time!
I took more photographs, the first of David and Tom, with Mao's gigantic 'headshot' over the entrance to the 'Forbidden City' (in the b.g.). Later Tom told me they change this every year. Mao remains 'fortiesh' looking forever!
Then under the boulevard to the openess of the 'Square' itself, and the 'Monument to the People's Heroes.'
There were thousands of tourists milling about and just about as many police! See the photographs, at www.cyclingpeace.org/gallery ('Shanghai and Beijing, July, August, 06').
As we walked I reminded the boys, 'that thousands have died right here where we walk!' To me Tianammen Square is a very sad place! Now, that blood-soaked concrete removed by the government, supports automobiles at a drive-in movie theater in Hunan Province! The owner said 'he got a good deal!'
It's so ironic, what's happened in China in the past thirty years! Because of such I always mention, to those who might understand, that if Mao was ressurected, he would see the massive work of all the 'Capitalist Roaders! China has become what he hated most! If he could only see and partake of 'Oriental Plaza' (massive apartment/hotel/mall complex) in Beijing he'd have a heart attack and die on the spot! There's even a Tiffany's!
I took some more photographs with the boys in front of various 'worker's' statues and we walked to the subway station.
And then on Wednesday...
Yali and Ricoe departed for their respective homes, Yali returning Thursday evening to join Tom for the train ride back to Shanghai.
In the meantime, we (mostly Tom) kept trying to book my railway ticket to Urumqi. We had been told this, and told that, that some tickets would be available at various times at various places!
Poor Tom! He's so loyal and responsible--the best 'assistant' I've every had! He ends up going here, and everywhere for me! At one point he went to the Railway station late at night (long subway ride), only to discover it's a miasma (like the air in Beijing). So, I wasn't sure what to do! I knew I didn't want to stay in Beijing any longer than possible. Then we heard they were selling train tickets for the 12th, Sunday. But, that turned out to be another rumor.
Then I got the idea I would fly, the fares something like 2400 RMB, compared to 6-800RMB via train (turned out to be 1K RMB), and I'm forever trying to save! But, I compared the two and found out flying was only 700RMB more expensive (considering two more nights in the Beijing hotel, etc.)!
So, Wednesday we spent buying my Air China ticket, and meeting with Jerry and Sharon. They had been suggested to contact by John of NBC: One American man with a TV background and his Chinese 'companion.'
Later I tried to explain to 'Tom,' that western 'couples,' aren't always married. 'De riguer' in China. But, the 'coupling' in China completely different!
The ticket agency first wanted to deliver my Air China ticket to our hotel, but I explained to Tom why better to go there. Additionally, it turned out to cost only 2200RMB / $250U.S.
Jerry called while we were on our way and we were to meet in Zoe's, near the Grand Hyatt Hotel inside the Oriental Plaza-- this at 3P.M.
Note, in just a few short days in Beijing I learned 'the lay of the land' so to speak. The first time in Beijing, last summer, with Subodh, Meera, and Nisha, it was all too confusing.
The travel agency turned out to be near Oriental Plaza, and on the 7th floor of the 'theater building.' This was more like a 'party,' than a travel agency, illustrating the difference between Chinese and American 'business.' Here there must have been 20 young people in one room. But, all went well and soon on to Zoe's. But, where?
Turned out it was apart of the Oriental Complex as Jerry had described. After asking in the Grand Hyatt, it wasn't long before we were there and ordering a 'Fat Burner' smoothie.
Jerry and Sharon live half the time in Jackson Heights, Queens, and half their time in Beijing. He a former NBC employee meeting her in Beijing. She's really the most interesting of the two (as women are to me), fluent in English, an artist, documentary filmmaker, and advertising agency worker (for 'dinero'). She has an interesting voice too... I could turn her into a voice-over talent!
They were helpful about doing business in China, and producing a TV series in particular. I learned much. We parted friends, and a vow to get together again next time we're in Beijing (early November for them). Although I doubt I'll ever go to Beijing again, and then only under protest! What a city, another example of 'distopeia,' the water in the hotel stinking (I didn't want to bath in it). How can so many millions of people live there (they just don't know any better).
'Oh, mama, can this really be the end, to be stuck inside of Beijing, with the Kashigar blues again?'
That evening Tom went off to meet a girl friend (they had met in Urumqi) and I packed.
Up at 0500, as the my flight departed at 0820 I was quickly ready to go. I let 'Tom' sleep until 0530 as planned, although his mobile (alarm) woke him up at 0520. Thus, we were out the door early, which turned out to be a good idea! We got a taxi 'right off the bat!' (Note, I wonder how Chinese people would translate that?. 'Right off the bat,' a baseball term, meaning quickly, as soon as the ball touches the bat! Here meaning, as soon as we walked to the street (a taxi stopped).)
I'm an 'early bird' anyway, but as I told 'Tom,' the first time at a new airport and in a 'foreign' country, get there early... You never know!
And was I right, and happy to be at the airport early! Gosh, at 0700 hours already thoussands of travellers pulling their little hardcases on wheels. (Note, someone made much money on that idea... Simple... Put wheels on luggage!)
From here on, and all the way to the hotel in Urumqi, a 'textbook,' trip. Every thing went perfectly well! I can feel both Mercury and Uranus relinquishing their 'grip!'
When the gate changed for CA 1293, I quickly noticed, and asked a uniformed woman at Gate A... 'Information,' was the only English word the attendant knew, but I knew what to do. On the way to the counter I spied the electronic board that told me 1293 was departing from gate 25G, not 'A.' They don't have enough gates at Beijing Airport for the number of flights so, you get on a bus, and are taken to where the aircraft is parked.
We were on the first bus, where a Chinese man offered me his seat. I declined and tried to explain, as he spoke some English. He was fascinated that I'd ridden 'Ms. Fiets' all over China!
This, offering me a seat, had happened to me several times on the subway, and now I believe the people in Beijing more polite than the people in Shanghai. This maybe the difference between the 'New York City' of China, and the 'Washington, D.C.?' In Shanghai this rarely happens (with 22 million. Beijing has a mere 15 million).
The aircraft turned out to be an Airbus 340, with four engines... I was wondering why such a large aircraft, but should have known. It turned out there wasn't a vacant seat of the 300 possible.
Everything is always full in China. I should remember this, always fantasizing, and hoping for fewer.
I was in 11K, a window seat, with only one to climb over. He turned out to be a Chinese man who works for the Chinese Government in Urumqi. Young and restless he devoured the big breakfast served. I abstained wanting to watch the Chinese movie 'S Tom ' had purchased entitled, 'Warm Spring!' This was a first for me watching a DVD on my MacBook, 7-miles above and 7-miles per minute over mother earth!
The take-roll took :40 seconds (I always time being a pilot myself), and thought so long because of the heavier weighed aircraft (with enough fuel for the four hours to Urumqi --and 300 passengers, baggage, and freight)!
While my Chinese companion enjoyed his breakfast, I was taken with my DVD movie, 'Warm Spring! ' The story about a sacrificing grandfather, who raises two orphans by working hard in the fields. The first an older son, married to a barren wife. The second a little girl who had run away from her village to escape beatings at the hands of foster parents.
The acting superb, an uplifting story that brought tears to my eyes! Certainly the kind of movie I'd make! The theme... Sacrificing overcomes all, bringing love! There can be no more uplifting theme! It's the story of 'Christ!'
While 'Hollywood' makes movies where 'violence is the solution,' China makes movies where 'Love is the solution!' What a difference! America can only decline and fail ultimately with this idea!
No problems obtaining my bags, and quickly put on a cart. Like I said earlier, a 'textbook trip!' from start to finish.
Even 'U Tom' was waiting at the Xiang You Hotel (next to the Railway Station)! I was surprised as I'd tried to call him on the way, but 'out of service.' I found out later that I had the wrong telephone number. 'U Tom' not quite as efficient as 'S Tom.'
He had bought me a train ticket to Kashigar for Monday (first opportunity). So, the first order of business was finding a hotel, this for longer than one day (as I had reserved at the Xiang You)--wasn't planning staying in U-town so long. The fare was 529RMB, so I promptly handed him 600RMB for his effort. He was suprised, saying not necessary.
I have to explain to (rural, un-westernized) Chinese all the time, that when they work for us, they get paid.
But, first lunch! I had my usual, 'Chao mi fan,' but 'U Tom' wouldn't eat, as Moslem. He said he wasn't sure about the Chinese restaurant. I offered to take us to a Uyghur restaurant, but he begged off as not being hungry.
We weren't sure what to do about finding another hotel, thus ensued two hours of calling ('S Tom' in Beijing), all our friends and relatives, and several hotels in U-town. Again, I was amazed, as all full, or expensive! I was again reminded this is vacation time, and 'the tourist season!'
Finally frustrated (getting desperate) I decided to take a taxi and investigate a new hotel we happened on to by chance when we were last here with Rucha (April 30th). Walking to hail a taxi, an older woman accosted us, bearing 'gifts!' Don't tell me I'm not blessed by the people on the street!
This woman knew a hotel that had a private room with hot-water bath for 100RMB. Quickly, the 'owner,' was there even paying for the taxi! It 'felt' right.
I knew the spirit had been guiding me to such when the room I'm in now has a painting of a 'Madonna.' 'Welcome' she has said, this half-naked lovely young woman (me)!
Now, the hotel isn't much, but 'out of the way,' and quiet. The bed is good, and I have everything I need, like privacy! Plus, I save money.
I had planned to join U Tom at 'English Corner,' this at 2000 hours (8P.M.). But, it struck me being back in Xinjiang. In Xinjiang they go by two different times: the Chinese are on Beijing Time (like me) and the Uyghur people on 'Xinjiang Time' two hours earlier.
I remembered that this 'English Corner,' is mostly Uyghur people, so I was confused. I was wondering if U Tom had given me the wrong time? Additionally, I had to walk all the way there (no Chinese directions for any taxi driver). So, I tried to call him. When you're not suppose to go, the spirit directs, and I didn't get U Tom, but some Chinese people who didn't understand and hung up (after I kept saying 'Tom?'). I had probably dialed the wrong number. The upshot... I ended up not going.
Later at 2000 U Tom called, wondering where I was. He was a bit upset, as I told him I'd repay him the money I had to 'borrow back' when the hotel wanted 600RMB for the total deal (short on cash I was going to the nearest ATM). I tried to explain we'd get together tomorrow (today), and not to worry. When he accused me of 'lying' I was miffed, tacken aback, but knowing they sometimes choose the wrong English words, didn't let it borther me!
'U Tom'... kind of a strange 'duck' anyway. But, I shall make amends with another 100RMB that he'll try to refuse. One moment they desperately need money, the next they're refusing it! What to do?
Such is life in China, such is life living in a different culture!
I was at the same time relieved, as I'd gotten up at 0500 in Beijing, after not sleeping much the prior night. So, the thought of not having to contend with the 'madding crowd' suddenly appealed!
I decided to try to get online. Unfortunately, something has happened to my China Unicom 'connection,' and I wasn't able from the hotel room. I'm hoping this is an easy 'fix!' But, there's always something with this hi-tech gear!
I called S Tom, as he was arriving at the Railway Station in Beijing, and told him to call the CU agent-people in Shanghai the next morning. Find out what they might know, and how to get working.
I spend the rest of the evening writing this, and drifting off early, the sound of the electric fan-- music to my ear!
happily in Urumqi