I write this while sitting in the dark at 2:30 a.m. I couldn't post earlier because I'm having issues with the converter, internet cable, and power.
(If you really don't care about my issues, and really, who does? Skip this paragraph. I would.) Here's the problem: The hotel gave me a patch cable (wire for Internet) that's only three feet long but the power near that outlet doesn't work with my converter. It's yet another type of plug I didn't bring. (I've counted three different plug types in this very room!) There's another power plug on the other side that fully charges my iBook with my power converter. If I plug in the power and then try to plug in to the Internet I'm just three inches short! What this all boils down to is that while connected to the Internet I have to run on battery. That's fine as far as it goes. But what further complicates this process is the fact that I can't recharge during the day because that would mean leaving the iBook in the room while I'm out. I wouldn't do that, I'm afraid it'll grow legs. When I got back to the room last night my iBook was still dead from the night before. So I had to recharge instead of posting. So here I sit at 2:30 with a pillow propped up against the iBook screen so I don't wake Ruth up. I'm hoping that reading over my post will cure my insomnia. I know it's worked for other people.
The highlight today has got to be the duck. Bill and Lynn treated us to dinner at Quanjude in the Wangfujing area. We gathered from several sources that this is the best duck in all of Beijing. The place itself is over 150 years old. (The building, not the duck.) The building is six stores high and absolutely grand inside and out. When we got to the table, Bill announced that he and Lynn were treating because tomorrow is our anniversary. Anniversary? Oh yeah, right, anniversary, of course. I realized right then that I totally forgot. I didn't even buy a card for Ruth. But I recovered nicely. I turned to her and said: "What greater anniversary present could I have given you than this trip to China?" I may not have used exactly those words. It may have been more like: "This trip is your present."
The place is decorated in ancient paintings, sculpture, large vases, and red and gold painted filigree. The servers wear long red embroidered robes. Bill ordered a bottle of China red wine that was very different than anything I'd ever tasted. After we ordered, the servers brought out small square multi-partitioned dishes with various condiments. Each of us had our own set laid out to the right of our main dish. As the duck is carved small pieces of meat, about one inch by two, are layered in a pattern on small plates and brought to the table. (By the way, each duck is numbered. Ours was 106653.) The server demonstrated placing two dipped pieces of meat onto a small leaf of lettuce laid onto a round pasta "pancake." After adding one of each condiment she folded three edges into themselves, leaving the top open. Next you pick it up and crunch away. I say crunch because the skin of the duck is crunchy while the other condiments (cucumber, garlic, pepper, and salt) add complementary taste and texture. Wow! Haochi! (good eats).
Earlier in the day we went to a farmer's market and bought Chinese tea. This market sprawled in every direction and it never ends. We were unable to visit or even walk by all the booths. There were just too many and the place was just too huge. Bill talked with several of the vendors and I took a few pictures while Lynn and Ruth spent our hard earned cash.
We also got a chance to visit with Bill's business associates in China. Great folks. They fly around the whole country looking at factories, interviewing owners of companies, and build contacts so as to provide products to export. They told us about one factory they visited that is great in every way except it's too small. It would be unable to keep up with the volume demand for their large customer.
The day started with a visit to SPR Cafe just around the corner from the hotel. It's very much modeled after Starbucks except they offer FREE wireless Internet access. (Starbucks ought to take a cue.) We sat and drank our coffee mochas and watched the Beijing traffic pass us by. We also observed a woman asking for money. Her daughter is in a wheelchair and between requests from passersby she'd reach into a bag and feed her daughter a little something. Ruth is determined to buy some food and give it to her the day we leave.
In contrast, while sitting in the lobby earlier today, we observed a business man check out. He strutted out the elevator like a peacock in heat, flinging his suit coat tails about and glugging his bottled water. He walked up to the counter and barked orders at the hotel check-out clerk. At one point he tossed his jacket onto the granite counter top, pushed the sleeves of his white turtle neck knitted shirt up his arms and told the clerk to throw his finished bottle away. He spit out the commands during his important cell phone call.
I guess these two extremes are the result of the changes occurring in China. New high rise buildings are displacing the hutongs. The poor people are being herded out to make room for the rich. I was told by "Dragon" (our driver from yesterday) that many of the new buildings are still unoccupied.
There is another thing I've observed about Beijing, everything is under construction. Everywhere I look there is a half finished sidewalk, a building just started, a storefront being remodeled. Thing is, nothing seems to be completed. It looks as if a bunch of workers were interrupted and left for another construction site. The walkway in farmer's market had huge stones laid out but no concrete between them. There was a large ditch nearby ready for more paver stones but no workers. Where are the workers?
There are so many things I just can't figure out. When we arrived in taxi to the farmer's market we were swarmed by ticket hawkers. I've learned to never buy from someone that approaches me. I looked for the ticket booth and finally found it after beating the hawkers away. The ticket into the park cost 5 yuan. One of them said: "Why did you buy one ticket for 5 when I could have given you two for 6?" This just seemed like bad math to me. Where's the profit? Later I saw men giving out similar tickets for free (of course I'm not sure if they were the same, I can't read them, they're in Chinese). Are these what the people are trying to sell me out front? Something they get for free? Then why the booth? I could never figure it out.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody. -Chinese proverb