Dave's Sketch Journal

Drawing is taking a line for a walk. - Paul Klee

Summer Palace

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I always have a hard time the first night away from home. I slept about four hours. I read River Town while Ruth slept away the night. Light finally came at 6:00 a.m. and we got going.

Our first stop was breakfast. Since the downstairs restaurant had a buffet, we thought we'd check it out. At the entrance we discovered they wanted 126 yuan! I'd already written my name on the receipt but when we calculated the cost in U.S., I started to tear it up. The lady got mad and said something under her breath (glad I don't understand Chinese) so we left. I think I may have given foreigners a bad name. I just couldn't think of the words in Chinese and I thought this gesture would best convey my cancellation.

Later we discovered that we had miscalculated. We thought it was $30 each but it was really $15 each for all you can eat, which is a good price in the U.S. but we still thought we could do better. We ate breakfast for $7 total somewhere else.

And that was the funny thing. As we walked into the lobby of another hotel down the street, someone yelled out: "Hey, Dave and Ruth Terry." Who could this be? We turned around and discovered it was the stewardess that served us on the plane! We laughed and joked with her and two other stewardesses. Small town this Beijing.

We decided to catch a taxi to Summer Palace, a sprawling 200 hectors of playground built in 1750 by the Qing dynasty.

We've discovered that Beijing is NOT yet ready for the 2008 Olympics. Not one taxi driver speaks ANY English, none, nada, zilch, zero. This is actually a good thing for us but we are a little slow with our Chinese. I walked up one of the ten taxis in front of the hotel and in my bad Chinese asked how much to Summer Palace. I didn't know "Summer Palace" in Chinese so meanwhile Ruth was on the sidewalk looking it up. Finally I put the whole thing together in Chinese and he said: "60 yuan." That's $7.50 for a 20 minute ride. We thought that wasn't bad. So we took it. When we got in I asked in my broken Chinese for him to start the clock because I wanted a fapiao (a receipt). He didn't understand me so I used another language - pointing gestures. He reluctantly switched it on. It was a good thing because the ride actually cost us 42 yuan ($5.25).

We had a private tour guide and tutor. She came up to me to say that the Summer Palace was a big place and we should use her services. She spoke very good English (an English Major) but wanted 450 for a two hour tour. I'll let Ruth tell the story:

"It is amazing how we can bargain for a lot of things. For instance, when we went to the Summer Palace, a young woman approached us and offered to be our personal tour guide for a mere 450 yuan. We don't have a calculator, but figured that it would be about $55 dollars....that's robbery!! We walked away but, like so many others offering their services, she followed us and kept trying. What a persistent bunch! But she seemed very nice and her English was excellent and then she dropped the price to 125 yuan. I thought that was great but Dave said "no". I told him, "Fine... I'll hire her and you can go off on your own." He turned to her and said "100 yuan!" She laughed incredulously... hesitated... and then agreed. So she went from $55 down to $12.50. Now that's a bargain. She gave us a personal tour for two hours!! She even let us practice our Zhongwen and corrected us. It was fun and educational!!"

So there you have it, a cheapskate revealed.

The Summer Palace is very cool. It's old and dusty but you get an appreciation of the wealth and grandeur of old China. There are many interesting stories of various occupants of the place but here is just one. In 1903 the Empress (called Dragon Lady) brought the first car into China. Trouble was it couldn't be used because the driver died. How, you ask? Well, because in order to control the car he had to sit in the front seat and you never sit in FRONT of the Empress! So she had him killed. The car went unused and sits on display today.

In one of the courtyards a group of old people were lobbing a ball back and forth with soft spandex-like paddles. We watched their grace and agility. It was beautiful. It was like watching a dance. They'd pass the ball back in forth and it seems as though the ball was magnetized. An older very tall woman gestured to me to take a paddle. Again, no one spoke English (except our tour guide) so the woman is trying to get me to bend the legs as I passed the ball back to her. I just couldn't get the hang of it. It was unbelievable to me how this was possible. I passed the paddle to Ruth and she was fantastic. She got high praise from the woman.

The place is huge and the snapshots we took only just reveal little.

We walked miles and practiced our Zhongwen with Fangyuen, our tour guide. She was great. We parted and headed back to the courtyard where we were barraged by taxi drivers looking for a fare. I said no to all of them and we hung out watching people. I had a plan for getting back to the hotel for the same amount we paid to get here.

I found the taxi I wanted (they are not all the same) and walked up to the driver and asked how much to go to, and I pointed to the map. He said 80 yuan. I said tai gui le (too much). We went back and forth and finally he asked ME how much. I said si shi er (42). He rolled his eyes and gestured that I was mad in the head. I opened my book and showed him the receipt from the taxi we came in. Still no dice. Finally I found a taxi driver who would take us for $5.25 U.S.

We are really enjoying China but I'll have to tell you if anything happens to us who would know?

For example, when we got back to the hotel there was an accident out front. A car hit a moped and the moped rider was laying out in the middle of the street with 20 spectators staring down at him. No one was by his side consoling him. At first, we didn't even know if he was alive because he wasn't moving. The whole thing was strange to us. We went up to our room and watched and nothing changed until the ambulance came. Everyone stood away from him in a circle 20 feet away while cars and buses threaded around him, his moped, and the other smashed car.

Many are helpful but some just ignore me when I try to speak to them Zhongwen (Chinese). Some are friendly, some are not, just like anywhere else. One taxi driver turned his radio up when I tried to talk to him, another one politely turned it down and tried to understand my attempts at communicating using his language.

Talk about communication. We went out this evening for a meal. Ruth wanted BBQ pork but there was a Chinese fast food place that we decided to go into instead. I pointed at what I thought was jirou (chicken) but it wasn't at all and they didn't have an English menu nor did anyone speak English. So we ate tongue and liver noodle soup.

Of all the cheap hotels featured, the new york hotels are the best, much better than the costly average chicago hotel or the cheap but ill-served miami hotel.

After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language? -Russell Hoban
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