I finally caught up with China time. Actually, any place in China is "China time" since there is only one time zone throughout the whole country. So I slept until 9:00 this morning. We had noodles in the room and decided to go out to the park just in front of our hotel so Ruth could do a little sketching.
The weather was a perfect 60 degrees and a light breeze consoled the weeping willows. The children and parents were out strolling together. You'll see no guys in spandex zipping through on roller blades or bicycles, only slow walking adults and their children. Everyone smiled at us as we passed. We greeted them with "zao" which is short for "zao shang hao" or Good Morning. There were no other waiguoren (foreigners) in the park. If an older couple passed, they'd fix their eyes on me. I draw the most attention because of my big nose (da bici).
Eventually we came upon three men playing traditional Chinese songs on stringed instruments and a reedy flute. We found a seat nearby and listened.
We hadn't sat down more than five minutes when a man and his wife came up to the trio and started to sing. What a voice! It was powerful, it was opera quality. They noticed Ruth sketching and came over to talk. Our Chinese is embarrassingly limited, but they stayed with us for 15-20 minutes asking questions about our stay in China, at least that's what we thought they asked. So we told them about the three cities we plan to visit and we told him how much we enjoyed his singing. He knew Ruth's heritage was Japanese so he offered to sing a traditional Japanese song. As he serenaded us I got lost in the moment and reflected on how privileged we were to be here, half around the world, in a park with such friendly people. We eventually parted ways, shaking hands and telling them how good it was to meet them. After all, we had exhausted our Chinese vocabulary.
The park is new. There were many first rate exercise machines, ping pong tables (bring your own net, ball, and paddles), and two silun henbing (rollerblade) rinks.
After leaving the park we discovered a special American delight, Starbucks. Eat your heart out Tim. Starbucks in China? That's livin'.
Shortly after returning to our hotel, Bill and Lynn arrived in the lobby. Good to see familiar faces in a city so foreign to us. We got them all arranged and then caught a taxi to the Forbidden City/Tiananmen Square together.
At every turn there is someone trying to sell you something. If fact, just after we got out of the taxi a tall Chinese man asked us if we wanted to go to the Forbidden City. He said it was just up the road about a minute. So we walked along with him passing several men talking and squatting on the sidewalk. After some time, as if nonchalantly, he said: "Hey this is my gallery here, let's take a look, it's no charge. The next thing you know we are looking all through what he said was his works of art. He kept saying: "Oh and look at this, and look at what I painted here." Bill tried to leave but the guy shut the door, obstensibly to show us yet another painting of a lion he had done that took many hours since each hair was hand painted. We all nodded in awe and appreciation.
But I wanted to go to the Square and dashed out for a few pictures. I just wanted shots of what everyday Chinese people do. I found some hutongs (narrow streets and tiny single room tenement homes in alleys) and got a chance to snap some images.
Finally Ruth, Lynn and Bill escaped. We had to backtrack to the place where the taxi originally dropped us off. From there we found the path to Tiananmen Square. Later I saw the same lion painting in a shop next to the bathrooms. The delay cost us time and the doors to the Forbidden City were closing as we arrived.
Though we did not make it inside, we saw the outer courtyard of the Forbidden City, Mao's portrait, lots of huge paver stones, and many Red Army guards drilling. Bill tried to take a picture of the soldiers in training and was rebuked. I just shot from the hip and no one noticed.
Bill was always nice to the pesky vendors. He'd say: Bu xuyao, xiexie. (I don't need, thanks.) They were shocked. They got very excited and asked him where and why he learned Chinese while following us across the Square. Although my vocabulary is not what Bill's is, I had similar experiences with vendors in the stands. They started in English: "You like some my things?" But I'd answer: "bu xiang, xiexie" (I don't want, thanks.) And then that would get the ball rolling. He'd asked how long I'd be in China, what areas I was visiting, and how long I have been studying Chinese. The answer to the last question was always embarrassing. For the length of time I've been at this you'd think I'd be past "how are you" "glad to meet you" "I live in America" but that's about the extent of my vocabulary.
We walked to Wangfujing Dajie, an upscale street with lots of stores. But there are back alleys with small restaurants and people beckoning us to come eat at their places. We came upon a crowded alley with sights, smells and sounds very strange to Westerners. For example, we saw a Chinese opera. It was performed on the second story above the eating pavilion. If you've never heard Chinese Opera, it's a cross between fingernails on a blackboard and the screeching brakes of a semi truck. I'm sure it'd be more interesting if I understood it, but the costumes and makeup make it worth viewing at least once.
We ate a meal at one of the better restaurants and I ordered my first Qingdao beer in China. It's a very light ale and it didn't affect me as much as a beer from America. It was light and refreshing, like water. We didn't order enough food so we ordered some chicken on a stick (shish-kabobs). What we didn't realize was that it was the inside of a chicken . . . we actually ordered chicken gizzard kebobs.
The highlight of the day has to be the friendly couple we met in the park. They told us they go there just about every day. I hope we can meet up with them again before leaving Beijing.
You know more than you think you know, just as you know less than you want to know. -Oscar Wilde