Monthly Archives: August 2013

Snack street

Last night (Saturday evening) was our last night in Beijing so we wanted to go out and see a few more sights after we spend some time in the hotel recovering from the morning of walking. I got in touch with an adoptive friend, Jennifer, that I knew through an online group and we decided to meet downstairs in the lobby. Our two families walked down the street a few blocks to Snack Street, which is also called the night market, because it is only open for a few hours in the evening. The children and I had looked at pictures online and they were excited to see the starfish, squid, and other gross things in person. What the internet doesn’t convey is the nauseating smell! Some areas were okay, but others we just kept walking quickly because the smell was so terrible.

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Not all of the food was gross. Quite a lot of it looked great. There were bowls of noodles, some baked goods, and every person who was selling fruit on a stick would gesture to our children and wave their fruit sticks enticingly at them. One stall had little pots and I was curious what they contained but we didn’t see an english sign for them. A few stalls were selling food that met Muslim standards. The most popular stall by far was one selling a large haunch of roasted lamb on a stick.

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After we finished the line of stalls we stopped for a bit to decide what to do next. Our original plan had been to eat Beijing (Peking) duck tonight. But we were still really full from our huge lunch and Nancy had warned us that on a Saturday night it might be difficult to get seating for a party as large as ours without a reservation. We decided not to worry about the Beijing duck and we would get something light if we got hungrier later. We then headed over to a different street to visit St. Joseph Cathedral, which was built on the site of one of the original Jesuit missionary houses from the 1600’s. It had a nice public gathering area in front, but the church was closed with locked gates. We had hoped to be able to go to Mass here on one of our days since the Beijing bishop is recognized by the Vatican but the only Mass time is 6:15 am, so we never made it.

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From St. Joseph’s we walked back to the area before the night market, which was a large shopping area that had a Times Square feel with large glowing billboards. There was a multistory mall, which we entered through the Apple store. It was like any mall in America, with many of the same stores like Forever 21, only the signs were in Chinese. The mall had escalators for each floor, but since it had so many stories it also had “express” escalators that take up two stories at a time. We ended up eating some noodles at a shop there before heading back home.

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We stopped by the restroom before going back to the hotel because the kids had all had a full can of Coke. I’m not sure how they work these things out, but based on my experience in Beijing it seems like Coke has an exclusive contract for all of China. Not that I’m complaining! Anyway, I haven’t mentioned the restrooms yet. First, most places have what are called “squatty potties.” I’ll try to get a picture later if you don’t know what one looks like. Sometimes they will have one Western style toilet at the end. I actually don’t mind the squatty potty. It’s nice and sanitary because you don’t touch anything. Bathrooms may or may not supply toilet paper, and if they do it’s by the door and not in the stall. I brought travel kleenex packs to pass out as needed. You toss the used tissue in a trash can by the door, because the sewage system here can’t handle toilet paper, so most of the stalls do not smell nice. But I am not bothered by any of that. The thing that I find most difficult is that there is no soap provided, only sinks. I carry hand sanitizer for us, but when we are at a restaurant I really try not to think about how the people preparing our food do not have soap available to wash their hands with after using the bathroom!

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Forbidden City

This morning Nancy came bearing a gift–a red folder with an update on Leo. It had some new pictures, Chinese phrases, advice on getting around in China and things along those lines.

We went out this morning to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. As we approached Tiananmen Square, we got to urban Beijing that I was expecting when we got here. There were people everywhere and 12 lanes of traffic. I was very glad to see an underpass so we didn’t have to cross the street. As large as the Square was, the crowd was never shoulder to shoulder crowded, just state fair on a Saturday crowded. There were lots of tour groups and sellers with Chinese army hats and things like that.

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Chinese ladies here certainly take their sun protection seriously. I’ve only seen face masks on commuters. Most women were wearing large sun hats or carrying umbrellas. I saw quite a few Muslim Chinese women wearing hijab. Our guide Nancy was wearing a full array including a light jacket, gloves for her hands, a sun hat, and an umbrella. When her umbrella broke, she purchased a new one from a street vendor. Again, we attracted a lot of attention. One man counted the number of children in english and then gave Matt a thumb’s up. For the first time someone wanted a picture of Mary Evelyn with her daughters and as I thought, Mary Evelyn was less enthusiastic than the boys to have her picture made with strangers.

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The children got tired of the Forbidden City pretty quickly. I think we were expecting to walk from room to room, but instead it was open area to open area. It was another clear day, but hot and sunny since most of the areas didn’t have any shade. Like our visit to the Great Wall, it was very impressive to walk on something that is older than our country.

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Some parts in the outer area had been well preserved but I was surprised at the poor condition of the inner areas where the Emperor and his concubines lived. There were windows where you could look in and see the furniture and everything was covered in dust. The wood in the ceiling above was rotting away. I hope they eventually restore those areas.

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When we finished at the Forbidden City we stopped for lunch where we met Sue, a staff person from Holt. We shared several dishes of food. We were so hot from the Forbidden City that we paid to buy an extra liter of Coke to share because there are no free refills. Nancy keeps marveling at how independent Vincent is. She tells us that since most people have only one child, they are usually spoiled and it is normal to see parents hand feeding children until they are 6 or older.

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We were pretty wiped out after the food, but we still had to go to the silk factory for another sales pitch. It was very fascinating to hear about the two types of cocoons, to see how the threads were spun, and we all got to help stretch silk batting out for a quilt. Once we were done there we finally got to come back to the hotel for a rest. We are planning to go out again for our last night in Beijing. Tomorrow morning we will pack up and fly to Nanjing in the early afternoon.

I’ve had a lot of trouble staying connected to the internet while I was writing this post, so I apologize if the formatting is strange or if the pictures don’t quite match up with the text.

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The dumpling shop

After swimming yesterday it was time for our first trip out to an actual restaurant. We just wanted to sleep when we got in on Thursday. Several of the adoptive families had talked about this great dumpling restaurant that is behind our hotel The Novatel Peace. The problem was that it was hard to find more specific directions other than “behind the hotel” and it doesn’t have an english sign so we couldn’t google the name. We finally decided to just ask the concierge. He said “Dumpling shop? Yes! Follow me!” and he led us through a door the left marked Employees Only. We went through several back hallways and out a back door into the employee parking lot, which was full of bicycles and had a guard stationed.

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The dumpling shop was in a hutong, and the owner said we could eat outside or in one of the little rooms. We choose outside and were seated in one of the little courtyards. There was a beautiful tree growing up to shade the table.

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We ordered a pork rib soup which came in a huge tureen, and several different kinds of dumplings. While we were waiting for the food, Vincent fell asleep at the table. The other children watched a mother cat and kitten walking across the roof above the courtyard. We managed to wake Vincent up and eat by enticing him with Sprite. We were all completely stuffed, and the bill came to $20!

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A few odds and ends stories. When we first got off the plane, everything was kind of crazy. Matt was asking an attendant where the nearest bathroom was for Max, who was puking again while Linda sponged him off. Gregory was trying to lay down on the floor to sleep, Mary Evelyn was guarding the stack of backpacks and luggage. I was keeping an eye on Vincent who looked up at me and said “Mama? Do dey have potties in China? Because I need one!”

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Also, at the Great Wall yesterday we had our first taste of our caucasian celebrity status. We had been warned that many Chinese have not seen caucasians before, and it is not rude to stare in China. The boys were very popular and we were stopped several times by people wanting to have their picture taken with Gregory and Vincent or Max. Even at the jade factory where their main business is tourists, we were the only people eating (I told you Nancy had a great schedule!) and the waitresses gathered around to gaze at the boys adoringly while we ate. Nancy said it will be even worse today at the Forbidden City. Okay, we’re off for the day!

Great Wall and Hutong Tour

Before I start talking about the Great Wall, Gregory would like me to tell you about the breakfast buffet at our hotel. He says that buffet isn’t the right word, it should be called something like “Food Fantasy.” I didn’t take any pictures, but there was a European/American section with pancakes, waffles, pastries, cereal, fruit, and yogurt. There was a Japanese section with sushi. There was a Chinese section with dumplings and grilled fish. Oh, and an omelet bar. Sadly for Gregory, he did not have enough time to finish his third plate because we were just out of time and had to meet our guide.

We are the only people who signed up for tours this time, so it was just us, Nancy, and the driver. There are several sections of the Great Wall where people usually tour, and we went to the closest section which is about an hour outside of Beijing, depending on the traffic. Nancy told us that Beijing is mostly a new city because the government has systematically bulldozed down the older housing sections and replaced them with large apartment buildings, so most of the city looked like this driving through:

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As we drove out of the city, you could see the mountains ahead, and then we could see some of the Great Wall going up the mountain! Nancy told us repeatedly that we were extremely lucky because she has never seen such good weather. There is absolutely no smog, a beautiful blue sky, and a nice breeze. It was the perfect day to climb the Great Wall. Or at least a tiny section of it.

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Everyone was very excited, so there was a festive atmosphere. People were smiling at each other and giving encouragement to those who took a little longer. The steps are uneven, with some being close together and other far apart. They all had grooves or missing chunks. Nancy told us that most of the Great Wall is crumbling and too dangerous to climb except for these few preserved areas around Beijing. Linda recently had knee-replacement surgery because she said she wanted to be able to climb the Great Wall and it was a great motivator for her physical therapy. She was able to make it to the 3rd tower.

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It was so beautiful there, we all could have stayed for much longer. But Nancy has lots of plans, so we kept going. She has a great schedule too, because there were lots of busses pulling in as we left but it didn’t seem crowded while we were there. Next we went to the government jade factory. We were able to see someone carving a jade family ball and many samples of exquisite jade carving craftsmanship. We had lunch at the restaurant upstairs, and then headed back into Beijing. I thought you might appreciate Gregory’s pirate face for the giant jade boat.

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The next stop was the hutong tour. Hutongs are the old city dwellings, which were small houses with courtyards which grew into a maze of dwellings. We were driven in rickshaws in the small alleys. It was nice to see people sitting around and chatting. There were many people playing majong, having a drink, hanging laundry, or reading a kindle. It definitely had more of a community feel than the giant apartment buildings. We had the opportunity to tour the inside of one, and when we talked with the owner we found that she was born in the same month and year as Linda. The hutong tour was the last stop on our schedule for the day. We spent some time resting when we got back, and now the kids are downstairs swimming in the hotel pool with Matt and Grandma. I have figured out how to add pictures to the blog entries but it looks as if it is publishing the entry every time I add a picture, so I apologize if you are seeing it several times in a reader.

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One last update

We’re getting ready for our trip out to the Great Wall, and it sounds like the jade factory, too. Our guide Nancy said she was going to keep us very busy today to help us get over our jet-lag. We’re all feeling much better after getting 12 hours of sleep last night. I guess the bright side of not sleeping on the flight over is that you get adjusted to the new time quickly. Max is feeling much better this morning. I think I forgot to say yesterday that he gets motion sickness sometimes and our landing was a little rough. I was able to get the two pictures to load on the post yesterday, so you can see them there or by clicking through to Flickr on the right. One of the view from our room, and the other is our lack of success at keeping Vincent and Gregory awake. They kept trying to lay down on the marble floor in the hotel lobby while Nancy was getting us checked in.

Our first impression of Beijing is that it was not nearly so urban as we were expecting. I could see farmland outside of town as we landed, and the entire drive to the hotel there were lots of trees to be seen along the roads. I was expecting the buildings to be crammed together like New York City (not that I’ve been there either) but there is a lot of landscaping, and even the traffic isn’t as nonstop as I thought it would be. It is not noisy in our hotel. Okay, time to go now!

Made it to Beijing

It was a very long flight, but we made it to Beijing. I don’t think anyone but Linda slept more than 5 minutes the entire flight! The bad news is Max threw up during the landing. The good news is we didn’t get quarantined when Max threw up again right in front of the customs officer processing our passports. We are trying to stay awake a little longer and going out to buy some water. Tomorrow will be a long day with a lot of scheduled activities.

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On our way!

You know you have small town kids when they’re impressed by the airport parking lot! It just got more exciting when we got to the escalators and train. We made it through security and finally secured seats together for the flight to Beijing.

The next time you hear from us we’ll be on the other side of the world!

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