Category archives: Beijing

I’m just waiting on a Lady….

While “Waiting” is an excellent novel, by the author Ha Jin that should be on everyone’s reading list, it more accurately describes what we are doing. We have about 8 hours until we get Lili. I’ve picked up a wicked case of sinus congestion and drainage which means I can’t sleep well and therefore Catherine can’t sleep well either because my snoring wakes her up. Or I could just be restless because the day we’ve been waiting for so long, is finally here.

But let’s catch everybody up with our day yesterday. We went to see the Summer Palace yesterday. A spectacular building on a massive man-made lake made even more astonishing when you realize it was created with shovels and picks and no machines.

But before we went there guess what we did first? Let’s say it together…..Factory Store. This time it was a pearl factory store, with some absolutely beautiful pearl necklaces, pearl facial cream for wrinkles, etc. They actually have the fresh water oysters in the store complete with turtles and goldfish. The store guide opened one up to reveal about 20-30 small little pearls, irregular in shape or color and fairly small they would have been destined for facial cream if the families weren’t given them as an optional souvenir. The pearls can grow quite large and some of the jewelry was quite beautiful, but unfortunately the prices also matched that beauty.


We went to the summer palace next after being given explicit instructions, by our guide Candy (seen above holding garfield on a stick) to stay with the group and not to stop or talk to the vendors hawking $3 coach purses, Gucci bags, Northface jackets for $20 (I was tempted) and endless sellers of postcards. Apparently in the past people have been targeted by the sellers and pick pocketed by accomplices. Not too mention once the money comes out of the pocket, the vendors realize they have a live one and they swarm. We witnessed a few of the swarms and it wasn’t pretty.

Calligraphy  Walkwaydetail 

An older gentleman performs a graceful style of calligraphy, called grass style (or it might be running style) which is similar to cursive in western writing. Next to that is a detail on the covered walkway next to the lake that must go on for a mile or two and every beam is covered like these.

It is a really beautiful setting with a lot of history, a good portion of it bad – the destruction of the buildings multiple times by US, British, et al, armies in the 19th and 20th centuries; the wasting of the people’s money on a marble boat instead of spending the money on the real ships needed to protect the country from said foreign armies. Basically except for the artisans who made it, no one comes off looking that great. It really is beautiful though with tons of little details and paintings, so your eye always has something pleasing to see no matter where you are looking.

Candy led us on on a tour explaining some of the history and significance of what we were seeing but as you might imagine Catherine and I while trying to be obedient began to chafe. Once we were set free to walk around for 30 minutes, we immediately went were we weren’t supposed to go and found some beautiful quiet areas away from the madding crowd.


After the tour we had another good meal and drove back to the hotel. While Beijing has more bicycles than a tour de france video, it seems to have even more cars, if that’s possible. So a simple drive of a few miles can take hours, and it did. But it gave me the chance to snap a few photos of street life as seen from a bus. Below is your basic Beijing beer truck, with the tasty Tsing Tao beer for about 39 cents a 20 oz bottle or 3 Yuan. No nasty diesel fumes just clean refreshing ice-cold beer.


We went to the shopping district a few blocks from our hotel and finally found the crush of the crowds we’d been expecting to see. One thing we discovered, and it’s something I fully support, is “food on a stick”. Basically if it’s edible, it’s on a stick. Corn on the cob, hotdogs, candied strawberries and pineapple (which I think looks tasty – sugared fruit – what could be better), chicken, pork, and our favorite food on a stick sighting was the “Squid on a Stick” – essentially whole calamari grilled to a tasty-looking perfection. Alas we didn’t sample any of the above items deciding discretion was the better part of valor because who wants to risk getting a really nasty stomach bug the day before you finally meet your daughter. Catherine doesn’t see the charm in the sugar-syrup coated fruit on a stick. You can tell me your opinions. As for me, there’s always next week to try the tastiest looking items.



A few local contestants in the daily game of Human Frogger. Surprisingly no one ever seems to lose.


Time to close the computer and check out of the room and fly to Nanchang, Jiang xi province. It’s 8:15 am Monday morning here in Beijing and we should have Lili around 4:30 or so. Catherine can’t stop moving around she’s so excited and I might be just a little excited as well. -t

L – 8 hours and counting

It’s called the Great wall for a reason…

Today was our first day with the rest of the families from our adoption agency. We hopped on the our buses for an exciting day touring and our tour guide, Yong Fan, or Candy as she told us to call her, told us our first stop was a….Jade Factory Outlet Store? Seriously we went to the Jade Factory and had a very nice tour as well as an opportunity to buy lots of interesting jade items including Jade globes, jade pillows, jade sculptures and silk scarves. I don’t know why they were selling silk scarves and bolts of silk fabric, but they were.



After the Jade factory it was only a short drive to the Great Wall. And it was truly Great with a capitol G or is it capital G.

 GreatWall View

I won’t into all the facts and figures, that’s what wikipedia is for. But here are our some of our observations. First of all, footwear choices among some tourists makes you wonder if: A – some people like pain or B – some people are obviously clueless.

HeelsHiking   Graffitti

Yes that woman is hiking to the top of the great wall in a skirt and heels. She wasn’t alone, we saw several women who were victims of fashion, including one nice Belarussian lady who made it to the top, about twice as fast as we did. You can also see from the picture the worn steps from all the people clinging to the handrail trying to seek any help as they struggle through the wind and the cold to make it to the top, regardless of the pain, sweat and heavy breathing. Following up on an earlier observation, yes there apparently is Graffitti in China, it just appears to be somewhat less in your face than most tags in the U.S.

After much struggle, we finally made it to the top, although Catherine seemed concerned enough about me to take my camera. I think she just wanted to take a picture of me drenched in sweat, hunched over the safety rail just trying to draw a breath. And I’m not even a smoker. The number of people who were climbing today while smoking wearing only light coats and no gloves in the sub-freezing weather was apalling. The wind chill must have been O degrees up on the mountain, especially at the top. The picture below was taken before the going got really tough.


After summiting the wall, we sped back down en route to the tour bus trying not to trip over the the bazillion steps of different heights from 1 inch to 12 inches. We were of course the absolute last persons onto the bus and went from there to a nice lunch at a combo restaurant/friendship store. Once again after lunch we were politely told we’d have about 30 minutes to shop in the store. This seems to be an ongoing theme. Of course unlike the rest of China the factory and friendship stores have fixed prices, so things can seem a little, or a lot expensive depending on your viewpoint. We went from there and drove by the Oylmic village, in case you were unaware, Beijing is hosting the 2008 summer games. The National stadium shown below is nicknamed “Bird’s Nest”.  


Our next step was an acrobatic’s show where we watched people perform feats of balance and strength, some of which were probably unnatural and I’m sure there must be painkillers involved because bodies just shouldn’t bend like that. Here we have some lions balancing on a ball, walking across a teter-totter board.


After another great meal, which you may guess was tasty, we were able to have a drink with Catherine’s cousin Bill.


He was in town on business as part of a whirlwind trip to India, China and Germany. We were able to share some stories about China, home renovation and parenting over a few beers. A great end to a great day. Tomorrow we’ll visit the summer palace and I don’t know where else. Goodnight. -t

L – 1 1/2 Days

The Long March 2007 edition

Yesterday morning Catherine let me go off and take pictures in the local hutong while she chose where what we would do for the day. For one hour, and one hour only, Catherine made sure to set a limit otherwise I would have been out there all day and probably would’ve completely forgotted about her. Apparently I can putz, or so I’m told, and that I am occasionally distractable.


Crossing the streets in Beijing is much lake playing the the 80’s arcade game Frogger except there are no do-overs if a bus runs you over. It gets the adrenaline pumping and I’ve found the key is to look for the old women and follow them when they cross the street, I can usually keep up with them, but not always.


The hutongs are great because you are in a neighborhood and no one is trying to sell you anything, nothing has been “touristed” to death. It really is a glimpse into the daily routine of another culture.


After taking this picture of the fresh bakery making fresh sesame rolls, I had to buy one. Price ? 1 yuan. And as with most things on this trip. It was tasty. While the brooms and mops may look primitive, everywhere I went yesterday was sparkling clean and it is taken very seriously because outside of every shop and house mops and cleaning rags were drying in the cold sunshine.


When I got back to the hotel Catherine had decided we were going the art museum and then going on a long walk to the Yong He Gong temple or Lamasery. We walked about 5 kilometers and had a great time seeing daily life without seeing any tourist sites.


I thought this was a nice moment and it made me thnk of Lili and what she’d be like when she was older.

The temple is extraordinary and should be part of everyone’s visit. It escaped the chaos and destruction of the cultural revolution. So many things to describe but one of my favorites was the esoteric buddhas, that’s the blue statue and not the monks taking pictures.

EsotericBuddhas MonkPhoto

 After a great lunch at a vegetarian place we happened upon this frozen lake.


The joy of everyone on the lake was contagious and we had such fun walking around seeing the families. It was a great memory. And now we are off to the Great wall. More pictures will follow, (I know you’re surprised by the prospect of more photos).

Out Walking, after midnight…

We finally arrived in Beijing. Clearing customs, getting cash and getting a taxi couldn’t have been easier. Total travel time was 30 hours door-to-door. The taxi ride from the airport cost less than the two beers we had in the hotel bar in order to wind down from our little jaunt. It worked for Catherine, but not for me. So I decided to go for a walk at 12:30 in the morning in a strange city where I speak about 15 words of the local language, and 2/3 of those are numbers.

Random thoughts and statistics while walking the streets of the local hutong after midnight.

Number of public restrooms seen within 10 minutes of each other – 5 before I stopped counting

Number of Snow White Persian alley cats roaming the alleys – 3 and how they stayed so white with all the dust is beyond me.

Number of Graffito – 0, despite long stretches of white/gray blemish free walls.

Number of Bicycles – hundreds in every configuration imaginable – three wheelers, six wheelers, new mountain bikes, old reliable flying pigeons uniformly gray.

Price of liter of water – 5 Yuan (about 65 cents)
Price of 20oz beer – 3 Yuan (about 39 cents)

The Hutongs, which technically means alley or lane but also refer to a neighborhood are amazing complexes some of which date as far back as the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming (1368-1628) and Qing (1644-1908) dynasties. In some ways they remind me of Venice’s streets and alleys without the dead ends and water. Many of these older buildings and neighborhoods are being torn down to make way for new high-rises and as part of the massive infrastructure build-out in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. While the Hutongs may look romantic, many residents feel no such sentimentality and look forward to being relocated to a high-rise with modern amenities. Others of course lament the loss of community and history. I’m just a voyeur peering into their lives for a few moments, what do I know?

Beijing seems to be a city that is relatively dark at least compared to Manhattan.  I could see stars and although there are plenty of streetlights there doesn’t appear to be the endless security lights, outdoor lights, etc that make walking in Manhattan a permanent twilight. Some of the alley’s I chose not to walk down were pitch black, as dark as walking from Mathew to Luke at Camp Chanco without a flashlight. I realize it’s a reference most of you won’t get, but for those few who do, it’ll be worth it. Lots of people were up at this time of night, there were several restaurants that meet the standard for a good Chinese restaurant – hot and crowded. I didn’t venture into any of them this time since I’m still fairly full from the endless meals on the planes. But I plan to try at least one or two of the establishments that looked promising.
I also got propositioned for massages by a several nice young women who didn’t want to take no for answer I finally had to resort to my pidgin Chinese declaring over and over – Bu Yao and Bu Hao (don’t want and not good) – and this was on the main road near the motel. Strangely enough, once I went into the alleys I was left alone. -t
A + 2 days; L – 3 days;