(I have decided to abadon chronicling every detail of the Beijing trip because for some reason I seem unable to. Instead, am just going to list out my favourite memories for the record.)
1) How the people are so friendly and how they attempt to communicate with you although they can’t speak English. This is not to suggest that communicating in English is a virtue but that there is something to be said for attempting to communicate with people who don’t speak your language. Instead of running away Honky-style. Or dare I say it – gabbling on in your own tongue regardless of the poor in-law who cannot speak your language Mallu-style.
2) How the streets are so wide and the building so big that you feeling a sense of grandeur and awe. I appreciate the attempt of each new (and there are so many) construction to differentiate itself somehow. While in HK the buildings have to do as much as they can while reaching for the sky, because of lack of space, in Beijing they squat and sprawl like sumo-wrestlers ready to swallow you whole.
3) How the food is so good and so cheap. Notable examples were the dinner at Hou Hai (a lake encircled by glittering bars and pubs… More on that later) and the Pakistani meal at Sanlitun. I used to wonder how different Pakistani cuisine could be from North Indian food but it’s actually better. The lamb kebab was the best I have tasted IN MY LIFE. Ditto for the beef at Hou Hai. I have never been a fan of beef but they do something to here that makes it just melt.
4) The Foreign Language Bookshop at Wang Fu Jiang. (referred to in earlier post) The books are so sensibly arranged, it’s all so down-to-earth like Strand and maybe because its Commie, the prices are decent. They even had a three-in-one package.
5) How the Chinese people have fun when they go out drinking. And how there is not much separation between where the locals drink and where the gweilos do. I was told that Hou Hai was where the foreigners liked to drink but it was full of Chinese people. Most of the bars had live music and it was so much fun! Even though in our bar the amplyfier broke down and we were subjected to the drummer only (who was great!) for 40 minutes. The Chinese seem to love drinking games which means they are largely smashed. Case in point was woman who wer first assumed was a prostitute but later turned out to be just extremely drunk – while dancing with one man they both fell down. Hilarious to watch. Band was playing English songs with great gusto even though they didn’t know half the words.
6) The Great Wall. Actually if I have to be quite honest, the moon bears near the Great Wall. It’s probably quite demeaning to keep them imprisoned there begging for the apples that you buy and then throw at them but it’s better than having their bile forcibly extracted I guess (which is what happens to a great number of moon bears in China). Also, the stalls near the Great Wall are really cheap – you think they’d be expensive because they’re in a tourist area but they’re quite desperate. They have some naughty toys such as ‘pee pee boy’ (three guesses what that is).
7) The Jade Factory. I am now obsessed with touching alleged jade to determine if it is really jade (it has to be clear, cold and able to scratch glass without getting scratched itself). Needless to say I want to buy something in jade.
8) The bohemian shops in the Hou Hai area. It’s weird how there are all these boho shops and pubs in the hutongs – kind of like SoHo. The hutongs are old lanes where the houses are kind of like wadis in Bombay. We saw Mao’s old house and caused much bewilderment by not getting out and taking photo (we had forgotten our camera).
9) Having a haircut in a really cheapie shop, where they shampooed my hair at the mirror itself by just putting a few towels around me. And then the shampoo guy insisted that the haircutter give me exactly the cut I had picked out from the book although that required that I perm my hair and I didn’t want to. So ultimately, he just curled my hair with the hair straightener. Go figure! It was all hapenning in Mandarin so even though I tried to tell them that it was ok and to just cut half an inch I have landed up with a bundle of layers and a Beejee look (says V). I have decided I am going to have a haircut in every new city I visit.
10) Pan Yuen Jian market. Or rather, the painting section and more to the point – the goodnatured way they bargain and don’t get pissed off even if you ask for a ridiculous price. I bought four paintings and have ended up paying three times as much on the frames in HK. (I have to admit that I am not entirely happy about the way they look in my house but I love the paintings nevertheless).
11) The Forbidden City. Though the Mysore palace is better, I like the tales of the concubines. V’s comment was: “I’m trying to figure out how we can reinstitute this concubine scene” to which I responded “You seem to have done quite well for yourself regardless”.
12) The second massage place. Because they put V and me in the same room so I could be sure that the massage girl was not trying to screw my husband. It happens more often than one would like to think.
13) The acrobatic show. Though I grew an ulcer out of stress that they were going to fall down and break their bones or be beaten up by their teacher/troupe owner later. Seriously I have a problem with anyone failing at anything.
What I didn’t like in Beijing
1) The Ming Tombs. As in they were kind of blah.
2) The first massage place where I still have marks on my back
3) The cupping massage at the second place. My back looks like a warzone.
4) Drinking wine – it’s overpriced and not great
5) The dumplings. I think we have been spoiled by the quality of even the street dumplings in HK. Beijing dumplings are crap.