January 26, 2009

On the outside looking in

So I've been here in Beijing for a few days now, and from what I've seen so far it is truly an amazing place. The first night after I arrived, we went out for dinner with my friend's parents. It was just a small little neighborhood restaurant not too far from their apartment, so other than some Olympic tourists last year they probably don’t have a lot of white customers。  We had Beijing duck and a bunch of other stuff that I can‘t remember the names of, but it was all great。  And extremely cheap compared to what you would pay for the same meal back home。 A quick stop at the Bird's Nest to take some quick photos (it's an amazing building, especially at night!), then it was time for some sleep after my long trip over the Pacific.

The next day Danny and I braved the cold and struck out on a siteseeing mission。 Our first stop ended up being。。。McDonalds! Trust me that was not my first choice for breakfast but the Chinese place we tried first wasn‘t open yet。 Hashbrown potatoes and coffee taste pretty much the same no matter what continent you‘re on。

From there we trekked a little further through the neighborhood, hopping a train briefly to end up outside Tianamen Square。 We didn‘t spend a lot of time there due to the extremely cold wind, which made the wide open space there less than appealing。 Instead we chose to venture into the Forbidden City。 Thankfully, it is no longer a punishable offense to enter (according to my book here, people who entered uninvited were decapitated as a way of deterrence...Yikes!) This place was pretty amazing, and I did manage to take some pretty good pictures. We were also blessed with an absolutely clear azure sky, which stood out in a striking contrast with the stonework of the city. Sadly, the wind was cold enough that we probably didn't spend as long there as we should have.

Saturday also happened to be Danny's father's birthday, which Ididn't realize until we arrived back at their place. I had thought it was Sunday, and wanted to buy him a gift, but sadly was unable to do so. Danny's mom is a pretty good cook. She whipped up a full meal in just short of a half an hour. Danny did at least have the foresight to go around the corner and pick up a cake to help celebrate. It was very cool to see a simple family meal. It's one of the things that I've always enjoyed about traveling to other places.

Sunday was Spring Festival Eve so it was pretty nuts outside. Sping Festival is Chinese New Year, so everyone was out bustling around trying to buy last minute things for their family dinners in the evening. We went to get some things to contribute for dinner too, at a Wal-Mart Supercenter! Apparently Wal-Mart is everywhere. For some reason it was a little surprising to see a big Wal-Mart sign here.  It was pretty similar to back home, but there were definitely some Chinese twists to it.  The biggest one being that it covered something like three floors of the building, rather than a sprawling single level.  Of course the guy chopping ribs in the middle of the vast meat department also stood out in pretty solid contrast with what you'd find in our pre-packaged-only stores back home.

By the time 3 or 4 o'clock had rolled around we ended up at Yie-yie's house.  (That means grandpa, and I've probably spelled it wrong.) There were about 11 of us for dinner, all of the other guests belonging to Danny's father's side of the family.  I felt truly honored to be able to take part in such a close family tradition.  They made everything from scratch, including the pork dumplings that I was able to help make!  Mine were definitely the ugliest on the table, but after they were cooked they all tasted the same, so it didn't really matter.

Dinner was full of conversation and laughter, and Danny did her best to translate what she could for me while still enjoying dinner herself. Of course I missed out on a lot because there was just too much chatter with that number of people all talking and joking around a family table like that. It was a very enjoyable meal though, and the array of things they had to eat was very impressive. After the meal some of the family sat down to play Mah-jong, and the rest either sat chatting over a drink or watching the hours-long gala that was on TV to count down the new year.

I have to admit though, that I have felt more out of place here than any other country I have traveled to or lived in before. Mandarin Chinese is an extremely difficult language to speak. The intonation is killer, and my vocabulary is tiny. Having to rely so much on Danny is a little frustrating for me. I can read some of the characters, but not the meaning or say them out loud. Even during a time like Spring Festival, I am very surprised by the small number of non-Chinese here. There were far more foreign people in Japan and Korea I think, than here.

Tomorrow we're going on a tour, rather than having Danny do more driving. We have to be up early to head out of the city to see the Great Wall. I hope that it will be fun, and maybe can reduce my fish-out-of-water feelings too. Being on the tour might help a little. If I have a chance I'll write more before I come back.


Kristine said...

Am very, very jealous! I need to get outta Canada again. Jeez.

[btw, Will showed me your blog. Heh.]

Jon said...

That sounds sooo awesome...

Anonymous said...

Tian'anmen square
Yeye's place
and you are gift