Wednesday, March 4, 2009

First Day in Beijing

I'm not sure if we'll keep writing such lengthy details of our trip.  I ended up jotting down a lot of notes about our first day, but that might get old.  (I wrote this one while on a tour bus outside Beijing on our second day...):

Our first day in China we woke up at 5am because of jetlag.  We woke up cold.

I didn't tell Marisa why it was so cold until later:  Our room only had one electrical outlet, so I'd unplugged the spaceheater to make room to recharge our mini laptop computer and my phone. :-)  

I wanted to walk around and explore Beijing even though it was so early, so we got up, showered, and started off across the city towards the Forbidden City.

Marisa is normally the more courageous of the two of us, because I'm kind of a baby about talking to people (and don't want to make an ass of myself in a foreign country).  In spite of that, three circumstances do make her doddering, incoherent, and timid.  Unfortunately they were present this morning:
1.)  When she's cold (We were both surprised by how cold it was in Beijing -- it seems to hover near freezing)
2.)  When she's tired  (jetlagged)
3.)  When she's hungry  (We hadn't eaten)

As we meandered our way through the city towards the forbidden city Marisa wasn't very happy.  (To be fair, she was also really worried about her foot, as the doctor told her to try to ramp up during the trip, and she isn't supposed to be walking that much.)

We had been hoping to stop at a cafe or bakery to get some breakfast and rest, but surprisingly none of them seemed to be open that early.  We did see lots of kids going to school.  I guessed that perhaps there would be more activity down the smaller alleys (hutongs) where lots of people live.  We had read about the small street food stands in hutongs, so it seemed better than continuing to walk on the abandoned street.

We had no idea if there would be an outlet or if it'd go anywhere, although it was promising that there seemed to be lots of through traffic.  A few blocks into the hutong we were very excited to come across exactly the kind of place we had read about.  There was a small shop where a cook was chopping up raw dough and dropping it into vats of oil to fry it into long strips.  We watched him for a few minutes and were unsure how to pay so were going to chicken out and leave, but then a kid on his way to school came up and we saw him give the guy money.  Like I wrote before, Marisa is usually braver about trying to buy stuff like this, so I tried to get her to do it.  :-)   Unfortunately for me, she was too grumpy from the cold and the hunger, so I went ahead and just dropped some money into the vendor's box and ended up with 5 slices of dough.  We sat down outside in the cold because the place was full inside, but the bread was hot and quite tasty.  After awhile we saw someone else order a soup for dipping and got jealous, so we pointed at the soup and got some of that too.
The guy in white is frying dough. From 20090303_Beijing_ForbiddenCity_Highlights

After our refreshment we were feeling much better about walking and continued on down the hutongs until we emerged somewhere near the north end of the forbidden city.

We ended up doing a lot more that day:  We of course spent a lot of time in the forbidden city, which was beautiful and really interesting.  You can see our pictures here.  The lonely planet guide claimed that there was a Starbucks in the forbidden city..  It mentioned that in passing as a travesty, but I was very excited about the presence of a Starbucks.  It's really hard to find good brewed coffee in other countries.  Unfortunately, we never did find the Starbucks.

After we left the forbidden city we stopped in a little store full of crap.  I was intrigued to disfcover that many of the small stores in china look *exactly* like the small stores full of equally cheap crap in chinatowns in the US.  This is true right down to the fake chinese weapons, which I always thought were a US thing for gullible tourists.  Anyway, we stopped in primarily because we wanted to buy wedding rings.  We were afraid of losing ours, so we left them at home.  We ended up buying cheap bands for $12.  We were so cold all day, despite literally wearing all our layers (I wore 3 sweaters and 2 undershirts) that we also stopped to look at cheap coats.  The woman there tried to give us a hard sell for a 2380Y ($300)-listed coat:  She asked us to name our price, so Marisa said 300Y off-handedly (I didn't even want to answer because I wasn't sure I wanted it.)   She balked at that, and we started to walk away.  At that instant she cut the tags off and threw the coat at us, saying (in english) "fine!  fine!"  At that point I looked at the coat and wasn't even really sure I wanted it and indicated that to her.  She seemed to get really mad at us since she had cut the tags off, but we hadn't told her we'd take it!  I'm not sure if we'd done anything wrong by naming our price or not, but we ended up walking out with her huffing and saying something about having cut off the tags.

After that eventful interlude, we decided to go to dinner.  We had read about several peking duck places.  Initially we set off by tianmen square for a peking duck restaurant that boasted george w bush and fidel castro as patrons, but we weren't able to find it.  Instead we hopped in a taxi (which are ridiculously cheap in china) and went to a place in the embassy district.  The duck place was great -- we got to go back in the kitchen and select which duck we wanted.  (They had maybe 30 of them roasting in an oven, as they roast their ducks for a couple days.)  They brought it out and gave us an elaborate carving ceremony.  Feasting ensued with duck, soup, veggies, plum wine, and chinese beer.


  1. steve looks happiest when he is eating!

    marisa's bargaining is a+.. the lady sounds crazy. clearly 300Y was a good deal still for her, so she wanted you to take it. good you walked out -- my dad, who is a bargainer like no other, would be very proud.

  2. This is a great and funny read. I hope you keep it up.

  3. hahaha Marisa negotiates like my dad!