Saturday, April 10, 2010

April 1-2 - On our way!

Ni hao! After a long and, sometimes, harrowing journey, we've arrived in Beijing! I will note that I have never been on a flight where they've announced: "We are experiencing some serious turbulence. In the event of an emergency landing, please leave all personal items on the plane and proceed to the nearest exit." When a flight attendant dives for the nearest empty seat and buckles the seatbelt (the occupant was in the bathroom), one takes these announcements seriously! But, all was well and we landed safely. Only one piece of luggage is among the missing and will hopefully be delivered tomorrow! Nancy was the "winner" of the inconvenience, this time.

Upon entering China, all travelers are screened for an elevation in body temperature (a couple of times!) and must complete general health cards. We have seen some people with face masks but the majority of travelers are bare-faced and braving the germs - including all of us! It's obvious that the Chinese take national health issues very seriously!

Another governm
ent requirement had some of us concerned (me, included!) but one does not question the government here. We all had to surrender our passports upon arrival at the hotel as we will have to do throughout the week. They scan them all into their computer system and are able to track our movement throughout their country. Of course, our visas also help to track our progress and this "Big Brother is watching" experience is something that we, as Americans. are not used to. We will get our passports returned tomorrow. Simon, our guide, laughed when questioned about this practice as we expressed our concern saying, "The Chinese are not interested in English passports." Ours are American.

Beijing is a bustlingmetropolis of old and new. There is a stark contrast between the architecture of the communist era and that of the m
ore modern day buildings. It is a very interesting blend. We enjoyed a traditional Chinese dinner served family style and, barring a few frustrating moments trying to capture some noodles, we all ate with chopsticks. Unlike Europe, many of the people here do not speak English (and, to be fair, the largest percentage of us do not speak Chinese!) making for some very interesting and creative conversations. Our hotel is the recently renovated Dongfang Hotel and is welcoming and perfect for our needs. Nadia and I took a short local walk tonight through some hutongs ( narrow streets and alleys formed by traditional shops and courtyard residences) looking for bottled water (should not drink the local!) and we provided some entertainment for the shop owners when I asked permission to take photos. I'm pretty sure they did not really know what I was asking and they definetly thought that photos of their produce and shelves of food was strange but it was allowed and we all enjoyed lots of laughter as we appreciated their openness and they were happy to "talk" with some Americans. In the hutong there were countless little restaurants and cafes. By "little", I mean some restaurants smaller than my laundry room, some big enough for only one to three little tables for two. They were all very compact, candlelit and intriguing. We have not gone into one yet though it is early in our trip!

On our walk we also found that most motorcycles and some automobiles do not use their headlights at night - apparently another one of those traffic "suggestions" we have encountered in our travels. This also includes stopping at stop signs or yielding to pedestrians so it's obvious we will have to be very careful this week!

Slept well enough, more due to complete exhaustion than comfort. Our beds are little more than a box with a very thin padding covered with a sheet. As expected, pillows were thin, as well, but one adjusts.

Tomorrow we venture out to the Tianamen Square, the Forbidden City, and to explore Beijing. My camera batteries are all fully charged and, thanks to Patti, my cards are ready to be filled up again with more visual memories to share!

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