Monday, January 14, 2008

Getting here

I'm in Beijing! What follows is a fairly dry account of our first night in China. I'm jetlagged, and it's all I can muster.

I got to the Newark airport over 3 hours early, just in case. Ran into Grace and Ki-Ki randomly in the food court (I had left Grace a message, but she hadn't turned her phone back on after her Boston to Newark flight) where we hung out for a few hours and read guide books.

I so rarely have companions when I travel, so it was nice to have two friends to travel with this time. The last time I flew internationally (I think to or from Taiwan), my overhead light was broken so I couldn't read. This time, our TVs didn't work, so it was doubly nice to have company. We read, chatted, they knit, I played solitaire on my iPod, napped periodically, ate horrible airplane food including a "beef" and swiss sandwich where the meat was indistinguishable. I longed for the Asian airlines where the midflight snack they serve is ramen.

We waiting about 3 hours in the Beijing airport for Jen's flight to arrive from SF. We found a coffee shop to plant ourselves down and drink coffee and tea. My Chinese was somewhat enough for us to communicate, combined with the waitress's English. At one point, though, I tried to order "bing kai shui" (iced boiled water), which in Taiwan would get us boiled water that is then made cold, but she shook her head and said she couldn't do that, so I just got boiled water instead.

We sketched out a rough itinerary for Beijing. Really, I don't care what we see, I'm just happy to be here (although I must walk on the Great Wall--it's one of the things on my 'To Do Before I Die" list).

I bought a phone card to call Chi-Chu, which was a challenge. Can you believe I forgot how to say local and international? (then again, when Chi-Chu reminded me of the words later, I don't think I had ever learned them, or else had learned them as something else in Taiwan--many words are different here)

Jen arrived on time, and thank goodness her Chinese is more fluent than mine. I was able to answer when asked, "Ji wei?" (how many people), but Jen took over when it came down to figuring out if all of our luggage could fit in the cab, and telling the driver to call Chi-Chu when he couldn't find the address.

Chi-Chu's two-bedroom condo is luxurious, and thankfully has plenty of room for the four of us. He must have been somewhat overwhelmed by the sudden influx of estrogen.

The first order of business was dinner, and we decided on hot pot, and went to a place called Xiao Fei Yang and met Eveline there (Little Fatty Lamb, literally, although I guess their official English name is Little Lamb)--their specialty is lamb, so we got a ton of that, plus veggies, chicken, etc. I love hot pot, and the spicy side was especially yummy. All of the waiters stared at us throughout the meal, confused by our lack of Chinese skills. I got this in Taiwan a lot, too. How can we be Chinese/Taiwanese and not speak the language fluently? It's such a strange thing for the locals to understand. In Taiwan, my white friends would get such sympathy and help when trying to communicate, while us Asian students were treated with impatience.

We walked home in the cold, stopping by a supermarket to pick up some breakfast food, then back home to shower and wind down. Grace blogged last night here, complete with pictures! I'll probably upload all my pics after I get back and add them in later. We're off to Shanghai tonight on the overnight train--I'm looking forward to it!


Rita said...

Sigh . . .

I love this post. Keep the travel writing coming!!

Damon and I have developed the habit of eating in one Chinese restaurant every country we go to that isn't Chinese. (We eat in more than one if it is, haha.) Sometimes there's an interesting blend with local cuisine; sometimes there's a totally authentic restaurant run by the one Chinese family there; sometimes there's a whole thriving community. The by-product is that it always makes us aware what alien creatures we are, the second we set foot inside--because of what we order, too. Not that our Chinese is bad (cough, cough), but people know; and clearly we don't speak the local language. Then Damon starts speaking Chinese, and people are like, "But what is he?" Then it comes out he doesn't speak Japanese, nor his parents or grandparents. It's such the source of fascination.

People relate pretty easily, once we explain. The bicultural situation is prevalent everwhere! :P

In Taiwan (and China), as you say, it's a different story.

I have the strangest feeling I've posted all this before. Hopefully it wasn't as a comment in your blog. :P !!

Steve Emond said...

I might just be naive, but cold hot water... isn't that just cold water? Is it somehow changed through the boiling? Now my mind is running too much. I won't be able to sleep. :(