1/24/10: Beijing, China
Today was a day of observing our surroundings and soaking in as much as possible. As I reflect on the happenings of the past fourteen hours, three observations stick out like a soaring bum over the streets of Philadelphia.
- People never cease to surprise me.
- I am lucky I made it through school.
- I need lots of disposable income when I grow up.
I’ll tackle these in order.
People never cease to surprise me.
This morning Zhou and I were escorted by her cousin, Zhou Ting and her boyfriend through the Temple of Heaven. Having visited many temples over the past couple months of our world tour, I assumed that this would be another tourist-infested landmark – after all, it was recommended by Lonely Planet. Apparently the below zero Celsius temperatures and the threat of below zero Kelvin wind chills scared most of the tourists away. Not the locals though. Or should I say, not the crazy, carefree locals.
Within the first couple minutes of stepping inside the park’s east gate, we saw locals playing cards, playing Chinese chess, square dancing to their own boomboxes, kicking a shuttlecock back and forth, waltzing, stretching, talking, smoking, singing karaoke, doing Tai Chi and playing in a harmonica quartet. I even joined a couple locals tossing a game involving two small tennis rackets and a makeshift ball.
But there were two sights that as far as I’m concerned will go down in my own personal history book – one as a bit goofy but memorable, and one as possibly the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.
The first: just to the left of the entrance music was blaring and there were hundreds middle-aged and older couples dancing in a wooded section of the park. None of the couples (nor the courageous singles) were doing the same dance , and half of them clearly weren’t paying attention to the song playing. They were just dancing. We asked Zhou Ting and her boyfriend if it was only this crowded on weekends, but apparently this is an all-day everyday thing. Where do all these people come from?
The highlight though had to be this lady and old man:
If you’ve ever seen a middle-aged woman screeching worse than a popular Saved by the Bell character into a self set-up speaker system in the middle of a crowded park while an old man in a polka dot jacket does some sort of two-step/fan dance combination (with a pink fan, nonetheless) next to her, please let me know. The screen shots above are from a video I caught of the tail end of this debacle. My favorite part was the WTF expression of the local man in the background as he walked by.
I am lucky I made it through school.
We spent two hours or so sauntering around the Temple of Heaven, which, for me meant two hours of me not being able to communicate with anyone. Zhou Ting and her boyfriend spoke very little English, so I was faced with a decision: either ignore everyone until Zhou had something to translate for my benefit, or listen in and try to improve my horrible Mandarin. I love ignoring people, but today I stepped out of my comfort zone and chose the latter.
By the time we left for lunch, I had yawned more times than an amnesiac watching the third Lord of the Rings. Learning Chinese is exhausting! Wo bu xi huan hui kao ya de jia. (I do not like returning to a roast duck’s home.) I went from spry, bug-eyed kid watching singers worse than Florence Foster Jenkins (or, as Brian Williams calls her, Flo Fo) to a creaky old grandpa who forgot to take his medicine and his nap. I really don’t know how I survived 16 years of education. Zhou, good luck with your upcoming grad school.
Zhou’s aunt insisted upon buying our train tickets to Xian (ah, the joys of staying with relatives), so we are spending 11 hours tonight in what is called a “soft sleeper” but is in fact the greatest thing to happen to travel since teleportation. I’m writing this as I sit on a plush mattress and throw my peanut shells into a metal tray that appears to be designed for discarded peanut shells. As I type these words, I’m shuddering as I think back to our days on the cockroach infested rigid seats of the Malaysian trains we afforded on our budget. Instead of putrid dirt up (the last three words being an underappreciated palindrome if there ever was one) on the walls of the cabin, the air smells of fresh linens. There are slippers for our tired feet, there is heating for our freezing noses and there is a table for me to work on. I honestly don’t know how I’ll ever go back to our old lifestyle.
On another note, the title of this third bullet point is interesting because the tickets probably cost less than a half hour cab ride in Sydney. Also, I still use the phrase “when I grow up” even though I’m as tall as I’ll ever be and as mature as the Dalai Lama helping an old lady cross the street. At what age is it time to stop using that phrase?
Picture of the Day: I bought a packet of Lebron Raymone James playing cards at the stree market the other day. Apparently all basketball players look the same to whoever made these cards, as there are random pictures of Carmelo Anthony, Alonzo Mourning, Shaq and I believe Jerome James sprinkled throughout the deck. Way to make a name for yourself, Jerome.