In fact, my airplane arrived a full hour early. Tell your grandchildren about this strange phenomena. Because of that, I missed my contact who was supposed to meet me at the airport. Fortunately, I had been to Beijing twice before and did not panic. After waiting a respectable amount of time, I took a taxi into the city and found my hotel, provided by my summer employer.
Then the fun began. My first class. The first welcome reception. The first case of Mao's revenge. The first sightseeing.
I found my way to the correct building at the appointed hour (8 a.m.) and was happy to see a tall floor model air conditioning unit. My assigned assistant met me there, had the room ready, the a/c on. Then the students arrived--all 58 of them packed into the one small classroom. I spoke slowly and carefully, unsure that first day how well they understood English. The class, like all of them at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE), was intended to be taught in English. All went well and we developed a good rapport that lasted through the final exam.
The first evening, we foreign instructors for the summer were invited to the formal welcome reception in a lavish venue just off campus. Students from the university entertained us with song and dance. The food was delicious, as expected at a formal dinner. What was served was supposedly representative dishes from several provinces around China. What was especially delicious was a mushroom soup which featured about a dozen different kinds of mushrooms. In the hours to come, it proved to be my undoing, forcing me to battle a case of Mao's Revenge for more than a week.
First up was a tourist enclave south of the Forbidden City (aka The Imperial Palace) called Qianmen. Men means gate and the gate there, obviously built just for me, was rather impressive. Something I might like to see in my neighborhood back home, just to show everyone where I live. Knowing I had plenty of time to gather souvenirs, I only looked at the many shops along this pedestrian mall. I did stop to enjoy roast duck once more--because you really can never enough of "Beijing Duck"!
|Qianmen gate (one side of the street)|
|Gate at entrance to Qianmen pedestrian shopping street.|
|Me at the duck restaurant with the Duck Meister slicing it up.|
Then I was off to another "minor" site: Beihai Park and its famous Bell Tower. To the west side of the Forbidden City are a string a lakes, intended for the Emperor's pleasure, all strung together with canals. This is the north lake ("Bei" means north; the subway station there is Beihai Bei: the north end of the north lake). The day was oppressively humid--as almost all of the days there, as I was to discover.
However, once you totally sweat out your clothes, then you just go on for the rest of the day, moisture and all. Just part of the experience. I saw a lot but I sure didn't look good enough for photos. The crossing of the lake and the hike up the hill to the tower made me feel like I was really back in Beijing. The lotus-filled lake further convinced me I was no longer in Oklahoma.
|Beihai Lake and the Bell Tower.|
|The Nine Dragons Wall. Same design on the reverse side.|
|Another wall (gate?) with a lion. The wall is only about a meter thick.|
|View from top of the hill where the Bell Tower is, looking down at Beihai lake.|
To get over the Mao's Revenge, I sought out cheese, the tried and true remedy. It might be easier to find a palm tree in Greenland than it is to find a chunk of cheese in Beijing. Milk, yes. Yogurt, now trendy, yes. Ice cream, for kids, of course yes. But actual cheese? Nope. So I concocted a plan to find a McDonald's and just eat a big cheeseburger, knowing full well that the cheese would not be real cheese but a fake version. I walked around in the heat of the day and subsequently dined at the first McDonald's I found.
|Your typical street Mickey's.|
I was beginning to realize that I, a German-English hybrid genetically constructed from the dairy regions of Europe required cheese like Chinese people required rice. I searched online for Mexican restaurants in Beijing, craving tacos. None were convenient to my location, the best choice requiring 4 subway line changes. I gave up on that idea. Instead, I did find a good ol' KFC. I also found a Subway franchise a few blocks down from my hotel, right across from the campus. In fact, one of my own students worked there! An Italian Combo footlong did the trick. Those deli meats and layers of cheese got my insides back on track. I would return to that Subway several more times during my month-long visit. Because, yes, you can have too much Chinese food!
Nevertheless, I visited the Yonghe King Chinese BBQ restaurant around the corner from my hotel multiple times for my dinners. I could get a bowl of barbecued meat, a bowl of rice, a couple sides of veggies, and a tall glass of iced coffee with tapioca beads in it for around 35 Yuan--about $6, best deal in the neighborhood. I visited twice a week, often enough the girls knew me by name: "that weird foreign guy with the wicked grin." They jostled with each other for the right to take my order. Probably they did the same for the right to deliver the tray containing my meal to my table. I can only imagine.
Next time: Writing about Greenland in a Beijing Hotel
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