14 August 2016

My Ruined Summer Vacation, Part 2

Sometimes when you are a stranger in a strange land, you seek out any vestige of home as a way to recapture some sense of normalcy. For me, however, that theory does not often work out the way I expect. Especially during my month in Beijing to teach a course at a university. Like last summer, I had my weekly rituals.

Leaving the Yinghua Hotel for my stroll to lunch.
After my Wednesday class I could start the long weekend. I had plans to go to my favorite shopping street, Wangfujing Avenue, where the two bookstores are, but I didn't make it there. I awoke Thursday and Friday mornings and did some writing. By the time I ran out of steam it was noon so then it was too hot and humid to go out. On Friday I had a bit of Mao's revenge (like Montezuma's revenge but for China) so I stayed "home" in my hotel. It is possible to have too much Chinese food. I still went out for dinner but only after 5 pm. It was 95* with high humidity. On Saturday I made it to the KFC about a mile away but the menu was stupid and nothing like in USA, except for having chicken. 

Just a hole in the wall. Only the chicken was familiar.
On Sunday, I went further, down to the McDonald's, which required me to cross a busy superhighway without getting killed. Once on the other side, I entered with great relief. I decided to order the special, thinking it would be easy to point to the sign and the counter person would understand what I wanted. Besides, it had a Hello Kitty theme so I knew I couldn't go wrong with that.

A girl at the McDonald's was loudly calling attention to the automatic ordering machines. I jokingly asked, in sarcastic tone, if it had English and she surprisingly replied in English that it did. So she talked me through it, step by step. I felt special. She pushed the on-screen buttons for me as I selected what I wanted. Basic cheeseburger and fries combo was good enough. Several steps to confirm my order, then . . . to pay for it through the machine. 
Outside McD's. The little window on the right is for walk-up orders. It requires speaking Chinese.
This marvel of technology only allowed payment using a phone app such as iPay or WeChat. I didn't have any of them. I thought I should have been able to slide a bill in and get change like at a grocery store, but NOOOOO! 

Inside McD's. The ordering machines are on the right. Bring your phone app to pay!
So I got back in the regular line to order, now two people longer. When I got up to the counter, the young man gave me a special menu for tourists; it did not have any more English on it than the menus overhead did but at least I could point more accurately than up at the menu above. I can really zero in with my index finger! Anyway, I went back to choosing the Hello Kitty special.

And I finally got my food, the special of the day: some kind of teriyaki sandwich (burger? not sure) with the usual fries, and a "bubble tea" - milk tea with tapioca balls in it. I thought it was iced coffee. I grabbed an ordinary straw for the drink but the "bubbles" clogged up the straw. The girl who tried to help me with the ordering machine rushed over with a big straw, saying emphatically "No, no, no!"  She switched the straws for me, stabbing a fat straw into my cup's lid before I could say "xie xie" ('thank you'). 
Before the straw switch, I had to walk around the crowded restaurant with my tray of food to find a place to sit. So many young people just sitting and chatting or using their electronic devices, already finished eating or not eating at all, or maybe with only a drink to buy them table time. It was a Sunday afternoon, of course. Finally I found a booth right up at the front by the ordering machines. It had leftover trays/food on it. I shoved them to the side and sat down, started to eat my meal. Two older women (i.e., my age) came over and asked in Chinese if they could share the booth. I waved them in and one of them got a McDonald's employee to clean off the table for us. We did not talk to each other but we did share a moment of humor when I gestured and made a face that the sandwich wasn't so good.

Then I got up to leave. But as I was stepping through the crowded restaurant, heading to the exit, I saw the McCafe section. So I got a large iced latte (large in China = small back home) and sat on a high stool at a tall table. As I sipped my kinda cold drink, I took in the ambiance of young ladies chatting with each other and playing with their phones. So, I played with my phone, as well, while I drank my coffee. In my Chinese-style hotel room, paid for by my employer, the wifi had various sites blocked: Facebook, Google and Gmail, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But I could still access Twitter and Gmail on my phone, via my phone service, so I checked what's going on. Unfortunately, there was not enough exciting action reported on those venues to entertainment for the length of my drinking and I left the McDonald's feeling sad.

Along the way to & from the McDonald's.
On the walk back to my hotel, I stopped by the 7-Eleven, as usual, and got some drinks to take to my room. I think there must be a law in Beijing that a 7-Eleven must appear once every two blocks. But for us foreigners, that is truly a godsend. I was a great customer during my month in Beijing: bottled coffee, breakfast pastries, lunch and dinner point-&-order Chinese dishes plus a box of rice, or pre-packed sushi, and fresh fruit, and all the packages of snacks and candy you could wish for. Plus cheap bottled water since you can't drink water from the tap. It provided a weird taste of home.

Then I fired up the laptop and went back to work on my epic fantasy novel. I had just finished the main story line involving the dragonslayer. Early on, I had started the second story line with a chapter then put it aside to concentrate on the first story line. Now I had to go back and finish the second story line, even though the dragonslayer's story was so long already. The two story lines would come together at the end. The second story line is all about the little princess - perfect for typing in a hotel room in Beijing when you've seen all the sights already.

(C) Copyright 2010-2016 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.


  1. I'm glad you're home, Professor. Facebook without bunnies is a bore.

    1. You probably know you can find bunnies on the internet, right?

  2. This was interesting. Hope Mao's Revenge didn't last long.

    1. Not as bad as my visit in 2015. Thanks for asking.