Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Rents Report

Our Beijing Adventures 2011
A guest post by Kevin's 'rents

After returning from our 2 week trip with Kevin to Southern & Western China (previously documented by Kevin), we had another 12 days to tour Beijing on our own. So with tour book in hand, and directions from Kevin, we ventured out by taxi, bus, and subway.

We found Beijing to be a beautiful and fascinating city. Bus 107 took us to the Drum Tower, where we then took a taxi to Prince Gong’s Residence. We spent 2 hours wandering the garden paths which wound around a reflecting pool and through dozens of “rockeries” and decorated walkways.

The next day, we took bus 24 to a small park where we found an 8 piece band playing and lots of people singing along. We watched from the back of the crowd until the conductor spotted the 2 foreigners and came straight for us. He brought us in front of the crowd for everyone to see. We stood there with him, clapping and dancing and slowly turning so everybody could see us. Then the band started playing Jingle Bells to a polka beat. We figured – Why Not? So we did the polka in front of about 400 cheering Chinese fans. Afterwards, nearly everyone came up to shake our hands or smile at us. Our brief embarrassment quickly disappeared due to their genuine hospitality.

Another day we took Bus 107 again to the Bell and Drum Towers. Traffic that day was awful and there were hundreds of police and soldiers everywhere in that area. But nobody could tell us why. We soon discovered that the Drum Tower was closed for the day, but we were able to tour and climb the adjacent Bell Tower – lots of steps, by the way. The bell was used to tell the time of day. It was erected in 1272 is 23 feet tall and weighs 63 tons. It’s a Big Bell!

As we exited the Bell Tower, we saw even more police and soldiers, plus maybe 40 or so vehicles... all parked very carefully where cars are not normally allowed. We finally found a U.S. Army officer who whispered to us that Joe Biden was touring the Drum Tower and would be leaving soon. That’s when we noticed all the Secret Service guys with sunglasses and the Big Black Chevy Suburbans with diplomatic plates. Traffic was stopped in all directions except for busses. We were both very tired, so we opted for beating the crowd and hopped on Bus 107 (our favorite!) and headed back to Kevin’s. It was fascinating to see hundreds of Chinese watching with great respect and interest, hoping to get a glimpse or photo of an important U.S. leader.

Another adventure occurred much closer to home... inside Kevin’s apartment actually. The sink drain in his bathroom sprouted a leak, so the apartment owner sent over a repairman. Not only did he fix the leak, but he showed Kevin how to turn on the a/c (simply switch it to “summer” instead of “winter”). WOW! What a difference! We had sweated thru 6 days of 90° days and 80° nights – and suddenly we had cool air for the next 10!

On our last day we took the subway (line 5) to the Temple of Heaven, a huge park with buildings dating back to the Ming Dynasty around 1420 AD. We arrived at 7:50 AM and spent several hours roaming the spacious tree-lined walkways and courtyards. Even at that early hour, there were thousands of people doing all sorts of exercise routines on a variety of equipment. We saw a dozen groups doing various dance routines to music. Other activities included small groups playing a form of Hackey Sack with a large badmitten shuttlecock, men playing with a gyroscopic top spinning on a string, and men playing cards or Chinese chess. There were men hanging bird cages in the trees, bands playing, and people singing. We saw people painting, playing Chinese violins, and flying kites. It was a delight to behold. Anyone heading to Beijing should definitely include an Early Morning visit to this magnificent park.

Random Observations:

Money: Chinese money is RMB (People’s Currency, commonly called yuan or kuai.). You really get your money’s worth! A bus trip costs 1 kuai ($.15) and the Subway is 2 kuai ($.30).
A taxi costs 10-20 kuai ($1.50-$3) and the custom is no tipping.
The largest bill is 100 kuai, and sometimes the driver can’t break a 100 RMB bill ($15).

Children: They are instant icebreakers. Parents want their children to say “Hello” & wave & are proud of them when they do this. We focused on the kids because we think it’s important to give a positive & friendly impression of Americans. They wanted photos taken with us, and were often surprised when we also asked for a photo with them.

Traffic: While walking on the sidewalk, if you hear a horn you assume it’s from the street, but it could be a motorcycle... behind you on the sidewalk! We quickly learned to look in ALL directions.

Benches: There are few chairs or benches in the Malls & Parks. People often carry their own small stools on bikes (& even a folding table to play cards), or they will sit on a concrete wall, or even seem comfortable squatting.

Stools: We’d seen stools chained to trees along the sidewalk. Finally, one morning we saw women walking around with red or green arm bands, with some of them sitting in these chairs. Maybe it’s like a neighborhood watch?

Restaurants: Many leave the dirty dishes outside in blue plastic cartons to be picked up by a service which will wash/sterilize them & then bring them back, each place setting sealed in plastic. Restaurants charge you 1 RMB extra for these dishes wrapped in plastic.

Food: At a breakfast buffet in Dali, some of the dishes were labeled “Fried Oil Powder”, “Red Pepper White Food”, and “Fried Rice Lines.” All of these were good. (Food Translations: Flour & Oil gravy base, Red peppers & cauliflower, Rice Noodles).

Bus to Dali:
Kevin described the bus in his Dali post. Another bus parked next to ours, & the driver got a hose & attached it under his bus. We were told that’s to cool off the engine, because they don’t use coolant in the radiators.

Boats: While on the island of the Bai people in Kevin’s post about Dali, we discovered they made boats, constructed mainly of Styrofoam packing peanuts and discarded pants. Very creative!

Washers & dryers: Most apartments do not have dryers, but the washers spin the clothes almost dry. At Kevin’s, there is a sun room off the bedroom with drying racks, where everything dries amazingly quickly.

Wheel protectors: This apparently confuses the dogs!

This visit was quite different from our trip two years ago, and it was also somewhat spontaneous. China is a fascinating country. We also enjoyed seeing Kevin's friends again. We thank all of them for their help and hospitality. We have many good memories.

~The Rents

... And last but not least, the final installment of beardmageddon, day 27: