Sunday, May 13, 2007

Silk Road Trip Day 1

Ni Haw!! I'm finally in China, and am sitting in a 2 Yuan (~30 cents) per hour Internet cafe that has about 500 computers in's pretty amazing, as all of them have a better connection that we get at home. The afternoon sun is streaming in the windows, making the thick cigarette smoke look just beautiful. Anyhow, it's already been an interesting trip.
Steve and I left Japan yesterday with our families. Steve's wife and daughter were going back to the US for a short visit, and Melody just rode up to see us off. We all hung out for a while on the observation deck before the girls headed on their way. Having seen them safely off, we amused ourselves with the flight simulators there; no problems taking off, but flying is more difficult than it looks if you have to do anything like turn or land. Steve had a successful touchdown, but I crashed a half dozen times before the little kid watching (and laughing) at me hit the "HELP" button, which automatically lands the plane. My score was about 6 points on that one.
Finally, time to board. It was a short flight, as international ones go, and about 4 hours and a couple of naps later, we arrived. No problems getting through customs or immigration, and our pickup was waiting for us with a "Peregrine" sign to take us to the joining hotel. We briefly stopped at Tienanmen Square where folks were flying kites with lanterns on them before reaching the hotel, but once there, we checked in, dropped off our stuff, and then headed out for a quick look around and a beer before hitting the rack.
We walked down the street to a small section with some restaurants and people with piles of beer bottles around. We'd passed it on the way in, and it had about 6 or 7 restaurants and people just socializing as they ate and drank. We found an empty table by the street, and a waiter came up and said what we assumed was "Do you want something to drink" in Chinese. We looked in the phase book, pointed at another table's beer, and said, "Pijo, please." A couple of minutes later, he was back with 2 big bottles and a menu. Though not real hungry, the "FRIED YAK" looked intriguing, so we ordered that with some rice. It was actually quite tasty, and we just sat and chatted a while. We missed the meet-up with our trip leader, as we'd gotten in too late.
After a while, the beer finished, we headed back to the hotel. As it turns out, Steve and his wife had actually been there for a night at the opera when they visited Beijing last year. It's a nice place, and actually rates 4 "Ys" in the Beijing book I have. Lots of shiny marble, but outside of the employees, no Chinese. Interesting place.
The room is comfortable, and we were glad to see two beds so as not to have one of those awkward "Planes Trains and Automobiles" moments like Steve Martin and John Candy had. "How bout those Bears?"
Up this morning before 7 so we could grab a bite of breakfast downstairs and attempt to find a church to catch Mass before linking up with our group. We made a big loop, all the way up to Tienanmen Square but never found the church. We did see a lot of interesting stuff along the way, though. One of the favorites was the way they do diapers for little children. Basically, the kid has a slit in his pants, and if necessary, just squats and does his/her business. Different...
Back at the hotel, we met up with our group leader, Gary, originally from Xian. He's been working with Peregrine for 2 years after some time as a freelance tour guide. Thus far, he seems quite good. Our group has a total of 5 in it, and we're the youngest. There's an American, Debbie, from Seattle, and an Australian sister and brother, Irene and Kei Wei, both of Chinese extraction. We've already been dubbed "The Boys" with less than a day into the trip.
Overall, though, everyone seems really nice. We've just spent the morning at Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, which is just like out of the movie "Mulan." Well, sort of anyway. It's absolutely huge, and incredibly ornate. Unfortunately, they're getting it ready for the Olympics next summer, and are doing a lot of work, so there's scaffolding everywhere. But it's still an amazing thing to see. You walk through successive gates and courtyards, each with a different purpose...governmental activities, Emperor's working area, Emperor's resting area, and the private gardens (complete with a manmade mountain from which to watch the moon). One interesting thing to me was the sheer size. When you see pictures of Tienanmen Square on TV, it looks absolutely huge. And it is. But the area of the Forbidden City is big enough to fit 5 of the squares in it. Amazing.
We ate lunch at a Chinese (surprise) restaurant nearby, and after that, Steve and I were dropped off at one of the old style neighborhoods, or hutongs for a wander around. It was a fascinating look into ordinary every day lives where you have communal bathrooms down the streets. Lots of guys sleeping in their bicycle carts, and a lot of folks just having neighborly chats.
We headed back through the hutongs to the hotel, caught a quick refreshment, and then headed here. We're going for some supper before going to a Kung Fu show, which promises to be fun.

We'll be in Beijing for about 3 more days, before heading south to Xian to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. I will update when I can.

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