Sunday, October 5, 2008

III. First day in Asia (part 2)

Whoops. Didn't really expect a summary of one day to take up more than one post, but I guess a lot was happening that day.

...So I'd had enough of the magnitude of being in Tian'anmen Square after about half an hour. Did I mention I was in Beijing during the Paralympics? There still was about a 1000:1 Chinese to non-Chinese ratio in the Square. There were also a few interesting... uh diarammas? I guess look at them yourself and judge what definition they belong to, but they were kindof neat (to right). After I took the second picture, I posed for a picture for some random little girl (seriously) and then realized that I was really hungry. Time to accomplish Mission 3 of eating in a McDonald's.

Why McDonald's? Does it seem uncultured? Maybe. Actually, without a doubt yes it does. First off, baby steps ok? Second, I hadnt been to one for a long time. Third, I figured they'd be able to accomodate a tourist like me better than most authentic places. Fourth, I needed a coke real bad, something which they would no doubt provide. Fifth, I wanted to contribute to globalization (no reason there), and finally I wanted to stick it to all the McDonald's haters (again, no real reason for that one either).

I started to walk back from where I came to avoid getting lost. As I neared the Tian'anmen, a girl approached me and asked if I spoke English. This being one of the few people I'd met so far who could perform such a task, I gladly obliged her with a conversation. She said that she was an art student from southern China and could help me find my way around the Forbidden City, if I wanted. It smelled of hustle, so I told her I just wanted to get back to my hotel. However, she said she had some of her art work on display very nearby, and having an interest in Chinese art, I decided to give her work a shot.

She brought me to the exhibit and showed me some of her work, which I thought was very pretty. The exhibit was covered in Chinese paintings, almost all of which were scroll paintings. There were very few weird or modern paintings -- the majority of the pieces were typical monochrome ink paintings of plants or landscape paintings (only with colors). There was a really neat work of calligraphy too, apparently a poem about a scholar advising a king with war strategy. (I remember this actually: the poem was written by the scholar, telling a story about hunting deer that the king was to connect to fighting in battle. Anyway the lesson of the story was not to attack all of the deer at once, because once you attack one, the rest will scurry away from you. If you kill the leading deer, however, the rest of the deer will be disoriented and unsure of where to go, and thus your hunt will become simpler.)

So after she showed me around, she tried to sell me her work, and after a long discussion was succesfully able to do so. This probably counts as being hustled (because it cost 350 RMB), but I really like the art in China and needed to accomplish Mission 2 anyway. Plus, she's an art student in China, so I didn't feel that bad about giving her money. Regardless, the score was now China-1 Jenkins-1 in the hustling department.

My stomach imploding in on itself, mission 3 became the new priority #1. My desire for a coke was tangible. I checked out my McDonald's map: one block ahead there was a street that had three McDonald's on a single block (yeah). This was the obvious choice. It also wasn't on the way I came from, but I was confident I could find my way around by now. On the way I saw a sweet looking gate which people were taking pictures of, so I took a picture of it too. Mission 6 (not looking like a tourist) was failing.

After walking west on Chang'an Avenue for two blocks, I turned right onto Xidan N. Street, i.e. my destination. The first McDonald's I saw was too big-city and crowded for my liking, so I decided to check out the other two candidates on the block. I also came across a big pedestrian walkway, which I thought was pretty cool because it had escalators. I took a picture of the view from the walkway; it was a pretty amazing one I thought (see left). Further down the road was another McDonald's, but I didn't like "the vibe" and resorted to counting on the last one. As I was nearing the end of the block, I was becoming nervous about finding it. Hunger now outprioritizing vibe preference, I decided to rush into the only visibly nearby american fast food place: the dreaded KFC. I don't go to these in the US for the same reason that the McDonald's haters don't go to McDonald's. They just seem like a twisted establishment. Can't really think of any other way to describe them. But I will say this: their KFC snackers are frickin delicious as hell and a pretty good deal. Still twisted though.

I got pretty much what I expected: a bland and guilt-inducing meal. At the least, it was satiating and it wasn't pricey. The coke was definitely the highlight, like it always is. I headed back to the hotel to sit down for a while since I was exhausted as hell. I did pass a neat looking buddhist temple on my way back though, so I strolled through it and kept going. I was going to take pictures because it was really beautiful, but it seemed like an inappropriate thing to do. In fact, just standing there felt like an inappropriate thing to do. It was obviously a really important religious place that everyone there was using for prayer.

Back at the hotel, I told Michael how my day was going. He brought out my suitcase so I could put the paintings I just got inside. Then I just relaxed in a chair for about 20 minutes. I had about 3 more hours at this point. The experience I just had was a pretty exhausting one, both mentally and physically. If I was going to do anything else, it needed to be something much more... quiescent.

I checked out the map to find the nearest temple or park. Labelled about a block away from the hotel, there was a temple that sounded like a perfect place to go: "Temple of the Moon." What a sweet name for a place. I walked over there and found what I was looking for, a relaxing strolling garden. I didn't find any notable buildings, but I did find something I really wanted to see: a wealth of various Chinese plantlife. I'm sure that sounds a little weird, but I like to analyze surroundings of places and how things survive or evolve in a place. Plants are definitely something which tell a story about a place, though perhaps very abstractly. Regardless, I like thinking about that sortof stuff.

I walked around slowly; it was very quiet and peaceful despite being in the middle of the city. People were laying down in the thick grass, which at the time seemed like a very attractive option. But I kept sauntering. A businessman sitting on a bench looked up from his book to say "Hello." This was about the fourth time that had happened to me that day, so I responded politely and thought nothing of it. I strolled a little further down, and saw people playing table tennis and a playing area for children. I turned around and found that the man who'd greeted me minutes earlier was following me. He asked me if I spoke English, and when I replied that I did, asked if he could show me around the park. Hustle? My hustle-sense wasn't tingling. He was dressed very professionally, so I just assumed he was on his lunch break from work. He also just generally seemed like a nice man who wanted to practice his English. The tour he gave me of the garden definitely enhanced the experience. I learned a lot about the different plants, the Chinese names for them, and about the temple's history. I also learned a little bit about how the Chinese struggle with learning English, and how to teach people English words without using their language. One word I remember successfully having taught was "coincidence," since it was pretty coincidental that he found me while he was reading his how-to-speak-Engish book. Anyway I think he was just as happy to give the tour as I was to experience it. This wasn't a hustle at all, just a nice experience with a really nice Beijing citizen.

Here are a few pictures I took of the walk (I'll try to put all of them on facebook):

and the man who gave the tour works here:

After visiting the temple, I decided it was time to leave. I got back to the hotel, said goodbye to Michael for a year (I'll be sending him an e-mail when I return), and then got a taxi to the airport.

Umm...have I mentioned the Beijing airport is huge as fuck? I wish I could explain it better for you. I got a glimpse of this when I arrived because customs was in the main terminal, but damn. When the taxi was approaching the main terminal from afar, the scale of the building totally amazed me. Take a look at the pictures below. Try to appreciate how big it is; these pictures try to do it justice. The first two are the left and right views of what it looked like when I got out of the cab...the one to the right is the really insane view. I'd guess the endpoint of the roof in that picture is close to a mile from where I'm standing.

inside Beijing International Airport:

Nothing out of the ordinary happened from here on. I took that picture from the beginning of post II (with the airplane and the sun), and then flew to Wuhan City. The meal on the trip was incredibly was like beef, green beans and rice, all cooked to perfection. Anyway it blew my expectations out of the water. I arrived at about 10pm, collected my luggage, met my boss and was transported to my new home. First thing I did in the new apartment -- watched TV obviously. Then I went to bed... the next few days would be pretty taxing as well..


Brody said...
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Brody said...

Fabulous, evan! You are making me remember so many of the nuances of my China trip in 2004. As a white person, two things are going to happen to you ALL the time! First, people will ask to walk you where ever you are going so they have a chance to practice their English. They will often make it seem like a tour. Some are good. Some are terrible. Second, parents will take a picture of their child with you. Sometimes, they'll be brave enough to ask you, sometimes not. When they aren't, all you'll see is their kid sitting next to you and maybe facing a slightly different direction with absolutely nothing in the background. You are the picture. It's brilliant. I was traveling with one 6+ black guy. He got triple the amount of attention than I did and everyone thought he was in the NBA. By the end of the trip, he was pretty annoyed and wanted to start charging for his picture.

PHamm said...

Jenkins, your blog is awesome! You go into so much detail I feel like you're explaining this all to me face-to-face. I'm sitting in the Hillman now with a shit-ton of work to do for this upcoming week, but i absolutely couldn't ignore your posts. Best of luck with growing accustomed to China and with your work!

Meg-a Bites said...

I'm with Brody on the 2 things to expect. I'm sure I got less attention than a 6 foot + black guy who they thought was in the NBA, but being a not-stick-thin curly-haired girl was different enough that we had paparazzi following us.
Will you have more time in Beijing at all before you come back? That's where I had been, and I got to see some incredible things I'm sure you'd enjoy if you had the time!

Evan said...

brody, once again thanks for the pointer. It hasnt been too extreme, but it seems like everyone WANTS to try their english out, but most aren't brave enough to ask. hehe It is funny walking around the city...I'm starting to get used to the attention but its something I laugh about for sure.

Phamm, thanks! glad you found the blog man, i should have another post up by this weekend. I'm trying to catch up to now but it might take a while :) who knew talkin about one day would take up two?

meghan, i definitely plan on seeing beijing again before I leave. Let me know what sites you think I shouldn't miss. I want to see the bird's nest and 'aquacube' tho for sure