Tuesday, May 19, 2009

5/19 - First full day in Beijing (you will survive)

Alex spent last (Monday) night at the Bamboo Garden Hotel with us. She had insisted on meeting our flight. She was much too tired after taking a train and shuttle, then arriving at the airport only ten minutes before we did (in spite of the fact that we were over an hour late because of health questionnaires and flu screening). She was very relieved to find the nice driver sent by the hotel holding up a "Gribbin" sign, who told her that we hadn’t yet emerged from customs. (The hotel wisely sends a driver who is able to locate its tall wooden entry gate from the alley, since it is a boutique hotel buried in the middle of a Beijing hutong, quite removed the the main street.) Since the airport’s moving sidewalks and air conditioning had been turned off several hours earlier to conserve electricity, most of the passengers were showing the effects of heat, humidity, and very long international flights.

Tuesday morning, Alex showed us how it's done for breakfast, Beijing style. We sampled a variety of breakfast items from three different street vendors. I guess they should be called garage door vendors, since they operate from the bottom floor of a very prevalent four-story building type we saw throughout China. We enjoyed greasy but very good fried dough balls in brown craft paper. Best were the really hot and delicious breakfast "burritos" (crepes made on a well used round hot plate and filled with spicy sauce, scrambled eggs, veggies, and crunchy things) in some tissue thin plastic. The plastic was so thin, and burrito so hot, that I still can't believe the plastic didn't melt. Breakfast vendors seem to work from about 5:30 to 9:30 every morning (after which I presume they become lunch vendors). Alex showed us the art of navigating the Beijing subway and we rode it up to Tsinghua
University. We hired a cab for the final mile or two because the university is huge. We hoped that she might actually attend at least some of her Tuesday classes. We saw Alex's dorm room, after showing the front desk our passports. The university spoils its foreign students, considering it was a large single. Normally dorm rooms that size housed four to six Chinese students. We met loads of Alex's buddies from many parts of the world, whom she likes to pair up with to explore other parts of China or just hang with at the university to play soccer. We grabbed a satisfying lunch at the cafeteria, and bought Dave's Tsinghua hat. Borrowed two more bicycles so that the three of us could pedal around the university, which we did for a couple of hours. Took a cab so that we could meet up with Cousin Steven at a Barnes & Noble like bookstore, where he was giving a Nature Conservancy presentation. I was very tempted by the low priced, beautiful art and photography books, but since few contained any English text, I showed great restraint. Went to his two room apartment in the heart of Beijing, which he rents for about $200 a month, communal toilet and all (though he does have a shower in his kitchen). Met his rather homely cat, its bizarre and uneven fur implying that it had one too many encounters with live power lines.

Grabbed a wonderful meal nearby and got to watch some Chinese businessmen drink too much baijo, the kerosene flavored rice wine priced at about two yuan per bottle. We watched as one of the fellows exceeded his limits, and we knew that it would just be a matter of time before he lost his dinner (which he promptly did into one of the larger dining room planters). Since this was our first cultural exchange, I really didn’t know what to think about his behavior. After all, George Bush the senior threw up on the Japanese prime minister at a state dinner decades ago, and I’d already seen loads of people spitting up all sorts of vile substances while walking on the Beijing sidewalks. More to the point, few restaurants have bathroom facilities anyway, and this fellow was hardly able to walk to the nearest communal bathroom, several buildings away. Took a taxi to our hotel, and Alex continued on in the same car to the university.

Continue to second day in Beijing...

Author's note: Many more photos from the fifteen day trip around China can be found athttp://www.davegribbin.com/Photography/China


  1. The street food in Beijing is amazing! Breakfast was cheap, delicious, and not always easy to identify---but I'd highly recommend it!

  2. You capture the feel of the streets of Beijing very well. Love reading about your travels.