First time on this blog? Beijing Traffic Lesson: Left Turn is probably a good place to start.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I’m putting this in a separate post because it’s so dang long. Read at your own risk.

After the guns but before Shannon arrived, my friends and I went to the Great Wall at Juyongguan. It was fabulous. The wall is restored, but very few people were around. Literally, 2 tour busses and maybe a dozen cars in a lot that could hold hundreds of vehicles. People who do go there go early, I was told, and even then most everyone goes to Badaling, the most famous part of the wall.

Partly it’s because Juyongguan is very steep – the entrance is in a valley, and the Wall rises steeply in both directions, an almost endless staircase that rises at more than 45 degrees in many places – almost more like a ladder. Unless you’re ready to climb, not much to do.

But what that meant for me was no crowds, no vendors hassling us – just us and the Wall. Visibility was good (see the pictures below) and we climbed to the first tower, where my friends decided the view was good enough. I climbed another 30 minutes to the next big tower, thinking it was the top – and just saw more Wall rising to ANOTHER, even HIGHER tower.

I wished I could have stayed, but had to cut myself off somewhere. This one is going in the memory bank, though.

You already read about the store and the Dragon Fruit, but after that Shannon and I went to the antique market, where we managed to spend more money and learned we are not good negotiators. My best was getting to 55% of asking, my worst was 75%, in a market where 50% is the max you should pay. But hey, we may not get back, and we’re talking about a dollar here, a dollar there. Good fun.

Then we went to the Temple of Heaven – where our camera battery died. Got some shots on our cell phones, though. This is a Ming dynasty complex almost 700 years old that features the famous Temple of Prayers for Good Harvest and a raised platform that marks the center of the world. It was beautiful, but hot and medium-crowded. Amazing, though.

For dinner we went to an Italian restaurant called Annie’s for pasta. I hear they deliver…

During the week, I worked, and I’m sad to report Shannon worked some too while recovering from jetlag. But she did get to do some exploring on her own – I’ll let her write her adventures if she likes when she gets back in a week and a half – and we’d meet in the evening.

On Monday we went out to an Indian restaurant called Ganges. Good food. We ended up the only people sitting upstairs at a table surrounded by gauze curtains. Talk about atmosphere!

We went to the Lao She Teahouse for a floor show and appetizers. It took an hour and a half to fight through Beijing traffic, and our driver got lost to boot.

The teahouse isn’t especially old, but it is a Beijing fixture. Foreign dignitaries come here on state visits for a show that includes magic, Beijing opera, acrobats, singing, dancing and more – sort of a Chinese cultural smorgasbord for people in a hurry.

It was very enjoyable. The snacks ranged from delicious to “interesting,” and the tea was all-you-can-drink. I have to say, Beijing Opera is almost indecipherable for an outsider, even accounting for the fact that I don’t speak the language. Here’s a YouTube clip to get the idea across (I did not shoot this):

Funniest part of the night was when easily a dozen coworkers plopped down RIGHT IN FRONT OF US with an assortment of VERY high-ranking clients from America whom they were entertaining. We moved up to say hi to a couple people sitting closest to us, but bailed before we could cause confusion for the clients.

Wednesday night one of my coworkers took Shannon and myself to a good Chinese restaurant on the west side of the city. It was a cool place designed to mimic a forest glade – see the picture – and the food was spectacular. There was sesame chicken, sweet-batter-fried shrimp that tasted almost like kettle corn, cold noodles, vegetable wraps, egg rolls (we dipped them in vinegar – very tasty!), shaved beef, hot egg pastries and the obligatory Tsing Tao beer.

Yesterday I went to concept testing from some ads I’ve been helping with. The client had a representative in from the U.S., and together with my coworkers, we sat behind the one-way mirror and watched people give their reactions to our work.

It was pretty enlightening – I’ve never done that with my work before – but I won’t bore you with the details. I prefer to bore you with my inane babbling.

Afterwards I joined the client and some other folks for a walk through a nearby hutong for some shopping. Then I caught a cab home – and forgot my cell phone in it.

AAAARRRGGH! In a normal city, you have a very slim chance of getting your lost cell phone back. In Beijing, with its robust informal economy and tens of thousands of cabs – no chance. We called the number. It rang the first time, and the second time the message said the phone had been turned off.

So to the driver or passenger who is enjoying their newly-acquired year-old Motorola Razr v3 – enjoy, you wiener. It got crappy reception anyway. And if any of you get a random call from someone in China – it had ALL of your numbers in it – politely ask if they would mind returning it to me in your very best Mandarin Chinese.

For dinner, we went to a Chinese dumpling shop. For about 13 dollars, we got a liter of Tsing Tao, fried pork dumplings, steamed vegetable dumplings, fried rice and a huge mound of sweet and spicy shrimp. Couldn’t even finish it, but I can tell you that when I get back, I MUST learn how to make pan-fried dumplings.

And now today. Saw Shannon to her cab at noon today – she’s off to Shanghai to meet up with my parents and sister for a 12-day tour of Shanghai, the Yangtze (including Three Gorges), Xi’an and Beijing – we’ll all be together again on July 3, with my family heading home on the 6th and my wife on the 8th.

So I have twelve days as a bachelor again.

Two words: Dumplings and guns.