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Published: September 25th 2011
Beijing, China. What did I expect? My mind was empty. This was to be the furthest away from home - in all ways - that we had ever been. Our plane descends from a blue sky into a cover of dense smog. The sun takes on the look of a blood orange through the smokey grey sky. We make our way via high speed train and a subway then along huge four lane boulevards on foot looking for our hostel. The King's Joy Hotel. Any place to lay our heads would be worthy of the name King's Joy after being awake for nearly 24 hours.
After consulting with numerous shopholders using the trusted method of pointing to the map and looking as helpless as possible, we find the King Joy and are joyful indeed as we drop our packs into our perfect room with four twin beds and a deluxe shower. Kathy gets major points for this find.
After a short rest we head out to explore and find food. It takes us about a minute and a half to learn that leading off at right angles from the nightmarish major road are tiny alleys - 'hutongs'. They are
Kit,Kathy,Karen,and Jim explore Dashilar Hutong
We heded there,just a block fromthe hotel, just and hour or so after we arrived from the US.
narrow and crowded with shops of all kinds. We are in heaven. We are in China. There are chopstick stores and stores selling caligraphy brushes of every conceivable size - and some which are inconceivable. There are stores selling Chinese slippers. There are baskets of fruit and fresh cut melons. The further down the alley we go the more fascinating it becomes.
The most beautiful of the buildings are painted with intricate designs under the eaves of the graceful Chinese roofs looking just like a pagoda painting. 'Wow!' I say to Kathy. 'This China town is way better than the one in Vancouver!'
Our eye is caught by a tiny restaurant that announces the food is Muslim Urmuqi. There are fresh rounds of flatbread and small stuffed breads sitting on a barbeque next to skewers of meat by the door. We go inside and order bowls of noodles with lamb. As we wait for the noodles we chow down on the stuffed breads and drink guava juice (for me) and a huge beer for the boys. Just when we are wondering when the noodles will come, Jim says 'Hey, look through that little window. He is making our
noodles by hand right now.' Our cook was stretching long ropes of dough making them longer and longer until they were ready to throw in the pot of water. Finally, when we think we may fall asleep at the table, the noodles arrive. It is hard to imagine I will ever have a better meal no matter how long I stay in China. There are tiny pieces of lamb and thin slices of cucumber. It is spicy hot and you can feel the tingle in your tongue and cheeks; but not so hot that you don't keep tossing in the noodles. A bigger incentive to make chopsticks work I have never experienced. I could eat here every day for the next month. And we have only been in Beijing for a few short hours.
This morning we are up early. There is no other option if you travel with the KitKats! We head south to a park that they have visited before. 'Temple of Heaven' park is full of trees and where we would have lawn are tufted individual plants, maybe a kind of clumping grass. It is shady and cool, the temperature is absolutely perfect. Everything we see
is a feast for the senses. There are people practicing caligraphy with three foot long brushes which they dip in buckets of water and then paint the Chinese letters on the sidewalks. There are groups of people doing taichi together some have fans and others ceremonial swords. We find a large group chanting and doing something that we call Chinese yoga - for lack of a better phrase. It looks wonderful to me and I join in. I am sorry to say that my companions, being much more sophisticated and wordly, decline to do so.
As we move on we find a group of people doing Chinese ballroom dancing to music that is remniscent of a waltz. I am extremely disappointed to report that my date in China, who was recently featured in a cover story on dancing that many of you may have seen TURNED ME DOWN when I asked him to dance. I think you will agree that is deserving of many points for a special award that we are known to give at the end of any big trip.
After the park, it was time for more wandering through the hutongs stopping to taste anything
that looks good and window shopping for tea sets, fine tea, Chinese silks, caligraphy brushes and, for Jim, the perfect Mao hat.
Enough details for today. And I didn't even touch on the Forbidden City, Tiananmen square, the fabuous toys sold by the street vendors, the toddlers with split pants to make diapers unnecessary, or the many pictures taken with the extraordinarily friendly Chinese who love to have their photo taken with the 'big noses'. And best of all we still have a month to be here!
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