Catching Up (With Photos!)

Oh, it would be nice to blame the last week’s lack of posts on the draconian censorship of the Chinese government.  Sure, that’s been part of it – WordPress, the company that hosts this blog is banned in mainland China – but we’ve found a way to work around it for the time being.  More likely, Beijing itself is to blame.  The city is so large, and our days so full, every evening we’ve scarcely had the energy to brush our teeth, let alone compose a letter to Milo that’s even half intelligent.  (In case you we’re wondering, Milo’s doing just dandy, living in the lap of luxury in Cambridge with our friend Channing.  And not many people realize this, but he’s a closet Yankees fan, so he’s secretly radiating joy at the Red Sox’ deserved demise.)

But, back to Beijing.  We’re approaching day 10 in this vast, surprising metropolis.  It’s simply immense.  16 million people reportedly, God knows how many square miles, and no quick way to span the great distances between destinations.  Yesterday we observed that it took 20 minutes just to go 5 stops on the newest subway line.  We’ve taken cabs and plenty of buses as well, but more than anything, we’ve walked.  And walked and walked.

On of our guidebooks said that Beijing’s not a city where one’s likely to find much of interest simply by wandering, but we’ve found that not to be the case at all.  We’ve stumbled upon amazing street food vendors in the oddest of corners and we’ve stuffed ourselves silly for just a few dollars on a half dozen occasions.

(The oddest thing I’ve gorged myself on was fried, dried sheep’s blood.  It looked like red tofu and was just as flavorless, but far more fun.)  At all hours of the day and night we’ve found the city’s many small parks crammed with people, mostly middle-aged and older, dancing in pairs or in groups, doing tai chi, exercising on low tech but quite adequate steel exercise equipment, singing, you name it. We’ve uncovered some fun art and souvenir shops. And most memorably, we strolled through several hutongs, the oldest of Beijing’s neighborhoods, consisting mainly of narrow alleys and courtyard homes.  People say hutongs are an endangered species here in rapidly modernizing Beijing, but they seem to being doing just fine by me.

And when the smog has parted, we’ve managed to see all the big sights of course, with the teeming masses of Chinese tourists always nearby.  (I’m convinced that all 1.3 billion Chinese with 1.3 billion cameras were visiting the Forbidden City the day we were there.  And all of them were following people carrying umbrellas.)   For me the highlight has been the Summer Palace in the northwestern part of town.   It’s where the emperor went to beat the heat, and it is full of temples, vistas, beautiful gardens, and tourists of course.  But, as is so often the case, we would duck around an out of the way corner and we’d have the place to ourselves for a tranquil moment or two.  We’ve also seen Tianamen Square (securely patrolled by teenage police officers), the  Olympic complex (just like on TV), the Temple of Heaven (dull), and the Lama Temple (surprisingly functional.) Today’s hike over an unrestored portion of the Great Wall at Simatai will be chronicled by my bride later on.  All that’s left to do before we hop on a train to Shanghai tomorrow is pay our respects to the pickled corpse of Chairman Mao and eat some Peking duck.

Our hosts have made our Beijing sojourn so wonderfully pleasant.  Our first three nights in town we stayed with Barrett, a friend of a friend of a friend, and his three roommates.  Barrett quickly gave us the lay of the land and we learned quite a bit about Chinese customs and language from all of them. They did their best to school us on Mandarin pronunciation.  CeCe’s getting the hang of it; I’m certainly not, if the grimaces and giggles are any indication.  And the last 6 days we’ve spent with Mark, a terrific U.S State Department employee we met in Mongolia in his plush apartment in the Marriott executive towers.  He’s been the consumate host despite a demanding work schedule and his completion of the Beijing marathon on Sunday.  Thanks guys!

Finally, CeCe’s about to add a  few photo galleries and other features to the bar on the right.  Unless the government recognizes that censorship is wrong in the next few days, these could be the last photos for a while.

One response to “Catching Up (With Photos!)

  1. Mark – how dare you make disparaging remarks about our favorite one-eyed cat – Milo is not a Yankee’s fan

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