grey marble

August 24, 2009

Beijing days

I arrived in good time from Seoul. The flight was half-full and short; it was about an hour and a half. We were up in the air, a meal was served, and we were beginning our descent.

At the airport the health inspection area was as expansive as customs, a marked improvement over the folding tables at Incheon, though somewhat more imposing. The process went more smoothly however. An attendant took my health questionnaire and waved me through.

I took the train into the city. The outskirts zipped by the window. An Ikea passed on the horizon. New apartments rose in rows like corn.

Once in the city I took the subway to Hepingmen station and walked. The streets were familiar from the year before. I had biked down to the area to check out where we had stayed all those years before.

I was surprised to find my parents at the hotel. I had assumed they would be out all day. I suggested we go to Beihai as the sun was shining and the temperatures were moderate. Later, Ed would tell me we were lucky with the weather. The day of our arrivals signaled a break in the hot Beijing summer. He told me the reason so many people were out that Saturday was because it was the first relatively cool day in some time.

I called Ed for a restaurant recommendation and he suggested a Yunnanese place in HoHai. We took a cab to the area and then walked around the lake looking for the No Name restaurant. At a bar with the same lack of a name a girl offered to show us the restaurant. She lead us down a hutong and we were soon eating a tasty Yunnanese meal

Beihai wasn't as crowded as I thought it might be, though the lake itself was covered with boats. We wound our way along the Eastern banks and then around the small island atop which sits a gleaming white stupa.

We wandered south along the edge of the Forbidden Palace and made our way to the National Theater. We inquired about tickets to a Shanghainese opera but my mother decided against it as the prices on the remaining tickets were high.

By this time I was exhausted. We walked back to the hotel. My parents went to eat dinner; I crashed.

The next day we split up. My parents had decided to see some places I'd already been and so I went to visit Ed and his fiancee Tini. I took the subway to their house and was soon seated at their dining room table, offering to stuff wedding invitations into envelopes.

It was great seeing them and we marvelled that a year had already passed since I was last in Beijing. Ww talked about the wedding and all the planning that goes into it. We talked about the clothes they were having made and Ed mentioned that a tailor was coming by that afternoon if I wanted anything made. We talked about logistics and how their guests would get around and we all agreed I would help if they had cell phones so their guests could contact them at any time if need be.

At noon we met up with one of Tini's friends and his mom for dim sum at reportedly the best place in Beijing. They were visiting from San Francisco and Abu Dhabi, respectively. Ed mentioned that the after wedding brunch would be held there. Tini's friend said that they had brought him to the restaurant that was catering the wedding the night before. He would be unable to make the wedding and I joked that he was getting the dry run of everything. He said that he'd have to just remember what each meal was as the time approached.

I tried calling my mom after dim sum but couldn't reach her and so I joined Tini and Ed as they met with their videographer. I still couldn't reach my parents and so I went back to Ed's place and helped him make updates to his wedding website.

Still unable to reach my parents I decided to go back to the hotel to wait for them. It turned out that I had copied their number incorrectly. They had had quite an adventure as they had meant to go to one park and ended up in another. Taking the bus back had taken over an hour and a half and they were exhausted. We had a quiet dinner at the hotel and turned in.

Yesterday we went to the Temple of Heaven after walking through the renovated shopping area by our hotel. Newly built Chinese-style buildings are being erected for the likes of Zara, H&M, and Uniqlo. A fake cable car runs along the pedestrian avenue.

The temple was much as I remembered it though the grounds were far more expansive. We entered through the western gate and ended up seeing the sights in reverse. The temple itself was the main attraction and then there was a smaller building with a rounded wall named the "echo" wall. People screamed into it to see if others could hear, paying scant attention to where people should stand. Messages were hollered and answered with little help from the wall's echo.

We left by the eastern gate and took the subway to Renmingren, a park and gardens built on the ruins of a former palace gardens. We walked along the ponds, covered with lotus leaves. The ruins were swarming with tour groups, megaphones blaring. One pond boasted black swans and I stood enthralled by them as they swam up to the shore to feed.

That night we had roast duck and dumplings in a restaurant located in the renovated shopping area. At night the streets are lit with lamps and the street car groans its way down the avenue. The sounds of construction continue throughout the night. It feels as though the area is behind schedule, already a shadow of what it was imagined to be.

Posted by eku at August 24, 2009 8:27 PM

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