Saturday afternoon I booked my hotel in Beijing. I'm not sure if I mentioned it on here, but the MIDI Festival that I was looking forward to was postponed. My friends were unable to get train tickets anyway, so it will be a Ryry solo adventure in the capital of China.
Along with the hotel I booked a tour of the Great Wall at the Simatai section. I knew absolutely nothing about which section of the GW is the "best", but Tim said it's one of the less tourist-y sections, so that's good. It's also one of the sections that isn't fully restored, which again is a good thing. The section is ~3.3 miles long and the tour info page said we'd cover it in like 3 - 4 hours. Awesome.
The Great Wall --- I mean, c'mon. I am getting really psyched for this trip. One great thing about China is that it has millenia of history which the US doesn't have, at least not in its current state. In Hangzhou I ate lunch at Louwailou, a restaurant that is 150 years old. That means that when the restaurant first opened, the pencil-with-attached-eraser was just being invented. Sort of puts things in perspective for you. Okay bad example of ancient history -- but you know what I mean :-)
The rest of the must-sees in Beijing -- The Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, etc. -- I'll do on my own after purchasing a TimeOut guide for the city. I feel confident enough in my reading of Pinyin, and usage of maps and knowledge of taking subway systems, and maybe asking people for help, to navigate. And my co-workers are still just a cell phone call away :-)
I should have Internet access so expect timely pics. I'm staying at the Days Inn Forbidden City. How Forbidden can a city be if there's a Days Inn (and, formerly, a Starbucks) there? I think it's best to not assume that any of this stuff is at all, well, "authentic." I mean it is, to be sure, but I'll just be disappointed if I expect to get the "authentic" experience from any of these places, you know? They're tourist attractions now and the number of people there will demonstrate that (especially since I'm going during the May holiday). I will go to have fun and see things and learn and that should be plenty :-)
On Saturday, I also went to see the first China Baseball League (CBL) game of my life. The Beijing Tigers beat the Shanghai Eagles 1-0. Nobody scored a run after the first inning, and not many people had hits either. Shanghai never threatened except in the bottom of the 9th, when there were runners on second and third with none out. But then we got three outs in a row to end it. I have some pretty good pictures up on flickr.
Of course I had to ask their mascot to take a picture with me:
(Qing gei he wo pai zhao is what I said - "Please take a picture with me.")
I dunno why I'm giving the thumbs-up like some doofus American tourist, but for some reason I did that :-)
There were maybe 100 people at the game, mostly from a nearby school. When they all got up and left at the end of the 6th inning, the place felt deserted. Too bad, really. But it was fun. Super-nice weather, warm sunshine, no clouds, and hanging out with Tim, his wife, and their friend who was visiting.
Today I did some shopping, first for gifts and then for clothes. My first stop was buying a set of chopsticks for Kevin. For this I braved the Xiangyang Market, located near my place at the Shanghai S&T Museum subway stop.
Have you ever seen Minority Report? Do you remember that scene where Tom Cruise is on the lam and he's running through a shopping mall? As he walks by store windows, eye scanners pick up his image and start blaring their ads at him. That's what it's like for me walking through the Xiangyang Market here. I walk by, there are shops on both sides with barkers standing out front, like three or four per shop, and my passage triggers a chorus of "Hello watch! Hello bag! DVD! Video game! Want buy shirt? Nice shoes! Cheap! Sale! BEST QUALITY!!!!!!"
I'm not joking - that actually happened, like five girls shouting simultaneously at me as I moved through the market's corridors. I stared straight ahead and ignored them, although the ridiculousness of the situation was too much, so I smiled and said Ni men hen hao wan ("You all are very funny.").
If that weren't enough, the place is literally a maze, and after I did manage to buy some chopsticks, it took me 20 minutes to find my way out again. Finally I asked a security guard (Yay for being able to speak Chinese a little bit) who pointed me in the right direction.
Being shouted at like this, not to mention having to negotiate for a sale, is really stressful for me. Which is why, as I walked down Dingxiang Rd towards the market earlier, I thought of Obi Wan Kenobi's famous description of Mos Eisley. Which is probably an overstatement in this case, but still, I did feel like I had to prepare for battle, haha.
After that I headed out to read at Garden Books and do some clothes shopping on Changle Lu. On the subway I tried to make conversation with a tall Chinese guy by asking which one of us was the most tall, but he wasn't having any of it. Either that or my Chinese sucks -- I think it's a combination of the two, actually, haha.
That's why I'm nervous about taking pictures of people, or doing things like this -- because I fear I can't speak well enough, and also, I don't want people to feel like I'm on some safari hunt for Chinese people. You know? I think maybe he felt that way. His girlfriend managed a bit of English though, which she said "You're a little bit taller." But still, it was weird.
The saving grace was seeing a teenage boy on the train reading A Catcher in the Rye. Very very cool. Makes me wish I hadn't left my copy in Austin. I couldn't see if he was reading it in English or if he'd obtained a Chinese translation. But just the fact that he was reading it made me very happy :-)
I didn't really like any of the stores on Changle Lu, specifically, not the one I set out to patronize, which is eno. Along the road I ran into Jeremy and Amy, and they told me about a sale that Uniqlo (which is basically, the clothes section of Target) was having. There's a location at the Super Brand Mall near my apartment, so I hopped back on the train and went there. I didn't find anything there; however I did find some worthwhile things at the H&M. So it's true, I can buy jeans in China :-) They just have to be European, haha.
That's all, pretty much. I leave for Beijing at noon on Wednesday. I'll try and post an update when I land :-)