Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, November 4, 2011

Beijing - The First Days

Ni hao! Hello!

The North Capital (the transliteration of the Beijing hanzi) welcomed us with clouds and smog. A ginormous airport with an impressive design, using skylights for illumination and human temperature detectors. We take the train, then a taxi for almost an hour, and while the kids are sleeping, we take in our surroundings. There are modern constructions of metal and glass (I saw even the window-washers), futuristic flat buildings mingled with unimpressive ones (or maybe giving you the feeling of old and dirty). The streets have 3 one-way lanes, cars of every fabrication, from all years, and in between them Mercedes and BMW, passing others as if they are in charge. Antique buses, new ones, trolleys, motorcycles with fur-mittens over their handles, vehicles that remind one of India and bicycles. The pedestrian attempts to make his way, looking 270 degrees around himself while crossing the street, or going on a bridge that occupies the whole width of the sidewalk and has a single ramp (you go left even if you want to walk right).

The hotel has leather love seats and construction. They were painting a room, over the wet compound, the color of the tiled floor coming through white slick (by the next day they were putting in furniture for an office and window cases for a shop). The rooms were simple with 2 and 3 firm beds. They have hot water and heat, so who cares about their faded looks?

The first day is for recuperation. We need the time to catch up with the blog and to recuperate, to put a separation in between what it was and what is going to be. We're hungry and we go out. On the street there are many street vendors of kebabs, donuts, sandwiches, fruits and diverse Chinese food. We go into a restaurant and order some pictures, we need meat, proteins. We're as lost as in Japan, beside mi-fan (boiled rice) I don't remember a thing. Lucky us, the waiter has a translating phone. We eat our fill, though soon enough we breathe fire, that food is that spicy. We buy some food from the street, including 5 small caramel apples on one stick (later we find out they are some type of cherry). It smells like Bucharest, like the neighborhood, and if you're not looking at the faces, you could feel like in one with the small food store, next to the shop with faucets and other metal things, next to the shop with pajamas and bathrobes.

This relaxes us- we know how this society functions. Breakfast ends at 9 am, Saturday it is closed and Sunday... maybe it is going to be open, but after 8. We have to be careful to drink only boiled water (there are tea kettles in every room)

The green spaces are there, but are not being taken care of. On the sidewalk there are trees, but the dirt is not protected, so it is muddy, or a deep hole where you can sprain your ankle if you're not paying attention.

The subway is fantastic with glass walls and doors for the station ( so you will not be pushed on the rail by the crowd) with bags scanned while entering, with restrooms in every station. The lines are very long (more than 25 stations) and many people go from one end to the other. At the time we were using it, though there were plenty of people, they didn't seem full. The trains are coming every few minutes, you can't see the station without people; the ones from yours are yet to drain through the stairs, when another train arrives into station. They could have used a better design.

The Zoo

It was on our list because we are not going to Chengdu, where we could see the center for pandas. The panda bears are the property of the Chinese Republic, even when they are born (through the efforts of the people who are taking care of them) in San Diego and after a number of years they go to China. This Zoo is the only place where we can see more than two adults. We make our way through mob and we're happy to watch one cub sleeping in a tree, and another one walking, playing with a deflated basketball and waving some bamboo. It was noon, so most of them were asleep or on their way. On the walls there were informations about in vitro fertilization and about the efforts in raising the cubs. In a different spot it was a weight of 70 lb. covered in black and white vinyl so you could feel how a 6 month cub weighs. Then we moved toward the lesser panda, small and reddish, with tufts at the tip of their ears. They were also asleep, being nocturnal.

Like any other Zoo, they had lots of other animals, held in relatively modern conditions. Signs in English and Chinese everywhere, explanations, large spaces, statues, lake, but everything exuded neglect, a dusty-muddy-smelly place. From far away Ioan spotted a huge puma statue, taller then the trees. Wow! But when we got closer we saw the coils of barbed wire around it. There were other statues where we could climb. We thought that we could still take a boat for sight seeing till the Summer Palace, but it's winter season, so we found our shortest way toward exit.

Lama Temple

After a quick and frugal lunch we went to this temple, founded by the guy who started the Yellow Hat sect of Buddhism. It is the only temple that went through an extensive restoration and is active, a lot of Tibetans coming in a pilgrimage here. As any asian construction it is a rectangle, ringed by a tall wall with gates in the cardinal points. At the end of a long alley with gingko trees on both sides you arrive at another gate, and through it in a small courtyard. On the sides are buildings with images and statues Buddha like, and the prayer wheels, and opposite the gate is a temple with three statues of Buddha in the middle, the kings or bodhisattvas (those who are trying to become Buddha-like) being on the sides. People were coming, bowing and kneeling (required three incense sticks that you deposit on the floor, you are not allowed with burning sticks inside the temple), then going behind the statues you get out into another courtyard, similar with the first one. In the middle of it there are vats for burning incense (not on windy days) and the believers come with bundles as thick as an arm (they buy them outside the temple). We are not allowed to take pictures inside the temples (I don't know why). At the end of the complex there is one last temple that has a Buddha Maitrey (standing) almost 54 ft tall made from one huge sandal wood tree (it has the Guinness Record) and next to it a small museum with old religious objects, explaining the transformation of a person that follows this path.

From here we go to King Food, the restaurant close to our hotel where we eat sweet and sour chicken and some other things that we don't recognize.

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