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...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The First Week in Beijing

Welcome to Beijing!

(Mom and Dad have notified me that I should say something about Tokyo here.)

Tokyo was very nice and interesting and we all liked it. I like the Japanese language and the metros are very uncrowded and their bathrooms are ingenious (really… heated seats with MUSIC?)
We saw a lot more places in addition to those in Kyoto and walked a bit more and got to get up early to write for NaNoWriMo. I have nothing else to say. Except that Rareș and Ileana were very cute together.
However, compared to Beijing, Tokyo is boring.

Beijing is much more interesting by virtue of the fact that NO ONE speaks English, that they are not quiet, and that they have spicy food. (But we'll get to that).

Our journey to Beijing began like so:

We woke up November second at… an early time… and got everything that we hadn't packed the night before into our bags (laptop, iPods, sleeping bags, pajamas) and took off by metro and/or train to the airport. The flight was just four hours, though I think it was delayed a bit (after which we got about three apologies for the delay and about five 'thank you for your patience,'s).
There was only time for about a movie and a half on the flight, but we each prioritized and I think all of us were very satisfied with our movie choices (including Bunny Drop— a Japanese film about a young man who takes in his grandfather's illegitimate daughter; and Friends With Benefits, which was hilarious in parts and chuckle-worthy in others and was a wonderful procrastination tool for writing. Also Justin Timberlake's hair is cute.).

Once we reached Beijing's airport, Dad told us that we were out of 'one of the most civilized countries in the world (Japan)' and that we had to make absolute SURE that we didn't let ANYONE touch our bags, or ourselves, or anything. In essence, be prepared to thwack someone on the head if they make any advancements to your luggage
Get everything out of the trunk of the taxi before you let Dad pay the fare. Don't set your bags on the floor because there WILL be bugs or dirt or spittle or anything exactly where you set your bag.

Hence, in the airport, I was looking around and judging everyone's expressions to see who might make any sudden movements towards one of our possessions. (This may be grossly exaggerated).

We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel. I don't know what we were doing in that taxi for an hour, but I think we were driving. I can't testify to that, however, because I was busy sleeping while sandwiched between Ioan and Mom and Ileana.

We spent about a half hour in the hotel lobby trying to understand how much our rooms cost and whether we had a triple room with windows or not. It was a very interesting conversation, given that Dad was saying "um… er… what?" a lot and then trying to explain that he had made reservations, and the nice lady at the desk saying, 'this— window, that— no window.' (But in a Chinese accent), and saying, 'no problem,' and then talking to the other nice desk ladies in what sounded like gargled water but isn't. 

Disclaimer: I like the sound of Chinese— I just can't understand it, which is slightly annoying— you never know what anyone is talking about.

We also spent some time at the desk trying to figure out if we could pay in cash or by credit card. And if for one night or eight.

It also may not have been half an hour. It was probably ten minutes. My feet didn't hurt as badly as they would have if we'd stood there for half an hour.

When we got to the hotel room, we spent some time trying to figure out the internet connection. It is illegal in China to access Facebook, Twitter, or, I think, any other social networking site. Including blogs. Which obviously, is bad for us, because posting to the blog is quite important. But we managed to get around it through our handy dandy personalized internet connection, so here we are!

The triple room with a window, by the way, means there is a window taking up an entire wall. A triple room WITHOUT a window means there is a small window looking out into the hallway. There are benefits to both: the window room is relatively quiet, whereas the windowless room is right in the center of the hotel: LOUD. But the window room has bad heating, whereas the windowless room is heated.

Speaking of which, heating in Asian countries is a funny thing. The remote controls for the heating unit LOOK normal, but you cannot tell what you're pressing. There is a boxy like character with a couple of squiggles. Then there is a slash and something that looks like a cross between a Y and an X with two horizontal lines. We figured out that this was the ON/OFF button, and that this is the ONLY button you should press on the remote… except for the universal + and - buttons, which, thankfully, raise or lower the temperature, respectively.

That is the extent of our foray into the world of room heating in China. We were not brave enough to push many more buttons, for fear of boiling or freezing.

At about 6 pm, we walked out of the hotel rooms to find a place to eat, which brings me to a very big adventure.

The interesting thing about Chinese restaurants is that they expect you to know EXACTLY what you want to eat— they'll give you the menu and then stand around, watching you, until you've decided what you want.

This doesn't happen quickly with us. We will go through a menu two or three times, trying to figure out whether we want this picture or want that picture, or if this picture might tell us whether the food is spicy or sweet. Chinese cuisine means that you order two or three main dishes, and, using chopsticks, serve yourself from various bowls. It's fantastic— we love chopsticks, and this means that one of us can leave the peppers in the plate for certain others, who in turn will leave you the onions. This also means that if you can't move your chopsticks quickly, you miss out on the meat. Which is probably the most filling. 

Our first night, we ordered a cabbage salad and some slices of beef. The waiter started jabbering in Chinese and pointing to the pictures of the slices of beef and the cabbage.

We stared at him, half-laughing at the absurdity of our situation, half trying to figure out if we could decipher anything.

The guy tried again, then resignedly whipped out his phone, seeming to text someone, as we stared at him. Then he showed Dad the phone, which had an English translation of 'warm' on it.

"AAAHH…" says Mom, "He's saying something is warm."

We all nod wisely, and smile at the waiter, who is looking expectantly at us.

Dad gives him a thumbs up and a veeeeery wide smile.

When the food comes, it is cold. We all nod wisely again as we realize what the waiter was trying to tell us, and realize that the plate of beef is much too small for five starving people. So we pick up the menu again and look through it again at least three times before pointing on something and nodding firmly to the waiter as he jabbers in Chinese.

They brought us very spicy meat on top of cucumber slices that look like they've been through a shredder. (We rarely eat spicy food). However, we managed to finish nearly everything on the plates, paid, and then went outside to find meat balls on a stick. (Which were either also spicy or very bland.) Also, what looked like miniature apples on a stick… coated with SUGAR! The apples are somewhat sour and the sugar is sweet and we all had sticky fingers afterward, but were very satisfied.

Other escapades include staring dumbly at the waittress as she tries to explain something, or trying to figure out how much money we're supposed to pay (and when!), or trying to figure out where the bathroom is, etc. It's an adventure, and this is just the food realm, which is nothing compared to the metro/subway/bus system.

To make it short, the metro/subway/bus system is probably worse than the game Sardines— which features one person hiding and everyone going to look for him. As you find the one person, you hide in the same spot with him or her, basically 'sardining' yourself. In the metro or the bus, if you don't get in, you don't go ANYWHERE.

Things are made more interesting when you want to stay IN and many people want to get OUT, or when you are five feet away from the exit of the metro and have to push away about twenty people to get out. It is like being squeezed from all sides.

But I'll leave that for later. This is a pretty long post as it is.

Note: The title of this post may hint at a 'second' week in Beijing. We will see how alive I am in the coming days (the 14th onward), and I may post a second week in Beijing, or simply skip ahead to Xi'an-- which is code for 'fourth week blog post' and 'fifth week blog post.'

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