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 11, 2011

Last Days in Beijing

Monday was a rest day. The adults chose to walk of the aching muscles in two parks: Beihua (the North Sea) and Jinshan, both of them north of Forbidden City. From the first one we could see the second, both of them have some temples and pagodas, but the reason to visit them was to see the Forbidden City from above. It was truly a show, in front of us an immensity of yellow, shiny roofs, ordered and symmetrical. They couldn't fit in a panorama!

Besides the parks, we walked the streets and entered a hutong. On a very narrow alley, that you couldn't raise your arms to your sides, we would zig-zag in short straight lines in between houses. The doorways are hidden, you enter from a side (feng-shui says that the negative energy travels straight, so it will never find the entrance to a particular house). Linking in a visible way, above the alley and the tin-roofs are vines of zucchini and melons. People who live in this kind of community are close, they live inside the same walls. 
We walked through a market, where people were crowding to buy bread, crackers, fruits, vegetables, pickles, roasted seeds, motorcycles were making their way, next to a small gathering around two players of mah-jong. We were looking at them and when they discovered us, they were looking at us too. I don't know what was puzzling them more: that we weren't asian or that we were smiling.

We continued to discover life in the neighborhood next day, when we were walking with the grandparents and Nasha (they just arrived in China). The apartment buildings are separated by a street, that has sidewalks, that are next to a mini-park (one alley with trees on both sides). Here in these parks, people are playing games, exercise, an old man was walking backwards, they were walking their dogs (and do not clean after them), play with their children.

It is almost rush hour: people return from their jobs, children from school. The traffic is crazy, people are crossing the street on green light, and the buses are forcing the intersection on red, like they were too bored to wait any-longer. The horn is king. I have to say, I am amazed at their driving skills, though they are not respecting the lines, I didn't see a banged car. It looks like an anthill: people are getting in the bus, go down in the passage-way, enter the store, cross the street, walk, smoke, spit, talk. In between them there are the street sweepers with a broom and a dust-pan, or with a motorcycle and pliers, or with a bin on wheels. There are SO many people!
In the evening we celebrate Mihai's name day with Peking duck. The restaurant's owner came and welcomed us, thanked us for choosing her restaurant (at John's recommendation, the driver who took us to the Great Wall) and said that a waitress will teach us how to prepare the food. Beside our table a waiter with a huge cleaver was cutting the meat in thin strips and arranging them on the duck plateau. After they were set on the table, instruction begun: you take a very-very thin crepe, put some soury tasting sauce, add some sticks of cucumber, mellon and scallion, on top of everything 2-3 strips of meat, you fold and eat. Mmmmmmm....Ah. But now we had to do it ourselves and was not that easy to pick sticks and strips with chopsticks. We manage somehow, proof the empty dishes.

After we put the grandparents in a taxi (an adventure in itself, because they don't want to take foreigners: you say you want to go to the Ox Mosque and he doesn't understand Niu...luckily they had the hotel card, so they didn't have to talk through hand signs and i-phone) we walk toward the subway. We arrive at the evening market: a long way of tables, with little roofs and red lanterns, on which you could see sepias, sea horses, larvae of silk worms, sea stars, scorpions (a big one 50 yuans, two little ones 15 yuans). 

Ileana wants to try. She declares she likes them and almost doesn't share with her father. 

The exhibit continues with tofu, food, fruit kebabs. The spectators take pictures, order food, a girl covers her eyes in order not to see. We get out of here, only to enter on one of the two pedestrian streets in Beijing. On sides, stores full of light, in the middle, tents with trinkets. It is closing time and there are less people, but still they occupy all the space.

The Forbidden City
We meet with the grandparents despite the hordes of people. The guide tells us little things about what we're seeing and he is careful not to loose us. He is considerate and asks us if we would like to take a picture in front of the building and then we move along. Somehow this way of herding frustrates me, I don't have the liberty to find a better angle, or a better framing, not to talk about light, but I keep my mouth shut because I know we'll stay longer in the palace, and I'll take my pictures then.
After the first courtyard, is the second, and after that is the palace with the stairs from the movie" The Last Emperor."

Everything is at a huge scale: five bridges, five stairs, countless significances, countless protocols and above all, tourists. We had to willingly push ourselves into a mass of bodies to see the throne and the dragon that was playing with a pearl on the ceiling. 

After this, things seem to slow down, different groups following different interests in the city. The concubine area, the emperor's bedroom with a long (for a long life) and narrow bed, spaces in which you don't feel crushed. The garden had those constructions of hollowed rock to look like mountains, some pagodas, and trees that grow together.

The grandparents leave and we go to see the exhibition of clocks. We watched as the roofs of a pagoda lowered one into another, while little statues revolved and flowers rotated, and a melody accompanied the whole hullaballoo.
We tried to find the Jade Exhibition, but though we had a map in our hands, and walked diligently through different yards, we couldn't find it and gave up. We were too tired to go back to the first courtyard so I declared myself content with the pictures I took.
We spent the evening at the Red Theatre after a forced march through the mob. We saw a Kung Fu show. It was the story of a boy who decided to become a Kung Fu monk, who learns everything by the book (he lies down on blades, breaks wood sticks and metal ones, and stones), how he is tempted by his own imagination and looses his place, and through penitence and hard discipline recuperates and he will be the next instructor of Kung Fu. The children liked the show.

The Temple of Heaven
It is a complex related to religion. The Emperor would have come here to pray for good harvest and weather bringing animal sacrifices, after he would have spend the night in abstinence. At these prayers were present the little plaques with the names of his ancestors, each one with his altar and the vat for incense. Enameled blue tiles on the roofs, red gates, with golden knobs, a variety of colors. 

A platform built over other three, like a tiered cake, that has in the middle a convex stone surrounded by nine other in the first circle, eighteen in the second and so on, until the ninth one with eighty-one stones in it (it seemed that nine was a perfect number). 

It is a very nice place, with a garden of junipers of hundreds of years.

But for me the people were the show. It is Thursday noon time and the park is full. Young, old, all ages. Under that tree some women rehearse for a Chinese opera following the text and notes on paper. Over there, in the middle of the alley, there are ten couples dancing a triple swing. You can see that they have experience. Two women dance together and one hesitates, she is not used to lead. In between them walk pedestrians, a grandmother follows her nephew who just started to walk. I have antsy feet, I would like to dance too. We will do it at some distance, and the Chinese people will ogle at us more than at their countrymen.

We walk further and we see rows of women dancing the Chinese Macarena. I have no problem joining the group, and have a blast following the steps that repeat themselves on the cardinal directions. Mihai tells me that I was the only one smiling. In the end I thanked my partners, who were talking happily and noisily about my (and Maria's) participation.

And we walk some more and under some trees a woman with colored ribbons was making eights in time with music. She invited the children, and I followed suit. It wasn't easy to make it flow. Shortly we were sweaty and tired. 
In the quieter part of the park we saw people relaxing, with their eyes closed in front of a tree, or on a bench, in the lotus position, or doing a tai qi exercise.

And that's how we saw Beijing. And we climbed into the train with soft beds (but firm) toward Luoyang and that's how the story ends.
Zai jian! See you!

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