Friday, September 15, 2006

More Photos

Lisa and Katie at the breakfast buffet in the Poly Plaza hotel. The breakfasts were awesome, with all kinds of great, different foods. Also, Ryan and Katie play in a Beijing city park.

Katie tries on shoes (what else) in a Beijing market. The family stands in front of the bell tower, where the Chinese people used to tell the time over 600 years ago.

Climbing drum tower steps . . . VERY steep! Kind of scary! Katie watches an artist write her name in Chinese. We got one each for Doug, Katie and Zoe.

Ryan learns to paint with his fingers. Lisa and Doug looking at one of the ancient drums.

The oldest street in Bejing - 700 years old. It was full of peddlers, beggars and markets. Our Chinese tea ceremony. Don has a really funny story about tea, and remind us to tell you about the pee pee boy!

Lisa and Katie, Jerry and Doug in the rickshaws, ready to tour the Hutongs.

Katie and Sean sitting on a dragon in front of a Hutong home. Xiao John explaining to us about the Feng Shui design of a Chinese Hutong home.

Tired little puppies at the Chinese Acrobat show. What a great show - if only we could have stayed awake. The acrobats were amazing

You think U.S. traffic is bad?

It's 6:00 am Saturday here in Beijing and I have to talk about the traffic. We had to ride in a taxi twice yesterday - to and from the hutongs. The first time, Lisa, the kids, and I were all crammed into the back seat of a small car with our guide Xiao John (little John) tuned around talking to us the whole way, so I didn't pay as much attention to the madness going on all around us. The second time was rush hour and I was seated in the front seat. This is what I saw:

The road had lane markers, but that didn't seem to matter. Cars, busses, bikes and mototcycles just darted left and right squeezing into whatever space they could, and sometimes trying to fit where they couldn't. There was a bike lane on the right, but that didn't seem to matter either. The bike riders just flowed along with traffic, and when they needed to cross the road, just started to do it. I saw one woman riding a bike crossing the road against traffic, weaving in and out of moving cars, and I'm thinking "this woman's going to die!" But she didn't. And neither she or any of the drivers seemed worried or concerned or stressed. It's all part of life in this city. You drive with one hand on the wheel, and one holding a cell phone; one foot on the gas, and one foot on the brake. You can't imagine it untill you experience it.

Then, add to it my children, who had a good time laughing in the back seat on either side of Lisa, bouncing around with no seatbelts on (there were none), loudly calling each other "squatty potty" for the duration of the 45 minute cab ride from Hell. I imagine that the driver of the cab was wondering what they were saying over and over, and might go to his translation book to find the Chinese characters for squatty potty.

Speaking of Chinese characters, there were two really neat painters at the drum tower. One painted chinese landscapes with his fingers. He let Ryan (who was amazed by it) try it, which was nice. The other was a Chinese calligrapher, who would paint your name in Chinese. The kids watched her for a long time, so we bought one for Doug, Katie and Zoe. The total cost for these original paintings - 100RMB, which is about $12 US.

Lastly, I have to mention the rickshaws (bicycle cabs). In the hutong areas, they are everywhere, carrying tourists and locals alike. And they follow the same rules as the cars . . . none. Doug and I rode together and enjoyed it, but our driver ran into the rickshaw in front of us several times. At one point, our group of 7 richshaws got into a traffic jam in a hutong alley. We were going one way, while another group was coming toward us, and local residents were weaving in and out of us, either walking dogs, riding bikes, or getting in our way to try to sell us something. This, by the way, happened everywhere we went - peddlers walking up to us showing us their wares, saying "Look, look, you want. 20. 20. Look You want." Xiao John would sometimes say something abrupt to them and they would stop, but other times, we would just shake our heads. Xiao John said the peddlers know very little English - words like look, you want, here, good.

All of it is different, wild and really neat!

Touring Beijing

Happy Birthday to my mom, who turned 61 today (sort of). We were joking that for half of the day it was still Sept. 14 in Florida, so at home she was still only 60!

We all woke up before the breakfast buffet opened at 6:30 this morning, and the kids were hungry, so we made instant oatmeal in the room. Then we chowed down on omelets, bacon, sausage, cereal, fried cabbage, sesame balls, pancakes, fruit, fried rice, and lots of coffee at the buffet.

We then headed out to explore the area around our hotel. We found lots of shops, a kids' playground, and a McDonalds. At 1 p.m., we met our Hutong tour guides back at the hotel. We rode by taxi to an area just outside of the Forbidden City, where there was a drum tower and a bell tower. Both the drums and the bells were formerly used to let the Beijing citizens know what time it was. We climbed 69 very steep stairs to the top of the drum tower, where we saw an awesome drum show, the world's oldest drum, and one of the the world's largest drums. Next, at the bell tower, we experienced an Asian tea ceremony.

Then, we got into rickshaws and rode through the Hutong area. These are ancient alley ways that surround the Forbidden City, with thousands of homes. We stopped a few times, and actually got to visit in a home. It was a cool tour, and we felt we got to see a part of Beijing we would have never seen on our own.

I cannot let today go by without mentioning the bathrooms. (For those with more delicate dispositions, skip to the next paragraph). For the first time, we experienced the different bathrooms we'd heard so much about. And let me tell you, the kids were not impressed. Near the towers, they had what our guide called "3 star bathrooms". They had stalls with porcelain basins, which flushed, but they did not have seats, so you had to squat. Katie was very much against this, and we had two major arguments in the bathroom, before she gave in. In the market, I would say they had "1 star bathrooms" -- no stalls and no flushing! Ryan could not get over this, and had to describe everything he saw (and smelled) in great detail to the rest of us. At one point, I made the mistake of walking into the men's room, realizing there were lots of guys squatting down, and running out, very embarrassed!

Tonight, we went to an acobratics show. It seemed like a good idea when we bought the tickets yesterday, but by tonight we were all too tired to really enjoy it. Four of the five kids were asleep within the first 30 minutes, and 3 of the 7 adults dozed on and off throughout the whole thing. What I saw of the show was amazing, I just couldn't keep my eyes open.

On the bus ride home, Mom had an interesting conversaion with our guide. Rui mentioned that it was nice to see a big family like ours. She said in China, since the one-child policy began in 1980, most people only have one child, and no nieces, nephews, or cousins. She said she is unusual in her generation, because she has an older sister and a nephew. She said her parents always joke about the fact that she was very expensive, because they had to pay many fines to the government after she was born. Mom said she didn't know you could have a second child, and pay fines. Rui explained that in addition to the fines, they take your job away, but her parents had their own farm, so could still earn a living. Mom asked what people did when they lost their jobs, and Rui replied: "They just don't have a second child." But, she then went on to say that the one-child policy was necessary, or China would have "too many people."

By the way, in case anyone was worried, we did find Katie's blanket. She had no intention of leaving Beijing without it, so we were all very relieved.

Tomorrow we have a full day of touring, Sunday we are off to Anhui province, and Monday we get our Zoe!