Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 2 - Part II. So we are in Beijing, but where are we?

Step Two - getting our bearings inside

First we explored the hotel, getting our bearings inside.  We learned that this hotel actually connects through a low building to the largely identical tower of apartments?(I think) next to it.  This short-cut came in handy a couple of times on just  our first day out.  Immediately, it allowed us to see the exquisitely carved 130kg mammoth tusks in the adjoining lobby. (Yes, mammoth tusks, not elephant).  The first one was a carving of 500 major saints of Buddhism.  The blurb next to it said it had taken a master carver and 10 assistants, 10 years to complete.  And there ARE 500 completely individual figures, with expressive faces, and their own little name placard on shoulders or around necks, including the monk who is said to have brought Buddhism from India,  to China, with his legendary companions Piggy and Monkey, and his faithful horse, all riding on the back of a dragon. And Sakyamuni.
The other tusk what another carving of nearly equally mind-boggling complexity and detail depicting the blessings of Fortune, Longevity. Prosperity and Mercy.  Then, map in hand we went outside.  Cold.  Fortunately bright, clear and cold, instead of cloudy, windy and smoggy, but cold, and even colder in the shade.

[Side Note:  I beg your patience.  The above, like so much of what I want to say keeps coming out as a run on sentence.  However this grammatical bad habit is actually a good way of expressing the experience of Beijing.  I can't say "China" because I haven't been there, but I'd suspect that too.]

Step Three - getting our bearings outside

Since we started at the wrong spot on our map, It took us some dedicated walking and gwaking to figure out where we really where.   Starting lost like that is not as tough as it may seem since all the maps I can get my hands either cover a postage stamp sized area showing only tiny streets and a sliver of a large street, or are so big they don't have ANY labels (Chinese or otherwise) on the small streets, so I am unsure which small street forking off a main road I am dealing with.  The wander about proved useful in other ways.   We fot to see; How Beijingers use those long heavy plastic strips you sometimes see over freezer and refrigerated sections as doors to keep people from, "Foom!" letitng out too much heat each time a door is opened.  
          Amusing logos (Pac-Man knock off as the spokes-toon for a restaurant), and the true tininess and heavy turnover of shops. 

       And leaned how far it was to the Subway.  We found a place to buy hand lotion and some candy to suck on for dry throats, and broke my first big bill.

Well, the only kind of big bill.  Note on currency: Chinese Yuan, or renminbei, or RMB come in 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Y denomination bills.  There are 1Y coins, which are supremely useful in the strange, control-freaky Subway System (more on that later), but are rarer than hens' teeth.  The Yuan is also divided into 10 parts called jiao.  There are bills AND coins for these in denominations of essentially 5 jiao  and 1 jiao (for sanity's sake I thought of these at 50 cents and 10 cents).  The jiao is then divided into 10 parts called mao.  So in 1 yuan there are 10 jiao or 100 mao.  Nothing that I found was priced down to the mao.  I bought a few things priced down to some number of yuan and 5 jiao.  For walking around purposes it was useful to think of the 100Y as having the buying power of $20.  (It actually converts to around $16, but moving on.)  Can you imagine a society where the biggest bill that existed was a $20?  
Alec asked, "So what do the drug dealers use as flash."
Silly Alec doesn't he know there are no drug dealers, or anyone else who needs flash in China.  The government says so.
Actually reading the paper back out in the real world a few days later answered that question... they use American dollars.  Duh!

After our initial reconoiter, Tavin and I realized quite rapidly that we needed something to bury our faces in.  Scarves were called for.  We picked up a hot, eggy, saucy pancake with fried tofu-skin filling - with fresh chopped herbs - from a street vendor, and headed back to the room.  (FYI, I learned this is called "jian-bing" if you want to try it.  You can get it with chili-oil if you want)

(Sorry these last posts have been low on pictures.  I'll make up for it in the next posts.)

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