Wake Up! We’re in Beijing!

“Rejoice & be filled with delight you boundless realms which I create…” {Isaiah 65:18}

Wake-up Beijing music blasted over street loud-speakers outside our hotel at 8 a.m.  Dutifully off we went each day to explore the city…Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City rich with great halls, pavilions & palaces that played home to 7 Emperors, Wangfujing Market, Olympic Square, the Great Hall of the People {akin to our Congress}, National Museum of China, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, the Gate Tower over Zhengyangmen …beautiful gardens, lively & colorful restaurants, bustling underground tunnels, the retiring of the Red Flag at sunset.

I’ll let photographs speak for themselves this time.

(Note to anyone traveling in a land where you don’t speak the language: Take a business card of your hotel to give to cab drivers when you’re ready to return. This beats leaving a trail of bread crumbs.)

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Shanghai’d

After enduring 15+ hours on a plane I desperately wanted a shower & a good night’s sleep. What day is it anyway? The limo driver who picked us up at the airport had a death wish. No really, I’m certain of it. He weaved in & out of other cars, accelerating with petal to the metal urgency, then slammed on brakes, honking & gesturing…and that was BEFORE we even left the airport parking garage!! I immediately came to the conclusion that barf bags are wasted on airlines; they belong in the back seat of cars in Shanghai.  Our wild ride to the hotel in the Bund held me spellbound, half trying not to throw up, half attempting to take in all the sites.  Unbroken rows of apartment high rises sky-scraped clouds, more than hinting at millions of residents in this city. Unmistakable pollution…thick, gray low overcasts…permeated the entire city.

We survived the ride to the hotel but don’t ask me how. Never in my life have I seen cars change lanes in such proximity to one another w/o scraping the paint job. If not for the terror, I might have been impressed.

Telling ourselves it was too early for bed, Zech and I strolled along the riverfront across from Pearl Tower and into the Bund–a magnificent architectural area displaying buildings of Greek revival, art deco, and several other styles unfamiliar to my bloodshot eyes. We were both aghast at the peskiness of the merchants who followed us with no comprehension of the term “personal space”, grabbing at our clothes and shouting at us to come & buy…everything from trinkets to toys to rice jewelry to fried octopus. One very resourceful man who knew English followed Zech shouting “EDDIE, EDDIE come lookie”. Puzzled at first, we enjoyed a good chuckle when Zech figured out that the man was reading the logo on his Eddie Bauer backpack. Nearly every other person wanted their photo taken with Zech. It frightened him at first…there’s just something about having strangers paw at you that sets you on edge. But as Zech began to understand how excited people were to see someone so different looking from themselves, he eased into the attention.

Shanghai’s beauty did not disappoint. I’m sharing photos of some of the sites we took in at Jade Buddha Temple, Shanghai Theatre, Shanghai Museum, People’s Square, & Yu Garden. And stunning views from our hotel of Shanghai skyline and riverfront.

China: So what about the food?

I’ve been back at work for a few days now and questions about my China trip bombard me everywhere I go… “What was your favorite part?”  “Was it beautiful there?” “Where did you go?” “Tell me about the food”…{and the now predictable follow-up question} “was it totally weird?” Friends want to hear all about our experiences and they especially want to see pictures. So, I’ve decided to set aside all my deep ponderings for now and just answer the basic questions, a few at a time.

I’ve already blogged about my favorite part…it was without question, the people.  They were, for the most part, gentle & friendly.  Smiles were the universal language spoken in China.  From our very first day, people wanted to meet the “round eyes”. Some folks starred at us, like they’d never seen “our kind” before.Others rushed up to hug us or hand a camera to a friend and stand next to us with a big grin while their photo was taken. Some wanted to touch my hair, giggling… I wonder if over the color of it. My poor son was initially shocked, even freaked him out a bit by locals buddying up to him. I told him, “Act like you’re already a famous NFL superstar and these are Chinese fans mobbing you.” Ultimately, we gave in and went along, having fun…in a “who wants to be a rock star” sort of way.

Now about the food…how about we play a little game? I’ll describe something and you see if you can guess what it was. That way you’ll feel like you were with us cause honestly, half the time we didn’t know what we were eating! Sure, you order things from the dual-language menu, but a main course comes with all kinds of “extra treats” that left us wondering, “WHAT is THAT?”. In smaller, older communities menus are only in Chinese.  We got to a point where we stopped asking because the waitress would say “you no wanna know, juss try” adding their cute Asian giggle.  So here we go…it looks like chicken nuggets only thinner & smaller, battered & fried and slimy on the inside.  Did you guess crispy fried eel strips?  Good for you!  Okay, try this one. It’s about the size of a baseball with legs on it and 2 eyes on top bugging out at you, reeeeeeally slimy and swimming in a bowl of thick brown soup.  Yup, boiled frog with brown sauce {don’t even think about asking why they don’t just call the “brown sauce” gravy}!  Here’s another…it’s gray {there’s you’re first hint that it shouldn’t go in your mouth}, the thickness of a pork chop and about half that size, pointed on one end and quite tough with tiny bumps on it. Give up?  It’s goat tongue! Had enough or do you want to hear about Beef Tripe?  When I explained what that is, I loved Zech’s brilliant observation…hey if Kansans can eat buffalo testicles and call ‘em mountain oysters let the Chinese enjoy their cow guts and call it tripe!  The most interesting desserts? Cold coconut porridge and popsicles made from red beans, no sugar added. Yummm. NOT! But Hallelujah, my birthday cake was out of this world delicious!

I’m embarrassed to admit that twice we ducked into a McDonald’s just to find food that didn’t still have the eyes attached {purportedly an indication that the food is very fresh… was that supposed to make me like it more?  hmm}.  And the picnic we enjoyed on the Great Wall was a chicken sandwich from Starbucks! When a couple of Chinese students interviewed Zech for their English language course & the question came up “what is your favorite Chinese food?” my son’s immediate reply was “RICE”!  The award for bravery went to Zech though for expanding beyond just Chinese food…he ate Thai and Vietnamese and he was even willing to try extra spicy Korean kimchee…a big hunk of it, too.  The photos chronicle that adventure from first dare to final red-faced gag.  He later described it as “non-habit-forming”.

Chinese locals take much pride in the fact that they don’t waste any part of the animal. When they eat, it’s serious business. And more often than not it’s colorful and pretty to boot! I almost felt bad snapping the head off that deer carved carrot and munching on it. But at least that time I knew what was playing with my taste buds!  Sadly, the most appetizing thing I saw was a pile of fruit in a really cool brass bowl directly in front of a Buddha statue. A local gasped and slapped my hands slapped when I reached for an apple!

Next up:  Places you’ve studied in history class…