Friday, April 26, 2013

April 25, 2013 Arriving in Beijing and the first day here.

5:23 am and I've already been at the airport for about 10 minutes already.  I was the second person to go through customs, so I got out just as the plane was scheduled to land.  Dylan is planning to get here around 6 so I have a little time to get acclimated.

The flight was completely fine, luxurious even, as I was seated by a window by an emergency exit with tons of leg room next to a man who spoke very good English and wanted to talk, so I had a very companionable travel friend the whole time - until he fell asleep and snored a bit.  Thankfully I brought my ear plugs with me - I don't travel without them! - so that was OK.  I got about 3 hours sleep.  I'm sure it will catch up with me soon enough but for now I feel fine.  We had dinner and breakfast on the plane, both of them not very good but adequate.  I'm so thankful Dylan knows his way around and will take care of my gustatory needs at least for today.  He has class for 8-10 this morning so I'm taking he'll take me to the hostel, which is near his University, and let me unpack and sleep for a while then will come and get me after class.  I'm guessing he didn't sleep too much last night either.  He's usually up til around 2 or so.  

I had some hopes that I would be waylaid in Amsterdam so I could go see the VanGogh and Rembrandt museums today but by the time I landed at that airport and walked the half hour to the right gate, I was just as glad to continue on to Beijing without interruption.  All this traveling is quite bizarre to me after so many years of staying at home, only going to the beach or to visit family.  The time of raising kids is so focused and concentrated on just that and almost nothing else.  It's strange having so much time and so many opportunities for myself without having to considers the kids.  They are off on so many adventures themselves, it isn't even possible to take their schedules into account!

I look up from this writing every so often, searching the floor for a very tall white man.  I think he probably stands out from the crowd quite a bit.  The hall was almost empty just a few minutes ago.  Now it is getting crowded. I trust he'll find me.  

He did!  Of course.

We came by taxi to his dorm which is a striking, modern building at Beda University.  It was fun, and a little bit disconcerting somehow, to see his room, the very one I've seen on the Internet so often as we've Skyped.  We talked for a while until I realized I wasn't making a lot of sense anymore because my tiredness was starting to take over.  That was around 6:30.  I guess I didn't last all that long!  Dylan's roommate wasn't there so I curled up in Dylan's bed and tried to calm my brain and my body enough to be able to fall asleep.  It certainly felt good to be horizontal!  I drifted off to sleep a couple of times, waking to unfamiliar noises,then falling back asleep.  At one point, Dylan's roommate, Taka, returned.  I heard enough to recognize I probably needed to sit up and do the polite thing - greet him from my haze and be friendly.  I think I might have embarrassed him, but I was too tired to be embarrassed myself.  I fell back asleep.  Dylan left for class.  Taka was in the room, but I didn't notice.  When Dylan got back, he took a nap too.  I finally roused myself around 11:20, thinking it would be wise to get up and have a day so I could get on a decent schedule.  I checked email til Dylan woke up a few minutes later.  

We rushed a little bit and got over to one of the many student cafeterias near him for lunch.  I've posted a picture of me eating there.  It was interesting.  When we went in, we picked up a eat of green plastic chop sticks - no other utensils were available.  Then we went to the perimeter where there were 10 -12 different serving areas, each offering different things.  I think some had noodles others Chinese pancakes, maybe some spring rolls.  The food we got was pretty good - about like a typical Chinese restaurant with rice and some sort of vegetable or veggie/meat mixture in a sauce.  The sauces had a bit more subtlety and variety to them than most restaurants ive been too though.  The sweet and sour pork was especially good.  I was also craving vegetables - they were hard to come by in Paris - so I had a bok choy dish with egg in it.  Dylan got some mushrooms which were quite flavorful and interesting.  We had one other dish to but I can't remember what it was.  All that cost 12 ¥ or $2.  Oh yeah, we also got drinks, some kind of plum juice, I think it was.  It was more food than we could eat.  

After lunch we walked through the campus so I could see the classrooms where Dylan has spend so much time these last months.  The buildings themselves were about 100 years old and quite beautiful, fairly ornately decorated with what look like "typical" Chinese ornamentation - curved, sloped roofs, lovely colorful trim below the roof, lions and other figures balances on the corners and edges of the roof.  The windows had beautiful lattice work rather than our typical American rectangles.  It was a pleasure to look at.  While in one of the classroom buildings, it seemed like a good idea to use the facilities.  That was when Dylan broke the news to me that the toilets are generally squat toilets.  That means they are a porcelain hole in the floor over which one squats to excrete whatever one needs to eliminate.  He then handed me a little package of tissues wrapped in plastic to use because bathrooms do not generally come equipped with toilet paper.  And what toilet paper is used is to be deposited into a trash can in the stall NOT flushed with the bodily wastes.  I tend to forget then feel bad about not being a good enough person to dig in there and get it out.  I am noble enough that I am squatting (not that I have a choice, I realize).  I am not also going to dig my toilet paper out of there!  I WILL however do better about remembering. 

It's interesting being so close to the floor - it's good for my leg muscles, and it makes me really pay attention to the cleanliness of the floor.  My nose is only about 10 inches off of it.  I also will not wear skirts unless I know I'll be able to use a US style toilet that day.  Too much to keep track of, and I definitely wouldn't want it joining my toilet paper in the drain...

Having survived the excitement of a new way of going to the bathroom, we took off to walk around the lake.  There is a splendidly beautiful manmade lake on the campus which is extraordinarily beautiful right now because things are blooming all over.  There also was virtually no pollution today. It was at a 30 today, equivalent to most major metropolitan areas.  Other days it's been closer to 300. On those days the sky is white, the buildings blend into that white, at least 1/3 of the people wear masks to help them breathe.  Dylan and my seatmate on the plane both exclaimed how lucky we were today that the weather was so perfect.  The temperature was about 70 a lot of he day getting cooler in the evening.

The lake was so beautiful.  It was planted with many blooming trees and flowers and was filled with coi.  There were many people there taking pictures with very good cameras with very big lenses.  My iPad just didn't measure up but I was nonetheless very glad to have it.

Part way around the lake, Dylan and I sat down and talked for a while, catching up, enjoying each other's company.  I loved it!  I really like my kids, their fundamental personalities as well as the adults they are becoming.  That feels great.

We returned to his dorm to get my luggage so I could go check into the hostel he found for me.  It's on the other side of the campus  so we decided to pay a taxi driver the $2 or $3 to drive us there rather than haul it the mile or so over cobblestones and through roads, up and over bridges, etc.  I'm sure you get the picture!  

The hostel is very nice.  My room is clean, fairly spacious, with a double bed, dresser, desk and luggage rack.  The room comes with a bathrobe and some sandals to wear to the bathroom.  The towels are not Egyptian cotton - I will definitely be using Chris's camping towel to supplement those.  They're closer to dish towels in size and thickness - worn out ones!  Other than that the room is great.  You can't drink the water here AT ALL without boiling it, so the hotel provides thermoses in each room and a dispenser on the third floor where you can get as much boiling water as you want.  Dylan has a water boiler in his room plus he and his roommate have a water dispenser with 5 gallon jugs which someone delivers to their room as needed.  The university provides the hot water to the students.  Several places on campus there are small buildings with many different-colored thermoses lined up on the sidewalk and steps, awaiting the students who might need the water.  Water is at a premium in Beijing.  In Dylan's dorm,they have to use their room card to turn on the faucets in the bathroom to wash their hands.  They do have a faucet and sink in their room though which gives them all they want without of a card.

I don't have a bathroom or sink in my room - that was going to be $50 per night.  I decided to opt for $30/night instead and use the one down the hall.  I'd rather use the extra money for more fun stuff!  And besides, they gave me such a handsome robe to use this way!

After checking into the hotel, we road Dylan's scooter over to a place where his friends were waiting to get a massage.  Oh my goodness I am so glad I did that!  My body has been so contorted this last week with airplane rides, hauling my suitcase up and down zillions of steps in Paris, sleeping too little, sitting too much 2 days, and walking about 10 miles/day the other days.  I definitely needed the massage!  There was a woman at this door who assessed what each of us needed.  She looked at my tongue and said I looked very worn down.  Yep! (I actually feel great,but I can well imagine that my body is worn down! Dylan had said the massages cost 88¥ , about $12, for a hour, but the woman said I needed a better one than that to revitalize me.  I believed her. So I paid the princely sum of 188¥, or about $30, for an hourlong very intense,targeted massage,one of the deepest,most pointed ones I've ever had. It was wonderful.  The set up was fascinating.  Dylan and I were led into a fairly large room with three tables in it.  We were given clothes to put on, the tops of which resembled the striped outfits holocaust victims had to wear.  The bottoms were white pants with elastic and a string tie at the waist.  Dylan's came up to his calf.  Mine fit but the top was gargantuan.  The masseuses,both men, came in once we were ready and had us lie down on tables with permanent holes cut into them for our faces.  The massage was excellent.  Interestingly, he did it through the pjs I had on as well as through a thin blanket. The man found places I didn't know I had, and he let me know I was sore in those places.  It was partially -mostly - pleasurable, but sometimes it was too much, and I had to get Dylan to ask him to lessen up on the pressure.  He told me that my thighs being so tight meant my energy was drained.  He also massaged my belly a lot - that's something US masseuses don't do as a matter of course.  There are lots of sensitive spots for me throughout he region.  When he got to my belly button, that was especially sensitive.  Interesting to experience.  Other than the fact that he room was fairly chilly, it was a great massage.  I plan to go back once or twice more while here.  Dylan enjoyed his a lot too- he said that his guy did things to his back no one has done before - in a good way.  

After the massage, we went upstairs in that building to a wonderful cafe lined with books.  It's called Heaven Cafe, I think.  It was a wonderful space.  Expensive for Chinese standards, but great to hang out in.  Several of his friends were there doing their homework.  It's very fun listening to Dylan speak Chinese.  It's such a different language, so utterly incomprehensible to me, I'm extremely impressed with how well he an speak it.  

From the cafe, we decided to go to dinner at a dumpling restaurant nearby.  Chris and I made some Chinese pork dumplings recently, so I was feeling very curious to learn what the real thing would taste like. They had about 30 different kinds.  We could have gotten a platter of 40 of them with different color wrappers - green, yellow, black,orange and white, I think - but we simply weren't hungry enough for all that.  Instead we got veggie ones with carrots and cabbage in them (the ones we preferred) and some mutton ones.  Those were OK but a bit strong tasting.  We got 12 of each of them for $4 total.  The dumplings were served with a teapot full of the water they were cooked in for us to drink with them.  It's supposed to be healthy.  It tasted like weak broth.  Overall, it was a good meal, and very cheap!

After dinner, we were both feeling tired and Dylan had to go back to fill out an application for a conference he wants to take part in this summer, so he brought me back to the hotel then took off.  I was glad to come up to my room and unpack and put things away. This will be my home away from home for the next nine days.  I hope it won't be too noisy outside - that's the only problem I can foresee.  It's not the busy street, but there is a lot of activity out there during the day.  Tonight it's not bad.  I have earplugs.  And I'm exhausted.  I'll manage!

Speaking of which, it is time for me to go to bed.  It's been a terrific day, but I'm tired and ready to sleep.  My body might be confused.  It's 4:40 PM Paris time and 10:40 am Richmond time.  They're about to start the day I'm just ending.  I'm trying to just let my body relax and move through the days as it needs to  slowly or quickly, napping or not, sleeping when it needs to at night.  The jet lag hasn't been bad at all, actually.

Tomorrow we're going to get Dylan a cell phone so we can call each other then he'll have a better phone when I leave (he wants one anyway - I'm just a good excuse to get one) then well go to the Forbidden Palace to do the tourist thing before the weekend (hoping to avoid holiday weekend crowds (it's May Day)) then, if there's still time, we'll go to the silk market to visit his tailor to see what sort of fabrics and clothes we cAn find just for fun...  He's not out of class til noon, no I'm looking forward to some major sleep between now and then..

thanks for reading! Have a great day! 

 the Beijing airport at 5:10 AM

 Our first meal together at the student cafeteria.  I think I'm looking a little bit weary, though it's after a 3 hour nap.
 the gate to the classroom where Dylan had all of his classes last semester
 Not my favorite thing about China!  A squat toilet and the basket for putting the paper in when you're done.  My squatting muscles are getting stronger!
 The fire extinquishing system.
 Confucious in the corner of Dylan's classroom building.
 up on the wall in his class building - they weren't allowed to speak any English.

 We saw several statues like this of beautiful, natural stones treated like sculptures.  I can see why.  They're beautiful.
 Dylan in the garden by the lake.
 The lake at the University.  A beautiful, serene place to walk.

 building by the lake.  Very pretty, but Dylan didn't know what it was used for.
 a famous tower, but I don't think you can go into it.
 Dylan's dorm building.  Very nice.
 Dylan's massage outfit.  Mine was equally charming but the legs were longer on me, and the shirt was much larger!
 at the cafe after the massage.  I guess I was feeling good!  (or silly!)
 Our meal at the dumpling place. 

Day 2

 Typical street scene, this one is by the gate into the University where I was waiting for Dylan to get me after his classes.  The  gates are guarded by men in uniforms in order to keep the students protected and safe.

 bus in China
 The pollution was pretty bad today, 130 as opposed to 30 the day before.  The sky was no longer blue.

 Korean food, beef, and rice, that we ate at the Silk Market.
 Bacon and Tofu - that seems like such a weird combination since bacon is seen as so unhealthy and tofu so healthy in the US.

 vegetable dish with DELICIOUS water chestnuts - they actually had flavor - not just crunch.  The mushrooms are called the horrible name of Jew's Ears.  They tasted great, but the name is not my favorite.
Dried Fried Green Beans

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