Wednesday, April 25, 2012

China – Beijing – First Impressions

“So, what are your first impressions?”

Gray, gray, gray.

That was the first thing I saw through the aircraft window as we approached Beijing airport, and that was the first thing we noticed as we left the huge terminal, driven in the large van sent by the travel agency to pick us up. We had no way of telling, of course, whether this was customary Beijing pollution or an unusually misty day, or a combination of both. We still don’t know, because we landed on Sunday afternoon local time (April 22, 2012), and as I write it is – hang on, let me check – Tuesday afternoon (April 24), and not only is it still super-gray but it is also raining, and has been since this morning. As far as I’m concerned, blue skies in Beijing is just a myth. Like that story of the blind men feeling an elephant and each giving a different description of his conclusion of what an elephant looks like, based on the part he touched.

Sorry I don’t have a photo to corroborate my above observation. All photos are on the camera, where they shall remain until we get home. Only yesterday I hastily, injudiciously, wrote to my kids that “blogging about China without uploading a single pic seems a bit-- maybe not altogether pointless -- but somewhat lacking.” Must swallow my words. Hubby forgot to pack the appropriate cable. I hinted that a big city in China was probably the perfect spot to buy such a cable, but my suggestion has been frowned upon.

Update: Have photos!

Grey Beijing from hotel window (Crowne Plaza, Chaoyang U-Town)

Enough background chit-chat.

We’ve just returned from a day on the Great Wall. It’s beautiful, the way it snakes up and down the hilly terrain, winds and bends, carrying millions of tourists every year… Today, because it’s only the beginning of the tourist season, it wasn’t very crowded. Not that we were alone there – far from it. Even though our guide assured us that we are taken to a slightly less popular part of the wall (but the part graced by former president Clinton, mind you), because it is less crowded, with fewer merchandise stalls. Climbing the slippery slopes with us were a variety of nationals, many in plastic raincoats in bright yellow, blue and red, and most carrying umbrellas. With good reason. The plan was for us to have a picnic lunch on the wall, complete with champagne, to celebrate our prowess. Due to the rain, the picnic lunch was eaten in the van, after climbing down, but the champagne was drunk on the first landing, before setting out, perhaps to give us courage.

Update: Photos of pre-climb bubbly, and the Great Rainy Wall: 

Bundled in raincoats, having a pre-climb drink on the Great Wall of China

A [plastic] glass of bubbly before hiking up the Great Wall of China

Nina in plastic raincoat on the Great Wall of China

The winding Great Wall of China on a misty, rainy day

 Our guide in Beijing is petite Wang Yi Hong, nicknamed Laura by Western tourists. Ever since our first meeting on Sunday afternoon, she’s been trying to teach us some basic expressions in Mandarin, such as “ni how” – hello; the non-committal reply “ma-ma hoo-hoo” – so-so; and the essential “boo ya” – I don’t want it, to be used upon insistent peddlers. On the way to any destination, she gives us a bit of history, interspersed with comments based on her own family’s experience. For example: In the 1950s and 60s, chairman Mao encouraged women to have babies, and 7-9 children families were quite the norm. By 1978, when Mao died, the country’s population had more than doubled thanks to that policy. And so the one-child policy was put into effect. Women becoming pregnant with a second child were forced to undergo an abortion, even at an advanced stage of the pregnancy, and severe punishments were meted out. Many baby girls were deserted. The lucky ones got adopted by foreign couples seeking a baby. Wang Yi Hong’s mother managed to have two daughters before 1978. But since Chinese parents value boys more than girls (long story – look it up if you don’t know), Mother wanted to try again, this time hoping for a boy. I think she tried to escape, or hide, in a different city, but to no avail. She was found out and caught by the authorities and forced to have an abortion.
Since the ‘90s, incidentally, the law has become more flexible: Farmers are allowed a second child, once Child #1 is four years old. Not a farmer? Tough. City folks are still allowed only one child. The fine for having a second child is higher in proportion to the size and standard of living of the city.

Laura, a.k.a. Wang Yihong, explains it all
 We are staying in a five-star business hotel, the Crowne Plaza, on the 17th floor. The hotel is as posh as you’d expect from such establishments. The most expensive item in the mini bar is the bottle of mineral water – the equivalent of 10 pounds sterling for a liter. You’re better off drinking beer or juice. Internet connection is ridiculously expensive, too. Which is why I’m now going to put on a dry pair of shoes (as opposed to the Timberland hiking shoes that got wet on the Great Wall) and go downstairs to the lobby, where there’s free WiFi, and try to post this, before you get tired of my story.

Our room in the Crowne Plaza, Beijing, Chaoyang U-Town

Fav amenities: yellow duck for bathtub...

Box with cute office supplies on desk

-        To be continued -

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