We have just finished the tour of the Forbidden City and a long walk around the moat.
We find the restrooms down by the subway entrance and there is also a food vendor there. This is Sarah’s first exposure to the non-western toilet; needless to say, she is unimpressed with the squatter toilets that this country is known for. She refuses to use it, not a good sign for how the rest of this vacation is going to go for her.
“I am not impressed by the food cart and still am not comfortable with eating from street vendors. Sam is hungry past the point of caution and gets some food. We find our way under the street and over to Tiananmen Square.”
I am not quite sure what to expect at Tiananmen Square. I know little about it other than it was the site of the last public pro-Democracy attempt in this country that got lots of international coverage. It was the suppression of this uprising that has made me nervous about this country. I expected more that what we saw. It is nothing like what I expected and my expectations were pretty low. We are disappointed that all of the monuments that are associated with the location are chained off so that you can’t approach them. I wonder if there was some concern about the time we were there or if that is the standard Chinese approach to these monuments. It is by no means like Washington DC and the monuments that we have in that location.
We watch the color guard at the National Flag, it is still more than a couple of hours until sunset and it is cold; we won’t be remaining here to see the flag ceremony. We walk through the square and I see a “roach coach” in the distance. I hope be able to find something I am willing to eat. We have been walking for a long time, it is cold and we all would like to rest. We find a light pole that has a bench of sorts around its base and claim it as our own. While the rest of the family is resting there I go over to the roach coach and get a couple of items to eat. We eat and then make our way back to the subway. Our next stop is the Silk Market. We will be shopping until dinner. We are going to be eating dinner with friends from Arkansas that are working in Beijing with the US State Department. It has been over eight years since we have seen them.
We arrive at the Silk Market; it is only a couple of stops from where we are. We have tried to warn Sarah about the shopping experience here, it is nothing like what she is used to and probably ever seen. We hope that the warning are enough to help her be successful in the process. We had Sam here earlier in the week and he has a better idea, Sarah’s describes the experience:
“Shopping was an experience that I will never forget. The little shops are jam packed and no bigger than a large cubicle and full of items. I wish I would have gotten a picture of this but didn’t. They are very pushy and always ask “what your best offer?” I type whatever on their calculator and then they freak because it is so much less then what they initially said. “Are you kidding me; no no, give me best offer!” I heard this phrase over and over again the entire visit there. My dad said that if they don’t go with your offer then just start walking away and they usually come down to what you first offered. I got quite a bit the first time we were there. The first stop was at a movie shop. I left there feeling really happy about my purchases and then found these amazing thigh length flat boots that I spent a fraction of what they would have cost in the US. They are my favorite shoes at the moment! I kind of have a thing for shoes lately! My dad bought me another suit case since I will need it for all the new things I’d be taking home with me!”
I was actually kind of mad at Sarah when I saw the luggage she was travelling with, I had paid for her to bring an extra bag on this trip. It was our bag with the products we just can’t find over here in China. The bag that she had gotten as a checked bag for Makaela was actually her bathroom bag which is really smaller than a carry-on bag. Since I am going to be sending her home with some of the stuff we are buying to distribute to her siblings it only makes sense to get a better suitcase that will actually carry more stuff. I think we ended up spending about $225 RMB for the suitcase which is probably the largest you can have on a plane without paying over sized charges on. It is an imitation hard-shell Samsonite in Pink.
We wander through the Silk Market, bargain hunting. We are looking for items that are unique and represent our experiences here. We get some nice things and stuff them in our bags. While we are looking at these items Sam is out trying to see about getting an Apple product. They might look the same but we are certain they are knockoffs. He is a little unsure what he wants and he is not sure if he is getting a good price. Since I have no idea about what an Ipad would cost I am not much help either. We walk back and forth between two stalls trying to get the best price. Sam finally decides that the products are not legitimate and he talks himself out of them.
Scott Biffle is finally off work and has made his way over to the Silk Market. We are happy to see him but disappointed that his wife and kids are not able to be with us. We learn that they actually live out past the airport so his Beijing commute is not a short one. It is probably longer than the commute that he had to the chemical weapons disposal plant that we worked at in Arkansas. He was commuting from North Little Rock to Pine Bluff and it took him the better part of an hour in each direction then.
I found it interesting that the girls in the market were able to immediately tell that Scott worked at the Embassy. I asked him if he shopped here much and he indicated that he rarely if ever was in there. I couldn’t see anything that made him look much different than the rest of us. Maybe it was his accent, it is just one of those things that make you go, HUM!
We exit the Silk Market and Scott spots a couple of illegal taxis that are trying to hustle us. I think that they saw an easy mark with all of us looking so foreign. What they don’t expect is for Scott to negotiate with them in Chinese. I am surprised at how much easier the negotiation went with him as compared to how it typically goes for me. Scott got a recommendation on where to eat from some of his friends at the embassy. The area around the Silk Market used to have most of the American Embassy’s building there, but those main offices have moved to another location.
Scott indicates that these old embassy buildings are now under renovation to support the visa application process. According to Scott, the visa process in a foreign country must be self sustaining. This means that the resources required to get a visa approved must be paid for by the fees gathered. He indicates that the US Embassy and Consulates in Beijing are not able to process as many visa applications to the US as they need to, the wait is beyond what I would consider excessive, something like a year or more. The hope is that with the additional facilities and resources that they will be able reduce that time to something more reasonable. He says that when he took the quotes for the building renovations (Scott is the Facilities Manager for Beijing) back in to the office for what it would cost for an accelerated schedule that no one even blinked at the price. He later found out that even in the current facilities they are grossing over $1M USD every month and that they need this building to process the backlog. The expected increase will be four-fold. Too bad I can’t figure out a way to put my wife to work at the embassy in that department. It looks like they have some growth opportunities there.
I often forget after being over here for even the short time we have been here that there are something that are different. We have just kind of accepted them and don’t really see them anymore. Sarah’s blog reminded me to discuss the whole stores and restaurants thing in a little more detail.
Restaurants and stores are different; where the US has invested in automatic doors and double door ways, the Chinese have installed freezer blankets. I think that there are some challenges in China, you don’t see the double entry door in stores that you see frequently in the US, it is just one door. With a lot of traffic through a door without the double door system the store temperature would soon be the same as the outside temperature. So I understand why they would resort to the freezer blankets but it is not what you would be used to seeing in the US. In most cases during the winter months we see either a large insulated blanket or they have the heavy plastic split curtains that would be used in the US to keep the freezer section cold, here it is used to keep the warm air inside the store. It is also very typical that the stores are not heated and the lights are not turned on unless there are shoppers inside. The register is typically by the light switches so that the staff can turn on the lights when you enter the store, the Chinese version of a sensory motion switch. While it may not seem so long ago, we have become very used to eating without having to smell cigarette smoke in the US. The Chinese are still dealing with those second hand smoke issues. Chinese restaurants are probably typical of what restaurants were like in the US in the 1960’s, there are ash trays on every table. Smoking is permitted in buildings still and there is nothing like the table next to you lighting up a pack of cigarettes to let you know that your meal is over.
We are eating at one of the proclaimed Peking Duck restaurants. We have eaten duck at a restaurant in Haiyang and it is said to be the Peking variety, I think that it is at least as good as what is served here. We order our dinner and enjoy the company and time we are able to spend with Scott. We are glad that he is enjoying his work with the State Department. We finish up dinner and ask the wait staff for directions to the nearest subway entrance. We should have known we had a problem when they couldn’t tell us where it was.
We looked on the maps that we have and it looks like we are right in the middle of one of the lines and it is about the same distance in either direction to get to an entrance. We know that we need to go to the south to get to our locations and we head out in that direction. When we think that we are just about there, we realize that the street that we are walking on dead ends into an apartment complex and it doesn’t have an exit on the other side. We missed by that much.
We can now either walk east or west to see if we can find a road that will take us that extra block or two to the south. We opt for east and realize that we should have gone west. It has been a nice walk, while cool it is not cold and the wind is not blowing. We decide that if we can find a taxi we will take it. It isn’t too long before a taxi stops in front of us to drop someone off and we get in. We are fortunate that the driver doesn’t get all bent out of shape because we have one too many people in his taxi. We utilize my handy picture of the subway exit sign to tell the driver where we want to go and say our goodbyes to Scott. He is going to catch a different cab.
We head back to the hotel and are glad to get there. We gather our things from the cab and we head back across the pedestrian walkway. We are happy to be home and we empty our shopping bags and prepare them for another day. We all are beginning to feel a little congested and I suspect that we are starting to have problems with the air in Beijing already. We are happy to see are hard Chinese beds tonight.