Walking in China. Jenny 6/17/2010
After waking up and untangling ourselves from our silk liners which has managed to twist themselves tightly, we stumble to the washroom,mindful not to use too much paper product and not to throw it in the toilet. We shower and throw on our clothes from yesterday. Before even leaving the room, we can feel the hustle going on outside the door. Stepping out into the small alleyway, we turn right. We have learned this way to the subway. It is hot. We look up at the sky and see haze and a sun that almost resembles the moon, it is so subdued. We walk down the narrow hutong. It feels like an alley, but small shop-owners are hanging out with their families in front of their shops. We see shops selling cigarettes, mobile phones, bike parts, or fruit. Occasionally a whiff of something putrid crosses our olfactories. But the Chinese are neat. Someone is always sweeping the area right in front of their property, someone else is throwing a bucket of water on the step and mopping. There are piles of old cement excavated from a renovation project neatly stacked, waiting for disposal. Little tiny dogs walk along with their owners, unleashed and well-behaved. Small children run around with “split pants”, a baggy one-piece with a split in the crotch, their little butts showing. Apparently, poorer parents don't use diapers but instead train their children to “go” at the prompt of a whistle. We pass a construction site, and comment on the progress they have made just since yesterday. The guys are working seemingly all hours of the day and night. We turn onto a main road, and we are in a newer Beijing, with tall buildings, bumper-to-bumper cars, and young men dressed in uniform patrolling at every corner. We get on the metro. So easy. It is always 2 yuan, it is color-coded, and very well marked. No one is shoving, people are kind. Oh yes, it can be crowded, but so can any other subway in the world. A teenage Chinese girl notices us, and wants to talk to us to practice her English. Back up to the street, we get off on what is marked the north-east corner. We consult our map, which says it is the north-west corner. We walk three blocks, seeing no signs of our destination. We walk back to the starting point, then walk 3 blocks another direction. We stop to ask someone for help. They smile and shrug their shoulders because they don't understand us. We show them the Chinese letters for what we are looking for. They still don't know where it is. An hour later, we make it to some unmarked office door, six stories up in a random high-rise. After our meeting, we are starving. We walk down a crowded and bustling street with carts set up all over making it obligatory to walk in the road. Rickshaws, bikes, and scooters are constantly grazing our heels, always honking or ringing a bell to warn us they are coming. The occasional Mercedes squeezes through, stopping everyone around them until they pass. We find a shop cooking over the heat of huge pots, and decide warily to eat there. We walk to the counter and everything is in Chinese. We wait while everyone stares at us in our discomfort, until someone runs out from the back who knows a few words in English, and has a menu in hand with English descriptions. We eat. We try to eat as much of the glutinous rice soup or the grey mystery meat as we can, without feeling we have offended anyone. Then we find a shady place somewhere and order a cold Tsing-Tao beverage in a bottle. Ahh. We reflect.