The title of this blog comes from Wednesday night. Preston, another boy from my freshman dorm, arrived in China last weekend, so I met him and Tyler and a few of Tyler's coworkers at a bar because it was the last chance I'd have to go. We spent a couple of hours hanging out, but then both Preston and I had to leave (he had early meetings and I had to catch the last subway train). Before we went, the three of us wanted a picture together. Since the lighting inside was terrible, we went out onto the roof to take one. As we walk out we hear someone say "Tyler?" There were two men about our age, one from Harbin (China) and one from Belgium, both of whom Tyler had met during his year abroad with AFS. Tyler had had no idea that they were in Beijing, and they hadn't known he was, but here they all were, on the roof of a club in Beijing. So it is a small world, after all. AFS people are everywhere.
Thursday I went back out with Christina and her family. We had planned to go to some caves, but they were (shockingly) flooded, so plans changed. Instead we went to the Natural History Museum. I have to admit I was a little disappointed. I think the Smithsonians set my expectations a little high. The translations were bad and the taxidermy was worse (but as a result I have hilarious pictures). The exhibits were small and felt limiited in scope. Still, I had never been to a museum in China before, so it was an interesting.
From there we walked back to 前门 (Qian Men) and walked along the a pedestrian street filled with "ancient brands" (as far as I could tell, stores and restaurants that have been around for a long time and were famous). The street itself was the most industrial-looking place I've ever seen. The buildings were all made of dark grey brick and the cobblestones were light grey, same as the sky, which was overcast that day. Aside from some bright red lanterns there were almost no colors. We stopped by a street vendor selling a popular Beijing snack: candied hawthorne berries on a stick. They were delicious. Then we went to a store to shop a little bit, and then we had dinner at a restaurant that is famous for its shaomai. I'm not really sure how to explain them. They're like savory pastries; meat filling wrapped in dry dough. Filo dough? I'm not sure. They were amazing, though. We also had a cabbage dish with sesame dressing that was the emperor's favorite (I can see why) and another cabbage dish with mustard dressing. Not mustard like Frank's yellow mustard, I'm talking about real mustard. It doesn't burn your tongue, but it gets in your sinuses and is searingly hot. Needless to say, I loved it. Christina and Grace gave me their shares. They weren't as fond of it. By the time we got back out on the street, it was dark and the street lights had come on. I'm not sure how, but it gave the street a completely different feel. The lights were golden yellow, so it took the edge off the cold grey stones and gave it life. The nighttime crowds were bustling and busy and it ended up being quite fun.
The trip home from there was an adventure in and of itself. Christina's mom has a bad hip, and while she can walk short distances, she can't do stairs and can't walk far, so whenever we go out, she's in a wheelchair. Typically it's been fine. We've been able to find elevators (or escalators- she can stand long enough for them) at the subway stations, so it's always worked out. Not so this time. There was an escalator going up, but not down. There was an elevator, but not at the enterance we got to. It was at the one across the street. Except it's a busy street, so pedestrians cross underground, and you need to take the stairs to get to that underpass. So a three of the young men working at the metro station had to carry her, wheelchair and all, down all of the stairs. When we got to the next station where we needed to change trains, there were more stairs, but again, no elevator. So we had to get more men to carry her down the stairs. But it was late, so the station was understaffed and they didn't have enough people. So we had to wait for twenty minutes while they rounded up kind strangers who were willing to help. They asked if the three of us (me, Christina, and Grace) could do it, but my back was sore from walking so much the past few days, Christina wasn't feeling well, and their mom insisted that Grace was too small. So we waited. The station we got off at near the apartment, fortunately, is equipped with elevators. I guess the point of this is that China needs a citizens with disabilities act.
Friday turned into a lazy day (and a crazy day for various reasons). Then yesterday, Saturday, I went out with Grace and her aunt, uncle, and cousin to lunch and an arcade. Christina was sick and Grace didn't want to go with them alone. So I kept her company. The arcade was interesting. Some familiar games were there (claw machines, basketball hoops, air hockey, etc.) as well as some decidedly Chinese ones (like a guitar hero type game for Chinese style drums). I was pretty decent at the basketball and air hockey games. Comparatively, anywas. I wasn't much good at the others. I've never been an arcade person. The place was packed, but when Grace commented on the number of people, her aunt said that it had been pretty relaxed that day. I'd hate to go on a busy day.
This particular set of relatives is interesting. Christina said that the cousin (who is probably about 12) emailed her dad to tell him about their Spring Festival celebrations, and bragged about the fact that their moon cakes were from the US. They're decidedly pro-Western culture, but I can't work out why. While we were with them, they would ask me and Grace about the English words for everything, and they refused to speak Chinese to me (even though I understood). They wanted to practice their English. It was an interesting day. I really need to figure out where the Chinese obsession with Western culture is, and why so many think it's inherently better than Chinese culture. I see it a lot, but I can't figure out why.
Anyways, we'll see what today brings. I leave Wednesday. I can't believe it's so soon.