First Day in China
Our first day in China began at 4:30. ‘Stache’s phone rang and we bounced awake; if not bright-eyed and bushy tailed, at least very alert and after a brief attempt to go back to sleep, we got up and made coffee. Around six we went down for breakfast, which was a fascinating array of Western, semi-Western and Eastern options.
Jiaozi with custard filling: delicious.
Fried bread: like a completely unsweet donut.
Eggs steeped in tea and soy sauce: very delicate flavor. I might not have noticed if I’d been blindfolded.
Chicken congee: warm and comforting but bland. I found out later that you are supposed to add things to it for flavor.
Plain congee with pickles: SO GOOD! I really like Chinese pickles.
Out of the hotel restaurant window was a beautiful courtyard pool. We wondered how much the “poolside” hotel rooms would cost. It was so tranquil.
We left at 8 with Tom, our guide. He took us to the Forbidden City. Everything was huge and beautiful.
When it was built (600 years ago) the emperor believed that if his palace, symbolically the center of China, was balanced in the elements, then the whole country would be balanced. There were huge urns that were once filled with water for this purpose, and huge braziers to burn incense every day.
After the Forbidden City, we went on a Hutong Tour. Hutong means “alley.” Around the Forbidden City there is a preserved area of Old Beijing. (Old in this case meaning about 100 years. When your day begins with 600-year old marble statues, you have to specify.) Our bus drove us to the entrance and then we got in rickshaws!
I had been garnering stares all day because I was wearing only a shirt with the sleeves pushed up, not a hat and coat. Chinese people believe in bundling up. I called the weather “brisk,” not cold, and had been fine all day. But in the rickshaw, I was glad of our padded blanket. The wind chill was so cold!
One of the rickshaw drivers got in a fight with a passing motorist, who cut in front of him and then (we gathered) was completely unrepentant and in fact “gave him attitude.” The driver stopped and he and the motorcyclist and the nearby rickshaw drivers exchanged some heated words. It was very exciting but I have no pictures of the incident.
The rickshaws took us a little farther and then we got off and walked through a maze of tiny streets.
We had lunch at a family’s house! It was so delicious. We started with fried sweet potato chips and candied lychees and some kind of fried thing that we never identified. They kept bringing out more food: first pork and green beans, then broccoli, then pork sausage balls, then garlic shoots and bacon, then chicken, all with rice, and then tiny oranges to finish the meal. Fortunately our plates were small so we knew to take little portions! This is a very traditional Chinese way of eating: lots of options and you take a little of each one. Lunch was so delicious and afterwards we found out why: the man who lived there and who cooked our meal was the 4th president of China’s chef!
While walking, we passed a public exercise area. It was fun to figure out how everything was used. Some of the machines were for exercise, and some
of them were for massage. Such a brilliant idea! Everything was sturdy and simple and seemed like it would last forever.
Then we went and visited another family’s home. This was a fully preserved courtyard home, which is very rare in Beijing. 100 years ago, homes were built in the courtyard style, with 4 sections around a middle courtyard. Each section typically had 2 sections, so it was also called an octagon style. Originally one multi-generational family would own and live in the whole thing. Today, each section is owned (or more likely, rented) by a different family, and there are buildings built in the courtyard as well.
This family, though, owns the whole thing. The south side is raised higher than the other sections, and it would have been for the parents and the grandparents because it was always warm from the sun. The north section, which would have always been cold, was for the servants or storage. Sons lived on the east side and daughters on the west. Today, the owners live in the north section and one of the rooms is a studio for their nephew, who is an artist, and some of the rooms are used as a bed and breakfast. They grow gourds in their courtyard.
[More pictures coming]
Next we went to a teahouse.
We watched a tea demonstration and sampled several different kinds of tea. The tall cup is for smelling and the bowl is for drinking. The woman poured our first tea into the tall cup, then placed the bowl upside down on the cup. Then we were instructed to carefully turn both of them over at the same time, and lift the tall cup and smell. We could also rub the hot, empty tall cup on our faces or hands to warm them, which was very welcome after being outside all afternoon! And then we sipped the tea, taking 3 sips to empty the cup.
[hold on for tea picture]
The ”right” way to hold a cup is as follows. Thumb and forefinger on either side of the cup, middle finger under the cup. Women hold the next 2
fingers out, which is “phoenix style.” And men hold these fingers in against the palm, which is “dragon style.
We bought ginseng oolong and puer and fruit tea. This entitled us to a free “tea boy.” This is a little gadget that tells you if your water is hot enough. If you pour cold water over him nothing happens. If you pour hot water over him he pees in a rather spectacular arc. I thought it was hilarious and that the boys would love to use him at tea time. ‘Stache is worried that the little tea boy will inspire imitative behavior.
The last event of the day was an acrobatic show. Words fail. It was spectacular, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I took videos, so hopefully when I get home we can figure out a way to put them on the blog. Right now, with Youtube and Gmail being blocked, it’s not very doable.
I’m off to go find some dinner. Tomorrow we go see the Great Wall of China!