Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 2, Wednesday, July 7

Morning: “8 hours to destination.”

Afternoon: Somehow the "time to destination" eventually reduced to 0 and we arrived at Beijing International Spaceport right on time – 2:30 p.m. Joe and I followed the crowd after deplaning. They seemed to know where they were going. The facility is huge, expansive – an indication, we would soon learn, of the country itself. Joe and I got in line beneath the “Foreigner” sign – now that’s something different – to have our passports and visas checked. I was a little concerned because since Joe and I are both in the media business (he works for Maryland Public Television and I with a chain of weekly newspapers), the Chinese government would only issue us a one-month visa and would only issue it a few days before our departure date. In addition, the consulate in New York City wanted letters from both our bosses stating that we were not coming to China as journalists, just as visitors. Customs was uneventful. We walked to the train which takes passengers from the arrival/departure gates to the main complex where we would pick up our bags. Around 3:30 we were on our way out of the restricted area. In the line-up of anxious faces, we spotted a familiar one. I thought it funny that Mary Ruth had teared up when she first saw Brandon back in April, but they were just tears of joy. The 13-hour flight was worth it.

The cab ride to our hotel took about 25 minutes. Cabs are pretty cheap in Beijing – about 60 yuans (a yuan is about 16 cents American). While check-in time at the Oriental Garden Hotel is 2:30, our room was not ready so we were asked to wait in the coffee shop for about 15 minutes. Mary Ruth had booked our rooms through the Internet. I had copies of the confirmation and rates. Room 522 was pretty much like any moderately priced Western hotel room. We unpacked and I filled my smaller suitcase with everything I brought for Brandon for him to take to his apartment which was only about five minutes walking distance from the hotel. He has two roommates. They have separate bedrooms but share a common living room area and kitchen. Brandon has his own half-bath. I tell you this only from second hand knowledge (my wife) as Joe and I never saw the apartment.

Evening: When we finished the unpacking and repacking, I was ready for a nap. I plopped down on the bed. I like a firm mattress, but this was beyond firm. It felt like two box spring sets piled on top of each other. But hey, I’d been awake for over 24 hours so I was ready to relax. “Well, let’s get going,” Brandon said. “Going?” I responded. “Yeah, we need to see the Olympic area tonight.”

Obviously Brandon had planned out our visit very carefully. Subways are a great bargain in Beijing – 2 yuan (32 cents American) for any destination – except the airport, which is a little more. Brandon navigated us to the right subway line. Many of the lines were built for the 2008 Olympics. Older lines were renovated. Signs are in Chinese and English. The cars were moderately filled. What an interesting feeling it was being the only white folks in the car.

The Olympic area is huge. We walked and walked and walked. Local merchants tried without success to sell us some kites. Brandon told us that the Water Cube, where Olympic swimming and diving events were held, was to be opened to the public after the Olympics but has been closed and may need to be torn down. The roof, it seems, is being eaten away by acid rain.

We caught a cab back to an area near the hotel dotted with small restaurants. Brandon has been in Beijing over a year so he knows where to go and what to order. Bless him! My first attempt at using chopsticks was successful and my concern about starving to death in China was reduced. (I had planned to carry packets of plastic spoons, knives and forks, but Mary Ruth said I would embarrass Brandon so the packets remained at home.)

The food, served family style, was delicious just as Mary Ruth had said it would be. Brandon promised he would never order snake or silkworms. The local beer was cold and light.

After dinner, we walked back toward the hotel. Brandon said he would see us around 9:30 the next morning and pointed us in the right direction. As Joe and I walked to the hotel, I said how impressed I was with the city so far. Joe said he was even more impressed with Brandon. I guess I was, too.

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