Ni hao (hello in Chinese)
It’s a little after 4 in the morning and I’m sitting in the outside courtyard of our youth hostel, the boys are sleeping, but sleep alludes me so here I am. To my right there is a little a fish pond with a rock garden, waterfall and a few dozen fish swimming along. This scene is framed by two trees, a few potted bamboo trees and a multitude of potted plants and flowers around the area and a mini “homemade garden”. It looks like the beginning of a meadow where you could head out for a walk. The owner takes great pride and attention to his little oasis in the middle of a city of 14 million people.
From time to time, he sprays water to the far reaches of the branches of the persimmons tree where some bugs lay prey to the ripening fruit… “all natural… just water, not chemicals… good for fruit” he tells us, lest we mistake the care and tenderness with which he nurtures his garden. Land is precious and love has raised this garden and it shows. Red lanterns hang at irregular intervals around the courtyard, tables are scattered up haphazardly around, and a snookered table hogs the middle of the courtyard where bicycles of all shape and size lean against the far wall near the entrance. The persimmon tree hangs above the garden and another tree, aged over 100 years, so the owner’s wife tells us, is tucked against one of the old building and upheld by metal poles less the weight be too great for the wall.
Here’s what’s been happening: the plane ride was a breeze and now I know how the rich people live! The service was incredible, oh and for those who don’t know, I was fortunate enough to book with TPI Dieppe (Claude Bourgeois) and he had the bright idea to see if we could not get some tickets thru AEROPLAN, and lo and behold, after all of those years saying “one of these days those points are going to come handy” and they finally did! In the form of 3 first class return tickets. Wouhou! Go Claude! So I thought I would like to amuse you with tales of woe, fortunately ours is not such a tale; menus, real cutlery, real wine glasses, champagne, white wine, red wine, beer, port… service, service, service!!! What more can I say, it was amazing!
I’m sure at this point if Miguel was up he’d like to add that snacks were available during the whole trip (Miguel was pleased as punch, he used and abused it) The individual half-moon shape design of the seat actually turned into a bed; our own TV, blankets, socks, eye patch… need I say more? I think I missed my calling in life; I should have been rich! So yeah, the trip went well. Stefan was lucky enough to catch some shut-eye but both Miguel and I had to play it out sleepless, for whatever reason neither of us could sleep (this is the point where Miguel went into “snack overdrive”, and you can’t blame him)
Enough about the plane ride, my goodness we’ve only been here a week and I already feel like I’ve been on the road for a month, we’ve seen so much, mind you we may have started a little gung-ho! You know that feeling, “ok, we need to do this and this and that and go go go…”. Just in case we don’t have the time to see everything (like now, and me up at 4AM). I was up at 5AM yesterday morning because we all went to bed at 8PM, too exhausted from everything, so the conclusion of the matter is: I think we will have to slow down cause I’m sure in time we will crash and burn like one of those super nova’s, well ok , maybe not as brilliantly but crash and burn nevertheless!
We changed hotels on Sunday; actually the other place was surreal. I mean way too rich for our blood; 3 or 4 doormen at every door, people standing around in uniforms adorned with hat, white glove, pomp and fanfare! And dared you walk around with a question mark on your face they’d approach and ask if we needed any help. I swear if I’d sneezed someone would have shown up with a tissue before the last note of “ a-choo ”. It is the most amazing hotel I have ever been in: all marble and gilded chairs, ornaments and vases, fireplaces and musical instrument appearing for quiet performances, very lush sitting area or mini salons all elaborate, gold being the predominant color of everything. The open concept foyer of the hotel is AMAZING and BRILLIANT in that upon entering, your gaze is drawn straight up what feels like a circular vortex that sweeps all the way up every single 18 floors straight to the dome ceiling in all it’s glory of detailed gold and wood (I assume) intermixed with window panes. On each and every single floor, every table, picture hanging, decoration and even fire extinguisher are exactly at the same place creating a certain sense of awe and at the same time a “ I feel very puny” type of feeling OMG, this is waaayyyy too rich for our blood.” Now I know how the other 1% of the world lives, not like us, that’s for sure! For those of you who don’t know, I got those rooms through Skyauction.com and ended up getting them for the price of an average hotel in Moncton… actually less than that! We looked up the pricing of the hotel room and the starting price is $1,500.00 a night! In-fucking-credible!
In any case, those first few days were spent in a frenetic pace of activities accompanied with that feeling that comes with traveling… “ I MUST do and GO visit every place that I can, in case of rain, lack of time or whatever”.
Still not used to the time change, or at least the pace of life we’ve taken on.
We are going to be on the road for the next ten months, so we need to take some downtime and learn to pace ourselves. Sleep has not been good, to say the least… and yet I am irresistibly drawn to keep going, discovering all that is around us. So strange and so foreign… I love it all.
We’re working our way through all the major sights. The Temple of Heaven, The Lama Temple (which is the biggest Buddhist temple in all of China), Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City (which is beyond description of Palaces within Palaces within Palaces… ).
Some were built for changing the emperors clothes, for his concubines, one for Him, one for the Empress, one for sleeping, one for meetings and some for places of sacrifice and even one for the amusement of his cohorts where they could go and relax in a small gazebo where a 27 meter miniature maze was built into the floor made out of concrete where they could let their wine glass float in the cold water that streamed through this man-made waterway …what more can I say! My mind just cannot grasp the breadth and width of their ingenuity and architectural brilliance and savvy-ness, considering that this was all undertaken in the early 1400’s or thereabouts.
We’ve mainly been using taxis to get around. The only hurdle is making sure to have the hotel personnel translate our destinations in Mandarin, and most importantly, to have the return address. Most don’t even have a rudimentary understanding of English, so by nods and a wave of the head and a well-developed charade capability we make ourselves understood… well, sort of, and not really but we get werhe we want. We’ve also tried the subway, though I was a tad reticent not being familiar with subways to begin with, but at the kids coaxing off we went (I think that with age I’ve gotten a tad more hesitant, but the kids enthusiasm makes for a good balance). We found the subway to be very efficient and navigable so we are now planning to go visit Tian’namen Square at night and make a foray to the Night Market where eating skewered bugs (scorpions, star fish, sea urchin and the likes) is the norm (but not for moi!). We’ll see how the boys fare with that one!
Eating has its challenges as most menus are in Chinese character. If pictures do not accompany the menu, well, we leave. The idea of eating chicken feet, duck beak, pigs feet or intestines- I’m not quite ready for. Miguel has been quite a good sport about it with few complaints. He’s not gone starving yet but the concentration of his diet is more in the way of rice and noodles and the occasional meat. The hostel where we are currently staying at for 70$/night for a room for 3, The Red Lantern House, has a choice of “Americanized” food, so we have stayed in-house for a few nights so Miguel (and Stefan) could taken advantage of the choices offered and dive unashamedly into fried chicken and French fries (Asian-style, of course!).
The one amazing thing we are still not used to, is the price of things. So far we have been quite adventurous in trying little holes-in-the-wall type of establishment (where I would not be caught dead in, let alone the surrounding neighborhoods back in Canada). No Health inspection in Canada would give a license for such places. Heck they even would not be built! But we have found these little gems (though I am not sure I really want to see what goes on behind those closed “kitchen doors” which are sometimes no more than alley ways with pots and pans on burners with side grills and the likes, not to forget the sewers running just bedside the cooking area…hummm I must say ignorance is bliss!!!)
We’ve managed to eat breakfast for 1.75$ and walk away feeling more than full and quite satisfied, and that’s for the 3 of us, so 60 cents a piece! Lunches and dinners have been the same and we are trying all kinds of things (some good and some not so good) for the incredible price of 10 or 12 dollars, again for the three of us, very crazy! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to spend a 150.00$ on a meal again, this has spoiled me completely. Sure some nights were closer to 15$ or 18$. Keep in mind all of the above includes a few beers and a coke for Miguel, of course!
Ok, so much more to say, but this is getting long enough and Stefan has figured out how I can write more frequently and send off every few days or so…
So signing off for now
Zai jian (meaning see you again in Chinese)
Colette, Stefan and Miguel