Our First Adventure in Beijing

Ni hao,

No dates this time around… just a mishmash of stuff; scattered moments of our time spent in and around Beijing. Those little anecdotes you bring back home in the souvenir drawer of your mind that you can take out every once in while. They can bring a smile, a time of reflection or uncontrollable laughter. So here’s one for the book, the best one yet…

When we first arrived in Beijing we had read up about The Chinese Cultural Center through The Lonely Planet and heard they were good for courses in different things and for tours in and about the Beijing area. We made our way there within the first couple days of our arrival and decided that a few courses would be worth ding : Zen meditation, a beginner’s class in Tai Chi, and a tea talk by a master are just some of the few that caught our interest.

The first class was an introduction to Zen meditation, that began at 7:30pm on Thursday and one that both boys were really keen on doing. We were told that we would need 45 minutes to get to the Center by metro. We were assured that we would have plenty of time and so we planned accordingly, but still left an hour before!

We had not gone more than 2 or 3 metro station stops in a journey of over 15/17 stops with 3 changes of metro line, that, rushing out of one train to get to the other, son #1 (Stefan) steps on son # 2’s (Miguel) flip flops… and breaks the part that keeps his foot in the sandal:

Instant reaction by Miguel: he’s pissed!

Instant reaction by Stefan: he thinks it’s funny.

Instant reaction by mom: OK this journey is over, let’s turn around and get Miguel some new flip flops…and screw the class!

Stefan goes on to say: “ where’s your sense of adventure mom?”

And mom is thinking: Beijing, train station, barefoot, spitting and etc…I don’t think so! A trip to the hospital with an infected foot just does not appeal to me!

Miguel insists he can make it (ya right!) We only have another 14 metro stops: stairs to climb up, stairs to climb down, walk along unending tunnels with twists and turns, get from one line of metro to the next and still at the end of all that we have a good 15-20 minute of pounding the pavement to get to the center. But noooooo, he is so determined to do that class (they both are), so he proceeds to drag/slide his foot on top of his broken sandal along the floor of the tunnel to get to the next station (can you just see it?!! LOL, with, like, a million people rushing around trying to catch their next train and Miguel’s trying his best imitation of Michael Jacksons moon walk but in reverse! ) Climbing stairs has become an Olympic feat! My mind is in constant debate; do we keep going or not… , me thinks kinda stupid, no!? but still trying to figure out how we can possibly make this work …(we hadn’t made much progress distance wise and just a few minutes had gone by since the mishap but the idea of turning back was looking more and more appealing) The sensible thing to do would be to head back and had we not been pressed for time we would have gone shopping for those damn flip flops and gone to the lesson but time transpired against that route of action.

Digging into my daypack to see what possibly could help, I reach and search around a bit (it’s like digging into a bottomless pit filled with lip balm, money belts, maps, baby wipes, antibacterial gel, camera, shawl, toilet paper: and lots of it! etc.) and finally, (HOORAY!) pull out on one of those indispensable tool; one of the two things I did not leave home without Dental floss! (the other one being duck tape). We choose the dental and, leaning against the wall near the stairways as these zillion of people are rushing by to take the next train, we proceed to tie his shoe qith this intricate criss-crossing pattern of dental floss. “That’ll work ” says Miguel (good sport that he is) casually turning around to continue his journey up the stairs, partly bent over holding on to the extra string of dental floss, determined to make it to the class.

Walking a few steps behind gives us a most interesting perspective and in minutes we reach breaking point as uncontrollable laughter gushes out of us unrestrained! Poor Miguel… we are laughing so hard we can hardly keep up with his progress! As the gap between us increases people begin to stare at us as we are bent over with laughter; they can’t figure out if we are in pain and in need of assistance! What is wrong with these white folks anyways?

Finally into the train, we get surreptitious glances! Quite an about turn from their usual in your face “oh your different” type of stares… We have found people in China quite unabashed in their staring of strangers, looking you up and down or squarely stopping to take your picture as you are walking around sight seeing or eating in a restaurant! Takes some getting use to…very bizarre. I guess we can now say we have tasted the life of the rich and the famous (sort of…lol).

The walk to the Center is fortunately uneventful though far from usual with Miguel still in that mode of sliding and shimmying along half bent over holding on to that extra hanging piece of dental floss.

Once at the Center and now too late to participate in the class, they offer to go shopping for shoes with Miguel… Not being able to walk is a bit tricky so Stefan volunteers and soon heads out into the night, with one of the workers from the center, on a flip-flop shopping mission. Of course they had a giggle, not wanting to insult Miguel with outright laughter but where very kind, helpful and most understanding. Word must have gone around the center, as the next time we showed up for the other class we had booked they all knew the story! Oh well I guess something to remember us by.

Moving on to better and bigger things… well actually everything is bigger and “better” in China…Quantity not quality is the modus operandus! For example it took us a while to understand that the vacuum-sealed plate setting we were getting at restaurants was not because of extra cleanliness and sterilization but actually because it cost them less to produce the same kit over and over again than it was to wash it! Can you just imagine the waste and the landfills!!! Just mind-boggling! It brings a whole new meaning to the words “Made in China”.

The stories go on and on, there is still so much I haven’t written about and hope to put pen on paper soon, less I forget any of these wonderful experiences. At the moment I have three systems going…my hand written journal, this group email and I’ve recently started “short noting” keywords on a separate page so that I can come back to them later and expand. Never seem to be enough time to sit down and write: things to do, places to visit, people to meet and the hunting down of a place to eat breakfast, lunch and supper everyday takes most of our time. Reading has become a leisurely activity that I’m finding hard to schedule in. Hopefully when we settle down into a routine, things will fall into place and I’ll be more consistent with the writing! The mornings are best for me and I still get up around 6, steal away from the boys, find myself a nook and write furiously until one of them gets up and wants to check on email, facebook or upload pictures, something I’ve yet to master!

The boys and I are getting along famously … we have our moments but no more than if we were at home doing day-to-day things. Stefan has begun tutoring Miguel and that seems to be moving along effortlessly. They cover more material one on one and can go through 7 hours of “class” work in 1 and ½. So that is definitely a bonus. Stefan is a patient teacher and Miguel an attentive student…mind you we are only talking a couple of hours at a time so who knows how it would go if they had to buckle down and hit the grind for hours on end. But no time to expostulate and conjure up all kinds of “what if scenario”…. It is what it is and things are good with us.

Today is our first day of full on rain…wow! The first in almost 3 weeks so on the agenda for the rest of the day is homework’s, catching up on emails and hopefully, for me, uploading another “album” of pictures… and, maybe, should the rain abate a leisurely stroll!

I’ll have to do some back tracking on the writing as I have skipped the telling of our night on the Great Wall and our train journey and blah blah blah…. At the moment I am sitting in the common room, which is full of new arrivals from the early morning train, waiting for rooms to be freed and cleaned up. There is a murmur of sound made by the shuffling of bags, the movement of people and the telling of their tales, the clinking of tea spoons in tea cups, the scraping of forks and knives on the bottom of the plates for those who opt to eat a western style breakfasts (chopsticks are so much more subtle). Now is a good time to pause with the writing and say ciao…

So till next time,

Zai jan



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