Day 1: Beijing

I love the first few days of an epic trip – when you’re excited and nervous and a little bit lost.  When the drive from the airport is thrilling.  At some point you relax, adapt, slide into your role in this new place.  But those first few days…it’s thrilling.

We survived our kosher meals and took a taxi into Beijing.  It is a gargantuan city.  It has these “concentric” squares of highways (consquaretric?) that surround it, and the roads in each square have the same name except for north, south, east and west, depending on which side of the city center it runs.  So you can be on a road name you’ve heard before but be 20 miles from where you were on that road before.  Because this time you’re on south instead of north.  The result of all of this was that after spending many days in Beijing, I never got a sense of the city’s layout.  It was very disorienting.

Sam took us to a restaurant for lunch that she was very familiar with (and they were familiar with her – the workers all said hi to her, even though it had been 3 years since she lived in Beijing.)  They took us into a small room with a big round table and about twice as many chairs pushing and shoving around it as there should have been.  (Turns out this overpopulation of chairs would be a very common occurrence.)

The three of us sat, feeling vaguely imperial surrounded by so many vacant seats, when a big crowd came in.  I though: Oh God.  Wow.  We’re all going to sit together.  Crazy.  Only Sam is going to be able to talk to anyone.  So I started “scootching” down the long line of empty chairs to make room.  But it turns out, we weren’t all eating together – we were getting kicked out of the room.  By now I was at the middle of the line of chairs, trapped by the table and a wall, so I had to continue scootching all the way around the table, everyone looking at me, legs tangled up in the backpack at my feet, very aware of how tall, awkward, and blonde that I am.

When we got seated and served, we luxuriated in the sensory explosion that is the Beef Sizzle platter.  It is shameful to even compare it to a fajita plate in the States, because Chili’s Bar and Grill has nothing on the Beef Sizzle.  Noodles and beef and sauce and bell peppers and I’m sure some other stuff.  Always, as Sam explained, served here on a scalding hot cast iron cow-shaped plate.  It was phenomenal.  It could be just because it was our first real meal in China, but I still think it was one of the best we had.  Drink some beer.  Eat more Beef Sizzle.  China is already treating me right.

We walked around some tiny part of the city, got exhausted, ended up somewhere near Tiananmen, and walked to the big bell and drum towers to the north.  We further exhausted ourselves climbing the steep stairs to the top of each tower.  Panting, quad muscles seizing, we got to the drum tower in just enough time to watch a drum exhibition.  Originally, the drummers in the drum tower would keep the time for the ringing of the bells announcing approaching war parties.  Or something.  Pretty awesome.

From there we walked to nearby Houhai lake when it started raining.  But who cares?  We’re in China.  We walked in the rain by the lake until we found a nice restaurant, ordered a bottle of wine, and waited out the storm.  Relaxing, imbibing, adjusting to China.  Good first day.


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