Day 20: Back to Beijing

Laying awake in the dark, the red numbers of the clock radio flash 4:06.


Shower.  Praise the heavens that the bathroom is stocked with a toothbrush and toothpaste and I have enough bottled water for rinsing.  And praise Buddha himself that I keep deodorant in my backpack.  Because, as you know, we don’t have our luggage.

Another trip on the road to the airport.  With any luck at all we will get out of here today.

In the airport we eat some bucket-o-noodle breakfast and wait to see what is happening with the flight.  Sam learns that the airline will be handing out cash to the people on our flight, and I prepare myself for ground-shaking chaos as these people try to get their money.

Standing here, waiting in line for the handouts, it takes a moment to realize how shocking it is that we are standing here, waiting in line for the handouts.  An honest-to-goodness line, snaking through the terminal.  I cannot fathom why people were so frenzied last night for hotel rooms when they are so calm today for cold hard cash.

The next thing we notice while standing in line was the counter where people go pick out big chunks of raw yak meat and have it vacuum-sealed to carry on the plane.  Like, a lot of people.  Wild.

We get on the plane.  The last time we saw our bags was about sixteen hours ago.

We have a layover in Chengdu where there is some complicated ticket swapping procedure as we exit the plane: two steps forward, an airline official takes the old ticket; two steps forward, an airline official hands you a new ticket; two steps forward, an airline official checks your new ticket; two steps forward, and airline official stamps your new ticket.  All this, I suppose, because whatever ticket we had was for yesterday’s flight, and it may even have been a different airline.

But now I’m really worried about the luggage – a cancelled flight, a night in Lhasa, a layover, a plane change, and an airline change.  I’m thinking there isn’t much hope the bags are making it through all of that.

We finally get to Beijing and plant ourselves at the baggage carousel.  It has been twenty-four hours since we’ve seen our belongings.  Scary.

When my bag comes through I feel like I’ve lost weight – like the trepidation was physically adding pounds.  Sam’s comes soon after.  And with each passing minute we watch Kristy slowly start to lose patience.  Forty-five minutes later, we are still waiting for Kristy’s bag and she’s understandably showing signs of anxiety.  And finally, like a gift from above, the big backpack tumbles onto the carousel and we’ve made it out of Tibet in one piece.

We meet up with Mike, one of Sam’s friends from when she lived in Beijing, and we go to eat hot-pot.

Ceiling of the hot-pot restaurant.

If you’ve never eaten hot-pot, I recommend driving to airport, paying whatever they ask in order to board a plane to Beijing, and getting some right now.  It is damntabulous.

Essentially, you get boiling pots of delicious soup and you dump fresh raw stuff into it to cook before fishing it out and devouring it.  The pots of soup sit deep inside the table where there is a built-in burner, so it heats up right in front of you.  You gently “chopstick” (there really isn’t an elegant verb for “to manipulate with chopsticks”) vibrant leafy greens, fresh tofu, and lean strips of beef and lamb into the soup.  The cool crispness of the greens withstands the boiling spice of the soup on the right.  The dark rich lamb enhances the sweet, smooth milky soup on the left.  Everything absorbs the liquid to explode with scalding flavor on first bite.

Two soups in the middle; lamb and tofu in the foreground; leafy greens on the left; gorgeous thinly-sliced beef on the right; dipping sauces all around.  *hunger*

You cool your spicy mouth with gulps of beer.

As if that conflagration of flavor weren’t enough, you order dipping sauces.  Sesame, garlic, honey, peanut.  You can combine sauces to increase your options exponentially, but the possibilities end up being overwhelming.  So you may want to concentrate on your favorite few – lamb cooked in spicy soup dipped in peanut sauce with garlic oil is particularly mind-blowing.

You know that feeling when you are so stuffed full of delicious food that you feel gross?  Well, this is so good that even the gross feeling feels good.

The smell of the food sticks in your hair and skin and clothes, and it is wonderful.

We spend the night at Mike’s awesome apartment.  Tomorrow we’re heading to Qinqdao.


5 Responses to “Day 20: Back to Beijing”

  1. May 19, 2010 at 10:04 am

    All’s well that end’s well! Almost worth all the worry, bad food and heartache from the day before! See? Now I WANT to go to Beijing again! 🙂

    • May 19, 2010 at 10:54 am

      exactly, tracy! if these last two days were the valley after the literal and figurative peak of everest, then we are already back on top again!

      so often all it takes is a deep breath to let your world right itself.

      god, i want to go back too. i found it hard to describe the food (it would seem my career as a culinary critic will be crippled before it even starts) so i had to sit and think about it for a while, and all the thinking just made me want to eat it SO BAD.

  2. 3 Me-ow.
    May 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    mmmmmmm hot pot. now i want some. thanks phenomeblonde.

  3. 5 Me-ow.
    May 19, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    that should be another incentive for you to come up for memorial day weekend. there are some hot pot places in the bay with ALL YOU CAN DRINK beer. def more expensive than china, but…

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