David has kindly reminded me that I haven’t been updating the blog as much as I should…but never fear, I have been keeping notes and remember everything I want to share!  Backing up a little, the dust storm really was crazy.  This whole month (yes…we have made it a month already, can you believe it?!) I have felt like I live on a movie set, where someone just controls all the people and atmosphere because it seems too foreign to be real.  If you have ever seen the movie The Truman Show…I feel like that.  The dust storm was the best representation of this feeling so far, riding on my bike through sand and dust to school, I just felt like some special effects guy had just switched on the “Asian Dust Storm” switch.  Oddly enough, when we exited a train station in Beijing, we stumbled across some Mongolian tourists who wanted to take our picture.  I think in the trade-off between dust storms and photos, they won.

I have to recount a funny story that happened in school the day of the dust storm.  I teach a class called NC-1.  It’s an intermediary class for kids that did not pass the previous level and need extra attention.  As you can imagine, this class is tough.  I was reviewing the months of the year, and asked Logan, what month do you like?  He smiled and said, “I like watermelons!”  Oh good, Logan understands the “I like” concept.  So I explained, can you look at the list of the months in the book in front of you: Jan, Feb, etc.  “Logan, I like February because it’s my birthday, or I like August…”  Logan says, “Ohhhh, dui dui (yes, yes), I like watermelons!”  OK, that was a huge fail for me…but the Chinese teacher and I had a good laugh about it after class.  Next class, we will review “I like” and Logan will pass with flying colors.

Lets see, in part of getting our resident permits we had a short interview with a Tangshan government official.  One thing that was very interesting about the government offices is that they all had beds in them!  I’m not sure why, and I reallly like this custom, but it was very unique.  Also, we asked the official about how many foreigners were in Tangshan, since we have seen 4.  He said 700, but half of those work for a German branch of Siemans, 200 are medical students, and the rest are teachers or students.  He said lots of Taiwanese and Pakistani come to study medicine.

One thing I also wanted to mention about the first night in Beijing was the Lao Beijing (Old Beijing) area.  It is near the food street, but is a small area of the city set up with little windy roads and tons of vendors to look more like an old-fashioned Beijing market.  As you may know, I completely love markets and got a total kick out of this place.  There are people and knick-knacks on every corner, and  it’s just a fun vibe.  Also, a funny thing about all the markets (Night Market, Silk, Lao Beijing) is that the Chinese vendors know limited but tourist friendly Chinese.  They are always shouting,  “hello lady, do you like, do you want?  or funny phrases like “Mmmm silk worms!”

OK, now to tell you about the second day in Beijing.  First we walked around the city and found the train station, which is next to the bus station, to buy our tickets home.  It was a VERY confusing experience because although there is a direct line from Beijing to Tangshan, it’s in an unmarked, abandoned-looking tile room about 2 blocks from the actual bus station.  Luckily Eddie had drawn us a map and warned us about this craziness, but it was still shocking.  We found out that we didn’t need to pre-purchase tickets, and would just need to show up 10 minutes before we wanted to leave at night, so we headed on towards the Silk Market.  The Silk Market is the best-known shopping center in Beijing…and it’s incredible.  Oh to see the look on some of you fashionistas faces at this 6-story mega shop!  There are rows upon rows of vendors selling everything from name-brand clothes to Chinese souvenirs.  They have leather jackets, sevens and true religion jeans, paintings, signature seals, pearls, luggage, watches, massages, DVDs…basically shopping heaven!  However, as David mentioned, this place is packed with tourists that come in by the busload, so the first price the vendors offer is outrageous, not even a deal in the states.  In the end, however, if you are persistent, there are huge deals to be had.  Although I wanted to buy a million things, we managed to escape with two paintings (originally offered at over $100 US, bartered by David to about $22) and a tea-strainer mug.  I can’t wait to check out this place with some of you…and buy cashmere together!

After the silk market we headed to the Olympic Village to see the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube.  They were huge, cool and just like you have seen them on TV.  There were a surprising amount of people milling about, but we decided we should go again at night because it would probably look more exciting.  Don’t get me wrong…it’s all really impressive architecture, but not much to do in that area.  We also tried to find this pizza place called the Kro’s Nest that had been recommended to us by some of the teachers, but ended up being taken to Domino’s.  I was starving at that point and didn’t feel like looking anywhere else for food, so much to David’s displeasure we had a $20 pizza.  I thought it was pretty good though!

From there we took a cab to the largest Buddhist Temple in Beijing, Yonghegong.  On the way to the temple was an entire street filled with incense vendors, and the temple itself was very ornate.  I think pictures will describe it better than I can, but it was a great example of a traditional buddhist temple, complete with many rooms housing gold Buddhas.  Many Chinese were also kneeling and praying to the Buddhas with incense, and there were many buses full of tourists there as well.  I was getting extremely tired at this point…David is a walking machine and all I could think about was cuddling up with our new DVDs, so we began another long walk to the bus station.  We stopped on the way at a great vegetarian restaurant and caught the bus home from the divey little room-station.

Overall we were really impressed with Beijing, minus the air quality, and are looking forward to going back!  Today I heard about the Health Care legislation and Google pulling out of mainland China, which are both big updates for me.  I will have to see how this Health Care bill plays out, as I am currently paying for US insurance in fear of having a “gap” in coverage during my time in China, waaah wah and clearly Google pulling out of China completely would not be good.  In other news, I got a haircut today from the best guy in the shop for under $2 and we had our first official Chinese class.  I think we are eager students…but are still completely tone deaf!!!  Also, just as a reminder, the Avon Walk is in one month and if you are looking to fulfill your charitable budget for the year, I know some pretty awesome walkers that still need funds.

Goodbye for now from the land of tea.

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