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So I don’t really remember where I left off, and the internet is too slow in our apartment for me to risk reloading the blog to see where I left off, so I apologize if there is a break in the story. I also apologize for the lack of posting. We just moved to the capital of China, Beijing, and have had to jump through many a hoop in order to move into an apartment, get visas, etc., but now hopefully we can resume our previous posting pace. Our apartment is a 3 bedroom in Shuangjing, a residential area of Beijing that is only a mile or so away from the central business district. We live with 2 Chinese guys, one of whom has been a good friend and helped us with our move in. Things are going well for me, but Erin’s job did not provide her with a visa, so she is going to have to figure something out. We will update you more in the near future. Alrighty, I will continue the tale of Busa’s visit.

We left Xi’an and flew to Tianjin, which would be the 2nd biggest city in America if it were in America, and yet nobody has ever heard of it. From there we took a train to Tangshan, and we had to get tickets for the sleeper cars because there were no tickets for just seats. We each had a bed to ourselves for the long 1.5 hour trip. People were very perplexed when we got off the train at Tangshan, because most people in the sleeper cars were going for 8+ hour trips. I was glad Busa got to see Tangshan, because it gives a better indication of what most places in China are similar to, and it was also a good place that we knew very well (obviously). He got to see Erin and I teach for a bit, checked out the pet and plant market with Erin, the zoo and a few parks with me, the one Chinese night club in Tangshan, a real Chinese KTV (karaoke bar), and of course hit up most of our favorite restaurants. I was glad that we were able to keep busy in the couple days we were there, and the “tourist” activities we did turned out better than expected: the Tangshan zoo had 3 lions, a tiger, a bear, and even a rare golden retriever! Busa and I were very confused when we walked by cages filled with monkeys, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and then….a golden retriever. He got to meet most of our good friends and our favorite people on the food street, so all in all he got a compact yet complete tour of Tangshan. We had to teach on the weekend, so he headed to Beijing before us, and we met up with him on Sunday night.

Beijing is a great city in many ways, but it can also be a pretty cold place (not temperature cold, emotionally cold). This is especially true for a foreigner that can’t speak or read Chinese, so I was a little concerned with sending Busa there on his own. I booked a hotel that said it was right near the place he would be dropped off, but of course it was not where the map said it was, and also had a completely different name than it said it did. To top it off, my phone, which I gave to Busa for emergencies, ran out of battery. Luckily, after much confused wandering, Busa found the hotel, and we were able to find it right away too. We ate a forgettable dinner together because the night market was closed, but the next day Busa and I headed to the Great Wall.

There are multiple spots where you can access the Great Wall from Beijing. The most popular is one called Badaling, and I read about a bus that drops you off right at Badaling for very cheap. Busa and I headed to the bus stop, and after being repeatedly told that foreigners were not allowed to get on the bus (and me very nearly pummeling a guy that told us to “go home”), I decided we should just try to take a taxi. I asked 2 ladies if they wanted to take one with us, and they seemed very disgusted that a foreigner would suggest such a thing, let alone speak to them. I asked two 25ish year old guys if they wanted to go, and they said yes, and also happened to speak English. Woo hoo! Now we had translators and people we could rely on to avoid getting ripped off or kidnapped, so I was pleased. The two guys were brothers, spoke decent English, and were really cool. They were from Dongbei province, which seems to churn out the friendliest people in China, and we really had a good time. It takes about 45 minutes to get to the Great Wall, and the landscape changes drastically in that short amount of time. Suddenly you are not in a city of 15 million people, you are surrounded by mountains and farmland. The wall has been rebuilt in most places, so it is kind of lame that you don’t get to see any of the original wall, but the Chinese hate things that are old and ruined. It is pretty bizarre. We did some serious hiking on the wall, which had some stupidly steep steps, chatted with our new friends, and again lucked out in terms of weather. After 3 hours we were ready to head back, called the taxi, and that was that.

We headed back to the hotel, ate a quick linner (lunch/dinner) at a very cheap Chinese place, and then headed to Hou Hai. Hou Hai is one of the biggest areas to go out in Beijing. It consists of a group of lakes that are surrounded by bars and restaurants, many of which are very Western friendly. It was Chinese Valentine’s Day, so the place was jammed with couples, but it was more lively than I had ever seen. Busa commented that it was the coolest place to go out for drinks/food that he had ever seen. I ate a veggie sandwich, which was perhaps the worst sandwich I have ever had, then stopped at another place which charged me 30 yuan for a coke (they cost 3). It was a great atmosphere though, even including the barrage of people saying to us “Hello friend, beer, cheap beer. You like ladybar?” It is a very beautiful area and was especially alive that night, so it was fun. We were pooped and headed back and called it a night.

This was much longer than I expected. I will finish the Busa excursion hopefully tomorrow (lol yea right), and then try to get everyone up to speed on our current life. I am thinking about my grandma right now, who just got out of the hospital, and I hope that everything goes smoothly with her recovery. Talk to you soon.

We decided to spend two of our days off this week in Beijing again. We were trying to decide between Tianjin and Beijing, but the other David had not visited Beijing yet, so we all went together. Our first stop after the 2-hour bus ride was the Temple of Heaven; a large park/temple sanctuary constructed in 1421 for the emperors to worship, ask for good harvests, make sacrifices and enjoy its beauty. We went on the Qingming holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day to honor the dead), so it was bustling with people. Lots of elderly people were selling small hand-made wares, dancing around, laughing and singing, practicing tai chi, and generally being a lively addition to the park. The major temple, used for making prayers of good harvest, was really impressive. It is ornately decorated on the inside and out and very architecturally complex. Beside it, we visited the “70-year Door” created in 1779 by during the reign of Emperor Qianlong. The Emperor’s health was failing and building door was offered as a way for the Emperor to bypass the long walls and enter the ceremony grounds more quickly. He accepted the offer, but only on the terms that no other Emperor could enter the door unless they had also reached the age of 70. Since no Emperor ever lived to that age again, he has been the only one to use the door.

We experienced a funny situation as we walked through the park, and stumbled upon a Chinese couple who had paid to rent some Qing Dynasty-esque costumes to take pictures. We started to take photos of them, but they immediately invited David and I into the photos. The Chinese man took of his Emperor hat and necklace and put it on David, taking his Avon Walk Crew hat for his own head. Everyone was definitely amused (except the attendants standing around waiting for us to stop taking advantage of the costumes) and the photos came out great. They have these dress-up sessions at almost all Chinese attractions, although I haven’t actually seen any foreigners participating, only the Chinese. I also posted a photo of an older Chinese couple with some really sweet Nike and Adidas shoes. It seems like everyone young and old likes these brands, and I get a kick out of the combination of traditional Chinese clothing and Nikes!

At night we went to the Hou Hai area of Beijing, which is known for its lake-side scenery and night-life. At night it looked great because all of the buildings were lit up and reflecting over the lakes. Not many people were walking around because it was raining on a Monday night, so we were more harassed than normal to patron the many empty bars and restaurants in the area. David was a little sad that the whole area seem really Westernized, as most of the bars featured Budweiser, Gin & Tonics, White Russians and other typically Western bar drinks. The area sort of felt like the Cancun or Miami of Beijing, but it was still really fun to see this touristy place. The drinks and food are all extremely over-priced, but we did find some great deals on DVDs around the area.

It took a little time, but we found a youth hostel nearby, and had dinner at a Thai restaurant. Again, expensive but I thought the food was excellent and the decor was nice. David and I split lemon fried tofu and potato/egg pancakes, and the tofu is definitely some of the best I have ever had. I am a big fan of lemon sauces, but it was awesome! After dinner we found another chic little coffee shop and had tea and cake…definitely felt frou frou for China but it was a good night.

The hostel was good, located next to the Bell Tower in Beijing, and in the morning we each ate an egg omlette from a street vendor for $1.50 total. The second day was bright and sunny after the rain, and probably in the low 60s. It was a prettiest day we have had in China so far, so we walked around a lot! First we went to Beihai Park, which is huge and is definitely the best tourist deal for the money. We saw carp pools, Buddhist temples, a big lake a little reminiscent of the Tidal Basin in DC, Chinese temples on the water, one of the 3-famous 9-dragon walls, and a lot of pretty scenery. You could also rent a small boat to take to a center island in the park, but we didn’t do that this time.

After Beihai, we went to another park across the street from the Forbidden City, called Jingshan (literally Prospect Hill). We climbed to the top of a small mountain in the park and got some really good views of the entire city. We took aerial photos of the Forbidden City, and could see all of the spots we had visited in Beijing. Unlike most cities in the US, it is obvious that Beijing is very old, because the center of the city is filled with small neighborhoods and windy roads, while the malls and skyscrapers don’t begin until you get a few miles out. We are so used to skyscrapers being right in the middle of town, but that isn’t the case in most historical spots. One of the interesting things about this park is that the last Emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Chongzhen, actually hanged himself from a tree here, because he sensed the end of his rule by invasion of the newly proclaimed Shun Dynasty.

After Jingshan and a bidding war between drivers, we got into a small 3-wheel car to head back to Hou Hai for a restaurant that David heard was good. The drivers were really trying to rip off visitors to the Forbidden City, and charging 50 RMB for 5-7 RMB rides. We found a driver that offered us 5 RMB, so we got in. He took us through an Old Beijing neighborhood called Hutong and showed us three houses that were supposed to be hundreds of years old. Then, we stopped at our destination and he first locked the door of the car. He then told us the price was 180 RMB per person. David sprang into action and began yelling,” No 5 kuai, you told us 5″ (in Chinese). He showed us a laminated sheet of paper that said 180 RMB for “Old Beijing” tour. What a joke, he literally showed us 3 houses along the route and was trying to make us pay for a ridiculous “tour.” For this amount of money, we could have literally taken a bus to the Great Wall which is an hour outside of the city. He said, ok fine, 500…just as David managed to unlock the door. We tried to give him the 5 kuai (like saying “bucks” for RMB) he earned, but he refused and pulled out a tire lock and started waving it at us. We began to walk away and he began acting like he was going to run the small car into each of us, as many tourists and Chinese people started laughing at him. I called him a “Huai Ren” (bad person, I think) and we just kept saying that he could come and talk about it in the Tourist Center across the street if he really wanted. He eventually gave up and drove away with no money, but it certainly made me scared and so sad that he rips off tourists like this. So the moral of the story is: 1. David is no fool. And 2. Only take taxis in Beijing because they have meters. The tri-wheel bikes are a cute gimmick but the drivers are real jerks.

To add a little to this point, one of the major benefits of living in Tangshan versus a tourist city is that no one tries to rip you off. They are so surprised and interested in just seeing a foreigner, that I’m not sure thee idea of ripping them off is even in their thought-process. Tangshan doesn’t have anything in English like Beijing, or hardly anyone who can say more than hello, but I really like that there seems to be more embracing and appreciating visitors than trying to take advantage of them. Yes, my bike was still stolen, which is a big problem here…but I don’t think I was targeted as a foreigner, I was just targeted because I had a nice bike! One thing I did learn in the Beijing Silk Market though, is that even the Chinese people there respect the fact that David and I have come to teach, and immediately give us the “teacher price.” Yes, it’s still initially a rip-off, but it’s still somethin!

At this point we were really hungry and walked to a nearby pizza place in Hou Hai. It was ridiculously expensive, but David got a really good veggie burger and we all had pizza. It was ALL foreigners in the joint, and lots of kids getting their pizza fix! After pizza, we took a cab to try and find Jenny Lou’s import store. Somehow the cab actually made it there, and we bought some ketchup, cereal, ingredients for chili, granola bars, and rolos and caramellos for our boss. The prices were the same as at home, but clearly expensive for China. We walked through one last park with a lot of activities for the warm weather (rock climbing for about 4 dollars a day), and headed back to the bus station. Overall it was another successful trip to Beijing, and there is still a LOT there that we haven’t done!

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