June 1, 2010 Day 1- Continental breakfast in our hotel. This is not an American continental breakfast. Here there are hard boiled eggs and orange juice, but the similarities pretty much stop right there. Some things I’ve had for breakfast include: steamed buns (little bread wads stuffed with veggies or meat), pickles with red pepper, assorted vegetables and egg, a sort of porridge, some sticky little wads of rice dough, a bizarre sweet black sesame paste, a bizarre root-plant fried in rice dough. In general I’m very bad at identifying or paying attention to the little stuff making up a dish like the aforementioned porridge and even if I am able to identify parts I have no vocabulary to describe the dish as a whole. I like the breakfast pretty well but I feel it could be improved with some bacon or sausage.
Ray and I went exploring near our hotel after breakfast. I had my first experience with crossing a street here in Beijing (it’s a madhouse) and my first experience in a large store. We went to an electronics market briefly (A large building that houses hundreds and hundreds of individual vendors with stalls where they sell what they want–webcams, videocards, speakers, cds, power converters) and to a large book store. I got a chinese-English dictionary (in mine you look words up by their pinyin (romanized pronunciation) so I don’t know how that’s helpful unless you have someone to tell you what a character sounds like) and Ray got some pop music. Most CDs at the store were about 5 dollars–35 RMB. The money here is called RMB (short for ren2 min2 bi4 (the 1234 after words in pinyin tell what tone the word is in. An explanation of the tone can be found here: http://people.wku.edu/shizhen.gao/Chinese101/pinyin/tones.htm), Kuai, or yuan. The exchange rate is ~6.8 yuan:1 USdollar.) \
Following that shopping experience we went out to a lovely lunch on PKU’s campus (peking university). Most restaurants here are a communal dining style–you get a bunch of different things and put them on a lazy susan in the middle of the table. You then rotate it around and people take stuff when they feel like it. You do, seriously, use chopsticks for every Chinese meal (we went to a pizza place today (Jun 2) where there were forks and knives, and not chopsticks). This is a source of… frustration for me. I feel like I should use chopsticks, I try to use them, I have difficulty picking things up, I feel like an idiot for not being able to feed myself, this stresses me out, I get worse at using chopsticks, I get angry about it, I get worse at using chopsticks, I take a break, I do fine. This summarizes how lunch and dinner went on Jun 1. At lunch Susan and Veronica and Ray helped teach me proper chopstick technique. It was really helpful and I’ve been improving ever since.
We visited the Forbidden City, the area in which the Emperor and his concubines and servants lived during the imperial parts of Chinese history. You were not allowed in the City (compound) unless you were given permission and if you did enter the compound you were there for life. You were not allowed to leave. The government officials lived around the forbidden city but did not go in. The entire place is completely East-West symmetrical. If there’s a tree on the east side there’s a tree on the west side. If there’s a statue on one side there’s a statue on the other side. It’s also really really big. We had a tour guide who told us interesting stuff about different parts of the complex (It’s not really a city so I feel weird calling it that). There is one large room just for celebrating the emperor’s birthday. There are lots of rooms for concubines and servants to live.
SO yeah I need to wrap this up because I need to head out for the day.
After the forbidden city we went to have a hotpot dinner. Hotpot is much like fondue. It’s precisely like fondue, actually. You have assortments of meats and veggies that you put into a broth that is boiling in the center of your table. There are 2 different broths (at least when we went)–a spicy one and a more mild one. It was alright but I was having so much trouble picking things up that I think that contributed to my not loving it so much. It was particularly rough for me because we had to pick things up from a plate, put it in the broth, pick it out of the broth, put it in a sauce, pick it up from the sauce (or hold on to it) then get it to your mouth. It was quite an ordeal sometimes. Especially with objects that were awkward to pick up like potatos slices or with things that sank into the depths of the broth. After that it started raining so we did not see the flag-lowering ceremony at tian’an’men square but rather returned to our hotel.
After settling in there for a bit some of us took an ill-advised walk in the evening about 3 miles to a club (or near a club for some of us who turned around right before getting there since it was already plenty late enough).
The days are full. There are more exploits to be recorded so stay tuned. I’ll try to get better at keeping this concise and interesting.
Look forward to the tale of the cell phone purchasing. It’s a doozy.