Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Whoa! What a whirlwind!

Zao shang hao!

That's good morning. "Watch your tones," as Li Laoshi says. You might be insulting someone.

Yesterday was a whirlwind. Lilly (why are all Chinese women I know named Lilly?) had arranged a car service to drive us around. What a Godsend! It was large enough to hold all 6 of us comfortably. And since we were the only family in Beijing, we would have had to find our own transportation around anyway. And the fact is that all of the taxis around here hold 3 people. Three small people. And that includes the front seat.

We started out at Olympic Village and had plans to go to the Beijing Zoo in the afternoon. You know. Because I like seeing other creatures in cages. Yah.

Anyway, we arrived a Olympic village about 30 minutes away from the hotel. It is pretty wild. It was in the making for about 5 or 6 years for the Olympics and just to impress the world. The TV version was much more piaoliang (beautiful) with all the colored lights, etc. The Bird's Nest was huge. The best view is from the 5th floor. The hooks that carried the torch lighter were still there. And it really does look like a giant bird's nest!

We saw the Water Cube. In Chinese it means Water Beautiful Place - or Beautiful Water Place. Sounds much better than the Water Cube. LOL. We did not go inside. I mean, see one pool, you see them all. Sort of like the Bird's Nest - see one stadium, see them all... And we walked by the Gymnasium where the basketball games, etc., were played. Yet another big cubish building...

There is a 5-star hotel that is comprised of 4 separate buildings. From the side, it looks like a dragon. It's called 7 Stars for the Big Dipper. Bill Gates stayed there. We are not. :o)

The plaza that all of this is contained in is HUGE. But everything here is huge.

And of course, Joseph and JJ pao bu (ran) around the inside and outside of the Bird's Nest. And just about everywhere else to inaugurate their collaboration as a father-son team. I saw my future before me.

Then onto lunch and the zoo. But when we got to the car, the driver said that Lilly (the other one who was our guide) called and we were to do paperwork in the afternoon. Susan, our original guide would meet us at 1 in the hotel lobby. So back to the hotel. It takes about 30-45 minutes to get anywhere in China. This was longer due to a broken down trolley line that blocked 4 lanes of traffic. (Remind me to tell you about the roads here).

We stopped down the road from the hotel for lunch at a steamed dumpling place. OMG. Mayhem. Everything was in Chinese. No one spoke English. Thank God my Good Friend Lilly was there. We were going to order tofu but the fermented egg on top sort of derailed that. But the steamed buns and the wonton soup were some of the best I've had. We were told to eat more because in a while we would be hungry. LOL. And it was so CHEAP!!!

After lunch, Joseph, JJ, and I scooped up our pile o' paperwork and followed Susan the Guide all over town. This meant I missed yet another day of shopping. And MGF Lilly took Mom and Harriet so I could have bought good stuff cheap! :o/ I gave her a list. :o)

Thank goodness we ended up with our driver that Lilly hired for us. There is nothing like having your own droiver. We first went to the ministry office. Oops, wrong place. We did that the other day. Then back to the Marriage Registration office where one of the screaming women was MUCH nicer today. We received our official certification from the government in a red document holder stating that we are approved by China as a family.

Interesting observation: there was only one other couple there, presumably to get a marriage license. He was about 65 yo. She was about 25 yo. Uhhhh... Hmmmmm. They had each hit the Jackpot in their own way.

Then it was off to the notary office where we proofed some document copies and then waited for a while. This was like no other notary I've ever been to! The Notary Official finally came in with 5 copies of 3 separate documents each in binders with the glue still wet. Yup. Glue. Not staples. We proofed each one. Then we were office to the Police and Immigration office.

There we met Teacher Yuan again, JJ's case worker. We got JJ's passport photo made (bypassing the line). And then Joseph and I sat while Teacher Yuan and our Guide ran to and fro, coming back with receipts after we gave them fees, until it was all done. At one point, I said to Susan the Guide how amazing it was to bypass lines and she responded that Teacher Yuan is very good. I said that she must be very important and Susan didn't respond. Which, of course, tells me that, yes, she is VERY important.

Then back to the hotel. The Chinese passport for JJ will be ready Friday morning.

For dinner, we met our friend Yili (sounds like Lilly, doesn't it? Yah.) at the most important, best, and most famous hard-to-get-into Peking Duck restaurant in our very own private room. There was a glass wall that looked out onto a small stage where they had an acrobatic/magic show.

The restaurant is on the edge of a lake that has rows of shops and restaurants around it. The first was a Starbucks. Ahem. Anyway, there was so much delicious food. I had mandarin fish for the first time since I was a small girl in Korea. And a variety of tofu dishes you can't find at home. Veggies and noodles and shrimp... And the Peking Duck - they brought the whole thing and carved it in front of us. And the pancakes were paper thin. 3 of them were the thickness of one at home. Each duck is numbered and they present the number in an official certificate to us. Our duck was number 15,415.

Then back to the hotel in a taxi. We had released the driver so we took two cabs home. Our cab took a wrong turn. ARG! And we were so tired!!! So MGF Lilly scolded the driver, took out a map and we finally got back to the hotel. Chinese women are funny when they are irritated.

The Observation of the Day was all about the air quality. There truly is a gray pall that hangs over the city. It makes everything look gray, even the beautiful buildings. And there are a LOT of smokers. By mid-day, I was having trouble breathing, my throat and sinus was scratchy, and my eyes were burning. The government heats coal. Coal is cheap.

The other thing we learned is that the government shuts off the heat so in the mornings everything is cold. They turn it on during certain times so our hotel is cold in the morning. Amazing.

And every government building has the Chinese flag on it - either as the flag flying in front or on the building itself on a plaque replica. Did not know that.

At one point I asked our guide if JJ knew he was an orphan and what this paperwork means. And so, she asked him. And he nodded his head and said, yes, it means he has a family now.

Today we are going to cram in the Summer Palace, the Zoo, and the Temple of Heaven. MGF Lilly and I think it will take an hour. Yili thought we're crazy. But what is there to see??? A buncha animals in cages! Breaks my heart!!! Of course there are the pandas but they are usually in their den. Huh. Better to see them through the webcam at the National Zoo in DC!

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