Days #14-#15: Sept. 24-25, 2010

Our Last Days

We are back in Beijing – slightly foggy, but a lovely breeze and the temperature’s about 70. Ahhh.

We’re being reduced rapidly: one off to a university for her workplace, another to her uncle’s for a reunion, one laying low to preserve his waning energy, and poor Robert sick with the flu. So, only five of us ventured to go to the Ethnic National Park.
The hardest part of this was trying to get a cab! We find out that the cab ride should be about 45 yuan. We approach one cab and he says can only take 4, but will take 5 if we pay him 100 yuan. We say ’90 yuan’? He says ‘no’ and so do we.

Beijing Traffic

We try the next cab in line at the hotel. This time, the cab just out and out says ‘no’ to us even with us splitting up into 2 groups. Number one cab’s driver must be some kind of ‘big boss’.

Next cab in line the same. Two of us finally find one cab with a ‘yes’ – he’ll take two of us.

The bell boy comes out to help us. Number 2 cab drives away in a huff without passengers. He makes number 1 cab move up and out of the way.

Finally, number 3 cab is convinced to take the three remaining passengers and off we all go to the park.

But oh! We forgot to create a meeting place and when the two of us get to the park, there is no sign of the other three.

After about 5 minutes, we cross the street to buy tickets anyway – and believe me, it is a huge risk to cross streets in Beijing – or anywhere in China! But we do, and as we do, their cab pulls up! Yay! We have somehow made it to the same entrance!

Should We Hop on the Bus, Gus?

(picture depicts Nu Wa Gems meeting fellow urbanites on an earlier bus adventure? Public transportation is easy, affordable and packed. This ride to downtown cost 1 Yuan = 14 cents US. Subway rides were 28 cents. one could really hop around down on pennies a day. Also: National Minority Park- exhibition of ethnic Korean House and merry-go-round.)

Ethnic Park

It is calm. It is empty. It is filled with flower gardens, willow trees, bamboo trees and the architecture of the 56 minority groups in China. It is heavenly with a slight breeze that ripples through the bamboo trees. We are privy to 5 different performances of the ethnic dances and games of 5 different minority groups. The park is on two sides of the street and and even one side impossible to see in one afternoon. So, we take our time, go to the Va, the Tibetan, the Quraqin, the Bai, the Dai and eat at the Korean village. And of course, a few purchases are made of ethnic purses, pillow cases, etc. It is an easy afternoon and we feel mellow!

Chinese Acrobats

In 1978 and in 2002 we saw a Chinese Acrobat show… but tonight we were treated to a Las Vegas type of show. Back in the day, there was Chinese traditional music. Back in the day, the acrobats were clearly seen on a brightly lit empty stage. Phenomenal back then… phenomenal last night though one must had to see past all the strobe lighting and fancy colorful sets and costumes. Stylized, sort of hokey dance movements filled as transitions from one acrobatic act to the next. Still phenomenal, but technology – here we come!! Twenty women on one bicycle in all sorts of poses and on top of each other; a huge double gyroscope each with a man inside walking as it turned and turned – even skipping rope and juggling as it turned round and round; a man doing hand stands of all sorts on a stack of 10 chairs; men jumping, diving forward and backward through hoops – some 10 feet high; men being tossed in the air when two or three would jump on the other end of the seesaw sending him onto other men’s shoulders or even on a high chair up on a pole held on the shoulders of a man on stilts; a man on a plank rolling over a tube and flipping saucers and cups, even a spoon into a cup that is sitting on his head…and then the same man standing on a table with the same plank rolling on a tube – but this table is on the shoulders of another man standing on a plank rolling on a tube. Oh my! We are thrilled despite the droning of high tech music and all those lights.

Hutongs, Rickshaws, Silk

We decide to sleep in late, get a late start, cancel the trip to Fragrant Hill this afternoon. But, late morning, off we go to a Hutong, the old style Chinese compound houses. Beijing has allowed a few to survive the modernization of its city. This one is in the middle of Beijing and outside the Forbidden Palace where the officials used to live. Now regular folks live there, but there are newly renovated very fancy courtyard homes where they think descendents of royalty live and probably very wealthy billionaires of Beijing.

We ride in bicycle driven rickshaws. We eat in a poorer home and make a few dumplings which the matron of the house promptly threw away! What a difference when we brought a group in 2002. The hostess talked with us, asked questions, we made several ‘real’ dumplings and after she steamed them, we ate them. Now it’s big business – certainly tourist business – and her attitude seemed ‘get the stupid tourists in and get them out’. When we pay what we are told is the correct amount to the rickshaw drivers, they mumble and frown. They wanted more. But the daughter-in-law in the home was sweet and made delicious food for us. The chicken was like how my dad made it – chicken simmered in soy sauce, sugar and star anise. Yum!

Tea for…More Than Just Two!

Then off to a tea tasting place where of course we ended up buying tea. Some bought the cups that change colors or scenes once hot water is poured into them. As a bonus for any purchase, we each got a little brown baked clay boy who spouts pee when hot water is poured over it – you know, to test if the boiled water is hot enough!?

Then we go on to the Panjianyuan Market, also known as the Dirt Market. It’s like a humongous flea market and we buy a few things after the fun of bargaining.

Oh! Let’s go to the Silk Factory! Amazing that these little cocoons give such strong soft fibers. But, poor pupae: they are boiled so we can have our silk blouses, comforters, and more. The pupae are used for frying and eating or the innards are used in face crème – silk face crème!

We buy a few silk things – comforter, comforter cover, purses…and oh my… a silk rug! Yes, I bought a silk rug! So much money! What was I thinking! Everyone was so supportive – “You deserve it!” – “…part of your mom’s inheritance money? Absolutely! Think of it as a gift from your mom! She’d want you to have it.” “It’s beautiful!” “You’ve been looking for 10 years for the right colors and here they are? It was meant to be!”

You’ll all have to come see the rug in my living room! Robert was still sick in bed, so this purchase was made without his input… He has a better eye than I do when it comes to seeing how patterns fit together. He’s quite suspect, as I suspected he’d be! The proof will be in the pudding, as they say, when it’s on my floor next to my couches. Change the couches if it doesn’t work? Oye!

Duck Dinner Farewell

We eat duck, toast a final farewell. Tomorrow morning we all leave after a final breakfast with each other.

We talk about what we missed most at home and will be glad to get back to: our own beds, our honeys and families, clean toilet stalls, cheese, a crispy salad, red wine…

And we talk about what we will miss leaving China: the people, the smiles, the villagers of Gengcun, the variety of foods, new and interesting things to do everyday, all the history and stories of China and her many famous and even not-so-famous places… We will not miss the crazy driving here – red lights taken as a suggestion, pedestrians and bicyclists weaving through cars not in their lanes, but strewn in angles of all sorts trying to get where they want to go, the honking, the passing barely missing fronts and backs of the cars they’re passing, people standing stuck between these crazy cars trying to cross the street!

But unanimously, what we will miss is eachother’s company – the camaraderie, the ease of friendship between us. It has been an extraordinary 16 days with each other!

For first-hand stories, these are the tellers who joined 2010 Nu Wa Exchange: Anne Shimojima, Alton Chung, Arif Choudury, Beth Wakelee, Julie Metzler, Kathy Hunter, Kelvin Saxton, Linda Fang, Shilpa Srinivasan, Shyam Nagarajan, and yours truly, Nancy and Robert.

Goodbye China!! Zai jian! And xie xie! Thank you! Until the next time!

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