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September 18, 2001
Beijing Day 2: like emperors (Russell)

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Culture shock: fascinated by Game Boy

One of Russell's intended goals during the world trip was to lose some weight.  That's obviously not going to happen in China -- at least not in Beijing.  On September 18, our second full day in the Capital City, we were treated once again to a seven-course luncheon banquet and a ten-course dinner banquet in a private room for four.

The attention paid to us tourists is incredible.  At the restaurant, there is a young waitress whose only job is to stand in the corner and watch us eat our entire meal.  She refills our drinks, brings us new napkins, and gives us clean plates.  In our case, she also showed us (in pantomime) which sauces go with which dishes, and laughed at the boys' antics.  In stores, the clerks stand right next to us and follow us around, rearranging the things we have touched or moved.  This is China's highest form of customer service, but it certainly does make us feel self-conscious.  It was only fitting that for today's tours, we walked in the footsteps of China's ancient emperors.

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By the fourth banquet, Russell was the only one still eating anything

Our first stop after our 9:30 AM pick-up (we got to sleep in today!) was Tian An Men Square.  Americans know this square mostly from its famous portrait of Chairman Mao, but the square is actually part of the entrance to the ancient Imperial (Forbidden) City.  It is named for Tian An Men Gate (literally "Heavenly Peace"), the third of three gates (the first two are the Arrow Gate and the Front Gate).  After a long walk of people watching through the 40-hectare square, we passed into the Forbidden City.  This entire walled city-within-a-city of 178 acres and 1,000 buildings once served as the residence for 24 of China's emperors, their families, and staff people.

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Tian An Men Square

After lunch, we drove to the Summer Palace, best described as the vacation home for the royal family.  It was most famous as the residence of Ci Xi, the "Dragon Lady," who connived her way from a 16-year-old concubine to the Empress Dowager (in fact, she imprisoned her nephew, the rightful heir to the throne, here).  The 290-hectare Summer Palace (four times the size of the Imperial City) is famous for its huge and picturesque lake, its marble bridges and boat, and the world's longest corridor (certified by Guinness) -- 724 metres long, with thousands of eaves and columns, each individually hand-painted with different landscapes and stories.  We were amazed that all of this work, wealth, and luxury was commissioned for the enjoyment of only a handful of people.

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The longest covered corridor in the world

We finished early enough that Kitty added an unplanned visit to a fresh-water Pearl shop, where the boys got to pick an oyster and keep some of its pearls.  Overall, the boys did not fare as well today as they did yesterday, becoming rather bored at the many long walks and drives.  Joss' two favorite phrases are "Do I have to?" and "What if I don't want to?"  Even worse, Gail began to feel the effects of authentic Chinese food, and she barely made it through the day.

Fortunately, the evening was devoted to one of the most anticipated highlights of our entire China adventure: a performance by the Peking Acrobats.  After getting stuck in traffic and barely making it to the opening curtain, we were delighted by the lion dancers, acrobats, jugglers, contortionists, and trick bicyclists.  Joss (who wants to be a "Chinese acrobat" when he grows up) was more than on the edge of his seat -- he was literally standing up and leaning on the seat in front of him.  We had a very hard time putting the boys to bed tonight; they were jumping and rolling all over the beds.

Tomorrow we have a free morning, which we plan to devote to sleeping in and packing.  After a last round of sightseeing in the afternoon, we will bid goodbye to Kitty and our driver and board a train for our overnight journey to Xian.  Dinner and the rest of the night will be on our own -- on the train, with no guide or translator to help us.  We are suddenly asking ourselves why we thought a train ride through China would be fun.  Is it possible to experience culture shock twice within the same country?

 

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