Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Playing Tourist


Let's see what has been going on in Old Peking...

A timeline is in order here.
Mom arrived last Saturday... I arranged transportation from PEK to the hotel...
I still had 2 days of tournament play to deal with, plus breakdown and shipping of my equipment, and packing and checking out of LongTou and checking in over at the other hotel...

So... Saturday... For me it was business as usual at the event, and Mom getting settled at the hotel and recovering from the flight.
On Sunday it was finals day...
Play started at 4:00pm, so I went over to Mom's hotel and we went to Panjiayuan, the Dirt Market to look at the goodies... We had a great time looking at all the doodads and crap on sale- then headed back to the hotel about 1:00pm.
I headed for the event, and got there about 1:30...
I did alot of pre-planning and packing, dressing cables to make breakdown easier, etc.

I won't bore you with the trials and tribulations of the event... Let's just say it was somewhat of a disappointment for fans and event organizers alike.

(You, you clever Internet traveler, can search out the details of this event if you choose to type in the appropriate search string on a search engine... Altavisa, Metacrawler, you know. One of those things. If that is too much of a burden for you, drop me a line and I'll send you a link. No doubt you'll need me to come over and move your mouse around and click on the link too...tsk.)

I finally departed the Beijing Tennis Center about 12:00 - midnight, that is...
The Courtside Kids were just getting out of the volunteers party...they gave me a rousing send-off as I hailed a taxi, they were just too cool.

I moved in over at the Days Hotel and Suites... Sightseeing is now the priority.

In the lobby of the restaurant at the hotel there are tanks of sealife- shrimp, lobsters, fish, sea scallops, and uh.. turtles... And a tank of seals, 3 spotted seals... They are very cute. But since they are among the tanks and containers that are used to store the fish & critters that are served in the restaurant, I'm afraid we'll come in and find one of them missing and a big wedding feast going on...and discover they weren't just ornamentation.
They are very funny- every time the fish guy goes to a tank to get a fish to take to the kitchen, they line up at the side of the tank looking for a handout.

So- We've hit the Silk Market- always a winner. Picked up some goodies for friends and neighbors. A nice lunch at a restaurant down an alley across from the Silk Market... We were able to order from a picture menu and had a great meal of soup dumplings and wonton soup.

We took it easy the rest of the afternoon after a horiffic cab ride back to Huawei...

Dinner was another story...
I have been trying to get a real Peking Duck dinner while I was here, and we finally got there on Monday night.
We went to Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant. One of the premier roast duck restaurants in Beijing.
Qianmen (Front Gate) is the main drag that runs due south from Tian'anmen Square... It's 300 or 400m south of Qianmen Gate on the east side of the street.
We didn't have a reservation and the 20 or so people milling about the lobby of the restaurant didn't deter us- We took a number and waited. It was a relatively short wait- only about 5 minutes or so, then we were seated... I'm not sure if it was because it was natural turnover, or if it was because I was drooling and scratching at the glass window into the kitchen in the lobby. I prefer to think it was because they were afraid I would stage a frontal assault on the kitchen.


Peking Duck- If you don't know what is so special- let me give you the details:

First- the duck takes about 24 hours to prepare...
Marinated, specially roasted to keep the succulent juices inside, and the skin is red/brown and crispy.
The Chef carves the duck at your table and it is served up with a tableful of delicacies including pickled cucumbers, asparagus and mushrooms in oyster sauce, a sesame-encrusted duck goodie with shrimp wafers, and black tea.
The duck is sliced so it had a bit of the skin and some meat on each piece.

To enjoy- You take a little "pancake" - kind of like a small thin tortilla, dip a small piece of the meat/skin in the hoisin sauce, put in a couple slivers of shredded green onions, then wrap it all up like a little open-ended burrito.
Sink your teeth in and enjoy.

Oh. My. God.

A few years back the Perfect Child and I went to Hong Kong and had Peking Duck there... It was good- but this was amazing.

Let us just say that you have to try it to understand how good it is...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mooncake, Bathrooms & Bodily Functions, Oh My...

Let’s see. What shall we talk about today?

A couple items:

Seems like Mid August to Mid September is Mooncake season.
Actually they are part of the Mid-Autumn Festival, but as I have been finding, when one “festival” ends, the next one begins. Gives folks here something to look forward to.
But- you gotta have a mooncake- especially on September 18th.
The mooncake is a traditional good luck/prosperity thing, of which there are many here in China. Mooncakes are good luck. A cricket in your soup is good luck. If you get shit upon by a sparrow it is good luck. Conversely, a lizard in your tea is bad luck, as is finding a turnip seed in your condom.
In short, damn near anything is good luck or bad luck. Take your chances.
But back to mooncakes.
Mooncakes are pretty loathsome critters.
They are a cake (duh) made of some questionable substances. There is no official list of mooncake ingredients. You could make them out of broken glass and fish hooks if you really wanted to. But- by and large they are made of bean curd flour with a filling that varies from one end of the spectrum to the other. You can get them with a sweet filling, (usually egg yolk and lotus seed cream), a savory filling (minced beef or other meat), a spicy filling (donkey meat with chili paste), or damn near anything you might find under the kitchen sink.
So- take a glob of what-have-you, wrap it in tofu-dough, bake it, carve an intricate design in the top and plop it in a box and give it to a friend or relative and laugh as they try to excuse themselves from digging right in.
The only exception is if you are the recipient of the Haagen Daas mooncake.
Nosh right into that bad boy, don’t pass go, and don’t collect 200RMB. Throw in a tree and a fat guy and it’s Christmas in a pretty box, man.
(Mooncakes are, in my estimation, the Asian equivalent of fruitcake. Lots of people make them, everyone gives them during the holiday, but only a fraction of the population actually eats them. )
Really- the amazing thing about mooncakes is the packaging …
They are extravagantly and intricately wrapped- decorative boxes, delicate wrapping and cushioning, detailed artwork on the packaging. The boxes are easily more expensive than the mooncake, and definitely batter tasting.

So. September 18th marks the end of the Mid Autumn Festival. Next on the calendar, September 19th to October 21st: Festival of Bunion Scraping. Everyone goes to the nail salon for a pedophile during this holiday. Heh.

Bathroom Stench
I know I haven’t gone off on a scatological tirade lately, but I recently found out why the bathrooms stink so badly here in Beijing and I just have to share.
(Did I tell you they stink? Lord-a-mercy, they’d knock a buzzard of a deadwagon.)
It seems like although they have had “civilization” here for around 7,000 years, they haven’t mastered the U-Bend vapor trap for toilets and sinks- thus, when the sewer system air pressure is greater than the pressure in the building, arena, hovel or restaurant that you are occupying, the gentle wind blowing back up though the toilet (or the hole that is an excuse for a toilet) carries the stench of 3.2 billion crapping Asians.
That, my friends, is a boatload of olfactory offensiveness.
At this point, I will walk 500 yards out of my way to avoid walking by the public toilets here in the arena.
Use them? Have you lost your mind?
I had a catheter put in so I wouldn’t have to use the urinals here.

Bodily functions

The bathroom stench doesn’t bother the average Zhou Chinaman here. And there doesn’t seem to be any bathroom taboos here either. You can be standing in the bathroom, using the urinal and the cleaning women will walk right in and start mopping around your feet, polishing the porcelain, wiping the sinks, no big deal.
Body functions don’t have any special significance to these people. Spitting, nose blowing, farting- all these are perfectly acceptable in mixed company.
I am reminded of a guy standing next to my table during the Nadal-Coria match last week who blew a 50db, 3 second, 2 octave fart and never batted an eye. And you know how tennis matches are, 5000 people- perfectly quiet; I think everyone in the stadium heard it. It nearly scared me to death. I thought the guy was going to take off and start flying around the arena like a deflating balloon.
No, bodily functions are commonplace here.
The only really offensive thing here is picking your teeth without covering your mouth with your other hand.
(A side note- when you eat at a restaurant you will find a little container of toothpicks on the table. If you get fast food, you will get an individually wrapped toothpick with your meal. The Chinese find that the toothpick is a suitable substitute for, and much superior to, the toothbrush. This is also why you will find that Zhou Chinaman’s breath will melt glass at 20 paces.)

I think that’s enough for right now…
More pics and other good stuff next time.

TBG Out-

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Working for the weekend

It's midweek; we've already had one rain delay on Tuesday...
Other than that, things are smooth as a prom queen's thigh, but not quite so dangerous.
(I'm sure a comment like that will get me banned from this event, a la McCord at the Masters with his bikini-waxed greens comment.)

And now here we are on Thursday and we have another weather delay.
It has been raining all day- we actually had the players out on the court at 2:45, but it started coming down again, and they scurried inside.
Now we wait.
If they cancel play for the day, there is an opportunity for duck... More on that later.

So... We had heard there would be rain today.
In my infinite wisdom, I neglected to bring a raincoat, idiot that I am.
I slithered down to Xiu Shui this morning to do a little shopping. Xiu Shui is the Silk Street market- Purveyor of all Good Things.
4 floors of counterfeit goods... Lacoste, North Face, Oakley, Rolex, Breitling, TAG Heuer... Everything you need. And about 100 guys outside hawking first run DVDs at a buck a copy. I got a nice North Fake rain jacket for $12US... With a little luck it will last through the entire tournament.

There are a few things to chat about...
I want one of these....

Coca Cola is using these little buggers to sell beverages, but they are getting more use at night by the dudes who are riding them to have impromptu grand prix races around the site. They haul ass- probably 35 mph, maybe higher. They are cool, and fun to ride...

Hmmm... Other items of interest-

If you see this stuff in the stores, stay the hell away!

This is some vile shit!
It tastes like drinking toothpaste...
Avoid like the plague.

Some nice Beijing ambiance...

Sunset over the site...

Can you say "smog" boys and girls? That's right...

In regards to Duck...
I'm searching for a Peking Duck restaurant...
They say there is a good one down near Chongmenwen, called Bianyifang, and another called Quanjude down in Qianmen...
I was hoping to go to one of these places before the Event started but it didn't happen. Now if they cancel play today, there is definitely duck in my future.
Film at eleven.

TBG Out-


Midnight EDT Thurs 15th

Webcam is up...

At least until the connection is down again....

Long post later today- stay tuned.

TBG Out-

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Monday Morning...

Well... It's Sunday night here... Sunday morning for y'all.
(Lucky bastards.)

Play officially starts tomorrow. Whoo-hoo!
My stuff is good, considering the hoops I had to jump through to get things here. All in all, its a flippin' miracle we are where we are.

I'm really starting to worry about the Olympics. They (China, Ministry of Sports, etc) have a huge learning curve ahead of them.

I got a standing ovation this afternoon...
Wish it was for doing my job...

I got drafted to do player escorts. They have no real security here and the players are getting mobbed by autograph seekers. (Bad... Scary Bad.)
It is worse than anything I have ever seen, anywhere.

We (Nick, Gavin, Michael, etc) have to use every bit of our not-so-inconsiderate gwailo physique to bulldoze a path from the practice courts to the stadium. It was really bad this afternoon.
Somehow in the shuffle while we were escorting Rafael Nadal into the building, we were hit by the biggest crush yet. They (the fans) knocked down our barricades and rushed Nadal...
In the crush I had my foot stepped on and I lost my shoe.
(Did I stop to pick it up? Hell no.)

Once inside, I headed back out... to get my shoe.
Lots of laughiing, staring, pointing...
"Look at the big monkey with only one shoe!"
There were about five people standing around it as it lay there on the sidewalk.
I think they were just in awe of the size (and the smell, no doubt) of it.
I think one guy wanted to take it back to his hutong to live in it...
I got my size 14 canoe back and carried it back into the Stadium-
As I was carried it in with me, the laughing pointing and giggling became cheering and applause.
I was walking with the Tournament Director who seemed to get quite a big kick out of the whole scene. For me, it was embarrasing...
It told the TD that if this made the local paper it would cost him extra...

Hell... they have already promised me a Peking Duck dinner for doing the escorts the past 2 days... This is starting to be an interesting event.

Anyway... What else...

Man, it's hot here. Hot-hot-hot.
Africa hot.
Tarzan couldn't take this kind of heat.

As for adventures in dining... Still having ramen noodles for dinner most nights.
Tonight was interesting, though...
I got an invite to eat with the CCTV staff in their dining hall.
There was some very suspect dishes on the chow line. I had to take a pass on several rather doubious-looking meat dishes. And there were some vegetables that looked downright alien. Something out of a bad 60 SciFi movie...
I'll pass on that. Give me another one of the pork buns.
Except they weren't pork buns, they were more like kale and dill buns.
Imaging boiled kale and dill, wrapped up in a soft white dough bun.
I'll have to work on how to politely pass on the chow line at CCTV next time.

Things won't be getting much better when it comes to dinner time in the next 2 weeks. Matches on Center Court will probably go to 11:30 or 12 every night starting tomorrow.
Oh boy. What fun.

I'm sure there are some things I want to mention but are slipping my mind...
I'll post them when I remember them.

TBG out-

Thursday, September 08, 2005

And one more thing...

I've got the webcam running. As long as the internet connections stays running, it will update every 90 seconds... to view it, click on the eye under "webcam" on the main page.
It's just shooting a static shot of the office I'm living in for the moment.
I'll try to get a better location as time permits.


I think I'll pass on that idea...

I was thinking about getting (rent, buy) a bike...
Before you collectively freak out, I'm talking about a bicycle, not a motorcycle. Even I wouldn't try riding a motorcycle here. If you thought Athens was a nightmare for driving, you wouldn't believe Beijing.

Anyway- I was thinking about a bike. I even went and looked at a couple of them in the Carrefour and a little bicycle shop. Prices were reasonable, a nice heavy-duty bike for about $70USD.
So- I've been toying with the idea, the only holdup is economics.
Taxis are costing me $5UDS a day- and I don't have to deal with locking a taxi to a lamppost everytime I walk away from it. Also, the bike isn't airconditioned, a big consideration here.
On the plus side- I could sure use the aerobic exercise. Wouldn't hurt me a bit.

Until this morning...
I saw a bicyclist get nailed by a taxi. Hard. I mean, the dude on the bike hit the taxi hard enough to break the windshield and still flew another 20 feet before coming to rest in intersection.
The scary part was the reaction (or lack thereof) by the other riders and pedestrians. They stepped over or around the guy as he sat on the road bleeding. Traffic did the same thing mostly, just swerved around him. They just took it as another normal day-to-day event on the way to work.

(Although, it might be interesting to see what would happen if I got hit by a taxi...
I have a feeling that the auto might suffer more damage than I would. I could almost guarantee that the driver would get the short end of the stick.
If the realization of who/what he hit didn't kill him, I would turn him into a pretzel... or I guess it would be a jin ban wa here...
But I digress...)

So... Based on the fact that traffic is crazy, and you can wind up as a dark spot on the road at a split second's notice, I think I'll take a pass on the two-wheeler and stick with the greenies. At least for the moment.

TBG out. Cold. (heh.)

N 39 50.950' E116 24.444'

Just as a dog returneth to his own vomit, so will a fool to his folly.
(Proverbs 26:11 KJV)

Welcome to the China Open, 2005.
Insanity ensues.

I know you love to hear my travel adventures- Getting a laugh out of another’s misfortune is the American Way, as Pete would say…
This trip started good- I got an upgrade from Jax to EWR.
Nice. Guy next to me never said a word, I stayed buried in my crossword for the first 20 minutes and my nose in a Clive Cussler novel the rest of the time.
I only had 35 minutes in Newark so no breakfast a Gallagers.
I got a quick bite at one of the snack joints in the airport and boarded the 777-200.
It is one big-assed plane.

I got a bulkhead on the aisle- Lots of legroom. Hoo ha.

Guess who was two seats in front of me in Biz Class?
One of the people I loathe most in this world- Dan Rather.
On assignment for 60 Minutes.
(Irony- On Thursday Night I had the dubious pleasure of watching 60 Minutes II to see a piece on deepwater diving off NJ. DR is the host of 60M II and his smarmy commentary during the Hurricane Katrina piece was irritating to say the least.)
Now- here he is, two rows in front of me.
It was difficult to suppress the urge to go and urinate in his Cornflakes-
But, in the interests of National Security I was able to keep my composure.
More on him later.

OK- So- good seat. The plane was pretty empty.
I was on the aisle on the left side of the plane; config was 3-3-3 in this part of the plane. At the last minute a Chinese national took the window seat. We had the seat between us empty. Really nice- since last time it was crowded on the flight and there was someone in the middle seat, and all three of us were miserable.
Empty middle seat-good.
Movie choices, bad. Here I am less than a day later and I can't remember what I watched.
(Must have been bad.)
So.. I watched a flick, had "dinner", a nice very tender piece of beef, and then took and Ambien and slept for 5 hours. (hoo ha!)
I woke up with 4 hours to go, read some more of Dirk Pitt's adventure in the South American rainforest, had a bite to eat and got ready to land.
All in all, the flight was uneventful-
Customs and immigration was another story. As we walked through the terminal, I wound up behind Danny Boy, so as we entered the immigration screening room ("Please stay behind the yellow line, or the nice young man with the automatic weapon will shoot you") I chose a different line than Mr. Rather. His line didn't move fast enough, so he shuffled over behind me. Lovely.
I got my book out and tried to ignore him.
People in line around us tried to engage him-
"Hi, ho ya doin? Love your show. Why are here in China? Working on a story?"
He was polite but declined to say he was there.
"They really don't like us to talk about the stories we are working on, I hope you understand-"
(They? I thought you were the Big Boss, Danny. WTF is with the mysterious “They”?)
Well- Since he changed lanes, now MY lane wouldn't move. Asshole.
Doesn't he know Coopers Bank Postulate? "If you change lines in the bank because the teller that is servicing your line is slow, you will cause BOTH line to move slowly?
Finally a guy in uniform got our attention and had us move down several lanes to one side- the sign above it read "Chinese Nationals", but since the guy directing us had a gun, I'll follow him rather than the sign.
There were 3 people in front of us, nationality unknown. As the guy behind the desk processed them there seemed to be problems with all of them- We watched as they were led off one by one to some secondary questioning.
Danny Boy taps me on the shoulder.
"You following all that?" he asked.
"Yeah. Not looking good." I said.
"Well- if you don't make it, I'm heading for another line." he said.
"Me too." said his camera guy and audio guy, standing behind him.
The cookie pusher behind the desk finally called me forward and I handed him my entry card and passport. He looked at me, looked at the pic and the "Why the hell are you coming to this hell hole?" card, stamped my passport with red ink and I was on my way-
I never looked back at Dan. FTMF.

I got my bags after a minimal wait, most of the wait was a passport control, then headed through the Nothing to Declare line- the guy took my declaration card, looked at my bags and waved me through without ever looking at me.
My ride, Nakanishi Ieyasu, was late, so as I stood in the Meet & Greet I was inundated with offers for a taxi- I started to practice my Withering Stare. You need the patented Withering Stare for when you walk through the markets and are deluged with the ubiquitous "CD DVD ROLEX" hawkers.
They get the Stare when they grab my arm or shoulder- Otherwise I pretty much ignore them-
Nakanishi finally showed up and we were off to Long Tou, the accommodations he had booked for me... Long Tou is kind of like a Little Tokyo... It seems like 90% of the residents here are Japanese. All the instructions and signs are in Kanji (as opposed to Pinyin) and all the people in the market and the restaurants speak Japanese...

This only presents a minor problem... In Beijing, places close to “American” style hotels (Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, etc) have a lot of services with Engrish-speaking people in mind, like menus, signs, etc. Taxi driver that speak Engrish tend to congregate there, and they have other little things like menus that are printed in Engrish, or at least picture menus...
Not so over here in Japaneseland.
No Internet connections here in Long Tou either. I have to take my laptop over to the (no kidding) King Wing Hot Spring Hotel to get on-line.
And another thing... This is a winner... AT&T changed their access code since the last time I was here... I’ve been trying to dial 10811 to get a LD operator because I haven’t been able to purchase an IDD card yet)... but there is no response. You’d think they’d put on a recording to tell you they changed the number...
(The new number is 108888, should you need it... heh)

I went shopping last night... Man I love going to a grocery store that smells like an outhouse... I stick with pre-packaged and/or frozen stuff… I did get a couple tomatoes and oranges, but as I looked in the “deli” case the number of flies buzzing around inside the case had me worried, so I skipped the “prepared food”. (Prepared by Chef Sal - Salmonella to his friends).
I got some frozen dumplings and other cookables like ramen-type noodle soups, since my room has a “full” kitchen, so we will see if the 12 dollars I spent on five bags of groceries was worth the money spent.
I got lots of drinkables too... several kinds of tea, a couple bottles of diet soda, water, some other goodies too... I managed to avoid cookies and other sweets. We’ll see how that works out.

All manner of fun at the Beijing Tennis Center… Since I don’t comment on actual work stuff, you will have to ask about it directly of you have a need to know, but suffice to say we are living in Interesting Times, if you know what I mean...

Well... I started with 7 Clive Cussler novels... I’ve read one and a half in 2 days...I need to slow down... I’ll be out of reading material before the tournament starts at this rate.
The good news is that I still have 20 or so NY Times Sunday Crossword puzzles left…
Good times...good times...

Onward through the fog...As long as I keep moving they won’t find me...


TBG out-

Beijing, Tombs & The Wall...

My most sincere apologies about the delay... I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an ass kicking contest.

Since returning from China, I was sick for a week, did a week on the LPGA tour in Dublin, Ohio. I’ve been in NYC at the US Open, and am trying to get ready for another trip to Beijing on Sunday (the 4th).

So... Here we go...


The first thing I have to say is to watch out for the concierge(s) at the hotel.
They all have agendas.

I always thought the Concierge was someone who would help you with your wants, needs & desires (within reason). At the Courtyard Marriott in Beijing the service from the front desk and the concierge desk is pretty poor. Don’t get me wrong, the hotel room was ok, and they tried to be helpful, but in the end the overall impression was pretty poor.

I wanted to go see the Great Wall... I had heard there were some areas near Beijing that were a little off the beaten path, and the experience was preferred to the normal Great Wall tours. So I took my notepad to the Concierge to ask about hiring a car to drive me to this location...
“Oh- Great wall. We have good tour. 340 yuan.” says the smiling concierge.
“To Simitai?” I ask.
“No... Badaling. Also to Ming Tombs! Same day!”
“But... I want to go to Simitai.”
“We don’t have a tour there. Only Badaling.”
“Well... Can I hire a car and driver?”
“Not a good place. Take tour to Badaling and Chengling.”
“340 yuan.”
“So... there is no way to go to Simitai.” I ask.
“No. Only Badaling.” He said.
So... I fork over my $40...
“Bus leaves at 7:30, come back at 4:00. Be here at 7:30 in the morning.”
So… I’m thinking... Wow. 8 and a half hours- It’s 70km to Badaling... I guess we get to spend a lot of time at the tombs and the Great Wall...
The tour consisted of 4 people- Yours Truly, Angie, an ESL teacher from Kentucky by way of Osaka, and 2 girls from Philly, Agnes and Andrea, who are CSRs for a Major Airline…
So… We load into the minivan and 7:30 and we were off to the Ming Tombs…
Our tour Guide explained the itinerary...
“Today is holiday. Many visitors at Great Wall... Students from schools, visitors to China. We go to Chengling first, that way when we get to Great Wall, it not so crowded.”
So-We are off to the Chengling.

But first...a word from out sponsor.
As we drove north out of Beijing, the Guide started talking about jade: how it is an important part of the culture of China, how it is and was used by the people of China…
And lo and behold- we pull into a prison-looking building and are herded inside for a little show and tell about jade... Grading, the carving process, care and feeding, etc.
So… the four of us crowded into a little showroom and head the first spiel about grades and colors of jade, then we are herded into a area where they are carving figurines. (I have to admit is was very interesting... especially all the partially finished pieces that were on display where they had fractured during the carving process.)
Then- just like Universal Studios, when you get off the ride, you end up in the gift shop. The display area was huge, fully 80 yards long and 40 yards wide... Probably 30 sales people in this huge room filled with display cases full of beautiful jewelry, shelves loaded with carved figurines, from huge elaborate carvings of sailing vessels to tiny beads...
Wonderful stuff... And every time you stopped to look at an item, a salesperson was there to show it to you, and give you the hard sell...
“Oh… Very nice for you. You like. 100 yuan. You want see more?”
Ours was not a very profitable group... I don’t think they got us for more than 50 yuan total… about 6 bucks... Then we were off again...

The Ming Tombs at Chengling.

The Ming Tombs- or rather, the one we visited was interesting, if you are into the funeral trapping of old dead Asian people, or the traditions of the old Dynasties of China before the 1600s. By all means, take the tour. It does have its moments. We pulled in to Chengling in a small parking lot- only 4 or 5 cars in it…
I was thinking- this will be good- looks like the place will be empty.
The Guide led us up a stone stairway- Holy Crap! There were about 30 large tour buses... and hundreds of tourists milling about everywhere.

If you really want the info on the Ming Tombs at Chengling, go here... (Link to be inserted later)

Meanwhile- I will continue with the list of things that I found interesting...

After we visited Zhoudi, we hit the road again. The Guide was evasive on when we would arrive at the Great Wall. I had a feeling we were in for another detour... and we were.
Our Guide started talking about Chinese medicine, and how sometimes how the old ways are better than the new medicines. As she finished her spiel, we pulled into a complex of buildings and were herded inside and into a small classroom. Our Guide said a Chinese doctor was coming to talk to us about Chinese medicines and give us all a non-invasive checkup and make some recommendations for our general health.
Well... Once again, we were not the most profitable group... The girls all sat for the doctor to feel their pulses and look in their eyes and mouths... He suggested some nuts and berries and herbs (and deer antlers and bear penis) that would cure them of all their ills, which were promptly dismissed as BS and we were on our way.
Me? I try to avoid doctors in the US, let alone going to a medicine man in rural Beijing. I politely declined the invitation to be examined.
(By politely, I mean I only suggested heavy physical violence if they didn’t let us go immediately when it was my turn to be examined. Heh.)
Onward through the fog...
We finally arrived at the Badaling section of the Great Wall around 11:30… The Guide turned us loose and we scampered off through the crowds and kiosks selling all manner of tacky souvenirs and nonesuch and headed up the steepest part of the wall.
Your eyes tell you, yes, you can do it. But listen to your Uncle Jay... It is too damn steep, narrow and crowded to be safe. In this area it is a very picturesque location, but it is a tough row to hoe. Go the other way- head east. An easier climb, less crowded and much more enjoyable.
After hiking along that section of the wall, I was very surprised that many people aren’t hurt every day… It was scary in some places. The Wall is very steep in many sections, and the steps have a very long rise, sometimes over 12” in height. Going up is arduous, and coming down is treacherous.
We went up several sections, I think I made it up through 4 of the guard towers, almost to the top of the ridge, but I have to say, I did not have the stamina or (more importantly) the hydration to go further. I shot some pics, turned back and headed down.
I think the only thing that made going down safer for me was the fact my legs are long… I was able to negotiate the steps better on the way down… I hit the bottom and hunted up a vendor that had (no kidding) Pocari Sweat. (Japanese Gatorade) I drank two bottles and sat in the shade and waited for the girls to make it back down... When they made it, I treated them all to a bottle of Sweat and we went looking for the Guide...
The Guide, the driver, and some other unnamed gentleman were all asleep in our tour bus, taking a little midday siesta. We woke them up and we piled in and headed off to our next gift shop.
(One good thing about the Guide and etc napping in the van- they had the motor running and the AC on, so the van was nice and cool inside.
So... we were off.
We waited for the Guide to start on some kind of spiel on something intrinsically Chinese, and we weren’t disappointed... She started talking about Chinese cloisonné, porcelain inlaid with copper… and voila- here we were at the Friendship Store... We went through a short tour on the making of cloisonné and then were hustled upstairs to a large dining room for lunch.
Lunch was rather tasty... Some tasty appetizers, 4 different entrees that we shared, and some other goodies. All in all, it was very nice.
The cloisonné showroom was very nice... I got a huge kick out of the place.
Once again- we were not the most profitable group... We made minimal purchases and got out with our wallets intact.
Heading back into Beijing proper, it was about 2:30- Since we were due back between 4:30 and 5:00, I had a feeling we were in for one or two more gift shops... but- alas, it was not to be. We held a bloodless coup- Andrea and Agnes wanted to go to the Lama Temple (Yonghe Gong) in the north part of the city. I just wanted to go back to the hotel. I was tired tired tired.
Agnes and Andrea had to pay an extra 20 RMB…Why? Hellifino... I guess for the privilege of getting off before the next gift shop. They were ejected and we were off again. I prevailed (minimal threats) on the Guide to take us back to the Hotel.
Forget fatigue... It was 3:30- enough time to get over to the Beijing Tennis Center over in Fengtai. I hopped a taxi (a GREEN taxi) for Guangcai street...
A side note first-
Taking taxis in Beijing...
Listen to your Uncle Jay: Avoid the Red Taxis.
Let me say that again for emphasis- AVOID THE RED TAXIS.
The red taxis are old old old… they are all about 10 years old.
Think about that.
Take a poorly manufactured car, put it on badly paved streets, drive it like a maniac for 12 hours a day, perform minimum maintenance, and do it for 10 years.
Most of the red taxis have shot suspensions, broken air conditioners, worn-out seats, minimal exhaust suppression... overall it is a horrible ride.
Get a green taxi if at all possible. Or a blue.
Black taxis are also available, but you pay a premium for them...
And make sure they use the meter.
One more note on taxis- they are dirt cheap, overall.
Don’t let the meter scare you- Just remember the exchange rate. 8.11 to 1.
So that long 140RMB Cab ride from the airport is only $17.00...
(Know what 17 bucks gets you in NYC? Diddly and/or squat. $35.00 from LaGuardia to Manhattan is redicking fuckulous.)
Ok- enuffa bout taxis.

Onward to Beijing National Tennis Center...
We are about a month and a half out from one of the premier event in Asian tennis, the China Open... Takes place in mid-September, right after the US Open. Six weeks form now.
The BNTC is all but abandoned.
There is a guard at the open gate who looked at me as I walked through the gate, but didn’t even get out of his chair.
There is a Quonset-looking structure that I assume that is in use since there was a myriad of bicycles and a couple cars parked nearby, but the main stadium is unoccupied.
Not a soul.
I walked in the open doors- dusty but otherwise unremarkable. Went right out on to the main court...
It had recently (in the last month?) been repainted that lovely PMS 540…
OK… there has to be someone around here...
I heard voice somewhere in the sub concourse but I never found the source. A meeting going on behind closed doors, no doubt.
I sniffed around the corners of the court looking for power- lots of outlets... Looks pretty easy to cable for radar, clocks or other services. I poked around outside a bit more- couldn’t find a location that screamed “Truck Pad” but I have my suspicions where they will park the trucks... I shot a passel of pictures and did a quick sketch of the grounds and then headed back out to Guangcai Street to find a taxi.
Plenty of reds... no greens.
I walked a bit and finally found a greenie... and I was off to the Hotel- dinner at the local conveyer-belt sushi joint, and I hit the sack by 9:00 pm.

The Workers Stadium and Tian’anmen Square.

I wanted to see if they had fixed the venerable Workers Indoor Stadium, a 60's vintage arena that looked more like a prison than a indoor sports arena... We did a basketball game there last year in October and they were “working” on renovating the stadium. Big gaping holes in the exterior walls, whole areas in the sub concourse that were gutted and unusable...
Guess what? No change. The construction crew headed out the door on October 18, 2004 and hasn’t been back since.
Still a 60’s vintage shithole.

I hopped a green and headed for the center of town and, for all intents and purposes, the center of the Chinese universe. Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City.

If you want to know all about the Forbidden City, look here: (Link to be inserted later)

As for my skewed observations...
They have too many guards, too many souvenir hawkers and many many people who will offer to guide you to see the sights inside the walls...for a price.
I did the “do it yourself” thing- I saw a lot, but maybe having a knowledgeable guide is worthwhile... time will tell.
All I can say- the royal families were decadent... they spent a lot of money, brains and time, (well... SOMEONE spent money brains and time) building this pile of red, yellow and gold crap... and it was interesting as far as overindulgent royalty goes, and if you throw in their propensity for appeasing various and sundry deities and spirits, well... I have to say it is probably more interesting than, say, Versailles, but only because it is about 1000 years older...
If you cross the street from the Forbidden City, you are in Tian’anmen Square... One big open empty space. Them’s Who Would Know say that a half a million people could gather in Tian’anmen Square... It is huge... If you remember the unpleasantness a few years back- a peaceful demonstration that lasted several weeks and then the PRC big wigs got tired of the student’s demands for political reform and called in the heavy artillery, in the form of army tanks.
Everyone remembers the moving pictures of the dude with the white flag in front of the column of armor. You probably didn’t see him get squashed like a bug...
It didn’t actually happen in the square- it happened out on the street near the square… the big demonstrations were going on in the square, the dude with the flag was trying to stop the tanks from getting there.
Yo. Dude. Do the math. 98 lb student with a white flag vs. a 8600lb tank with 50cal guns and a 60mm cannon... The tank wins every time.

I shot some pics in Tian’anmen Square, aroused the wrath of the guards by taking pics of the various statuary... Hell if I know why... there was probably 30 more people shooting pictures too...
Oh well...
I walked back to the hotel... It was a hike, and I was a tired camper when I got back there... I had a flight the next day- CO88 leaves Beijing at 3:45pm and gets in to Newark at 5:30pm... Ooowee- that is one fast aero-plane!

They have a dim sum breakfast at the hotel- which was passable. I also went to the flea market for an hour, but that was pointless. You need about 5 hours to do Panjiayuan justice… Next trip.

One thing I noticed on the way to the dirt market was that we went down Embassy Row... all the different embassies all along one road... It brought a tear to my eye as we passed the US embassy with the Marine Guards outside the gate and the Stars and Stripes overhead...
Right next to the Greek embassy there was a place that looked abandoned... Weed choked driveway, overgrown bushes, and general disrepair...
Has some small country recently gone out of business recently? I didn’t hear anything about one...
Oh well...

The flight home was mostly uneventful... Clearing customs at EWR was the only adventure... For the first time in a long time they did a full search on my stuff... Went through the carnet item by item. A very thorough inspection... and one that made me nearly miss my connection... I had about 3 minutes to spare before they closed the door of the plane... I made it back ok, but just barely... 23 hours of travel... and it was still only 8:45 in the evening.
Go back a message or three where I thought I had come down with SARS...
That will keep you from traveling in 3rd world countries.

-TBG Out.